Course: Self-Directed, Self-Help with Journaling 101
Title: Recalibrating after a Criminal Charge with Lauren (2023)
- Lauren, a self-made businesswoman, has experienced both substantial successes and setbacks in her personal and professional life. Hailing from rural Oklahoma, she ventured out on her own at a young age and thrived in a series of demanding careers through her aptitude as a self-learner. Unfortunately, Lauren made poor decisions that led to felony convictions while serving as a corporate executive. Now awaiting sentencing, Lauren tells us how she recalibrated by building a lucrative business and adopting purpose-driven techniques to prepare for the best outcome at sentencing.
- Students should recognize how Lauren fueled her early career success by investing in her skillset and how she had rebounded since her criminal conviction through a goal-oriented mindset. Our audience should determine how solid skills in communication, math, and critical thinking empowered her achievements. Lastly, Lauren’s post-conviction business success illustrates how our students can attain a lawful livelihood after their release.
- Watch the video that accompanies the lesson
- Write a definition of each word highlighted in bold and written in italics
- Use ten of the vocabulary words in a sentence
- Respond to a minimum of three open-ended questions by following instructions at the end of the lesson.
- Participants will increase their vocabulary by at least ten words.
- Participants will improve writing skills and their ability to contemplate how their responses to open-ended questions relate to their prospects for success upon release.
- Participants will add to their journal, demonstrating a self-directed, self-improvement pathway to prepare for success upon release.
Our team at Prison Professors thanks Lauren for sharing invaluable lessons related to her achievements and struggles in her career and personal life. She has succeeded in multiple industries due to her robust work ethic and avid intellectual curiosity.
Unfortunately, Lauren made poor decisions while employed as a corporate officer that resulted in her pleading guilty to felony charges in Federal court. She endured devastating financial and personal losses in the aftermath yet has rebounded by adopting sound mental health techniques. Lauren has since built a business in the utility construction industry that generates significant revenue and allows her to support her young children. As she awaits sentencing, Lauren teaches us that it is never too late to transform our lives and make amends despite our past.
Describing her upbringing in rural Oklahoma, Lauren refers to her childhood as atypical and, at times, chaotic.She often felt isolated due to the remote location of her family’s 40-acre property. Lauren also experienced prolonged absences of her father, who spent two to three weeks at a time away from his family due to his occupation as a long-distance truck driver. Because of her father’s sporadic presence, Lauren says that she and her two younger brothers were raised in an essentially single-parent household. She recalls going without basic amenities in her home; her family lacked central heating and air conditioning until she was around 13 years old.
Despite her early challenges, Lauren developed a self-directed work ethic and avid intellectual curiosity. As a homeschooled child, she became adept at self-paced study. Lauren had to submit tests and complete curriculums to pass core topics, presumably without the close supervision found in most schools. As we learn later, her talent as an autodidact led her to become proficient in unfamiliar subjects and thrive in varied career fields.
As she came of age, Lauren explored her education and career options to escape her unhappy home life. She completed an emergency medical technician course at a local community college to broaden her job prospects. Her education led her to hone her ability to follow instructions and adhere to a military mindset, making her a more viable candidate for employers.
At only 18 years old, Lauren began working in a series of demanding careers with a high level of responsibility. Soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security hired Lauren. Her first position stationed her in Hawaii, marking the first time she had ever been away from her hometown. Although Lauren loved her new state, she grew homesick and returned to Oklahoma around two years later to be closer to her family.
Upon returning home, she pursued a law enforcement career, a profession that led her to sharpen her interpersonal and communication skills. Lauren specialized in child abuse investigations, often working on cases related to undocumented immigration and truancy. Due to the sensitive nature of her work, Lauren learned to empathize with other people’s experiences and modify her communication style depending on her audience. She worked with people from different backgrounds, paying close attention to her stakeholders’ concerns and asking relevant follow-up questions to resolve a case.
Lauren built a family over this timeframe yet faced significant personal challenges. Now in her late twenties, she had two children and was married. Her relationship, unfortunately, became abusive. In addition, her position as an investigator took a heavy emotional toll on her as a young mother. Constant exposure to the trauma faced by child abuse survivors affected her mental well-being. When her oldest child was about one year old, she resigned from her position after approximately five years of service.
Seeking to reinvent herself, Lauren became involved in the oil and gas industry. Although she was a novice in the field, she still attained success through her drive and willingness to learn. In addition, her experiences in law enforcement led Lauren to develop formidable talents in emotional intelligence and communication, transferable skills that are crucial to the success of anyone regardless of their chosen vocation.
Beginning with the End in Mind
While recounting Lauren’s early achievements, I cited a famous quote from the influential motivational speaker Stephen Covey: We must “begin with the end in mind.” Reflecting this adage, Lauren proves that success does not occur overnight. Leaders like her only flourish after envisioning their success and working every day to fulfill their aspirations. Anyone listening to this story can follow her example by defining their version of success and making everyday progress toward their goals.
As I spent nearly three decades in prison, I continuously sought success stories from role models. I looked to leaders like Lauren to understand the personality traits that lead the most resilient people in society to thrive in their personal lives and careers.
Like many people in prison or jail, Lauren faced a difficult childhood and did not benefit from a two-parent household structure. She prevailed over her negative circumstances, however, by defining success and making incremental progress to achieve her long-term goals. For Lauren, success meant moving away from her hometown. She fulfilled this dream by establishing a career to attain independence and mobility, eventually settling for two years in Hawaii.
Becoming an effective communicator was at the crux of Lauren’s early career achievements. To prosper in her occupation as a child abuse investigator, Lauren had to interact with people from varied backgrounds and life circumstances. As seen in our interview, Lauren demonstrates a professional and inviting demeanor to build rapport with others. Along with using tactful language, Lauren also displays inviting body language to appear more approachable. Likewise, we urge our students to become more articulate as speakers and writers and adopt welcoming mannerisms to increase their odds of building constructive support networks and finding meaningful work as they reenter free society.
We should also recognize the value of becoming a self-directed learner. As a homeschooled student, Lauren likely developed rigid self-discipline and time management skills to complete assignments without the scrutiny of a teacher. Incarcerated individuals can emulate her example by practicing self-directed reading exercises to strengthen their skills in communication, critical thinking, and math.
Our team at Prison Professors routinely encourages students to access literature on unfamiliar subjects to broaden their base of knowledge. Anyone in our audience can put themselves on the pathway to success by reading about their desired career and identifying the skills needed to gain expertise in that area. Also, by investing in their education, our students can become forceful communicators adept at persuading others to help them with finding jobs or housing.
- In what ways do you believe Lauren is resilient?
- How does Lauren’s story inspire you to become a self-learner?
- How do you becoming a self-learner helps someone become an effective leader?
- How do you think Lauren’s communication skills enabled her to progress in her career?
- How do you believe her communication skills made Lauren an effective leader?
- How do you interpret the quote “begin with the end in mind?”
Career and criminal charges:
Lauren enjoyed stellar career growth after transitioning to her new role in the oil and gas firm. She began in an entry-level position answering phone calls and opening mail. Working at the company for approximately 11 years, she progressed in her role and became a company vice president. Her portfolio of responsibilities expanded as she continued earning promotions. In her last position, Lauren managed the company “inside and out,” handling accounting, invoicing, field maintenance, operations, and regulatory issues. Her income grew at a rate commensurate with her broader responsibilities; she estimates her salary started at $30,000 per annum but grew to nearly $80,000 by the end of her stint at the company.
As a company leader, Lauren relied on her stellar interpersonal and communication skills to ensure the company operated seamlessly. The company only had around a half-dozen employees on staff, yet Lauren worked with around 100 truck drivers per day and liaised with different companies and government agencies in her position.
Given its high demand, oil industry offers career paths for people with criminal convictions. According to open sources, the pay and job prospects depend on the sought after position. As of late 2022, oil rig operators and support positions make around $50,000 per year. Petroleum engineers, on the other hand, earned wages of $65 per hour, roughly $135,000 per year.
She excelledas a leader because she was eager to learn new skills from other people with more expertise. As a self-learner, she was enthusiastic about asking questions and accompanying her colleagues to tour facilities to acquire more industry knowledge. Lauren at times felt vulnerable as there were few other females in the oil and gas industry, a male-dominated career field. To offset bias from others, Lauren strived to become the most skilled practitioner in her line of work. Similarly, our listeners must strive to be the best at their jobs to counteract the stigma often experienced by formerly incarcerated individuals.
As a corporate leader, we can infer Lauren had to develop formidable math, critical thinking, and communication skills to manage teams. To complete projects, she likely used her math skills estimate completion times, determine materials needed, and identify costs. She also had to think critically to assemble teams and delegate tasks. She also communicated well with stakeholders to negotiate business arrangements and ensure her team members understood their roles.
Unfortunately, Lauren made poor decisions that led to criminal charges in her role at the firm. Personal circumstances, including an abusive relationship, clouded Lauren’s judgment and led her to engage in aberrational criminal conduct. She takes responsibility for her poor choices, telling us that she ignored “red flags” that have resulted in her current plight. In the summer of 2020, Lauren self confessed to her employer and attempted to correct what she had done wrong. Her previous boss grew unhappy with their agreement and sought legal recourse.
In the summer of 2021, the State of Oklahoma formally charged Lauren. Within hours of being charged, the state terminated her position as a commercial real estate agent. Three years later, Lauren pleaded guilty to three felony counts and now awaits sentencing.
“A plea agreement was reached and then we were informed about a Federal investigation in March of 2022. Subsequently in the winter of 2022 I was formally charged via an information filing and entered a plea agreement in Federal court in January of 2023. “
In the interim, Lauren has endured significant collateral consequences from the charges and later conviction:
- Income loss – She lost her job at the oil and gas firm and spent significant resources on legal counsel. Due to the heavy financial burden, struggled to make ends meet as she raised her two young children.
- Mental health strain – Lauren struggled with anxiety and endured panic attacks as she envisioned her potential incarceration. She often experienced suicidal ideation due to the seriousness of her situation. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, chronic and complex.
- Substance abuse – To cope with her issues, Lauren resorted to destructive habits, including daily alcohol binges and the use of marijuana.
- Separation from family – Lauren fears the repercussions of losing contact with her two children, now aged 18 and 10, while incarcerated.
- Reputational damage – In the days before our conversation, a local newspaper published a disparaging article about Lauren’s crime. She laments the negative portrayal of her in the media, especially since she is unable to influence the narrative.
Fortunately, Lauren has since begun to recalibrate ahead of her sentencing. She has worked closely with a therapist, who has helped her take control of her mental wellbeing by practicing mindfulness. The therapist has cautioned Lauren to take a step-by-step approach to overcome her difficulties. Describing her criminal charges as a “mountain,” Lauren no longer attempts to traverse her situation all at once; rather, she faces her challenges day by day and prioritizes seeing value in the present moment. These incremental steps have helped her to develop a healthier outlook as she seeks the best outcome at sentencing. “I sought counseling originally in 2019 to help me escape from my abusive marriage. I then transferred to a specialist in PTSD in 2021 once I was charged in State court.”
Aside from improving her mental health, Lauren made other positive changes in her professional and personal life. Before leaving the oil and gas firm, Lauren worked for free to help train personnel to replace her. Our listeners should recognize her effort as an attempt to make amends to her former employer and avoid further tarnishing her professional relationships. She also broke free from her toxic marriage, a vital steptoward improving her wellbeing. Likewise, our students should carefully evaluate their friendship circles and seek to associate only with those with purpose-driven and law-abiding mindsets.
Lauren’s ability to develop sharper mental fortitude ahead of her sentencing should inspire all our listeners. Through introspection and the assistance of a mental health advocate, Lauren has adopted practical techniques to rebuild her life. Her story shows us that it is never too late to begin investing in our success. Even while incarcerated, our students can follow Lauren’s example to improve their mindset and focus on achieving long-term goals to thrive upon their release.
Her story teaches us to eschew toxic habits and choose our associations with other people carefully. Lauren consumed marijuana and alcohol excessively and experienced an abusive marriage. Realizing these issues only worsened her outlook amid her legal problems, Lauren sought mental health support to remove herself from those situations. Likewise, people in prison or jail should prioritize productive habits, such as a self-directed reading routine and mental health exercises. In addition, we urge students to develop constructive support networks. While incarcerated, our students should socialize with likeminded people dedicated to leaving behind their past and earning their freedom. Upon returning to free society, our students should befriend success-oriented, law-abiding individuals to serve as positive influences while avoiding crime-prone individuals, locations, situations, and activities.
Mental Health Exercises
Even while incarcerated, individuals can strengthen their mental health through exercises like:
- Meditation – Focusing the mind on a calming subject for a set period for spiritual purposes or for relaxation.
- Mindfulness – A type of meditation that involves being intensely aware of the present moment; it helps with avoiding dwelling on the past or prevents negative thoughts.
- Yoga – A form of mental, spiritual, and physical exercises meant to still the mind.
- Deep breathing – An exercise involving taking long breaths to relieve stress or relax.
- Calisthenics – Exercises that rely on the body weight and help enhance flexibility, endurance, and coordination. Examples include pushups, sit ups, and pull ups.
Her story sheds light on the plight of incarcerated women. Often, females in abusive relationships involve themselves in crime when influenced by a criminogenic partner. As a mother, Lauren faces the traumatic potential of being separated from her children. Our team hopes that her example will drive women in prisons and jails across this country to adhere to the success principles outlined in this lesson plan as they seek to rebuild their lives.
- How do you think Lauren’s willingness to learn and seek knowledge from people with more expertise helped her advance her career?
- How can you use your critical thinking and communication skills to build a strong support network ahead of your release?
- How can developing sharp critical thinking skills help you determine a viable career path?
- How do you believe Lauren is using her critical thinking skills to prepare for sentencing?
- How can Lauren’s example of facing bias in the workplace inspire you to overcome stigma upon release?
In late 2020, while attempting to train her replacement and undergoing extreme daily trauma, Lauren embarked on a new venture in the utility construction industry. Her firm uses heavy equipment and semitrucks to excavate water mains and sewer mains and install needed infrastructure for a commercial property.
Lauren’s opportunity started after a chance encounter. Now remarried, Lauren and her new husband, Michael, overheard a patron at a motorcycle bar discussing a business opportunity. The patron, the original owner of the construction company, sought to retire and disclosed his plans to Lauren and Michael. The couple-built rapport with the gentleman, leading him to transfer ownership to them and assist them with securing insurance and agreements with municipal governments over a 6-month transition period.
Under the couple’s management, the firm has grown steadily in the three years since the transfer. Immediately after the transfer, the company completed contracts worth between $12,000 and $32,000. More recently, however, Lauren has signed off on two contracts valued at $175,000 and $275,000, respectively. She estimates her company generates $2,000,000 in gross revenue and operates heavy equipment worth $750,000. In our conversation, Lauren confirms that her company’s revenue has tripled since 2020.
As she describes her new venture, we can identify several career fields that in general are open to people with criminal records:
- Truck drivers
- Construction workers
- Equipment installers
Do any of these opportunities appeal to you?
Communication and interpersonal skills have played an integral role in the couple’s success. Lauren advises us to build relationships and remain aware of opportunities as she describes her chance meeting with the business’ previous owner. Since the acquisition, she has continued to establish rapport with other stakeholders, including representatives from lending institutions and city officials to acquire equipment and contracts.
Michael, who previously operated a plumbing company, also contributed substantially to the company’s growth through his entrepreneurial expertise. Fully dedicated to their new venture, left his industry to work alongside his wife fulltime.
Although challenging, entrepreneurship can be financially and personally gratifying for the most industrious business owners. Lauren described hurdles, such as delayed payment for work or difficulties to acquire equipment, such as acquiring batteries for trucks. Nevertheless, through hard work and a full commitment to their company’s success, Lauren and her husband earned substantial profits in the years since their acquisition.
As many formerly incarcerated people find it difficult to obtain employment after release, entrepreneurship may serve as a viable and practical alternative.
In her closing words, Lauren tells us that she has been upfront about her legal challenges, reminding us that people are generally forgiving so long as we are forthcoming about poor decisions in the past. Somewhat counterintuitively, one of her best advocates is her probation officer, who checks in and helps Lauren understand different dynamics of her case.
Lauren shows us that people facing criminal convictions still have options for sustainable and well-paying careers. She teaches us that we can prevail despite prior wrongdoings and lead law-abiding lives once we invest in our skill sets and adopt a goal-oriented attitude.
Lauren’s story of recalibrating after a criminal conviction should inspire our listeners. Like many of our students, she did not benefit from a two-parent household structure and endured an unhappy childhood. Yet as an intellectually curious young woman, Lauren became financially independent after completing her education and then pursuing opportunities in law enforcement and later in the oil and gas industry. In the latter position, Lauren climbed the corporate ladder and became an executive at her firm.
Unfortunately, Lauren made misguided choices that led her to plead guilty to multiple felony counts in Federal court. While she at first succumbed to substance abuse to cope with her struggles, she later sought mental health counseling to begin transforming her life positively ahead of sentencing. Along with adopting more productive habits, Lauren left an abusive relationship. She has since remarried and started a profitable business in the utility construction industry that allows her to support her two young children while generating tax dollars for her community and supporting local jobs. Her story shows us that we can attain success despite our past by investing in our communication and interpersonal skills, attaining a purpose-driven mindset, and making amends as we reenter society.
At the end of our dialogue, I summarized how her story correlates with our ten class modules.
|Values: We must define success.
|Lauren defined success by determining that she wanted to move away from her childhood home. She earned an education, which led her to begin a career and attain independence.
|Goals: We must set clear goals that align with our definition of success.
|Lauren always set clear goals. As an investigator, she set the goal of learning to interact effectively with abused children. As an entrepreneur, she strove to interact more effectively with her business’ stakeholders.
|Attitude: We must make a commitment with the right attitude.
|Lauren and her new husband, Michael, made a full commitment to the success of their new business. Michael even left one industry to dedicate his time to making the couple’s new venture profitable.
|Aspiration: We must see ourselves as being something more than the challenges we currently face.
|While struggling with alcohol abuse, Lauren aspired to be better. Through introspection and the help of a mental health advocate, she developed more constructive habits.
|Action: We must take incremental action steps.
|Lauren took step-by-step actions to overcome her mental health struggles and prepare for the best outcome at sentencing.
|Accountability: We must hold ourselves accountable.
|Lauren had to create a business plan to convince lenders to invest in her company. The plan made clear how she’d hold herself responsible for the company’s success despite the risks involved.
|Awareness: We must stay aware of opportunities.
|In her career and personal life, Lauren always made herself aware of new opportunities by being inquisitive. Now heading a business, Lauren remains aware of opportunities to earn revenue, such as potential new contracts.
|Authenticity: We must be authentic.
|Lauren consistently developed tools, tactics, and resources to succeed in her endeavors. If she wanted to transition careers or start a company, Lauren always found the means to fulfil her goals.
|Achievement: We must celebrate small victories.
|Even though she’s facing a legal predicament, Lauren still focuses on the positive in life. Rather than look at her current situation as a setback, she focuses on small opportunities that bring her success and joy,
|Appreciation: We must show appreciation for the blessings that come our way.
|Lauren took time on a Sunday morning to impart valuable lessons to our students. By giving back to her community, she shows that she’s grateful for her blessings.
Our team encourages students to begin earning their freedom by adhering to the lessons from Lauren’s story. Prison Professors seeks to combat mass incarceration, one of the greatest social injustices in this country. By learning from leaders like Lauren and following our course modules, our students can recalibrate after a criminal conviction and lead a law-abiding, purposeful life after release.
Critical Thinking Questions:
Choose any of three questions below. Write a response for each of the three questions you choose. In your response, please write at least three paragraphs, with a minimum of three sentences each.
This exercise in personal development will help you develop better critical-thinking skills, and better writing skills. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. We’re striving to learn how to think differently, and how to communicate more efficiently. Try to use some of the vocabulary words from this lesson in your responses.
- Does this story inspire you to consider a career as an entrepreneur? Why or why not?
- How does this story reflect the importance of mental health?
- What exercises or routines can you adopt to maintain sound mental health?
- Why do you think effective leaders like Lauren are often self-learners?
- Why are solid communication and interpersonal skills necessary to have as a leader?
- How do you believe Lauren has evolved as a communicator over the course of her career?
- How can becoming the most competent person at your job help you offset stigma associated with a criminal record?
- How do you believe Lauren uses her math, critical thinking, and communication skills in her current role as a business leader?
- How do you believe remaining aware of opportunities led to Lauren’s success and ability to recalibrate ahead of her sentencing?
- How does this story reflect the importance of staying in healthy relationships and building constructive support networks?
- How does this story relate to the concept of making amends?
- Other than the areas listed, in what ways do you believe Lauren’s story reflects our ten modules?
 The information about jobs in the oil industry available to those with criminal convictions is sourced from College Consensus, an academic non-profit. https://www.collegeconsensus.com/resources/career/highest-paying-jobs-for-felons/