My questions turned to the people I would meet in the future. I referred to those people as my “Avatars.” I considered an avatar as the ideal type of person I would want to support me.
Could my adjustment in prison influence my avatars? That was another yes or no question.
That led to a new question:
What would law-abiding citizens expect from me?
Participants should recognize that each question leads to more questions. I had to think about my responses. And I had to assess whether my responses, decisions, and actions would bring me closer to success upon release.
If people were going to open opportunities in the future, they would expect me to show that I’m different. They would want me to do more than serve time. Calendar pages turn without any influence on my part.
You may have heard an old saying. A judge sentenced a man to serve 20 years.
The defendant felt weak. “But judge, I can’t do all that time.”
“Well, do what you can,” the judge responded.
I knew my judge would sentence me to a lengthy term. My conviction carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. But the law allowed my judge to sentence me to life without parole. My judge would have total discretion on sentence length. But I could make choices to affect prospects for success. My adjustment in prison could put me on the pathway of opportunities. Or my adjustment could threaten progress.
Crafting a Plan:
The judge would impose a sentence, but there would be more to the process. I could wait for my sentence to end. Yet waiting for calendar pages to turn wouldn’t prepare me to overcome challenges, and I anticipated that I would face many difficulties in prison and upon release.
As mentioned above, I thought about:
- My future probation officer and how I could persuade him to grant me a higher degree of liberty,
- My prospective employer and how I could persuade him to look beyond my criminal record and allow me to work toward a career,
- Future lenders and what they would expect me to achieve for them to do business with me.
Those questions made me think more about the people I’d meet. They led me to flesh out my avatars.
- Who were they?
- What kinds of friends did they have?
- What perceptions would they have about someone who served a lengthy term in prison?
- How could I persuade those people to see me differently from what my criminal convictions suggested?
Thinking about the future brought clarity.
Successful people think about problems and how to find or create solutions. Then they could develop plans that would lead to a successful outcome. By learning from them, anyone could plan. People in prison could create adjustment strategies.
That new “philosophy” helped me believe I could do more than serve time. I could take measurable steps to improve the outcome of my prison experience. Anyone could choose the same strategy.
If I wanted a second chance at life, I would need to do my part. People would always judge me if I didn’t work hard to build an extraordinary and compelling record of accomplishments. I wanted to show how I matured into something more than the 20-year-old kid who sold cocaine. I couldn’t keep blaming others for problems I created. To build a better future, I had to solve problems.
First, I had to anticipate what problems I would face in the future. If I didn’t make changes:
- I knew that I’d leave prison without any clothes.
- I knew that I’d leave prison without any money.
- I knew that I’d leave prison without a vehicle.
- I knew that I’d leave prison without any credit.
- I knew that I’d leave prison without any work history.
- I knew I’d leave prison without much in the way of resources other people took for granted.
How could a person in prison overcome those hurdles?
If I didn’t take steps to solve those problems, my return to society would present many, many challenges. Those challenges, I realized, could complicate my future.
This questioning, introspection, or self-examination led to the values that would define my life. In time, I came away with an answer.
If I were going to emerge from prison with my dignity intact, unscathed by the prison experience, I needed to live a values-based, principled life. My values would reflect my commitment to success. As Gandhi said, habits become values, and values become destiny.
Even though I would serve a lengthy term, I could define value categories. I could pledge to live by those value categories. Those value categories could influence every decision I made going forward.
Before learning about values, I didn’t have any direction. Although I hated being in prison, and wanted out, I didn’t know how to create a path that would lead to a better life. I felt like a marionette. The prosecutor, my judge, and the prison system pulled the strings of my life. If I served multiple decades, I anticipated new challenges would await me once I got out.
From masterminds, I learned that I could seize control. I could define values. Then I could make decisions and take steps to show others that I was worthy of a second chance. I wanted to influence the way that others perceived me. I didn’t try to fit in with the prison culture or with the expectations of others. Instead, I set my values in accordance with the people I expected to influence later. I didn’t know those people by name, but I had an idea of what they would expect. Those ideas influenced the value categories by which I would live.
Those people became my avatars, and I’ll write more about how they inspired me in future lessons. The salient point of this lesson, I think, is that at any time, we can start making decisions to influence what we become in the future. Regardless of what bad decisions we’ve made in the past, it’s never too early, and it’s never too late to start becoming good.
Once I committed to living a values-based life, I took the first step toward a deliberate course of action. I knew that I was locked in prison. And I knew that I wanted to return to society strong. To accomplish that goal, I charted the course that would put me in the best possible position upon release.
I committed to living by the same value categories that governed the lives of law-abiding citizens—my avatars.
What would law-abiding citizens—my avatars—expect from me?
Masterminds convinced me that people would be more receptive to working with me if they believed I lived a values-based life. Instead of “giving” me a second chance, those people may consider my accomplishments and conclude I earned a second chance.
Those thoughts led me to identify three value categories that would be consistent with the values of my avatars. They included commitments:
- To pursue an education
- To contribute to society
- To build a support network
A person may endure the struggle of confinement, yet anyone could take time to introspect. By introspecting, a person could look at past decisions. Looking at past decisions, a person could think about the relationship between the choices made and the life created.
- Consider the following questions to prompt your critical thinking.
- What past experiences influenced your thoughts?
- How did those thoughts influence the way you communicated?
- In what ways did your communications lead to your actions?
- How did your decisions and actions become your habits?
- Would others define you by your habits?
- Did those habits become your values and put you where you are now?
Regardless of where a participant may be, we can make decisions to influence a better future. We may start by defining our values, and to the extent that we align those values with the future we want to create, we live like a mastermind.