Advice and Confinement 

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Sequence 25

14-Advice and Confinement

By introspecting, I began to question whether I could do anything to change the course of my future. I considered past decisions and projected into the future. From staff members in the detention centers, I heard two messages:

  • You’ve got nothing comin’.
  • Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

From the other people serving time, I heard a variety of messages:

  • The best way to serve time is to forget about the outside world.
  • Focus on your reputation inside.
  • Survival in prison requires hate.

That advice didn’t inspire much hope. I needed to believe I could accomplish something during my imprisonment. Accomplishments could redeem the bad decisions from my early 20s. I wanted to reconcile with society and open opportunities for a better life.

From reading Socrates, I learned that if I wanted to change the course of my future, I had to start by looking at my past. I had to contemplate the choices I made in the past. I learned to question all my choices.

  • How did earlier decisions influence my predicament? 
  • What effect would those decisions have on my future?
  • Could I take steps during my imprisonment to influence people I would meet in the future? 
  • Was it possible to influence how others would perceive me?
  • Could I reconcile in ways that would induce leaders to join my support group?

Those were yes or no questions. While locked in the cell, I questioned whether I could do anything to influence the people I would meet in the months, years, and decades ahead. 

Either I had the power within to transform my life, or I didn’t. The more I introspected on questions, the more hope I developed. Decisions I made while serving time could influence the life that I would lead upon release. Still, I wanted more clarity. The path ahead wasn’t so apparent during those early stages of my journey. 

  • I didn’t know what sentence my judge would impose. 
  • I didn’t know where prison administrators would send me. 
  • I didn’t know the people with whom I would have to serve time. 
  • I didn’t know anything about prison. 
  • I didn’t know how I would support myself. 
  • And I didn’t know what else I didn’t know.

There were a lot of unknowns. But I knew what I wanted: return to society unscathed from prison. 

How could someone serving decades in prison prepare for a triumphant return to society? 

The sooner a person starts asking such questions, the more it becomes possible to engineer a strategy that will lead to success.

Asking good questions led me to further thoughts. The more I stared at the concrete block walls, the more questions I had. The questions brought clarity. For me, the exercise in personal development began with “Socratic questioning.” 

We can define Socratic questioning as an exercise in asking questions that may help us come up with better answers. I learned how introspection could empower me.

We all have the power to ask better questions. Masterminds defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting a different result. 

As I lay in my cell, I knew I wanted a different life. It dawned on me that if I continued to associate with people who broke the law, I would always have problems with the law. I began to think of what I could do to build a better life—a life where I wouldn’t be running from the law or running from anyone else.

Restoring Strength:

Thinking about my past helped. First, I thought about all the decisions that led to my troubles with the law. Then I thought about what I could do to build a life of meaning and relevance. 

What could I do to influence people I would meet in the future?

I didn’t know who those people would be, but I knew that others would influence my ability to lead a full life after prison. 

A probation officer would supervise me after release. 

Could I take steps to influence that future probation officer?

I didn’t have much in the way of work experience before prison. Yet I would have to persuade an employer to hire me. 

Could I influence the ways that future employers would judge me?

I didn’t have any financial resources and would need people or companies to extend credit. 

Could I take steps while in prison to make it easier to obtain credit when I got out?

How could I use the time inside to solve problems I would face after release?


What steps are you taking to convert adversaries into advocates?

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