Influences and Change 

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Sequence 21

10-Influences and Change

While locked in confinement, I prayed for guidance. In response to those prayers, I got a philosophy book. Lessons in that book helped me to think differently, and by learning to think differently, I started to restore confidence. By restoring confidence, I began to feel better. 

Some readers who live in challenge circumstances may find it strange that I would turn to philosophy, and I understand. 

Until authorities locked me in jail, I hardly read at all. I hadn’t read a single book since finishing high school five years earlier, in 1982. In a jail cell, I didn’t have anything besides reading to occupy my mind, and I wanted to change. I remember looking through the stacks of books on a book cart. I saw an abundance of Westerns and romance novels. 

Fiction and storybooks would pass the time, but ignoring the problems created by my earlier decisions would not help me. Instead, I needed to solve problems. I needed guidance. 

With proper guidance, I believed that I would grow stronger. I would need that strength to cross through years or decades of prison. I’m grateful to an officer who brought me a two-volume book called A Treasury of Philosophy. The books were part of an “anthology,” which included submissions from many authors who wrote about their “philosophy.” 

The more I read, the more I understood that I had lived by bad philosophy.

Holding the book of masters in my hand made me feel as if I had the key to begin building a better life. 

Socrates:

When I flipped through the pages, I found a story about Socrates. I knew that other people considered Socrates, a man of great wisdom. He lived more than 2,000 years ago, but I didn’t know much about him.

As I read the first paragraphs of that chapter, I wholly identified with Socrates because Socrates was locked in a prison cell. His imprisonment caught my attention. I learned that judges sentenced Socrates to death. He waited in that jail cell for his execution date. 

Socrates received a visit from his friend Crito. During the visit, Crito told Socrates that others had arranged for him to escape. With the foolproof plot, the jailer agreed to unlock the gate. Socrates could walk out, escaping his execution. Besides that, friends would support Socrates in exile. He could live the rest of his life in peace.

In my mind, Socrates should have seized the initiative. I remember lying on that rack and fantasizing that someone would come and open my cell. If I could escape my punishment, I would leave in an instant. More than anything, I wanted to get out of jail or avoid the long-term that the judge ordered.

Socrates responded differently, declining the offer from Crito. He said he would remain in his cell and let the system kill him. When Crito asked why he would make such a choice, Socrates responded. 

He said that he lived in a democracy. As a citizen, he had to accept the good with the bad. He had accepted the good of society. He disagreed with the laws that resulted in his conviction and punishment. But Socrates wanted to be a man of principle. He considered himself a citizen of a democracy. As such, he said that he had the right to work toward changing laws he disagreed with, but not to break laws.

Influence on Adjustment:

Socrates’ message influenced my time in solitary. I remember setting the book on my chest while I stared at the ceiling. Although the judge hadn’t sentenced me yet, I had more clarity. I knew that I wanted to change. Regardless of how many years my judge would impose, I wanted to grow. I wanted to come out of prison differently from how I went in. 

Like Socrates, I wanted to serve my sentence with dignity. I created my problems and would be responsible for creating my solutions.

Yet I didn’t know how to define “serving a sentence with dignity.” The jail didn’t provide much in the way of guidance that I could see. Instead, I felt the walls and ceiling closing in, suffocating my spirit and hope. 

What, if anything, could I do to live a life of meaning and relevance?

Exercises

This course shows what I learned from masterminds like Socrates and how I came to answer that question. As participants work through the course, I encourage them to consider the same types of questions. Mediating on such questions changed my life.

Begin building your story. To prime your story, consider writing your biography in a way that responds to the following four questions:

Intro: What’s your name and what’s your background?

Supporting Body 1: In what ways did your background influence the decisions that led you to prison?

Supporting body 2: In what ways did your behavior influence the broader community?

Supporting body 3: In what ways are you working to reconcile, or make amends?

Question:

In what ways will stakeholders consider your adjustment as being extraordinary and compelling?

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