Super SMART Goals 

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Sequence 27

16-Super SMART Goals

What you get

By achieving your goals

is not as important as what you

become by pursuing your goals.

Henry David Thoreau

  • What did you do yesterday? 
  • How did your decisions move you closer to the person you intend to become?

Asking such questions strengthened me while serving time in prisons of different security levels. It helped me to obliterate misdirected ideas that I would have to wait for prison administrators to offer programs. Although I could take advantage of every program available, circumstances often changed in prison. Sometimes administrators locked the institution down, or funding cuts or lockdowns could suspend classes. 

Even in unusual times, a person could engineer a personal plan to prepare for success upon release.

All people who question what they’re doing today to prepare for tomorrow can make better decisions. Those questions can lead to incremental steps that restore confidence and lead to better outcomes.

In August of 2013, when I transitioned from prison to Supervised Release, I had a higher level of liberty, and more opportunities. Had it not been for the lessons that masterminds taught, the Probation Officer overseeing me would have restricted my movements. Yet by showing a release plan that showed a pattern of defining success and setting clear goals at each stage of the journey, the Probation Officer allowed me to:

  • Work independently, as an entrepreneur,
  • Interact with other people who were going through various stages of the criminal justice system,
  • Travel domestically at my discretion for the advancement of my career, and
  • Enjoy a higher level of liberty than others would have anticipated.

Those liberties after prison opened because of the preparations I made while going through the journey. To prepare for higher levels of liberty upon release, consider two concepts: 

  • Our values define how we live, what we are, and what we consider success.
  • Our incremental goals advance us along our journey.

I’ll reveal how those concepts influenced me through the 26 years that I served. Further, I’ll show how adjustment strategies through decades in prison opened opportunities along the way. 

I pledge that throughout this course, I’ll never ask anyone to do anything I didn’t do while in prison and that I’m not still doing today. In that manner, I hope to earn the trust of people who choose to continue participating in this program.

The previous lesson emphasized the importance of identifying the values by which we live. According to the masterminds who taught me how to prepare for success, we need to define our values. Once we understand what we’re striving to achieve, we can set clear goals to close the gap between where we are today and the success we want to reach. 

Working toward goals can help us advance.

As I wrote in earlier lessons of this course, Frederick Douglass, inspired me with how he used his life story to advance a cause. When he escaped from slavery, he invested his time and energy to become a force to emancipate all people in slavery. To succeed, he understood that he would have to communicate better. He set a goal of literacy and trained himself to read and write. Then, through three biographies that he published. Mr. Douglass used his life story to build strong coalitions, convincing voters to abolish slavery laws.

When I began serving a lengthy prison term, I visualized how I wanted to return to society. Even from the confines of a solitary cell, I could see myself wearing a suit and tie and speaking in front of an audience. Like Mr. Douglas, I hoped to persuade people that we could improve outcomes of America’s prison system if we changed the way we measured justice. Instead of waiting for calendar pages to turn, we should create incentives. Staff members could use those incentives to reward people for working to develop skills that would prepare them for success upon release.

To succeed, I would have to emulate Mr. Douglass. First, I would need to become more literate. If I could become a published author, others might take me more seriously. Rather than dismissing me as a convicted felon, the people would accept me as a contributing member of society. They might assess the ideas differently, judging me for the man I became—and not for the bad decisions that led to my imprisonment. 

Since I could visualize success, which I’ll describe in future modules, I could lay out a plan. As I wrote in the previous module, I laid out three value categories. To recap, I committed to spending every day working:

  • To learn and earn academic credentials,
  • To contribute to society, and
  • To build a support network.

Those value categories felt consistent with how I defined success. I anticipated that my avatars would recognize and respect those value categories. I wanted to walk into any group of law-abiding citizens and fit in. Whether I stood in a bank, a prospective employer’s office, or a business, I wanted people to accept me. If I didn’t reveal my past, no one would know I served a day in prison. If I succeeded, I would find support and opportunity. If I built credibility in those incremental ways, I might become more effective in advocating for prison and sentence reforms.

The strategy of earning academic credentials, contributing to society, and building a support network helped me frame decisions. Avatars would believe in my future if I lived by those values. Defining values would be the start toward building a better life—and I defined a better life as one that would free me from problems with the criminal justice system. Once I got past those problems, I would be more effective as an agent for change that would open opportunities to liberate others when I got out.

By living this values-based, goal-oriented strategy, I hoped to influence people that had discretion over my life. Those people may not have the power to release me from prison, but they could play a role in opening opportunities for me to make further progress. Before I could persuade others to change laws, I would need to persuade people that worked in prisons. They could include the incremental progress along the way. For example:

  • A case manager may recommend me for lower security. 
  • A lieutenant may refrain from citing me with an infraction. 
  • A warden may consider a special request. 

Those leaders had discretion. Their decisions could ease my adjustment or exacerbate my problems. If I made good decisions, I could influence administrators and teachers in prison. They might view me more positively if I developed a values-based adjustment strategy while I served my sentence.

Likewise, by making values-based decisions, I believed that I could influence my future. A probation officer may consider my adjustment. An employer would want to know why I’m worthy of a job. People that had the discretion to approve loan requests would like an explanation of my criminal background. I considered all those people as my avatars. My values would influence their perceptions and my prospects for success.

Before I could work to change laws, or advocate for incentives in prison, I first had to change my life. A jury had convicted me of crimes that led to a 45-year sentence. I had the onus of achieving a series of incremental goals. Otherwise, people would not take me seriously. 

If I could make a favorable impression on my avatars, I could open better opportunities. Preparing for success required me to start my adjustment strategy deliberately, relying upon values to guide my decisions. The opinions of others wouldn’t carry weight if those opinions did not align with how I defined success. 

Many people in prison expressed different values. They focused on their time inside.


How are values influencing your life today? 

How will people you meet in the future relate to your values?

Describe the people who share the values that you use to define success.

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