Section 7  

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Prison! My 8,344th Day—Section 7: Lessons from Maslow

When I’m exercising, I don’t feel the limitations of imprisonment. I’m in my world, oblivious to the men around me. I keep count of the training routine I’m on, and I’m conscious of advancing toward my goal. Simultaneously, I’m thinking about Carole and the steps we can take together to build our brand.

Success will come in incremental stages. While studying through undergraduate school, I remember reading about Maslow’s hierarchy. Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, theorized that before a man could work toward a higher potential, he would need to satisfy basic needs. The first task would be to meet biological needs. After securing food, water, and shelter, a person would advance to the next left, where he sought safety. Then he could begin to grow. 

Similarly, I would need to grow through different stages once I got out. Early adjustment decisions opened opportunities. I’ll have the financial resources to get started when I get out. Instead of taking the first job, I’ll be able to open the right opportunity. Liberty will come from being able to look around and assess. 

Although I don’t have a precise release date, I anticipate transitioning to a halfway house in 2012. During that first year, I have got bring everything together. I’ll need to leverage all the work I’ve done to open higher levels of liberty. From other people who have gotten out, I’ve heard about rules that prohibit people with criminal convictions from associating with other people convicted of crimes. The career plans I have in mind will require me to overcome that obstacle. While in the halfway house, I’ll get a better sense of what authorities will allow.

I should finish serving my sentence sometime in 2013. By then, I’ll know more about what probation officers expect. I’ll need to travel, and I want permission to work independently.

I project my thoughts into the future, thinking about the life Carole and I will lead five or ten years from now.

Where will we be?

How will I earn my living?

What will I do to overcome the bias I expect others to have against me? 

I will never erase the stigma that accompanies my criminal conviction or the record of a quarter-century in prison. I brought this adversity upon myself, and I will work through the complications with dignity. Perseverance will show that I want to reconcile with society. My commitment to making things right should help me triumph over the challenges. 

As I press through another set of pushups and take 20 paces around the track before dropping for another set, every thought focuses on how I’m going to overcome those complications I expect when I get out. I feel the time ticking away, getting me closer to the day I’ll walk out of here. 

I’m determined to be ready.

In five years, prison will be a part of my past. By that time, I should have a system that will result in purchase orders from institutional customers, businesses, and individuals. I’ll polish many of the resources I’ve created, getting them ready for a commercial market. They’ll support presentations I’ll make to show the power of discipline, commitment, and making values-based, goal-centered decisions. 

This strategy empowered me through a quarter-century in prison. Other people will see how it can help them resolve problems—whether those problems are getting more sales, overcoming addictions, losing weight, or making more money. The model I’ll build will resemble a tour guide rather than a travel agent. Instead of telling people where they should go or what they should do to reach their destination, I’ll show how the process worked for me. 

I’ll never ask anyone to do anything that I didn’t do. 

My life will be transparent once I’m out, just as it is now. The records of my daily activities will become assets. They will show the importance and necessity of daily preparation, of living with deliberate purpose. Every step I take today relates to my vision of the life I want to lead tomorrow.

My brand will become one of personal empowerment. Imprisonment provides the context of my message. Yet the message itself will show that each of us has the answer within regardless of the adversity. To overcome, we can rely upon the same strategy that I learned from leaders like Mandela, Viktor Frankl, Mahatma Gandhi, and today’s business leaders. 

People who’ve succeeded show us the path. It’s up to us to walk the path. 

We may know the path, but that doesn’t mean we all walk the path. Some people struggle to follow. They need examples to show how incremental steps advance us. We must measure the steps, think, and count our way from one accomplishment to another. 

This strategy has kept me on track through 8,344 days of imprisonment. It will carry me through the remaining two years that I have to serve. And it will lead to success upon my release.


By taking incremental steps around this track, dropping for pushups every 20 paces, I’ve added another 700 pushups toward my goal. That’s it for today. An even thousand pushups would have been better. But I have a responsibility to attend the Toastmasters meeting at 8:30. 

Since I’ve got to abide by the system’s schedules, I forego the rest of my routine, skipping abdominal exercises. I’ll catch up tomorrow. I pull on my shirt, return the pushup blocks, collect my ID from the clerk, and return to the housing unit for a quick shower.

Feeling refreshed after the cold shower, I walk out of the bathroom, turning left to speed toward my cubicle. Numerous other men still lie in their racks. Taft camp is the most laid-back prison I’ve known. Compared to other prisons, staff members in Taft don’t micromanage the men’s schedules. Without structure, many people sleep away their time. 

I empathize with them, understanding that everyone copes with confinement in his way. Adjustments change over time. Sometimes sleep can provide an escape from the pains that torment a man who misses his wife and children. 

The many years have made imprisonment a regular part of my life, giving me a different perspective. Perhaps it’s different because I don’t have children. Either way, I can’t hibernate. I’ve got to seize every opportunity to grow and prepare.

I see that David, my cellmate, has left the cubicle. It’s 8:27. The khaki pants and white t-shirt that Tim ironed for me hang on the hook at the entrance, but I don’t want to wear those clothes yet. Instead, I grab a folded pair of pants and a t-shirt from the right side of my locker. I pull the clothes on, grab a water bottle, and head out to the visiting room where our Toastmasters meeting takes place most Monday mornings at 8:30.

Toastmasters is a speaking group, or rather a group where those who want to participate can develop or practice their public-speaking skills. I started participating in Toastmasters in 1990 while in the Atlanta penitentiary. More than 50 men met in an auditorium every Sunday evening. I used to rehearse all week to prepare the presentations I would make. 

I welcomed the opportunity to write, practice, and deliver speeches to an audience that could be hostile. I needed the training. It helped me build confidence that I would need to advocate for myself and open opportunities. Since starting with Toastmasters, I’ve welcomed challenges to present on different topics—believing the effort would prove valuable once I got out.

In Taft Camp, our club goes by the name Toastmasters, but the club doesn’t have an affiliation with the national group. Between 20 and 30 men show up to participate. Only a handful invest the time to prepare seriously by writing, then devoting at least one hour of preparation for every minute of the speech. 

When I offer to deliver a speech, I prepare. I spend more than 10 hours preparing a 10-minute speech. It may be overkill, but I want to get every pause right. By investing time, I grow more confident that I’ll succeed in developing more powerful persuasive skills—which will prove valuable in the businesses I intend to build later.

I see Bali, a friend of mine at Taft Camp, walking out of the visiting room as I walk toward it. He reminds me of Gandhi—he wears round wireframe glasses that remind me of Gandhi’s portrait.

Bali serves a six-month sentence at Taft Camp for an offense related to income taxes. Each day, he sits on the other side of the table where I write in the afternoon. Bali works on his projects and frequently offers wisdom that he has learned through experience and study under Eastern spiritual masters.

“Professor,” he says to me as I approach, “Toastmasters is canceled for today.”

“Oh, why is that?” I ask him, knowing that administrators routinely make changes to prison schedules.

“I don’t know. Everyone is leaving. We’ll meet next Monday.”

I turn back toward the housing unit, undisturbed. I consider changing back into my exercise gear and returning to the track to complete my pushup routine. But as I climb the stairs that lead into my housing unit, I decide against that idea. It’s 8:31, and I can use the extra time for work.

“Are you going to the office, Professor?” Bali is gracious and humble. He is in his mid-50s and owns a successful business in Central California. He and his wife have been married for longer than 35 years. Together, they’ve raised two daughters, a medical doctor and an engineer. He shows respect and deference that I don’t deserve, referring to me as his prison guru.

“I’ll be there after a while, in about an hour,” I tell him. “I have to eat something first.”

“Very good,” he responds. “I’ll hold down the fort.”

Although I have the quiet room to myself during the morning’s predawn hours, it’s open territory when I return after my exercise. I keep my books, papers, and chair at the table to reserve my position. I don’t have a right to call any space my own. 

The quiet room is first-come, first-served. Other people show consideration for my seniority in the system. I don’t mind sharing the space at all. My primary concern is keeping the room quiet, but I can only depend on silence in the very early hours of the morning. Hence, my self-imposed schedule. Bali understands the value I place on quiet, and I’m glad he will sit in the room while I eat.

Before returning to my cubicle, I turn into the large television room to my right. The room has three wall-mounted televisions and several tables for games. It’s a common area where prisoners congregate. The noise level is low because people listen to audio through headphones rather than television speakers.

I don’t have my radio on, so I won’t hear anything. I’m only interested in seeing the market ticker on the CNBC screen. Earlier in my prison journey, the stock market significantly influenced my adjustment. It was the late 1990s after I had concluded my formal education programs. I had the fever for three years and was wholly absorbed with market speculations. 

Leveraging resources I earned through writing, I speculated indirectly with assistance from my sister, Julie. I followed the market closely and read extensively to learn more about technical analysis, fundamental analysis, market sectors, market trends, individual companies, etc. 

With Julie’s help, I invested early in Internet bellwethers like Yahoo! and America Online. Those transactions paid off in huge multiples. In 1999, during my 12th year of imprisonment, I paid more than $50,000 in capital-gains taxes from earnings. Gains from those trades changed my life, providing resources that I could use to open a relationship with Carole.

I don’t invest or speculate in the stock market now. I set priorities. More than anything, I want to ensure that Carole has sufficient capital to cover all expenses while she works toward her nursing degree.

When we began our romance, I liquidated my stock portfolio to invest in our future—the decision to build a life with Carole helped me feel more like a man and less like a prisoner. 

Even though I’m not investing now, I watch the market every day. By watching index averages and market sentiment, I get a sense of what’s going on in the economy. 

I’m convinced that understanding the stock market will prove valuable when I start my own small business. I’ll be able to make a more persuasive case when I set out to raise investment capital. 

This morning, the Dow trades at 10,201. The news reports focus on the massive oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. Current reports estimate that more than 25,000 barrels of oil spill into the ocean every day. 

I wonder what opportunities would open for people who provide solutions to that problem. Life is about solving problems. Abraham Maslow gave us a theory that makes a lot of sense. To resolve more significant challenges, we first must solve the basics.

I’ve got to keep working. 


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