Blog Article 

 Humble Beginnings to CEO 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

Need Answers to Your Questions?

Terry overcame many traumatic episodes as an adolescent, and he didn’t perform well in school. Yet with grit and determination, he became a successful business leader and CEO.


  • Terry Merlin, an accomplished entrepreneur, developed experience over several decades by heading staffing agencies. He has raised several million in revenue and helped thousands of job seekers find meaningful work. Terry reached didn’t succeed at a high level until recovering from incomprehensible trauma during his adolescence. A trusted adult sexual assaulted him. He suffered through family dysfunction, and learning disabilities led to poor performance in school. Further, he struggled with addiction in various stages of his life. Despite those challenges, Terry defied the odds. He became an accomplished business owner through his skill as a team builder and motivator. 


  • Our students should recognize how positive relationships, aspiration for success, and a strong work ethic are steppingstones to professional and personal growth. Participants should also learn how basic communication, math, and critical thinking skills can assist their transition into the broader society upon release. Lastly, our audience should understand the importance of altruism. 

Lesson Requirements:

  • Watch the video that accompanies the lesson
  • Write a definition of each word highlighted in bold and written in italics
  • Use ten of the vocabulary words that we style with bold and italics in your responses
  • Respond to a minimum of three open-ended questions by following instructions at the end of the lesson.

Lesson Outcome:

  • Participants will increase their vocabulary by at least ten words.
  • Participants will improve writing skills and their ability to contemplate how their responses to open-ended questions relate to their prospects for success upon release.
  • Participants will add to their journal, demonstrating a self-directed, self-improvement pathway to prepare for success upon release.

Our team at Prison Professors appreciates Terry Merlin for sharing his story of business success with our audience. We explore how Terry overcame extreme disadvantages in life, including growing up in an unstable home, experiencing sexual assault as a young child, performing poorly in school, and struggling with addiction. Terry overcame these obstacles by applying success principles that closely align with our coursework, including a formidable work ethic, aspirations for success, and relationships with strong role models.

At the crux of Terry’s success is his “gift for gab.” He is a talented team builder who has generated several million dollars in revenue as the head of healthcare staffing agencies. 

Staffing agencies exist to fill vacancies for employers that are looking for candidates with specific skills. By being a trusted advisor to employers, Terry helped several thousand people find jobs and earn an income. Now Terry is venturing into non-profit work to help at-risk youth in a further demonstration of his altruism.


Terry experienced a great deal of trauma as a young child. Raised in the Rust Belttown of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Terry recalls living in a low-income neighborhood and enduring several family-related challenges. Terry’s brother died in the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, leading his mother to abuse and become addicted to anti-anxiety medication. His mother’s addiction caused severe instability in Terry’s homelife. Even though he was only a child, he often looked after his brothers while his father was away at work. Due to the influence of drugs, Terry’s mother couldn’t parent effectively. By the time Terry reached adolescence, he ran errands to doctors and pharmacists to acquire the medication for his mother. The task, he said, equated to his becoming an effective “drug dealer” for his mom. 

Along with his household troubles, Terry experienced sexual abuse. A priest assaulted him when he was only ten years old. As a result of that ordeal, Terry looked for ways to cope, or ease the pain. He made decisions that led to lifelong addictions to food, gambling, shopping, and pain medications. In recent years, Terry found the strength to speak about his his abuse with mental health professionals. He has come to terms with his past and made a commitment to reconcile with society by helping others overcome their challenges.

In addition to hardships at home, Terry struggled from a learning challenge known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This developmental condition, characterized byinattention and impulsivity, led to an inability to keep up in school. 

People with ADHD often struggle academically due to the symptoms associated with the disorder. Terry graduated from high school with a grade point average of between 1.8 and 1.9, indicating he was a D+ student. A guidance counselor shook Terry’s hand when he graduated, telling Terry that he didn’t think he would make it. 

Terry shows us an outstanding example of personal leadership. Despite early challenges, he still prevailed in life, enormous disadvantages notwithstanding. Like virtually all successful people, he developed a relentless work ethic, aspired for a better life, and built relationships with positive role models.

Terry learned the significance of hard work when as a very young child. Terry’s father, a steel mill worker, taught Terry to consistently work hard and exert full effort in all his endeavors. Starting at 12 years old, Terry took on various jobs, including as a paper route deliverer, grocery store attendant, and restaurant waiter. These experiences led him to value working diligently and meeting or exceeding his employers’ expectations at an early age. 

Terry always aspiredfor greatness. As a young man, he didn’t identify a specific career path, but he realized that “he wanted more” in life than what he saw around him. This desire for advancement led him to reach out to a career counselor at a community college. He wanted to explore options that may have been available. 

Initially, Terry thought about becoming an X-ray technician. His counselor, however, suggested nursing as an alternative as it did not have the same prolonged wait time. Terry accepted the counselor’s recommendation because it aligned with his long-term professional ambition of having a meaningful vocation.

Terry also maintained a strong support network. In the nursing program, Terry befriended two older women who mentored him and encouraged him to focus on schoolwork. He attributes their influence to helping him remain disciplined and to complete his studies. He also found strong role models in his older sister and brother-in-law. They thrived in their careers and inspired Terry to commit himself to excellence so he could grow professionally. His sister, who is 17 years his senior, helped pave the way for Terry’s accomplishments through her leadership example. 

Terry graduated with an associate degree in nursing. He considers the day of his ceremony “the biggest day” of his life, as it marked an accomplishment that he never thought that he’d achieve. After graduating, he worked for a short time as a bedside nurse before getting involved in the healthcare staffing industry.


As I served my 45-year prison sentence, role models like Terry helped me transform my life ahead of my release. I made many bad decisions as a young man, and I had been a lazy student of life. I lived by a bad philosophy. 

People like Terry helped me to believe in myself. They gave an example of what it meant to pursue excellence. His success at overcoming the past would have inspired me to work harder. If you’re working through this course, ask yourself whether you’re working as hard as he had to work to overcome trauma. 

Many people in prison or jail performed poorly in school and experienced dysfunctional backgrounds. Terry’s story shows us that people who work hard can overcome obstacles, build meaningful lives, and lead successful careers. He has dealt with a myriad of personal difficulties that few others could endure. Yet he used proven success principles to prosper professionally and contribute to society.

We learn invaluable lessons about relationship building. Even though Terry is an introvert, he has a natural gift of establishing rapport with others. He tells us that maintaining interpersonal bonds is essential for success in all careers and areas of life. Sometimes, Terry would have to work with others he disliked but always treated the other person with respect. We should also recognize the types of associations that Terry pursued. He tells us that he prioritized relationships with intelligent, talented people who could help him understand business operations. 

Like Terry, people leaving prison or jail should interact with hard-working, law-abiding citizens. Those are the types of people who can encourage a successful reintegration into the broader community. Formerly incarcerated people stand the best chance of success if they avoid criminogenic behaviors and environments. Often, returning citizens face continued interactions with law enforcement because they keep ties with negative influences.

Lastly, we should recognize how strong communication skills help us build successful relationships. It’s not academic performance, but an ability to connect with our fellow human beings. Terry’s story gives us ample evidence.

We must make ourselves relatable to other people. Even though incarcerated, people in our audience can begin refining their vocabulary and speech patterns to increase their likelihood of finding a job upon release. Beyond improving speaking and writing skills, our course participants should develop an approachable demeanor. People with a friendly attitude are more likely to persuade others to hire them or offer their housing upon release.

  • How can you determine if someone in your life will be a positive or negative influence?
  • What traits should you look for in role models?
  • What personality traits do you think Terry demonstrated to his mentors and colleagues?
  • What are effective ways to build rapport with other people?
  • Compare and contrast the terms “communication skills” and “persuasion skills.”


Terry experienced phenomenal growth in his career based on his skills as a team builder. In 1996, he first became involved in the healthcare staffing industry. At the time, he worked in Florida as a nursing supervisor for HCA Healthcare, a large corporation that operates facilities nationwide. Representatives from the company asked him to start a staffing agency for the corporation’s 11 hospitals on Florida’s west coast.

Terry reluctantly took on the responsibility and vigorously researched the needs of his new position. He eventually discovered his knack for finding talented individuals to place in healthcare centers. This newfound talent led Terry to climb the professional ladder and assume more challenging roles. By the time he left the firm in 2003, he held the titles of director and vice president. 

Terry spent the next several years working for a large corporation before becoming an entrepreneur. In 2009, he bought out a company based on the recommendation of one of his friends. He borrowed money from his sister and brother-in-law to acquire the funds to purchase the firm.

Under his leadership, the company has exponentially expanded its operations. Terry experienced “ups and downs” in the business’ performance but made sound decisions that led it to remain profitable. In 2019, he began to collaborate with an established a non-profit enterprise that serviced the needs of patients in five hospitals. Under Terry’s leadership, the company has grown from an idea into a company that generates tens of millions in revenue. His company has 25 full-time employees and provides jobs to approximately 700 people assigned to various hospitals and clinics. Terry attributes much of this growth to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which dramatically increased the demand for healthcare services. 

As his business rapidly grew, Terry remained committed to his employees’ well-being. He sometimes could not hire personnel quickly enough to satisfy his expanding business needs. To show his appreciation, Terry offered frequent bonuses to his staff members as he realized that his team’s morale was critical for his business’ prosperity. During our video discussion, I recall Terry telling us that he took on extra work between 2010 and 2012 to avoid laying off staff amidst the severe recession in those years.

Despite his achievements, Terry continued to suffer from significant personal difficulties. He struggled with addictions that involved binge eating, gambling, and excessiveshopping. Terry developed a dependency on Percocets, an opioid medication to treat pain. He began relying on those medications after suffering the aftereffects of back surgery. The medication also helped him to copewith the mental anguish that tormented him with memories of sexual abuse from his childhood. 

Terry’s addictions led him to accumulate a high level of debt. Despite earning a high income, he spent beyond his means, leaving him in a financially precarious situation. Due to these problems, his business also began to decline. He described himself as a functioning addict, capable of keeping the business afloat during challenging times.

Fortunately, Terry began recovering from his addictions and recouping his monetary losses. In 2020, he began attending therapy to address the underlying causes of his addiction. Terry found the strength to discard all his pills. He voluntarily withdrew from the medication, showing personal strength to overcome. 

Gradually, Terry paid off his debts and curtailed his spending. He now ones six rental properties – all of which he holds debt-free.


Terry is a role model for anyone seeking to rebound after experiencing hardships. Although he came from a humble background and dealt with copious hardships, Terry has consistently recovered from his setbacks. He transformed his life for the better and significantly contributed to our community. As a business owner, Terry has generated several hundred jobs and tax revenues necessary to sustain our society. 

Anyone can adopt the same success principles and attitudes to begin reaching a higher level of success. 

Terry shows us that formal education is not the only route to success. Some of his colleagues hold master’s and doctoral degrees, yet Terry doesn’t get intimidated or feel that they are any more intelligent. He recognizes that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. He cautions our students to approach highly educated people with confidence, knowing that we all have value to offer. He encourages listeners to network with the highly educated. Such people add value and teach us a lot, but they are not any better than anyone else. 

I always viewed people like Terry as role models that could help us prepare. If we learn lessons from them, we can prepare to thrive upon release.

Even though Terry did not progress as far in school as many of the people he employs or supervises, he still developed fundamental skills in math, communication, and critical thinking. In our discussion, we outline how he relies on his abilities in each area:

Math skills – Terry has a strong affinityfor math and encourages our students to develop their skills in this area. He tells us that understanding basic arithmetic is more valuable to him than complex subjects like geometry or algebra. One important aspect of running a business is creating a profit and loss statement, a financial report that specifies the company’s revenue and expenses. He uses simple addition and subtraction to generate this report and remain aware of his company’s financial situation. 

Understanding math also keeps Terry engaged with his business. Although he employs financial experts, he does not simply outsource his duties. Rather, he converses with his chief financial officer to ensure that he understands how his company is spending and earning money. 

Communication  – Our team urges listeners to develop a strong command of written and spoken English to influence and inform others. In addition to writing and speaking well, we also encourage our students to develop effective interpersonal skills. Persuasive communicators like Terry use their relationship-building talents to earn the trust of others, including business partners, clients, and employers. We learn from Terry to become effective conversationalists to build camaraderie. A formerly incarcerated person is more likely to secure employment and establish a solid professional network if they become likable to potential bosses and associates.

Critical thinking – Business leaders like Terry make complicated decisions in the interest of their companies. Terry selectively chooses business relationships that can lead to successful outcomes. He thinks critically to determine which professional associations would be beneficial to him. He uses both his critical thinking and communication skills to build rapport with others by identifying mutual interests and holding naturally flowing conversations.

  • How does your body language and attitude affect the way you communicate?
  • Tell us how Terry’s story relates to the way that you’re working to rebound from challenges?
  • What mindset do you believe Terry adopted to overcome his addiction?
  • What type of relationships do you believe Terry maintained with his employees?
  • In what ways does Terry demonstrate resilience?

Non-Profit Venture

At the end of our conversation, Terry teaches us about altruism – the willingness to help others without expecting anything in return. Terry gains satisfaction by seeing others succeed. He finds investing in other people more rewarding than investing in any other type of asset class. For Terry, seeing other people reach their highest potential brings more fulfillment than monetary gain. He feels a sense of purpose by giving back to his community. 

Terry currently works to create a non-profit organization to help at-risk youths in the LGBT community. Many LGBT juveniles face abandonment from their families, leaving them homeless and destitute. These youths are vulnerable to sexual trafficking, drug addiction, and other issues that could derail their lives. Terry feels that a deep sense of responsibility to help those who lack financial resources, or guidance. By developing a comprehensive course on personal leadership, he hopes to give more youth a chance to have a proper education and a stable homelife. 

  • How do you think helping at-risks youths helps Terry reconcile with his past?
  • How can altruism prove beneficial to you and the community you want to help?


Terry’s life story should inspire us all to come to terms with our past and begin planting the seeds of our success. He came from a disadvantaged background and experienced numerous hardships, including sexual assault, addiction, and family dysfunction. Nevertheless, he changed his life for the better and contributed to our community by creating hundreds of jobs in the healthcare industry.

We learn that Terry accomplished his professional featsthrough his talent for building relationships. He realized early on that he had to forge strong interpersonal bonds with hard-working, law-abiding people to achieve his dreams. He capitalized on his relationships with colleagues, mentors, and employers throughout his career to open new opportunities for himself.

We also explored the importance of developing basic math, critical thinking, and communication skills. He often uses simple arithmetic to understand how his businesses make and spend money. Essential concepts of business, such as a profit and loss statement, depend on knowing how to add and subtract. As a leader, he thinks critically to decide how to move his business forward. 

Lastly, Terry applies sound communication techniques to establish rapport with others.

As a sign of gratitude for all he has accomplished, Terry demonstrates altruism. He is now operating a non-profit to help abandoned LGBT youths avoid homelessness and poverty. He builds a sense of purpose by helping those around him succeed; he finds helping others to be more gratifying than monetary gain.

The world benefits from people like Terry. Our team encourages all our audience members to contribute to society by learning from Terry’s example. It’s a sure-fire way to restore confidence, and it can help us find a sense of liberty.

Critical Thinking Questions:

Choose any of three questions below. Write a response for each of the three questions you choose. In your response, please write at least three paragraphs, with a minimum of three sentences each. 

This exercise in personal development will help you develop better critical-thinking skills, and better writing skills. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. We’re striving to learn how to think differently, and how to communicate more efficiently. Try to use some of the vocabulary words from this lesson in your responses.

  1. What attitudes and behaviors should you demonstrate to become likable to others?
  2. What are good ways to find mutual interests with people?
  3. How can finding mutual interests help you find a job or expand your professional network?
  4. Why is it critical to get along with people we dislike on the job?
  5. What are constructive ways to handle disagreements or difficult people on the job?
  6. What characteristics should you look for when deciding whether to befriend or associate with someone?
  7. Why are good communicators more likely to become leaders than poor communicators?
  8. What techniques can you use to develop a professional demeanor ahead of your release?
  9. Why is demonstrating altruism important?
  10. How can assisting others help you overcome your past challenges?

Need Answers to Your Questions?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We Have Updated Our Terms And Conditions

We have updated our Privacy Policy, Terms of Use, and Terms of Service page. To review the latest version, please click on Terms of Use. If at any time you choose not to accept these terms, please do not use this site.