Head in the Game 

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Sequence 49

38-Head in the Game

Your responses to those questions influence how others perceive you. Based on what other people see, they become more “aware” of who you are and whether you’re a worthy candidate for their time and attention. Your daily choices and behavior determine whether other people will want to invest time, energy, or resources to help you develop. 

Consider the wisdom of Zig Zigler, a mastermind who developed training materials for sales professionals. Zig Zigler said: 

  • “If you can help other people get what they want, you can get everything you want.”

A person who is less committed to preparing for success may show signs of being intellectually lazy. In prison, I frequently heard others say, “There aren’t enough programs here,” or, “no one cares about rehabilitation.”

Since my release from prison, I have spoken to many audiences. When giving presentations in universities or professional conferences, I strive to help influential people understand why we need to collaborate in ways that will improve outcomes for justice-impacted people. 

Frequently, I refute arguments from people who tell me that others cannot do what I did. My response is always the same. Anyone who served time with me could have opened the same opportunities that I opened. The only difference is that Socrates, Frederick Douglass, Nelson Mandela, Viktor Frankl, Mahatma Gandhi, and Malcolm X inspired me. They helped me grasp the importance of keeping my head in the game. Leaders like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs helped me understand the power of being aware of opportunities and making others aware of me.

I offer examples to show how being aware changed my life, hoping others will see the value of introspection and projection.

Sowing Seeds with Awareness:

As described in earlier lessons, I started selling cocaine after high school. A jury convicted me, and a judge sentenced me to serve 45 years. I kept my head in the game from the start of my sentence. I didn’t want to repeat the same types of bad decisions that I had made when I was in school.

The custody and classification system that the Bureau of Prisons developed had a scoring system. Among other factors, the scoring system considered sentence length and offense type. Based on my sentence length and high-severity offense, administrators designated me to serve my sentence in a high-security US penitentiary.

During my first meeting with the unit team, I asked whether I could ever transfer to a lower-security prison. Based on my sentence length and offense, the unit manager told me that I would remain in high-security prisons until my release.

He judged me based on the papers before him. But he did not know the depths of my commitment to preparing for success. Decisions while in prison led to my gradual transition to medium-security, low-security, and minimum-security camps.

When we keep our heads in the game, we become aware of opportunities we can seize or create. As described in Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Prison Term, we can convert our adversaries into advocates when we make others aware of our commitment to change.

Besides avoiding problems while in prison, I also prepared for a better future. By training, I opened opportunities to grow and orchestrate a pathway that I anticipated would lead to success. I was always aware of opportunities I could seize. My term with the Bureau of Prisons ended on August 12, 2013, after 26 calendar years. But I wasn’t finished with the criminal justice system.

Once I finished the prison portion of my sentence, I had to serve time on probation. First, there would be seven years of Supervised Release. Then I would start parole. My sanction required 26 years inside and 19 years on parole—but I couldn’t begin the parole portion of my sentence until after I finished Supervised Release. When I finished Supervised Release and parole, three years of special parole would follow. Federal probation officers would oversee me through the entire post-release term. 

My term required 29 years of supervision from federal probation. Day-to-day life would be the same on Supervised Release, Parole, or Special Parole. 

I put a plan in place to terminate that supervision early. The same strategy that got me through prison would help. I had to stay aware of how every decision would matter. I had to keep my head in the game. I stayed mindful of what I could do to make myself a good candidate for relief. I also stayed aware of the efforts I could make to earn support from others.

I couldn’t control what others would do. Yet by being aware, I could always keep my head in the game. I could create ways to make my case stand out in a more favorable light.

Double Concept: 

Each previous lesson only had one concept to grasp. With awareness, we need to consider two perspectives. We can make different choices, yet each option comes with a cost. If we assess the cost, we can make the best choice. We should remain aware of how each choice relates to our prospects for success or the threat of failure.

Our choices make others aware of us. They see how true we are to our values and goals. As a result of our work, they begin to believe in us. Then they offer to help us on our path. 

  • Awareness perspective 1: We become aware of opportunities,
  • Awareness perspective 2: Others become aware of our commitment to success.


How do your daily activities relate to your values and goals?

In what ways do my actions show that I want to succeed upon release?

How would a well-developed release plan show my commitment to succeed?

What accountability metrics can I show that I adhered to my release plan?

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