Strength and Dignity 

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Sequence 40

29-Strength and Dignity:

Masterminds teach us that we shouldn’t live like a prisoner. We shouldn’t allow calendar pages to anchor us in a pool of hopeless thoughts. We shouldn’t dwell on the past or parts of life we can’t control. 

We should focus on what we have the power to change. Like the stoics, we can choose to live in the world as it exists, not as we want it to be. Each day brings an opportunity to work toward something better. We can make decisions that show we want to climb out of the labyrinth of confinement.

Throughout each of my 9,500 days in prison, I considered my values and goals. Adhering to this disciplined strategy positioned me for the best possible outcome. If I ignored those values and goals, I became vulnerable. The wrong decisions could quickly derail my progress. After all, I lived in prison, where I would remain for decades. People around me could be volatile. Fights would erupt over trivial issues. Television programming, noise, personal space, or perceived respect could bring problems. I couldn’t ignore those realities. Instead, I needed a strategy to succeed despite threats that could block progress.

Good decisions could lead me closer to my aspiration. Wrong choices could threaten progress. This insight helped me assess flawed ideas that I heard from others. Bad ideas can derail people in prison. For example, consider how some people in prison think about “respect” and what the term means.

Respect or Fear?

As a young person, I heard many experienced prisoners talking about respect. For example, Stump said anyone in prison could get respect by being willing to pay the price, and he said the cost would be to respond immediately with treacherous or lethal violence at any sign of “disrespect.” Others would “respect” a man, he said, if they knew that he would retaliate to any disrespect with a knife.

Stump’s perspective matched the prison culture. Yet, that perspective differed from my avatar’s concept of respect. 

I never aspired to become “the man” in prison. Instead, I wanted to succeed when I returned to society, which would require preparation.

With success in mind, I had a reason to avoid problems. I wanted to sidestep the cycles of failure that others faced when they finished their terms. My avatars defined respect differently from Stump and the general mentality of the prison environment. 

I wanted respect from my avatars, and I made decisions that were consistent with my aspiration.

Who Will Facilitate Your Success?

My avatars would not respect me if I pursued a path involving violence. They would “fear” people that responded to problems with violence. They would want that person to stay in prison. 

My 100% commitment to living a values-based, goal-oriented life influenced my decisions, adjustment, and the release plan that would lead to the life I aspired to build. My aspiration influenced every step I took and every decision I made. I made decisions that would minimize exposure to problems. 

What did avoiding problems and pursuing success mean for me?

  • I avoided hustles.
  • I avoided television rooms.
  • I didn’t participate in team sports or table games.
  • I selected jobs that would allow me to work toward my goals.
  • I was deliberate about my conversations, the words I used, and the activities I pursued.

Every step felt like crossing a high wire, with each deliberate action leading closer to my aspiration. One false step could lead to my fall. The clear aspiration gave me reasons to continue the journey to success as I defined it.

My wife picked me up from USP Atwater to drive me to a halfway house on August 13, 2012. I’d serve six months in the San Francisco halfway house and the last six months of my sentence in home confinement. While driving to San Francisco, I told Carole I intended to follow the same disciplined, deliberate strategy that got me through prison to adjust to society.

I had values and goals in place. But they evolved from the values and ideals I set when I started my term. My decisions in prison lifted me to a higher status, opening more opportunities. I had bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I contributed to society, as evidenced by the many books I published. I had thousands of people in my support network.

When my wife drove me from the prison in Atwater to San Francisco, I told her of my new aspiration:

  • I’ll control assets worth more than $1 million within five years of finishing my sentence. 

I aspired to make an impact on the lives of other people in prison. If I achieved that goal, I believed that I could inspire more people to adhere to the values-based, goal-oriented principles I would teach through the Straight-A Guide. As we try to teach through our Preparing for Success after Prison series, a person must:

  • Define success with values,
  • Set SMART goals that align with how the person defines success.
  • Go forward with the right attitude, showing a 100 percent commitment.
  • Act in ways that align with a person’s responsibility to prepare for success.
  • Use an aspiration to stay motivated through the challenges ahead.

Success follows for anyone that adheres to that principled path. Future modules will show you what comes next in our Straight-A Guide. For me, that path led to a portfolio of assets worth far more than $1 million. Decisions in prison influenced my ongoing commitment to preparing for success. 


Who will facilitate your pursuit of success after prison?

In what ways does your adjustment strategy advance you as a candidate for support and sponsorship from others?

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