Victories and Rewards 

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Sequence 54

43-Victories and Rewards

Let me offer an example of how small and early achievements brought me a reason to celebrate when I wrote the original version of this module in February of 2017.

In the previous lesson, I described the many layers of my sentence. Besides a lengthy prison term, my judge imposed 29 years of supervision. First, the judge ordered that I would have to complete seven years of Supervised Release. Then 19 years of Parole. Then three years of Special Parole. 

  • US District Court Susan Judge Illston, from San Francisco, agreed that Supervised Release no longer served a purpose in my case. 
  • One year after I finished with the Bureau of Prisons, the judge signed an order to free me, saving me six years. I transitioned to my term on Parole. 
  • A year later, the US Parole Commission terminated my Parole, saving me 18 more years. And on February 22, 2017, at 10:33 a.m., an intern at US Federal Probation called to tell me he had good news. The US Parole Commission granted early termination of my Special Parole term. 

If I didn’t start sowing seeds in 1987, when I began my prison term, I might have had a different outcome. The seeds I planted at the start of my journey influenced the US Parole Commission to liberate me. On February 22, 2017—instead of 2033, I began living without supervision.

The early seeds led me to influence people I’ve never met. In fewer than four years from the day I finished with the BOP, people on the Parole Commission let me off.

As I frequently do, I reflect on the pivotal moments that made this possible. I would have been under supervision for decades. I’m free because an officer gave me a book that told me the story about Socrates. That story inspired me. Reading that book in 1987 helped me to develop the mindset of success in a solitary cell in the Pierce County Jail. 

Socrates changed the way I thought. When I changed the way I thought, I changed my life.

Then, by reading the story of Frederick Douglass, I got further inspiration. He taught me that if a person could learn how to read better, and how to write better, a person could change the world. When I read his biography, I learned that after he escaped the bondage of slavery, he published biographies and became an influential speaker. Instead of going on to enjoy his liberty, Frederick Douglass used his personal story of living in slavery to persuade others to abolish laws that allowed slavery.

We all can use stories to change the world.

Celebrate Small Achievements:

I remember reading the story of Socrates for the first time. I set the heavy book on my chest to think. As a young man in a jail cell, I didn’t know what I would face ahead. But I knew my early decisions led to the friends I chose. Along with my friends, I made choices that led to my predicament instead of making choices that would bring a better life. I broke the law, authorities arrested me, and I pled not guilty—despite knowing of my guilt. Then I went to trial, lying on the stand, saying I wasn’t guilty. Then a judge sentenced me.

Making the connection between my earlier decisions and my life in a jail cell got me started on the path to changing my thinking. I also accepted that I could make better decisions from a jail cell. I could map a plan for a new life by changing how I thought. It’s never too early and never too late to begin building a pathway to success.

Reading Socrates’ story helped me think about the people I would meet in the future, my avatars. Some of those people could change my life. 

  • How could I use my time in prison to prepare? 
  • How could I persuade avatars to help me?
  • What steps could I begin taking then, from inside a jail cell?

Setting clear values and goals led to the principled course of action of the Preparing for Success after Prison course. That strategy made all the difference for me throughout my decades in prison.

In the beginning, I could not see the end of the journey. Since I didn’t know how to contemplate 26 years, I focused on the first ten. Before ten years passed, I wanted a college degree, publishing credentials, and a support network that would include at least ten influential people. Each of those achievements would be a milestone. To reach them, I would need to make many small achievements.

  • I would need to write letters to find a school,
  • I would need to get into school even though I didn’t have money,
  • I would need to avoid problems in prison so that others would join my support network,
  • I would need to use all that I learned from school and people in my support network,
  • I would need to read books to learn from masterminds.

If I kept taking small steps, I would reach those small achievements. Together, they would put me in a different position after ten years. If I stayed the course, I believed that staff would transfer me from a high-security penitentiary to medium-security prison. Later I might get to a low-security prison. I trusted that if I stuck to the plan, I would persuade staff members to reclassify me and allow me to serve the last part of my sentence in a minimum-security prison.

With my sentence length, I had to start in the Special Housing Unit of a high-security prison. To serve my sentence in lower-security prisons, I needed to avoid problems with staff members and other prisoners. I needed to make small achievements. Every decision would influence my journey through the decades I served. And my journey through decades of imprisonment would affect my prospects for success after release.

I had to celebrate small achievements to sustain a high level of energy and discipline. Reading a book or a story may be a small achievement. But if the story caused me to change the way I thought, it would change my life. If I acted in ways to reflect that I thought differently, I would make measurable achievements. Others would notice. Later, I could look back. I could see how each decision in jail influenced each opportunity. 

Decisions from the day I read Socrates precipitated a step-by-step path. Each decision and each step aligned with my values and goals. By celebrating the small achievements, I stayed focused. I didn’t need to think about serving 26 years. Instead, I thought about the small goals I needed to achieve. I knew I could open more significant opportunities by achieving those small goals.

Freedom from the government is one reward. There are more. In the previous lesson, I wrote about investors. By making a record of every success in prison, I had a solid case study. I could show people the tiny steps that I took. When I could show people how I worked through prison, they were willing to write checks to support projects I wanted to create. That support allowed me to build a new career. I’ll describe that career in more detail in the next module.

As a participant of the Preparing for Success after Prison series, consider how you can develop a release plan that will lead to a series of incremental achievements. 

  • Track those achievements with accountability tools. 
  • Then, use those achievements to open new opportunities.

Build a string of small achievements. Those achievements will open new options, creating your path to success. If a release date is too far away, celebrate the small accomplishments, just like the people we profiled in the videos that accompany this course. This strategy will motivate you, building hope along the way as you develop the power within to influence a better future.

Questions

In what ways can a story change your life?

When meeting a person who could influence your prospects for success, what story would you tell about your adjustment in prison?

What pivotal moment caused you to commit to living as a law-abiding, contributing citizen? 

How would you describe the incremental steps you took to prepare for success after prison?

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