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How I Went From a Cellblock to a Penthouse A felon who did time in five maximum security prisons relates how he became an online marketing millionaire.

By Ryan Stewman Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


I'll never forget that night. My girlfriend had broken up with me, and I was in a bad place. My best friend thought it would be a good idea to send a hooker over to my apartment to entertain me.

When she got there, she could tell I was a drug dealer. She asked me, "So, you got any blow?" and it started from there: my personal journey from a cellblock to a penthouse -- proving that with hard work and determination you will get what you work for.

Related: How Prison Became My Launching Pad for Success

Of course, I had no idea of the dark days that lay ahead as I broke out the white powder for the hooker and myself that night. Truth is, I'd never done coke before. I had been selling it a while but never tried it. I was addicted to weed and knew that coke would be a bad idea. That night though, brokenhearted and all, I let my decision-making skills fail me.

She bent over, took my $100 bill and snorted. I'd watched hundreds of others do the same. And though I hadn't done it myself, I knew what to do. I snorted the entire line up my right nostril as she grabbed my hand and escorted me to the bedroom. "Strip down, let's do this," she said. But as I went to unbuckle my belt, I felt my heart beat hard -- like real hard.

I don't remember a single thing that happened after that, until I woke up the next day in the hospital, chained to the bed with handcuffs.

Apparently I had had a seizure, died and been shocked back to life by the first responders. While I was shaking on the floor the hooker had run into the other room and called 911.

I was in my hospital bed, still wondering what in the hell had happened, when a police officer walked in and read me my rights. Worst day of my entire life. Still. I was under arrest for the manufacture and delivery of cocaine. A first-degree felony with a maximum sentence of up to 99 years. Not that I was doing anything good with my life at the time, but what was left of my life was ruined.

I eventually pleaded guilty and got a two-year sentence at a maximum security prison in the state of Texas. Federal inmate number 13196-078.

I was 21 years old.

I ended up being transferred to five different federal and state prisons in 18 months, some more violent than others, each one scary as hell. But I made a decision on the inside: I'd never get in trouble ever again. So, when I got out, I started again, from the bottom. I went to work at a car wash. A felon destined to be a working loser the rest of my life, but I was willing to do anything, as long as I wasn't locked up.

At the car wash, I had a client whom I always upsold washes to. One day she offered me a job working for her mortgage brokerage. I knew what a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity looked like. I worked my way up to owning a branch of her company, moving from prison to prosperity. I helped people buy homes.I funded millions in loans, from 2005 to 2010, with the exception of those 18 months behind bars.

I got out in July 2008. In 2009 I closed 183 mortgage loans in Texas.

I had a license and a flawless record. But then Congress passed the Dodd Frank Act, which imposed new strictures on mortgage lending. That's how I came to lose my license. My past had come back to haunt me. And life again was scary as hell.

Related: 11 Mindsets Learned in Prison Made Me Mentally Unstoppable

After all, there I was with only two skill sets, selling mortgages and washing cars, and I could no longer do the former. I proceeded to fail over and over. I tried network marketing. No good. I tried sales jobs that I hated. But then things turned around: I discovered Internet and social media marketing.

The year was 2010 and many business owners still thought Facebook and social media were just fads. I knew they were wrong. I knew I could help businesses make more sales by networking online with prospects.

So, I created my own marketing company and ended up running social media pages for more than 70 business owners. It was a whip. Every day I had to come up with content for 70 different pages -- no easy chore. I worked my tail off.

And the pace I kept wasn't sustainable. But after managing all those pages and turning them into information products, I learned how to create online training programs. That way, when I made a sale, all I had to do was send a log-in to the program. The clients would manage their own pages, following my methods.

My program was a moderate success. My first product saved me from having to manage so many pages and content. Though I hadn't become rich, I was making sales and seeing possibilities. I still sell that same product today. It's made me a lot of money over the years.

So have the products that have followed: Every time I found a new need in the marketplace, I'd just create a product and sell it. Flash-forward five years: I've got over 13 different products I sell online, producing six figures each month in sales.

I've built my entire business from scratch, with zero skills, and a felony record, to boot. I have 28 streams of income and a sales staff of six. I've written two best-selling books and consult for some of the biggest banks in the nation. I'm proof that no matter how many times you get kicked down, you can get back up even stronger if you try.

Maybe you're not in the best place in your life right now. But I've been there (obviously) and can say that with an open mind, hard work and determination, you will get what you work for. It took me almost six years to become an "overnight" success. The key is to start now. Don't wait to make the life you want. Do it now.

Related: How My Life as an Entrepreneur Shaped My Time in Prison

I myself literally went from prison to the penthouse, in the nicest building in Dallas, Texas. No matter what life may throw at you, you can turn it around and make the most of it. I did it. You can, too.

Ryan Stewman, the "hardcore closer," is a best-selling author, podcaster and blogger. He's best known for consulting with alpha personality business owners on rapidly growing their sales via the use of strong marketing and advertising.

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