BY: John “Hennry” Harris
Curtis Carroll, 37, is a perfect example of making the best out of a bad situation. He has been incarcerated since the age of 17, doing a 54 to life sentence for a robbery that resulted in a murder, but he is not letting that stop his growth personally or financially.
Carroll, who is currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in Northern California, learned how to read behind bars but did not stop there. He also discovered the stock market and through friends and family on the outside.
Carroll, reminiscent of the fictional character Andy Dufresne from the classic movie Shawshank Redemption, is also an informal financial adviser to fellow inmates and correctional officers.
Carroll has even earned the nickname of “Wall Street”.
“I couldn’t believe that this kind of access to this type of money could be accessible to anybody. Everybody should do it. And it’s legal!” he says.
He pores over financial news like the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Forbes to stay on top of the latest financial news always anticipating what will happen next. For Carroll, business is like a soap opera so he is diligent in staying “in the know”.
“I like to know what the CEO’s doing,” he says. “I like to know who’s in trouble.”
Carroll literally stumbled upon the financial section of the newspaper thinking it was the sports section, which his cell mate would read to him. Another inmate asked him if he played the stocks and the rest is history in the making.
“I had never heard the word before,” says Carroll. “He explained to me how it works and said, ‘This is where white people keep their money.’ When he said that I said, ‘Whoa, I think I stumbled across something here.’ “
Teaching himself how to read from candy wrappers and clothing logos and eventually reading financial stories. He started with small investments known as penny stocks, which were high risk but he made enough to continue investing.
“Wall Street” has taken his new talent a step further by co-founding Freeman Capital, along with fellow inmate Troy Williams. Every Thursday night he and a group of volunteers from outside of the prison teach the men some of the principles of sound personal finance, stock investments, retirement and how to manage the money they do have – skills most inmates have never had training in. About 70 people attend the class each week.
“There’s four steps,” he says. “Every person on this planet that has made money has mastered these four simple steps: savings, cost control, borrowing prudently and diversification.”
Upon release from prison, many of the inmates serve decades-long sentences, they are given $200 and little to no knowledge of finances.
“It’s like, ‘Good luck. We’re gonna pray for you. Stay out of prison,’ “ says Williams, who is on parole from San Quentin State Prison after serving a life sentence. “Who do you want coming home? Do you want the animal that’s been caged away for years that’s the same bad ass gang-banger that he was when he went to prison? Or do you want somebody that’s coming home thinking differently?”
Amazingly, Carroll does all of his investing without access to a computer or Internet, so he calls family members to check the closing prices for the day and tells them what to buy.
“I try to reiterate to the men that I’m not teaching you some for-sure plan. I’m just teaching you to plan,” Carroll says. “It’s fine to take the loss. I mean, it happens. You just know that it doesn’t have to lead back into whatever you was doing, drugs or alcohol or crime or gangs.”