Tag Archives: prison

The ‘Oracle of San Quentin’ found Jesus, became a finance guru (yes, in prison)

For his first crime, Curtis Carroll was congratulated.

“It was the first time that I was told that I had potential and felt like somebody believed in me,” Curtis says on a TED Talk. “Nobody ever told me that I could be a lawyer, doctor or engineer. I mean, how was I supposed to do that? I couldn’t read, write or spell. I was illiterate. So I always thought crime was my way to go.”

Learning on the mean streets of East Oakland that crime was the way to get money led him to a 54-year-to-life sentence in San Quentin for a robbery that backfired and ended in murder.

Today, Curtis has served 24 years on that sentence, gotten saved, taught himself to read and learned about financial investment.

His success at picking stocks earned him the nickname “The Oracle of San Quentin,” but inmates call him “Wall Street” because he teaches a financial literacy class based on the idea that teaching convicts how to make and save money through legitimate modes will keep them from resorting to illegitimate means once they’re out.

Curtis Carroll was surrounded by the vicious hood devastated by the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 90s. His mother donated blood to get money to feed her kids. His uncle taught Curtis to steal quarters from arcade machines.

On one occasion a security guard spotted him stealing the quarters and Curtis ran, climbed a fence, but the weight of the quarters in his backpack caused him to fall back to the ground.

When he was released to his mother from juvenile hall, his uncle told him to be smarter next time: “You weren’t supposed to take ALL the quarters.”

Ten minutes later, they burglarized another arcade game because they needed to buy gas to get home.

At age 17, a botched robbery turned fatal, with Curtis pulling the trigger on 22-year-old Gilberto Medina Gil. Curtis turned himself in to police and was sentenced to prison for the murder of Gil.

Because he was illiterate, he would let his cellmate read the sports page to him. But one time, he accidentally grabbed the business section.

An older inmate casually asked if he traded stocks. Curtis couldn’t read, much less know about stocks, so he asked.

“That’s where white folk put their money,” the older inmate replied.

“It was the first time that I saw a glimpse of hope, a future,” Curtis says. “He gave me this brief description of what stocks were.”

Curious to learn more, Curtis, at age 20, taught himself to read.

“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. It was the most agonizing time of my life, trying to learn how to read, (facing) the ostracism from my family, from the homies,” he says. “Little did I know I was receiving the greatest gifts I had ever dreamed of: self-worth, knowledge, discipline.”

Next, he studied finance in general and the stock market in particular. He scoured the business sections of the prison newspapers and checked out books from the prison library. His role models changed from drug pushers to William Bennett and Bill Gates.

He started investing, with the help of family members on the outside of prison, in penny stocks. He used the money he got from selling unused postage stamps and selling tobacco to his fellow inmates, according to MoneyWise. As he earned small returns, he made bigger picks.

Outside prison, his money was growing. He will be well-positioned to become a tax-paying member of society contributing to the economy once he gets out — unlike so many other inmates who are expected to “make it” outside without support or money.

“A typical incarcerated person would enter the California prison system with no financial education, earn 30 cents an hour, over $800 a year, with no real expenses and save no money,” Curtis says. “Upon his parole, he will be given $200 gate money and be told, ‘Hey, good luck, stay out of trouble. Don’t come back to prison.’

“With no meaningful preparation or long-term financial plan, what does he do? Get a good job? Or go back to the very criminal behavior that led him to prison in the first place? You taxpayers, you choose.”

In response, Curtis led the charge to add financial education to prison reform. And prison staff responded, making arrangements for him to teach about finances in San Quentin’s chapel.

Curtis not only picked up financial knowledge in prison. He also picked up Jesus.

“I want to give all glory to God, because without Him I wouldn’t look or feel like this,” he says on Inside the Rift. “Real freedom is a mental state, not a physical one. I remain cheerful due to God’s grace and the gift He’s chosen to give me. I stay focused because with this gift I have been given, there is a job that needs to be done.

“I stay motivated because my life’s calling is to be of service to others. There is no better feeling or honor than to be of service to others. Like any Christian, I fall short every day, but I try my best to spread the gift that He’s given me to empower others. All glory to God.” Read the rest: the ‘Oracle of San Quentin’ found Jesus, became a financial guru (yes, in prison)

From medicating to missionary

At age 12, Rachael Havupalo was lured into a compromising situation by two boys and raped. It was devastating.

“I felt like so dirty,” Rachael recounts on a CBN video. “I felt so defiled. And I felt like all the innocence that I ever had was taken from me. It crushed my heart. It broke my trust in men and of people.”

Eventually, the culprits were captured and punished. But this provided no solace for Rachael, who suffered internal agony.

At 14, she began cutting herself and picking up Gothic dress and lifestyle. She dabbled in Wicca and fantasized about death.

“On the inside I felt so dead and so numb,” she says. “I just really wanted to die.”

All through her teens and 20s, Rachael used drugs and did time in prison for her addiction.

At age 21, she had a little girl and became a single parent. She had a brief marriage that ended in divorce, then lost custody of her child.

Sadly, her response to the trauma was to self-medicate with meth.

“My heart was really broken,” says Rachael. “There was an emptiness that came that’s indescribable.”

One day, she visited a “friend,” who locked her in, drugged her with heroin and raped her for three days.

“Any amount of peace I had in my heart and any hope that I had of anything that would ever get better was completely taken away,” she says. “I was so terrified and I asked God, ‘Please, please God, don’t let me die.’” Read the rest: From medicating to missionary.

‘How do I get off drugs?’ Ask Christian Leyden

christians with tattoosChristian Leyden always had a struggle when he was a boy.

His father wasn’t around when he was younger, so his mom was the only father and mother figure around, and she had to work two jobs to keep Christian and his brother safe and maintain a home for them.

When he was in third grade he would send his mother suicide letters saying he didn’t want to live anymore.

“I started fighting a lot, getting angry with a lot of people,” he says on a YouTube video. “There was a lot of damage here and there not having my father around.”

This depression continued for three years.

broken homes and sin“I started listening to metal music, hip hop music and all this death metal music and all this music that started to get strong in my life,” Christian recounted.

In his teens he succumbed to cultural influences to party, do drugs, get women and to live a wild and crazy lifestyle.

Christian was always a person who wanted to be accepted, so a lack of friends angered him. But one day when he went see to his first high school football game, his older brother’s friends asked him to smoke weed and hang out with them.

“Just because they wanted to hang out with me, I was like, ‘Heck yea man I wanna hang out with you guys,’” exclaimed Christian.

Since he cared so much about their approval, he would pretty much do anything “friends” asked him.

christian leyden“Three months into me smoking and drinking, I ended in a psych ward for telling my family about me cutting myself for years,” he says. “I just went through different stages in my life.”

For eight years he was in and out of institutions.

He drank while attending Alcoholics Anonymous. He took meth, Xanax, pills and heroin, despite going through rehabs and living in halfway houses.

When Christian got locked up in jail, his new life began. Read the rest: How do I get off drugs?

‘Two strikes’ scared him, so this gang banger turned to Jesus

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Edgar Cervantes in his car. He delivers for the deli and he drives to outreaches all over to share about Jesus.

By Jasmine Cervantes and Mark Ellis

Little Edgar Cervantes shrieked with terror when the cops raided his home in Pacoima, California, hauling his mom, dad and uncle off to jail for the drugs, hot money and stolen jewelry retrieved on the property.

The tyke, then only 6, was unceremoniously dumped off with his grandmother. From a tender age, he was marred.

By the 11th grade, Edgar had fallen into a calamitous family pattern: smoking marijuana, stealing, partying and fighting. Pacoima, a poor neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, was a gang war zone in 1990s, so Edgar, joining the fray, became part of the Pacoima Cayuga Street Locos gang.

He was tagging, handling plenty of illicit money and ditching classes. Three times he got arrested for grand theft auto. While kicking back with some “homies” one day, he got introduced to Nadia, and they started dating. After a few months, she told him she was pregnant.

Edgar “freaked out” because he was still young and lived with his parents. Nadia wanted Edgar to take responsibility and come and live at her house with her parents, who were shocked but wanted to make the best of the situation.

Edgar, who had dropped out of school, started working but maintained his drug use and gang activities. He preferred his drug trips to spending time with Nadia. After an extended time of not getting Edgar to change, Nadia got fed up and asked him to leave.”

Nadia was left alone working and raising her baby, Jasmine.

Every day Edgar woke up feeling depressed and lonely. He quit his job and turned to heavier drugs – crystal meth, for example – to numb the pain and forget about losing his girlfriend and daughter. The meth produced erratic emotional states and made him violent.

At one party, a homosexual was trying to “hit on him,” and Edgar wound up beating him so badly that he went into a coma. After weeks lingering between life and death, the victim woke up – and Edgar was spared a murder charge. Find out how Jesus saved Edgar – click here. There’s a big surprise at the ending.

Jasmine Cervantes wrote this article as an assignment for my English class at the Lighthouse Christian Academy on the Westside of Los Angeles.