Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, spoke about persistence. He said that nothing could ever take its place. Talent cannot take the place of persistence, pointing out that unsuccessful men with talent were all around us. Similarly, genius doesn’t replace talent, as many people with a genius IQ don’t amount to much. Education doesn’t equal the power of persistence, either. Many people with advanced college degrees fail to achieve happiness or fulfillment. On the other hand, perseverance and determination have helped many people with struggles overcome and succeed.
Tulio Cardozo went to prison for a drug-related crime. While incarcerated, he committed to changing his life. He hated prison, and he knew he never wanted to return. As I recall, he told me he served seven years in the California State Prison system.
Within days of my transfer to a halfway house in San Francisco, I met Tulio. Chris Redlitz, the co-founder of The Last Mile, introduced me to Tulio.
In 2012, when I met Tulio, The Last Mile, an incredible nonprofit organization, was just getting off the ground.
The Last Mile existed to help people in prison develop entrepreneurial skills. Today it empowers imprisoned people by teaching them to develop computer skills.
Tulio worked at The Last Mile, and Chris thought he would be helpful to me. We’ve been close friends ever since. He leads the technology division for our team at Prison Professors.
When I went to prison in 1987, the internet did not exist. When I transitioned from prison to a halfway house, I’d never sent an email, never used a cell phone.
To build my business, I knew that I would need to learn a great deal in a short amount of time. Chris Redlitz told me that Tulio would be able to help me learn.
He was right.
I asked Tulio how he became a computer maven in such a short amount of time. He finished serving his sentence a few months before me. Since he served a long sentence for a drug-related offense, Tulio’s knowledge about computers, networks, and web pages surprised me.
Tulio told me that he trained himself to code computers while serving his sentence—even though he did not have access to a computer.
When I asked how he learned, Tulio told me he learned by reading. He ordered books from the library to become familiar with the language of computers. He trained himself to memorize the commands to write computer code. Then he would study the code to ensure he understood every character without referencing his notes.
Over the years, Tulio became familiar with understanding the backend of technology, even though he could not access a computer.
It sounded like learning how to play tennis by reading about tennis. A person may be unable to master tennis without holding a racquet, but persistent reading may accelerate a person’s prospects of learning.
Tulio’s persistence certainly advanced his prospects for success. Despite getting out of prison during the great recession, he secured opportunities to earn an income right away. I’m grateful for everything he taught me about computers and for providing a great example of how persistence can prepare a person in prison for success.
- In what ways have your actions from last week shown your persistence?
- In what ways do your activities relate to the way that you have defined success?
- What skills can you develop, regardless of what challenges the institution presents?
- How can you use time in prison to reach your highest potential?
- In what way do you suppose Tulio’s self-directed adjustment influenced his earning capacity after he got out?
- How do the decisions you’ve made over the past week compare to the decisions a leader like Tulio made while he served his sentence?
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