Curtis Wall Street Carroll is an expert financial educator and investor. He has transformed his intimate knowledge of the monetary system into a curriculum that speaks in layman's terms. His simple style of delivering complex information has inspired people of all ages. Where he differs from the typical financial educator and capitalist is that he is currently serving a 54-to-life sentence for a robbery-murder at the age of 17.
He imagined his life differently growing up in poverty stricken Oakland, California during the height of the crack epidemic. He was illiterate and saw crime as the only justifiable means for survival and ultimately landed in prison in 1996 as a result.
In spite of his early incarceration, Curtis has managed to dazzle the financial sector with his humanistic approach to education. Wall Street argues that an understanding of why we spend is a critical step in developing positive routines. He believes that our emotional attachments play a pivotal role in how we manage or procure our finances. As a response to this, he has began teaching Financial Empowerment Emotional Literacy (F.E.E.L) to inmates as a means to promote psychological enrichment.
What he has done is nothing short of amazing. Cultivating genius and reaching your potential is an incredible feat under traditional circumstances, let alone for the incarcerated. His journey has inspired me to take a more active interest into the science of wealth and capitalize on opportunities presented to me.
While his approach to education is brilliant and most certainly deserves the attention it’s gotten, his demeanor is what really captivated me. His lengthy prison stint hasn’t quelled his spirit and he is still cordial, lively, and lucid. His success as the “Oracle of San Quentin” has drawn parallels to his idol, Warren Buffet and he continues to strive for greatness.
This interview truly means a lot to me and I would like to thank Curtis and his team for such an incredible opportunity.
Prox: For people who may be struggling financially right now, what is a basic blueprint you could give them to trigger a positive monetary change in their lives?
Curtis: A positive monetary change in people's lives has very little to do with fixing their finances. The blueprint for positive monetary change is better life management.
My approach to helping people fix their finances is first focusing on their unmet needs and the feelings that dictate their actions. Financial struggles are often times tied to mismanagement in other areas in people’s lives. If you want to spend more time with your family or lose weight and you having not pursued it, those are signs of mismanagement. Then there is the actual mismanagement of your money, which once again deals with identifying your needs and feelings. It’s hard to stop excessively shopping or binge eating, if you can’t identify the feelings tied to the actions that cause you to shop or binge eat. Those living in disenfranchised communities experience those financial struggles more often.
So, I teach people how to identify life management skills that fit their needs, which then helps them improve their financial management.
Prox: The uncertainty of the stock market and complex economic ideas can be a bit overwhelming for some. How do you suggest we eliminate our fear of money and the systems in place to keep it circulating?
Curtis: I personally don't believe the stock market is necessarily uncertain or that the system itself is overwhelming. I think people’s lack of understanding of how the system works and that’s what is overwhelming.
Minorities in particular, already have a negative disposition toward the financial system, especially the stock market because they see it as gambling. People will spend hundreds of dollars playing the lottery, but call the stock market gambling. When people hear the negative press about ordinary people losing money in the stock market, it reinforces the stories they've already told themselves and others. It's a similar trait that people have to hating on others they don't know. It's like seeing the new guy at work that you don't like for some reason, and then someone tells you he's a thief. You say to your buddy, "I knew something was wrong with that fool," even though you've never spoken to him. Many people have judged the financial system as if they have participated in it or let one or two negative experiences represent the entire system.
The easiest and most effective way to eliminate fear and uncertainty is education and research. I'm teaching people a course I call The Basic Stock Market. This has given people a very clear working understanding and the confidence of knowing how to separate the facts from the fiction so they can participate with confidence in the markets.
Prox: I think it’s safe to say that most of us are interested in what financial literacy brings, however many people don’t seem to be too interested in learning the aspects of finance that aren’t so glamorous. How do you make this kind of education fun for your students and other individuals that you interact with?
Curtis: Well, I don't teach financial literacy, I teach F.E.E.L, which is an acronym for Financial Empowerment Emotional Literacy. What I teach isn't fun either, it's real and true. I have come to discover throughout my teachings that people enjoy real and true more than they enjoy having fun.
What I have been able to point out to people is that the not-so-glamorous part of finance is being broke, which is how they've been living most of their lives – living check to check due to their ignorance of the system. One week of fun on vacation equals six months of struggling to pay the bills you racked up. That realization of honesty and truth brings out a certain kind of joy in folks. It's like “Huh, that's real shit, I do that and I hate the feelings and struggles of trying to pay the bills afterwards.” That truth makes the process of learning F.E.E.L very engaging for people. They are no longer excited about just learning finances, because they're learning about their emotional relationship to finances. I believe that is what's keeping people coming back to take the classes – so they can learn how to incorporate F.E.E.L into their daily lives.
Prox: Something that I've noticed in your other interviews is you’re very lively and vibrant (some people have said that you’re already free mentally) and it’s quite captivating. How do you stay so cheerful, focused, and motivated in spite of your situation?
Curtis: First, I want to give all glory to God, because without Him I wouldn't look or feel like this – I know that for sure. Real freedom is a mental state, not a physical one. Once a person is mentally free, he or she can go anywhere they please. Now, with that said, I absolutely hate prison and this isn't the place to come and achieve mental freedom.
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 by spreading my philosophy of F.E.E.L. 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.
Prox: What are some steps we can take to reprogram our values? How has prison changed the way you look at yourself and the outside world that many of us take for granted?
Curtis: I believe that people's values are based on their life experiences, and many who grew up in disenfranchised communities have never learned many good values due to their influences in life.
I grew up in an environment where degrading women had value. The rappers, drug dealers, pimps, and hoes all degraded women, but yet women still flocked to them. So I learned to degrade women as well.
When I was sent to live with my father back East, for the first time in my life I saw girls playing basketball. They were playing just like the boys and it absolutely blew me away. Those girls and women started to teach me, and over time I began to see women as being smarter, faster, stronger, and more capable of doing anything that men could. That experience changed my value system and how I viewed and treated women. Positive experiences are the best ways to reprogram people's value systems, especially for young people who haven't experienced very much.
Prison is not the reason I changed the way I see myself. Prison is not designed to fix people or educate them. What prison can provide is a crucial opportunity, but opportunities are only useful to those who recognize they exist. We have the luxury of time, although I use that word hesitantly, because there are no real luxuries in prison. However, I've chosen to use my time very wisely to become the greatest person that I was meant to be, and I believe time is something people who are free wish they had more of.
Prox: Could you give us some tips for aspiring businessmen or those struggling with financial stability post incarceration?
Curtis: I have never been released from prison, so I don't know the full struggles of post incarceration. Although I have heard many stories, good and bad.
What I believe is that many of the struggles, which I and other post-incarcerated individuals will face, will mostly come from within us. How we see ourselves in the face of ridicule due to our past endeavors will determine the type of business people we'll become. Despite hearing “no” at those job interviews, not having the clothes, shoes, and living conditions that we had hoped for, we still have to believe in ourselves and stay on that right path. Ultimately, that’s what makes a good entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship is a path full of adversities that test your perseverance and emotional state. You have to believe in your idea more than anybody else, but also know how not to get so emotionally invested where it destroys other areas of your life.
Prox: Please tell us something that influences your work that we may not know.
Curtis: I have received hundreds of letters from around the world with all kinds of wonderful and inspiring messages. I have really been touched by the many stories of inspiration that people have told me that my life story has given them.
This gift that God has given me has put me on a quest to be great in an environment that doesn’t recognize self-greatness, which has also brought me to tears trying to fight through the ridicule, bullying, and degradation. My decision to become someone positive, with goals worth living for, and who adds value to the world, is a daily struggle.
Reading these letters has inspired me every day to continue my fight to be of service to others. So, all the love and support from around the world for me a young black teenager who grew up in poverty and has spent most of my life incarcerated, has been a big influence in my life.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, creatives, or intellectuals? Any resources you’d like to recommend?
Curtis: I have mentioned on many occasions that Warren Buffett has been my idol and the reason I got into finance in the first place. And he continues to be one of my biggest inspirations.
Some of my favorite creative’s are incarcerated men. Ear Hustle is the first prison podcast that has over 2 million downloads on iTunes. It's the first podcast that was created by two incarcerated men Earlonne Woods, Antwan Williams, and college professor Nigel Poor an outside volunteer. People should check it out. There is also a video project created by Adnan Khan, a juvenile lifer, and Alex Mallick Williams called First Watch (check out the videos on cut50.org) He's one of the greatest men I've ever come to know and call family. He’s telling stories of men and their journeys of transformation, so I recommend people check it out.
One of my favorite intellectuals is a woman name Alex Mallick Williams who works for a nonprofit called #Cut50 and has also volunteered her time here at San Quentin to help support the release of juvenile lifers. These are men like myself, who were sentence to life terms as juveniles. She has directly helped spearhead changes in the laws in CA that have now released hundreds of juvenile lifers back into society who has under a 1% recidivism rate. Her latest effects are trying to
change a law that will gives myself, and other juvenile lifers an early released. So please visit cut50.org and click the link called prop 57 implementation it will show you had to be involved in our efforts to make changes to the criminal justice system for the better.
Prox: Could you give us some information on your case and other upcoming projects?
Curtis: Thanks to the work from people like Alex Mallick Williams, bill SB 260 passed and I will be going up for parole in three years. So, I can be home anywhere between now and 2020.
I have a book coming out later this year called Strategies of a Street Trader. I also have an app that's coming out later this year that will be available in the Apple Store and Google Play Store titled F.E.E.L. I'm also working on a newsletter that will be out shortly. People can visit my website wallstreetfeel.com where they can be added to the mailing list and informed of when the book and app become available. We're also working on getting the F.E.E.L curriculum into schools and different organizations so it can be taught in the communities. Our program coordinator Anna Pons and class facilitator Eric Faulks are spearheading those efforts.
Prox: Final Thoughts?
Curtis: I want to truly thank those people who have supported me and those that haven't. Lessons come from those that do and those that don't.
I believe that young people should never be sent to prison in order to learn good values. Parents, family and friends, the community, and the nation have all failed our young people when they are sent to prison. Everyone is to blame because it takes all hands to raise our children.
I should never have had to come to prison to find my greatness. Yes, programs to support incarcerated people’s entry back into society are very important, but many programs should be designed to prevent incarceration, not help young people after they are locked up. Please, get more involved in the lives of our young people and support prison prevention, not program rehabilitation. Thank you.
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