Case Study

Mario Hernandez: From 60 Months to 24 Months


Reduction in Sentence

Released in


Career and Personal Transformation

Born in California, I trained in Mexico City to be a singer and actor. I appeared in Mexican productions of Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Man of La Mancha. I also toured the United States with Miss Saigon. After a few years on tour, I moved back to Tijuana to be with my family and took a job at a car dealership in San Diego near the Mexican border. I received a SENTRI card, which allowed me to cross the border more easily to get to work. Unfortunately, I abused that privilege by agreeing to drive illegal drugs across the border to make extra money. One day, federal agents stopped me and discovered contraband in my vehicle.

I spent nine days in the county jail and saw kids coming back after sentencing, looking destroyed after getting five or seven years when they were expecting much less time. I realized they had wasted their chance to influence their probation officer or judge. They spent their time blaming their lawyer, the judge, and everyone else. I wanted to go down a different path. As soon as I got out on bail, I found Justin Paperny online. I read his book Lessons From Prison and hired White Collar Advice (WCA). They gave me a plan that I implemented nine months before sentencing. I did everything they told me to do and did a lot of soul searching for the narrative.

At first, my lawyer resisted the idea of submitting a personal narrative. Justin helped me communicate with my lawyer. I explained the importance of telling the whole story and sent my lawyer videos of federal judges explaining the significance of personal narratives. Eventually, my lawyer bought into the strategy. I also developed a life plan for the future. Not only did I prepare for sentencing, but I also prepared for my life after prison. My life was spinning out of control completely before my arrest. Thanks to my work with WCA, I realized I still had a lot to live for.

My Pre-Sentence Report recommended a five-year sentence. At the hearing, the judge held up my narrative and said, “I read it and it has impacted me.” The judge acknowledged my personal struggles and then sentenced me to 24 months. I qualified for the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), so I served 11 months in prison plus four months in a halfway house.

I was already on the right track before surrendering to prison. I took all of Justin and Michael Santos’s advice about how to use my time in prison. I studied, I wrote, and I stayed away from trouble. I exercised, losing weight from 230 pounds to 187 pounds. Having a release plan before I got there really helped. I gave the plan to my case manager at Sheridan, and she was impressed. She saw I was doing the work and not just talking about it.

Today, I am earning a bachelor’s degree while singing on the Praise and Worship Team at Shadow Mountain En Espanol in El Cajon, California. I restarted my musical theater career with an upcoming leading role in Mexico and have been cast in a musical movie to be filmed in Mexico City. My older daughter recently graduated from New York University with a concentration in theater, and my son will soon begin the music program at Borough of Manhattan Community College. I hope to relocate to New York City to pursue my lifelong dreams alongside my children.

My bad choices were totally out of character for me. I learned my lesson and will never make the same mistakes. The work I did with Justin’s team is still helping me today. If you do the work consciously, it will help you get back on track in every way. I had a miraculous transformation in my life, and I want to share that message of hope with others.