Live Authentically 

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Sequence 58

47-Live authentically

Participants that adhere to the Straight-A Guide path become authentic. They don’t talk about wanting to be successful. Instead, they pursue a path they designed with their values and goals. They understand how a documented strategy would advance their prospects for success in all areas. 

Since writing the earlier version of this course, I’ve built many businesses requiring me to work closely with companies’ leaders. I’m grateful for each lesson that I learn from leaders. Like the ten principles identified above, the CEOs with whom I work teach that building a great company requires leaders to:

  • Identify a problem to solve,
  • Define the best possible outcome,
  • Document a strategy that will resolve the problem,
  • Create tools, tactics, and resources to succeed,
  • Execute the strategy every day, and
  • Measure progress and adjust as necessary.

We all can follow such principles to become the CEO of our life!

Anyone can self-actualize, making success self-evident. We don’t need anyone else to say we’re thriving. Living by our values and goals, we experience success every day. 

Each of us has made bad decisions and good decisions in the past. At any given time, we can choose to learn from those decisions. We can choose how we define success. Then we can begin to make deliberate decisions. Our choices and actions reflect our values and goals. They take us from where we are to where we want to go. We know we’re successful when we’re living a values-based, goal-oriented life that keeps everything we say in harmony with everything we think and do.

Define your life with thoughts, words, and actions. Let those thoughts, words, and actions reflect your commitment to success.

Being Authentic:

The supplemental books and videos to the Preparing for Success after Prison series share stories about other people that conquered struggles. They may have made bad at different stages of their life. But they all chose to become better. They all decided to draw a line in the sand and work toward conquering the struggle. They began by defining success.

People that succeed define success with their values. They set clear goals to show their commitment to success: 

  • They had the right attitude.
  • Their aspirations helped them to visualize success.
  • They took incremental action steps and held themselves accountable. 
  • They became aware of opportunities to seize, and others became aware of them. 
  • They celebrated small achievements. 
  • And they were authentic. 

Shon Hopwood:

You can see an example of someone who adhered to the Straight-A guide’s principles by reading the story of my former partner in Prison Professors, Shon Hopwood. Shon authored Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption. His story shows that regardless of bad decisions a person has made in the past, it’s never too late to build a better future.

Shon’s book reveals how he made terrible decisions as a student, choosing friends that led him into trouble. While in his late teens, Shon experimented with drugs and robbed banks, and he served ten years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty.

While in prison, however, Shon made a choice. He chose to learn and to become more than his past. Because of Shon defining success differently, he learned the law. Then he started to help other people in prison. He made a 100% commitment to learning how to read the law and research the law. Shon acted, learning how to write persuasive legal arguments. He held himself accountable by devoting time daily to improving his skill. Anyone could choose to follow Shon’s path. 

Shon kept his head in the game. He stayed aware of opportunities in the law that he could use to help others. Shon celebrated achievements when others won victories in court. Through his work, he contributed to winning cases in district courts, appellate courts, and the United States Supreme Court—all while he served his prison term.

Because of Shon’s commitment to success, while serving ten years, opportunities opened for him. When he got out, Shon finished college. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded him a full scholarship to attend law school, and the University of Washington awarded him a law degree. He accepted his first job as a clerk for the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, then Georgetown Law School made him a full-time associate law professor.

Shon’s story shows how a person could choose to build a better life. He is authentic, and his success is self-evident. He shows his appreciation for the blessings that have come into his life. Others become aware of his commitment to volunteer hundreds of hours of community service. President Trump invited Shon to work with the White House on prison reform, and he became instrumental in passing the First Step Act, which applied to all people in federal prison.

Like Shon, everyone on our team at Prison Professors strives to bring systemic improvements to social justice issues, including sentence reform and reforms to our prison system that will lead to better outcomes. With the courses we offer, we ask each person in prison to join this effort to build safer communities and more effective systems. 

First, however, we ask participants to invest in themselves. Learn to document a strategy for personal development and show appreciation by helping others along the way. Develop a personal release plan that will lead from struggle to success and create accountability logs that define the daily progress you’re making. 

To improve the outcomes of our nation’s criminal justice system, we must persuade leaders that all justice-impacted people can use their time inside to prepare for success. Our team at Prison Professors will strive to push for the following reforms:

  • More incentives that will encourage all people to work toward higher levels of liberty,
  • Access to social furloughs to maintain community ties,
  • Access to work-release programs that will prepare people to live as contributing, tax-paying citizens,
  • Broader access to compassionate release or commutations of sentence, and
  • Reinstatement of the U.S. Parole Commission.

To accomplish those goals, we need to influence leaders and legislators. If we can show how people in prison are building effective release plans that help them prepare for success upon release, we advance advocacy efforts. 

Some may feel cynically about the possibility of succeeding with these efforts. We faced that same cynicism when I wrote Earning Freedom, which encouraged reforms that would lead to “Earned Time” credits, as we see in the First Step Act.

Incremental steps lead to successful outcomes.


What reforms would you like to see in the system?

What challenges do you see in bringing these reforms

In what ways can you contribute to advancing these reforms?

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