In our course, Preparing for Success after Prison, we recommend a principled pathway to overcome the challenges of confinement. We don’t have to limit the strategy to people in prison. I repeat the ten steps frequently because they guided me through 9,500 days as federal prisoner number 16377-004.
The strategy of relying upon systemic, methodical steps to prepare for success still guides me today, nearly ten years since I concluded my obligation to the Bureau of Prisons.
What strategy will work for you?
Part of the strategy is knowing that we must be willing to adjust when necessary. We engineer a path that will help us overcome hurdles. When we test, we gather data. That data sometimes requires us to break a system and rebuild.
Breaking and rebuilding is part of the pursuit of excellence. Today I will “break” a part of our new website, Prison Professors Talent dot com. Until I write a workbook to show the site’s features, people in prison won’t know what I’m describing. Today’s journal entry aims to show that sometimes we have to recalibrate, even if the effort requires us to re-engineer.
In building Prison Professors Talent, I wanted to provide people in prison with an opportunity to flesh out release plans. An effective release plan opened pathways for me to succeed upon release. I had multiple decades to refine what a great release plan should look like. However, people starting with us at Prison Professors Talent should fully grasp the iterative nature of creating a plan.
We don’t write a release plan and then believe we have a magic pill or a get-out-of-jail-free card. With our plan, we should show that we fully grasp the challenge of overcoming a significant obstacle. We must develop and tweak the plan as necessary. This work demonstrates our commitment to triumph over the challenges ahead—in iterative steps.
We’ve got to build upon the plan. A plan without action is simply words on a page. A good strategy requires a series of action steps. We must show our efforts to prepare for success after prison. We can take advantage of or create new opportunities when we articulate an effective plan.
A good plan should begin with the end in mind. And when our plan fails to achieve its intended goal, we must tweak it or adjust it.
Always ask questions:
What are we striving to accomplish?
- Is our plan getting us closer?
- What can we do better?
- How can we show that we’re constantly working and developing?
We’ve got to anticipate how we will use the plan to open new opportunities and overcome hurdles.
I initially hired a web developer to collaborate with me in engineering the website. I told him I wanted to create a platform to help people in prison document or memorialize how they worked to build extraordinary and compelling adjustments. Since many imprisoned people lacked financial resources, I would need a strategy to cover the costs initially. Then, as the site began to scale, we would show its effectiveness. Then, we could build corporate sponsors to cover the rising costs.
We launched with a series of courses. I’ve written many lessons that we distribute in jails and prisons. I wanted people to provide access to all those lessons. As it turns out, we do not have the human resources to manage the distribution of thousands of lessons. Further, our constituents (the people in prison) do not have access to understand the delivery mechanism of all lessons because they have limited time on the computer kiosks in prison.
For that reason, I need to tweak the design.
Rather than beginning with a suite of courses and lessons, we will invite all participants to start with simple tasks.
I can only instruct people with the strategy that worked for me. Consider the following steps:
Step 1: Biography
Each participant should write a biography. The biography can be a single entry or include multiple entries. It should help readers understand who you are and the steps you’re taking to prepare for success after release.
Step 2: Journal
The journal entry should show how you worked to execute your plan. Over time, the journal will become an enormously powerful asset. It will show others that you’re not full of happy talk. Instead, you know how to identify a problem and build solutions.
Step 3: Book Reports
The book reports should show how you’re investing in yourself to learn. Many people read books while in prison. But few can demonstrate the knowledge they’ve retained or how reading played an integral role in a systemic effort to prepare for success after release.
Step 4: Release Plan
Show that you’ve anticipated all the challenges ahead. Anticipate the people who will have discretion over your liberty. It would be best to consider people you will never meet and people you will sit across the table from you. If those people have discretion over your liberty, start building a plan to position yourself for success. Show that your plan has iterative stages and you work on it daily.
Five steps. No big deal. Today I am instructing my technology team to break the website we built so that all new profiles learn these lessons. And over the next five days, my journal entries will be a lesson (or multiple lessons) on each of the five steps above.
I would never ask anyone to follow a path that did not contribute to my success upon release. Today I am breaking a part of the plan and rebuilding. It will cost me time and money. Yet to get the outcome I want, I need to adjust.
How can you adjust your release plan to show your commitment to success?