37- Staying Aware
The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.
In the previous module, I pledged to reveal how accountability logs led to my building an extensive support network before I got out of prison. At this stage, participants have worked through seven modules. Every lesson encourages participants to work toward developing better verbal, writing, and reading skills. If people also work toward mastering critical thinking, they’ll also become more intrinsically motivated with a self-directed work ethic, realizing how:
- The decisions a person makes today influence prospects for success in the months, years, and decades ahead.
With each revision I make to this module, I reflect on those earliest days of my journey when authorities first locked me in prison. On August 11, 1987, the system replaced my name with registration number 16377-004. For the first several months, I fantasized about getting out instead of reflecting on the bad decisions that led to my criminal charge.
Following the criminal trial, members of the jury convicted me. That’s when my eyes, my mind, and my heart opened. I became aware of my responsibility to understand more about my role as a citizen. Reading stories about Frederick Douglass and Socrates’ life changed my perspective, helping me to ask better questions.
Dreams of the system releasing me vanished. Instead, I became more aware of how others perceived me. Then I began introspecting on all the decisions that led to my demise, asking different questions, such as:
- What, if anything, could I do from prison to reconcile with society?
- What actions could I take to make amends?
- How does preparing to live in prison differ from preparing for success after release?
- How could I make others aware of my commitment to change?
- How could I develop a network of supportive people that would have a vested interest in helping me to succeed after release?
Lessons on the value of staying aware of my surroundings proved especially valuable, and I’m confident it will also help all participants.
We can start with a question:
- What does awareness mean to you?
When I think of awareness, I think of coaches. Coaches frequently tell athletes to keep their heads in the game. When they give such guidance, the coaches encourage the players to stay aware of every opportunity. When we keep our head in the game, we see opportunities, and we seize those opportunities. The concept of awareness is central to our series on Preparing for Success After Prison; we’re always looking for options that can accelerate progress on our goals and our end game.
In prison, we must be indefatigable in our commitment to overcome the challenges and complications that keep many formerly incarcerated people in the cycle of struggle. Regardless of what goes on around us, we must keep our heads in the game.
As a young man, I lacked awareness. I didn’t consider how early decisions could influence my future. My parents tried to put me on the right track, though I ignored them. Both teachers and guidance counselors warned me about the problems likely to follow my decisions. I dismissed those admonitions, thinking I could avoid problems.
I didn’t keep “my head in the game,” and ignored the possible consequences of my actions, telling myself I didn’t care.
I may not have been aware of the sanctions associated with my criminal behavior. Still, my lack of awareness didn’t absolve me of the consequences that would follow the government’s charges against me.
In contrast, the DEA agents kept their heads in the game. Once they became aware of my crimes, they were relentless in their pursuit. They worked behind the scenes to arrest me. With the evidence gathered, prosecutors worked to convict me.
Awareness: You and Others
With awareness, we should consider two perspectives. We can choose to become aware of opportunities around us or choose to remain ignorant of those opportunities. Either way, every day, we’re making decisions that advance us closer to a triumphant return to society or a lifetime of continuing struggles. Many people leave prison to face further problems with the law, unemployment, or homelessness.
Regardless of our choices, other people become aware of us and make judgments about who we are. To use a metaphor, “we live in a fishbowl,” with others watching and assessing our judgment or how we spend our time. Our choices will influence how others perceive us and what opportunities open in our future.
Regardless of where you are right now, start preparing for success.
What level of awareness do you have about opportunities around you?
How do your actions show that you’re keeping your head in the game?
How will your decisions influence your future?