Attitudes, Aspirations, and Sentencings:
Halim is a special kind of human being. Intuitively, soon after authorities locked him in prison as a teenager, he had an idea of what success should look like for him. Then, he set clear goals that would lead him to become a better communicator. Over time, he trained himself to write books, to launch a publishing company, and to paint pictures that would help others see what they did not see previously.
By the time an opportunity opened for him to go through a new sentencing hearing, Halim had a new story. The judge responded by releasing him from the injustice of a double-life sentence.
Few people go into a sentencing hearing with the preparations that Halim made during the 22 years that he served. Taking the long view requires patience, commitment, and the right attitude. Even people who face relatively short sentences (and anything is short compared to a life sentence) tend to think about themselves in the immediate moment rather than what they can become over time.
That’s understandable. They’re about to lose their liberty.
The concept of being separated from all that a person loves can feel surreal. Yet even people facing short sentences can learn a great deal from Halim’s story. They can think about the different people that they’re going to encounter and figure out a strategy to influence perceptions.
We tend to view our lives from the limited perspective of how we see ourselves. Yet others may see us differently from the way that we see ourselves.
When I went through the criminal justice process, I had the wrong attitude because I didn’t know how to think differently. Instead of thinking about the realities that follow for people facing sentencing, I should have been thinking about the people I would face in the future. Many people would have enormous discretion over my future. Rather than coming up with a deliberate, intentional plan to influence those decision makers, I thought about how the sentence would influence my life.
Later, by reading influential books, I began to see a different perspective. For example, I remember a book that changed my perspective. I don’t recall the book’s name, but I remember it taught me the concept of “The Johari Window.”
With the “Johari Window,” people learn to understand their relationship with themselves and others. Psychologists use the concept of the Johari Window in self-help groups. Anyone preparing for sentencing may want to consider lessons from the Johari Window teachings.
Start by thinking of a quadrant with two columns and two rows, as follows:
Known to Self
Unknown to Self
Known to Others
The open quadrant is that part of our conscious self that we’re aware of, and that is known to others. Anyone can assess our attitude, behavior, motivations, values, and way of life.
In preparing for sentencing, we can be certain that prosecutors and the judge are assessing us.
This quadrant represents what others perceive in us but that we do not think about when thinking of ourselves.
Although we may see ourselves as being good people, when authorities charge us with crimes, we should consider the likelihood that they’re looking at us as being bad people.
Not Known to Others
In this quadrant, despite what we know about ourselves, others do not see it.
For example, we may think of ourselves as being remorseful. Yet prosecutors or the judge may not see it.
This quadrant includes all that neither others know about us, nor that we know about ourselves. Who knows what we will be in the days, months, years, or decades ahead?
For example, who could have predicted what Halim would become when he went into prison at 16?
Using this framework before sentencing can influence a person’s attitude and aspirations. Instead of living with delusions, we can prepare for reality. Those who love us may know the “real” us, but we would be naïve to believe that our adversaries will see us in the same way.
If we want to prepare for the best possible outcome at sentencing, we need to go into the proceeding with the right attitude, and with the right aspiration. We need to think about the obstacles we face today, and the strategies we can create to prepare for a better tomorrow.
If a person does not take appropriate steps before sentencing, the only record that will exist will be the documents that describe our crime. To influence a better outcome, we can use Johari’s Window to consider questions that will help us prepare.
Write responses to any of the following questions in approximately 20 minutes. If participating in a class setting, discuss verbally.
In what ways do you see yourself?
How or why would the prosecutor or judge know this about you?
What steps can you take to help the prosecutor or judge know this about you?
What motivated the prosecutor or judge to pursue his position?
How does the prosecutor or judge define success?
In what ways does the prosecutor or judge view you?
When the prosecutor or judge meets with others in his profession, how do they think about people like you?
What common traits do you have with other people the prosecutor or judge must assess?
In what ways does the prosecutor or judge believe you are unaware or unrealistic about how you see yourself?
What influences in your future are neither you nor your prosecutor or judge considering?
In what ways does your behavior show that you’re contemplating such unknowns?
What motivates your prosecutor or judge to want to deny your request for special consideration?
These kinds of questions should help us build the right attitude and aspiration as we face a sentencing hearing. We don’t only want to think about consequences we must face for the decisions we made.
We also want to think about how others will perceive us. Then we need to create a strategy that will put us in a better position to succeed.
Regardless of what stage we’re in on the journey through the criminal justice system, we will encounter people who do not know us. Yet they will judge us based on what government officials or media reports have written to describe us.
To the extent we can think about our challenges, we can put ourselves on pathways toward better outcomes. The sooner a person starts to contemplate these realities, the more effective the person becomes in preparing for success.