As mentioned earlier, people in prison often give unsolicited advice. They have clear ideas on how to serve time. Some people mistakenly believe that they can’t influence life beyond prison walls. They make decisions to ease their life in jail or prison. They think it’s a waste of time to think about the outside and that such thoughts complicate time inside. While serving a sentence, they say it’s best to forget about the world outside prison.
I didn’t think like a leader before I went to prison. I didn’t give much thought to my future. Since I wasn’t thinking about my future, my decisions didn’t matter. That type of thinking led me to problems. I didn’t know how my decisions and actions influenced the lives of others. Instead of thinking about my role as a citizen (as I later learned from masterminds), I focused only on myself. That thinking led to bad decisions and actions leading to my prison term.
Making a Change:
I wanted a different life. During the many months of my pretrial detention, I saw and heard a lot. Hundreds of prisoners told me their stories. Many described serving time previously and spoke about the problems they faced after release.
Ironically, men spoke as if serving multiple terms gave them credibility. They were prison leaders dispensing advice. Indeed, they cultivated solid images as stand-up convicts. People in the jail “respected” them. Those cellblock leaders:
- Decided which television shows other people could watch,
- Influenced who could sit in which seats in common areas, and
- Perceived themselves as being stand-up convicts.
Such strategies and tactics may or may not lead to influence in prison communities. Yet in the broader community, people expect different adjustment patterns. For example, when going to a restaurant, no one knows or cares about people seated at a nearby table. When getting fuel, people typically don’t concern themselves with the decisions of other customers.
- How does a stand-up convict differ from the path to preparing for success upon release?
- How would the avatars I chose respond to someone that built a reputation as a stand-up convict?
Those types of critical-thinking questions helped to guide the adjustment strategy I engineered.
When I understood that my conviction carried a mandatory-minimum term of 10 years, I knew that I would have to overcome many obstacles. Although ten years would be the minimum sentence, I could anticipate that my judge would inflict a much longer sentence. The statute gave the judge discretion to impose a life term.
Regardless of sentence length, my adjustment inside would influence my future. Even if the judge sentenced me to serve a life term, I could still work toward influencing a better outcome. I aspired to leave prison with my dignity intact at the earliest time.
My definition of success has always remained at the forefront of my mind. For that reason, these modules will repeat the three value categories that helped to frame every decision I made. I thought of how my choices would relate to:
- Educating myself,
- Contributing to society, and
- Building a support network.
The pursuit of those three value categories would define my adjustment strategy.
Anyone serving a lengthy term in prison (and I understand that a single day in prison might feel like a long term) could benefit from investing the time to describe their value categories. That exercise in personal development is essential for a person determined to grow. We all need clear goals.
We show our commitment to our value categories by setting clear goals. In my case, I understood that achieving goals would influence the perceptions of my avatars. Both the values and goals worked together. A values-based, goal-oriented adjustment strategy would prepare me for success, just as a values-based, goal-oriented adjustment could prepare anyone for success.
On the flip side, pursuing a reputation as a stand-up convict would be another option. That strategy would bring different consequences. The supplemental videos we offer with our courses profile people who talk about their prison journey. The people who spoke with me discussed how their early adjustment strategies in confinement (or lack of adjustment strategies) led to problems. Without direction, individuals that did not set goals found new problems with administrators, or they had problems with other people serving time.
Let’s think about how we want to emerge from challenging situations. We can set clear goals that may open new and better opportunities. Good goal-setting strategies may also lessen our vulnerability to further problems.
Defining a Stand-up Convict:
During the awkward months in pretrial detention, I heard many people offering unsolicited advice on how to serve time. They spoke about the importance of building a prison reputation. Rather than creating a “prison reputation,” however, the decisions we make every day build our life reputation—not only while we’re in prison, but always. Our choices put us on track for success or lead us into cycles of failure. People that identified as “shot callers” in jail sometimes revealed that they had complicated lives outside of confinement. In other words:
- They didn’t have good credit scores.
- They didn’t own a home.
- Their most prized possession was a vehicle of some sort.
- They didn’t have financial resources.
- They didn’t have stable careers.
- They couldn’t buy items in the commissary.
- They didn’t have steady relationships.
- They didn’t have close or supportive families.
- They described problems with substance abuse or other addictions.
- They complained of ongoing problems while on supervised release.
- Their family members had issues with the criminal justice system.
If that story applied to one person in prison, it would be easy to dismiss. Yet by the time I served a few months in custody, I heard similar stories from everyone who identified themselves as being leaders in prison. I saw a pattern. The way that a person adjusted in prison would influence the prospects for success after release.
People who valued a prison reputation minimized chances to live the way they envisioned after release.
As you work through this self-directed course, think about the life you want to lead upon release.
After a jury convicted me, I understood that prisons would confine me for at least a decade. I couldn’t change that fact. Yet, I had the power to choose how I would adjust, and the adjustment strategies would influence my prospects for success once I got out. The value categories of focusing on education, contributing to society, and building a support network would influence the goals I set along the way.
- What clear goals would show a commitment to those values?
- Would they put me in a better position to succeed?
I wanted to succeed in prison and beyond.
Participants may want to engineer a new adjustment strategy to guide decisions going forward.
How can you use these lessons to start changing your life today?
What relationship do you see between your circle of friends and your prospects for success—as you defined success with your values?