Man Uses Prison Life Sentence to Teach Other Inmates About Money

Today, in both heartwarming and heartbreaking: Curtis Carroll, sentenced to life in prison following a murder conviction, is spending his time teaching financial literacy to other prisoners.

As NPR reports, Carroll entered prison as an illiterate teenager. He became interested in the stock market after asking another inmate to read him the newspaper. (NPR notes that Carroll was hoping to hear the sports section read aloud, but he accidentally grabbed the business section by mistake.)

Another inmate asked him if he played the stocks. “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.’ “

So Carroll began making his own investments, using money he made by selling tobacco to other prisoners. (They paid him in stamps, and he was able to cash out the stamps’ value.) He taught himself how to read in order to better understand the stock market. He earned the nickname “Wall Street.” Then, he began teaching other San Quentin Prison inmates.

Every Thursday night, Wall Street and a group of volunteers from outside 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 — things most of the inmates have had no training in. Wall Street tells his theories to the assembled group. “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.”

How do prisoners play the stock market? Carroll calls his family members, asks them about stock prices, and tells them what to buy. He keeps a written record of his stock predictions and checks them against the market. He studies stocks constantly.

And what about the students who take his classes? Financial literacy is an important tool for prisoners who will eventually be asked to re-integrate into the world of jobs and savings and retirement, but even the prisoners who are serving life sentences like Carroll can use what they learn:

At the end of his financial literacy lessons, he assigns his fellow inmates some homework: Call home and ask family members about their long-term financial plans.

Your homework: read the New York Times Magazine article “You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?” if you haven’t yet. It’s a testament to the difficulty of managing life after prison, and the importance of the work that Carroll is doing.