3 Things: My Friend Roberto

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Today on the podcast I am honored to have one of my dearest friends, someone who has taught me a lot. 

I met Roberto through his mother, 22 years ago. She was crying in a coffee shop, and when I approached to ask what was wrong, she told me they had just lost an appeal in her son’s prison sentence.

Roberto is 39 years old, and he has been in prison for 24 years. For the last 22 years, I have spoken with him on the phone for 30 minutes every week, and we get to visit 1-3 times per year in person.

Roberto was very hesitant to do this podcast, as he does not believe his story is worth sharing. I had to implore him, because I believe we can all learn much from him.

This episode is not about Roberto’s case, or about guilt & innocence. It’s about humanity. I believe our humanity is not about who we are at our worst, but who we are at our best.

To me, Roberto is the perfect example of that, and an inspiration to me.

Listen here:

In this episode:

Part 1: The Path (1:25-6:30)

  • How Roberto was brought to America.
  • How he first got involved with a gang.
  • The one reason he believes that prison saved his life.

Part 2: Education (7:00-17:50)

  • At 15 years old, Roberto was sentenced to 55 years in prison. Through many appeals, his sentence was eventually reduced by half.
  • It’s been 24 years, and in that time Roberto has earned more degrees and certifications from within prison than many people do on the outside.
  • He also gained a friend (me). Over time, Roberto has become less of a student, and more of a teacher.

Part 3: Re-Entry (18:05-31:55)

  • This year, Roberto’s getting out. The first thing he wants to do? Just hug his mom.
  • He clears up common misconceptions about what it’s like to be in prison.
  • He re-lives the day he met the father of his victim.
  • He shares how he plans to pay it forward once he’s released.

3 Things I Learned:

1) No one’s life should be defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done. The majority of people in prison are regular people who have made a mistake – yet we don’t see them this way.

2) It’s the little things in life that are really the big thing. Life has a way of dulling our senses. Why is it that we must lose something in order to value it?

3) We all need someone to believe in us. Someone in our corner – no matter what. This is the classic story of the student becoming the teacher. I took a risk of reaching out to a stranger, and from it came one of the greatest connections I will ever make.

About 3 Things

Ric Elias learned 3 things from surviving the Miracle on the Hudson. Now he’s sharing conversations with remarkable people, and 3 things we all can take away from each.


Hear more from Ric by following him on Twitter and on Instagram.

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About the Author:

Ric Elias | Co-Founder & CEO

Ric Elias is CEO and co-founder of Red Ventures, a portfolio of digital companies headquartered in Charlotte, NC. In 2009, Elias survived Flight 1549, the "Miracle on the Hudson,” which led to his viral TED Talk, "3 Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed." In 2011, Ric was named Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year, and in 2016 he was inducted into the Carolinas Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. Ric has founded several social impact initiatives including Road to Hire, a 501(c)(3) that connects young adults with on-ramps to professional development and high-earning careers. A native of Puerto Rico, Ric attended Boston College and Harvard Business School.

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