Forward or onward movement toward a destination.
“The darkness did not stop my progress”
Forward movement, advance, going, progression, headway, passage
“Boulders made progress difficult”
Below is the Introduction to my book the Comeback. I hope you read my story and it inspires you in a positive way. Enjoy!
At the age of 12 I was running with the wrong crowd, idolizing the wrong people, and already making the wrong decisions. For some reason I was fascinated by gangs, drugs, and life on the edge. Many of my childhood memories involved being a lookout for my older brothers as they robbed everything from cars to gas stations; this set the tone for my future delinquencies.
Gangster movies were my favorite, my friends and I would watch them constantly, fascinated and desiring to aspire to this level. I thought I was a leader at the time; the coolest and toughest kid around. Looking back I was actually just a follower; shadowing people who were actors on TV and rap artists who never even led the life they portrayed.
I don’t know if it’s my brain or my heart that blocks a lot of my past. At times it seems like it was another lifetime or it never even happened. I know I’ve had a hard life; the majority of people who have been through what I’ve gone through are just another number in the correctional system. They spend their entire life in and out of jail. But something happened to me, something I can’t explain, something that can only be witnessed through experience.
So there I was, a 17 year old boy who finally had every wrong I had committed in my short life catch up with me. I never had a second thought about the victims of my robbing construction sites and houses; it was cool, and that was all I considered in my actions. The judge didn’t agree with my thought process and all of a sudden it goes from time in and out of juvenile detention centers to the state saying they want to charge 17 year old Anthony Passero as an adult. Honestly at the time it meant nothing to me. All that mattered at that time was that I had the latest clothes, the newest technology, and the hottest girls. There was actually a part of me who thought it was cool, even proud, with no value on life. As I sit here and try to write I’m saying to myself… what was I thinking?
Just so luck would have it they assign me to a judge, and that year he announced he would sentence one million years in prison to people who came in front of him. That was the moment I started to realize that this was no longer a game. As a 17 year old boy you truly don’t understand things because of a lack of maturity, I am guessing; honestly I don’t know. If I had understood what I was putting my mother and father through I’d like to believe that I would have never committed these wrongdoings, especially now that I am a father. I can’t imagine going through anything like that.
Sitting in the county jail surrounded by criminals facing life sentences and listening to their stories was a crazy time for me. I was now 18 years old, a legal adult and building friendships with the same types of guys I once idolized.
One guy in particular, who went by the name Big Dickie, previously spent 20 years in prison for armed robbery when he was 25 years old. He served his full sentence and within a month he decided he was better fit for prison then the outside world. BD walked in front of a lady, grabbed her purse, then literally stood there and waited for the police to show up to take him back to jail. The Judge gave him what he requested and sentenced him to another 20 years. Now BD was looking out for me and teaching me things I needed to prepare for.
Everyone knew in the county that I was going to prison and most of the older guys felt for me. I remember them telling me if someone tries you, sexually, when you get in there you act like you’re cool with it. Then you let them drop their guard and punch them square in the nose. Once you do that their eyes will water and they won’t be able to see. At that point you keep hitting them until the guards pull you off of them. You will go to confinement but from then on the word will be out and no one will step to you again. It’s crazy how I remember those conversations so clearly.
Now at that time I was going back and forth to court to see my attorney and its bad news after bad news. Because of all the times I was arrested as a child they were going to use those points against me and the state was out to prosecute me as an adult with a maximum sentence. I honestly came to terms with it and had no choice but to accept it. My mom and dad were in disbelief with what was going on and there I was, an 18 year old kid facing 10 years in prison for a burglary charge. I remember sitting in jail watching people go to court and coming back letting us know how much time they got. People were being sentenced anywhere from a year to 20 years by the Judge I was assigned.
Honestly it felt like all the guys in jail were becoming a small family and hoping that I got a lesser sentence. I remember openly accepting that if I was sentenced to five years I would be ok with it. Actually, I prayed for it. It’s true what they say, a lot of people find God when they go to jail and I was no different. I literally found myself praying every night, asking God to give me a five year sentence. I told myself (and God) that I would use that time to get an education and make something out of my life. It’s crazy to think about someone 18 years old praying for 5 years in prison.
My court date came and 30 of us were shackled together; all transported to the holding cell at the courthouse. It was early in the morning, still dark out. I think they do the transportation at that time so there are no cars on the road and less chance of escape issues.
We all were walked into a holding cell and as we are sitting in the room waiting to be brought into the courtroom, one of the older guys started singing a Christian song. Singing it loud and clapping his hands, the song catches on and most, if not all, 30 of us started singing the song with him. I really don’t remember ever having that feeling before, or after, for that matter, but the room felt incredible and the moment was mind-boggling. I had goosebumps and as I sang along, the old man walked up to me and said “Son you’re glowing, God is with you…. Whatever you’re asking God for is gonna happen today.” I smiled at him and continued to sing with the others. It was probably about 10 minutes later when the guards came in and told us we were going into the courtroom. I remember thinking back on my prayer to get five years or less.
So one thing I didn’t mention earlier was that I had a co-defendant in the case. I found out that he admitted to two other burglaries that we committed in the past and the total charges we had were three burglaries and three grand thefts. I later learned that his confession was in exchange for a plea deal, providing him with a lesser sentence.
As I was escorted into the courtroom I see him and he had a hard time making eye contact with me. I don’t blame him; honestly, now that I think about it he was just looking out for himself. They called his name first and I overheard his attorney telling the judge that he was a victim and manipulated by me, that I was the ringleader and mastermind behind the burglaries. The judge sentenced him to 90 days in county boot camp. I remember thinking wow that’s great for him, not knowing this was his attorney’s plan at the time.
I was up next; the Judge called out “State of Florida versus Anthony Passero”. My attorney thought it was best to enter a plea of no contest and throw myself at the mercy of the judge. Undoubtedly this was a poor decision considering Judge Goldstein had already committed to sentencing 1 million years’ worth of time that year. But worse case my prayers were going to be answered and I was going to get the five years that I prayed for and accepted that.
I stood up and he read off my charges and asked my attorney how I was going to plea. “No Contest, Your Honor.” I listened to him talk and looked over at my mom and dad who were looking back at me, crying hysterically. My mother took the stand to speak about my character, all the time in tears. She explained to the Judge that I was a good kid with a kind heart who made a lot of mistakes in life. She defended me to the judge, pleading with him, reminding him that I was just a child and begged him to have mercy on me.
The Judge was a very cold man; he looked at my mother and told her not to blame herself for what was about to happen. He read off my charges and sentenced me to the maximum on all charges, 120 months to be exact or 10 years in Florida State Prison. My “glowing” from 20 minutes before was gone; so much for God answering my prayers. I looked at my mom who was crying hysterically and my dad hugging her trying to be strong. I honestly felt nothing; I was numb. I guess all the time in the county prepared me to accept it and I walked out of the courtroom with my head high. I was a 17 year old child when I was arrested and wouldn’t come home until I was a 27 year old man.
We took the ride back to the county and at this point I had accepted my life and what it was going to be. I walked into the pod and Big Dickie walked out of his cell anxious to hear what happened. I told him and a bunch of other guys, “10 years, man” and the looks on their faces were straight disbelief and disappointment. Honestly BD may have been more upset than me. Word quickly ran through the county that I got the max and people were walking up to me expressing their condolences. Maybe I wasn’t too upset because I had no choice. There were people crying about the time they just received, and not to sound tough, but I just didn’t see what crying would accomplish. If anything it would show a major sign of weakness.
About 60 days later I was shipped off to prison. South Florida Reception Center (SFRC) is a holding place before they decide which prison to send you to. There was a youthful offender camp they normally sent 18 year olds and this was where I was anticipating going. But since I received 10 years in prison they skipped that and sent me to the adult camp. I remember getting permission to make my first phone call and calling my father. He asked me how the youthful offender camp was and I explained to him because of the length of my sentence I was on the adult side. To say the least, he was infuriated that I was being housed with murderers and rapists with life sentences.
We hung up the phone and I went out to the Rec yard. I grew up playing handball so I made my way to the handball courts to see what was going on. For some reason, that moment was a time that I felt truly lost and all alone. I was standing at the handball court looking around trying to fit in when a deafening siren went off. An announcement followed that the prison was on immediate lockdown. All inmates needed to return to their dorm immediately, sirens were blasting and everyone had to return to their cell and lock the door. We were on LOCKDOWN. I didn’t know what was going on and walked back to the dorm. I had no idea the prison was being locked down for me. My father called the prison after we hung up and found out they made a mistake when I was processed on the adult side. He raised hell speaking to Tallahassee and they shut down the prison immediately to move me to the youthful offender camp. A phone call, looking back, that may have saved my life.
I entered the cell and remember the correctional officer; she looked at me and said “boy you’re just a baby, get up there and pack your things; you’re going to the Jit Camp.”
I packed my bags and was transferred to the youthful offender camp for kids aged 16 to 22. The camp was given the name Gladiator School because of the gangs and constant fights (that didn’t occur on the adult side). Truthfully, it was more like being in the military than in a prison. We marched everywhere we went, sang cadences, and were forced to work out every morning.
I found myself kind of enjoying it; it was a good structure. I decided at that time I was going to get an education and began enrolling in different vocational classes to learn as many trades as possible. Facing 10 years, I told myself that I was going to work out and learn as much as I could while away from my family. When I got out I was going to show them what I could be in life and I wasn’t going to be a statistic.
I began by enrolling to get my high school diploma and did so the first year I was inside. There was actually a high school in the prison, and as a youthful offender camp there were a ton of educational programs to prepare the youth to return to society. Most inmates had 2 years or less and were still kids, most of them just 17-20 years old.
I made the decision to make the best out of my situation and graduated every vocational class that would accept me, everything from becoming certified in environmental services to a Certified Chef, funny enough.
After completing all these trades I decided I wanted to be a lawyer when I got out and to enter law school. My situation at the time didn’t allow it so I had to settle for the next best thing. I enrolled to become a Certified Law Clerk with the State of Florida. I was accepted based on good behavior and was sent away to a special camp to become certified. Basically you become the jailhouse lawyer. So I went to a special camp and graduated the class in about 4 months. As the jailhouse lawyer I quickly became one the favored inmates. Everyone in prison is “innocent” and wants to talk to you about filing papers to get them back in court. I was happy to do so; especially if they had canteen money, which consisted of candy, deodorant, cigarettes, anything of value. Items that were previously taken for granted were now a luxury and the only means of currency in prison. I honestly feel I was really good at being a law clerk and people on the pound knew it as well. I got a few people sent back to court and had their motions accepted. One guy took his gold chain off his neck, something he cherished, and gave it to me for getting his sentence reduced. That was a pretty good feeling.
Now don’t get me wrong there are a lot of good people in prison who made bad decisions in life. But there are also a lot of bad people who were exactly where they belonged. About 3 years into my 10 year sentence I remember feeling like I was not like the people in there and couldn’t wait to get back to my family. My mom moved to Florida, in the middle of the state, from New Jersey just so she could see me every month and did so like clock work. My father would come about the same time and they both were a world of support to me.
As a law clerk and model inmate I was put in a special dorm for non trouble makers. I made a lot of friends who became family and even made friends with some CO’s (correctional officers). One CO, Mrs. Rogers was awesome; she was a pretty lady and was known not to take shit from anyone. She also happened to be married to Sgt. Rogers, a 6 foot – 250 pound hard ass who would kick inmates to sleep if allowed.
One night around 12am, I was lying down when she walked by my bunk and told me to come to the officers’ station. This never happened before but I followed orders. I remember wondering what could have been wrong. Mrs. Rogers looked at me and called me a piece of shit and started yelling at me, accusing me of looking at her funny. I honestly had no idea what she was talking about. She ordered me to get back to my bunk and if I made eye contact with her again she was going to have me thrown in solitary condiment. It was a crazy moment. I went back to my bunk and, for the first time in 3.5 years, I was nervous in prison and didn’t know what was going to happen next.
I lay in bed, eyes wide open, heart beating out of my chest, staring at the ceiling when she walked into my cell and called me back into the officer station. At that point I was very nervous and didn’t know what was about to happen. I walked into her office and she apologized, she said she had a dream about me the night before and it makes her uncomfortable to look at me. I was in complete shock. I didn’t know what to say. I was intrigued; I asked her what she dreamt about? She looked at me and told me to use my imagination. In total disbelief, I apologized. In order to make a long story short, I’ll sum it up as Mrs. Rogers and I went on to become great friends.
She started writing me letters daily and I did the same. Those letters would be the worst thing we could have done because I didn’t throw them out. Although we never physically touched, the letters were very sexual and intimate and it was evident that it was just a matter of time before it was going to happen. God had different plans, fortunately. In prison they record your calls and they listened on one of my conversations with a close friend who was released earlier that year. In that call he asked whether Mrs. Rogers and I had sex yet. I told him we hadn’t and we went on about our conversation.
The next day I was at lunch like any other day and saw two officers walking fast towards me. One of the two, believe it or not, was Mrs. Rogers’ husband – Sgt. Rogers. He walked up to me smirking and told me to put my hands behind my back and cuffed me. This was the second moment in my time in prison that I was nervous. I couldn’t imagine what was about to happen to me. They emptied my locker and confiscated everything. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, I saved the letters she wrote to me. Even though they were not signed by her it was evident based on statements like “when I saw you today I wanted to kiss you and grab your lips”. Every line was questioned by the investigators.
I was sent to solitary confinement and was just waiting to get a visit from Sgt. Rogers and Captain Pety to kick my teeth in. I was officially under investigation and the only contact I was allowed was from my attorney. In the middle of the boondocks the good old boys stuck close together and they were ruthless; constantly walking by my cell smiling and staring at me. Thankfully my mom had my attorney call me every day to discuss my “case” and I think that’s what may have saved my ass.
They couldn’t touch me because they knew if they did, when my attorney called I would tell him and that would have been a world of shit for a prison that was already under investigation for beating inmates. It was a great strategy by my mom to make sure I was kept safe, and it worked. While in solitary confinement I had no idea where Mrs. Rogers was or what she was saying and the investigator was trying to get me to admit that we had a sexual relationship. The letters were so detailed that they thought it was real and I was lying to cover for the woman who wrote the notes.
I was in the hole for about 60 days with the investigator visiting every couple of days to question me. It became routine, day after day after day. I had no mirror, no haircut, no sunlight and was in a room by myself for two months. It takes a strong mind to stay sane in solitary confinement. I remember the investigator telling me “Anthony you’re not looking so hot, don’t you want to get back to the pound to the sunlight” Of course I did, but I was not giving in. I had to keep myself busy and did so with push up and sit ups and read a book every day or so. 180 days / 6 months is the maximum the system is allowed to hold an inmate under investigation and it looked like I was going to have to ride it out.
Towards the end of my time in the box there was a knock at my door. Mrs. Rogers, smiling, came to see me one last time. I was in disbelief and told her she needed to leave before someone saw her. At the time I didn’t know that she was quitting that day; she said goodbye and I never saw her again.
The investigator at the time thought my life may have been in danger if I stayed at Lancaster CI. We actually became friendly over the six months I was under investigation; he would tell me constantly that if he was in my shoes he would have been “all over that girl”. He wanted to get me out of there for my safety from the guards. I agreed and was sent to another camp, Hendry CI, down south where the up north correctional officers wouldn’t have much reach.
I remember walking through the reception center and passing a mirror for the first time in six months. I literally had to go back and take a second and third look. I looked up at the mirror and honestly did not recognize myself. After being in the hole six months without sunlight my skin was sickly yellow, to the point where you could see my veins and blood vessels in my face, my hair was long and dirty looking. It definitely wasn’t a time that I was pleased with my appearance; I needed to get out in the sun immediately.
Hendry Correctional Institution was a rowdy place; definitely a gladiator camp. When you have been in the system a while you get to know a lot of people and as I walked through the camp I saw quite a few familiar faces. People I knew from previous camps and had become friends with over the years. If there was any good news about the transfer it was that I was now much closer to my family. I even had some friends visit me now that I was only an hour and a half away from home.
At that point I had about six and a half years left on my sentence. I was in the best shape of my life and in a good place mentally. Prison becomes just another world when you’re there, a routine of sorts. There is a lot of structure and if you do your time and don’t let your time do you, you manage and make the best of it.
August 29th, 2001, I was in the law library working like any other day when I heard “Anthony Passero report to the chaplain’s office” over the loud speaker. I remember thinking that’s weird, why they hell are they calling me to the chaplain’s office. I grabbed my hat and was walking towards the Chaplain when I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. It was my father walking into the gates and being buzzed into the prison. I knew instantly that something was wrong and my heart hit the floor.
My father walked up to me slowly, I remember it felt like forever, and I just knew from the look on his face. I looked at my father and said “Pop, I have been locked up too long. I know what this means just tell me it’s not Mommy”. My father started crying and grabbed me. He told me that I had to be strong and that she died in her sleep, peacefully. Man that was a tough day. My world came crashing down. I just spoke to my Mom the night before at 8:30pm when she told me she was tired and going to bed. The police later confirmed I was the last person to speak to her. I never knew that was going to be the last time I heard her voice, the last time I told her “I love you”. Through everything I had been through, this was the worst day of my life.
After my mother’s passing, the guards were very understanding of what I was going through. They allowed me to walk through the compound by myself while everyone was in the dorms just to clear my head. Sadly the Warden didn’t approve my request to attend my mother’s funeral because I had too much time remaining on my sentence and even though I was a model inmate they couldn’t risk it. That was tough to swallow but honestly I don’t think I wanted to go. I don’t think I wanted to remember my mom that way. I preferred to envision her for the last time the way I had in my head – her smiling, telling me how much she loved me, and how proud she was of me for what I was accomplishing.
My mom was a strong woman and for those who knew her and the relationship she had with God, knew that when she got up to heaven she was going to make a few changes.
My stepmom, at the time, who has now become a second mother to me, is a great woman also. When I went to jail she wrote a letter every month to the Director of the Youthful Offender Camps in Tallahassee asking him to reduce my sentence. The Director didn’t have that power but he took a liking to my stepmom and told her if I completed half of my sentence that he would put in a recommendation to the sentencing court for me to attend the youthful offender boot camp. 120 days of hell and if I completed it successfully they would request the judge reduce my sentence. Only as a youthful offender is this possible and if my father never made that call when I was in the adult side of the prison it would have never been a possibility.
When my mother died, my stepmom wrote another letter to Tallahassee explaining what happened and that I was denied a furlough to attend my mother’s funeral. I am guessing that the gentleman felt for what I was going through and decided to make a few calls ahead of schedule. Six months after my mother’s death I got a knock on my cell at 5am in the morning. “Passero” they said, “pack your shit son you’re going to boot camp.” I literally jumped out of bed, had my stuff packed in minutes and waited anxiously for my cell to open. My door opened and I ran to a couple of friends’ cells to knock on the doors and tell them I was off to boot camp and said goodbye.
There were about six or seven of us at Hendry going to boot camp that morning. The bus ride was about three hours and boot camp was exactly as described. 120 days of pure hell. The physical and mental pain they put you through was designed to break you. Inmates that were accepted to boot camp and completed the program were eligible to have their sentence modified. For those who didn’t, they were sent back to prison. I had five and a half years left on my sentence at that time, and there was no way they would break me. I was completing boot camp one way or another.
Truthfully even though a recommendation for a sentence modification is made there is no obligation by the judge to approve it. So while I was confident I would get through boot camp, I was skeptical of the possibility of going home early.
I could go on for days about boot camp and the events that transpired over those four months. It’s actually an impressive program and I believe it’s a great way to prepare inmates for re-entry into society. To give you an idea of how tough it was, there were 37 people when we got off that bus and 120 days later at graduation there were only 13 of us who made it. I was chosen by the other inmates to give a speech at graduation based on my story and what I endeavored to get to that point. I stood up in front of the news and heads of the prison system and expressed how I started out, what I had achieved, and what I learned over the past 22 years of my life. I received a standing ovation when finished and I hadn’t felt that good in a while.
I’m not going to say that I am super religious guy, but I do believe strongly in God and I would like to point out a few key points in my story.
I wound up being away from my family for 58 Months, 2 months less than what I originally prayed for. When that older man looked at me in the holding cell and said “son you’re glowing, whatever you prayed for today will be answered” it happened. Even though the judge had a different plan for me at the time and sentenced me to 10 years, God kept his word!
I often joke with my family that I could imagine my mother in heaven talking God’s ear off to the point He goes “Ok Victoria, ok, I will give you whatever you want – send that kid home.” I feel in part that it was my mother’s birthday present to my father; she made sure I graduated on July 2nd; my Fathers birthday.
I remember that drive home and how the world just looked different. And it was different, five years with minimal contact with society and there I was trying to soak in my new found freedom. I reflected on all of the things I had done, all of the things I had seen, and all of the wrongdoings I now had a chance to make right. It was surreal; I went in as a boy and came out as a 22-year old man, by definition. I look back at pictures from that day and outwardly I still looked like a little boy.
My father is a business man in the transportation industry and I was blessed to be able to go to work for him at the time. I was making $10 an hour and learning the family business while trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life with this fresh start. I did this for about three months when my cousin came over one day to my father’s house for dinner. He told me he was in the mortgage business and making really good money and that he could get me an interview. I didn’t know anything about mortgages or real estate but he thought I would be really good at it and assured me that the company would train me.
I remember that interview with Advantage One like it was yesterday. It was in an upscale office in Fort Lauderdale and the parking lot was filled with ritzy cars. The last thing I expected when walking into the interview was for the place to be filled with guys my age. I mean there were a few older guys, but for the most part everyone was in their twenties. I was interviewed by Nelson Gonzalez, one of the team leaders. He asked me to sell him the pen I was holding in my hand on the spot. It was a great interview tactic and something I used for years after that when holding my own interviews.
The one thing that stuck with me in that interview after I effortlessly sold him that pen was what he said directly after that. He looked up and said “Anthony you’re gonna spend money like water, because that’s how easy it is to make money here, like turning on a faucet.” I walked out of that interview fired up and ready to work. I remember telling myself that I had to speak with my dad to see if he was ok with me leaving the family business. My father, as expected, being the man that he is was eager for me to get out there and encouraged me to take the position.
My first day at Advantage One was a combination of excitement and nervousness. I asked to sit next to the top guy in the company; a guy by the name of James Shin, and was assigned to his team. He was a master sales rep and the top earner at the time. After a few days sitting next to him I was confident I would be the top guy there shortly.
To read more on how I went on to own and build a business grossing 250 million dollars per year, losing it all, having a precious daughter and bounced back to the top of Business world, fill out the contact form and the eBook will be emailed to you once complete. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!