Every day, Curtis Carroll dons blue, state-issue jail garb. Every night, he sleeps in a cement cell. At 35 years old, he has spent his entire adulthood behind bars, and there’s a possibility he’ll never leave: He’s serving a sentence of 54 years to life, for murder.
Among the inmates in California’s sprawling San Quentin State Prison, Carroll’s violent past is ordinary—but his present is anything but. In a place where physical toughness is the main way to earn respect, Carroll has built a following among his fellow prisoners by teaching them how to stay out of debt, draw up a budget—and pick stocks.
His friends call him “Wall Street.” In prison, that’s a compliment.
“From what I hear, I’m one of a kind,” he tells me when I meet him for an interview.“There is not a lot of people who’ve been doing what I’ve been doing, created what I’ve created,” he says.
It’s an outcome that’s all the more unlikely because Carroll, by his own account, was illiterate when he got to prison. Now, he says, he reads The Wall Street Journal every day. He invokes Warren Buffett in conversation as one of his idols—and in homage to Buffett, one prison official calls Carroll “the Oracle of San Quentin.”
Carroll’s interest in investing goes back more than a decade, but his influence has grown since 2012, when he was transferred to this prison, a huge facility that hosts one of the country’s biggest prison education programs. Here, his experience and confidence have helped him turn dozens of people into “clients” who take his advice—including non-inmates who volunteer at the prison.
That’s pretty inspirational.
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