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 The Boys in the Boat: Book Report 

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Michael Santos

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We encourage members of our community to write book reports as a strategy to prepare for success while in prison. Today, Jeff wrote a review of The Boys in the Boat.

Title—The Boys in the Boat 

Author–Daniel James Brown 


Why I read The Boys in the Boat: 

My mother, an avid reader, recommended The Boys in the Boat. 

I grew up watching my mother read during her spare time. Her growing book collection inspired me to pick up a book when I had time. She taught me that by reading, I could always learn something. 

My parents live in Washington State. This book, The Boys in the Boat, tells the story about a group of (mostly) farm kids who lived in the 1930s. They attended the University of Washington to participate in one of the best college rowing teams in the country. Eventually, the team took aim at the Nazi team, and prepared to beat them during the 1936 Olympics, in Berlin, Germany.

I looked forward to reading the story.

We frequently hear about “Grit” when we learn about the discipline of athletes. Those who reach the top overcome obstacles and achieve the ultimate goal of turning professional, or winning an Olympic medal. During 1936, Olympic athletes had to struggle through the Great Depression. In The Boys in the Boat, we learned about an athlete from a divided family, with a step-mother who didn’t want anything to deal with her husband’s kids. 

In this story, we had all the ingredients for the type of Grit that turns athletes into legends that people talk about for generations. This story makes a person question “What could I accomplish if I had THAT type of Grit?” 

What did I learn from reading The Boys in the Boat: 

We have all seen the rowing machines at the gym. Most of us walk right by them. We have also seen movies that feature a pretty lake scene with a rowing team cruising across at sunset. Some of us may have observed an actual race while watching coverage of different sports during the Olympics. 

Those views may prompt thoughts such as: “I wonder how tough rowing really is?” 

This book convinced me that rowing is tough.

The Olympics standard distance is 2,000 meters. The toll your entire body takes during such a race is the equivalent of playing 2 basketball games back to back. But the rowing only lasts for six minutes. A person who rows must be super tough. 

This book features Joe Rantz, a man who grew up during the heart of the Great Depression. He lost his mother at a very young age and his new step-mother told Joe’s father “It’s your son or me.” Joe’s father chose….Well, I am not going to just spoil it.

While a freshman at the University of Washington, Joe auditioned for a spot on the freshman rowing team. He had the virtues that a parent wants to see in a child: self-sufficient, tough, a good student, and willing to push his body to the limits. 

Rowing requires teamwork. You can have eight of the strongest people around get into a boat and yell “Go!!” If they don’t work in seamless harmony, the boat can literally go in circles. In that way, rowing resembles life.

How reading The Boys in the Boat will contribute to my success: 

When I started reading “The Boys in the Boat,” I didn’t know how it would fit into my plan of only reading books that could elevate my mind and expand my vocabulary. As a non-fiction book with an entertaining story, I looked forward to reading it. But I didn’t know how the story of Joe Rantz and his rowing team could help me succeed in life.

As I read through the pages, I learned a lot.

First, to survive during the Great Depression, a person had to find ways to earn a living when few employers were hiring. That takes toughness, sacrifice, and creativity. I anticipate facing challenges of finding a good paying once I get out. It’s hard, I suspect, for people with felony records. MANY doors will automatically shut. 

If Joe Rantz could survive and save money for college tuition, I intended to make it happen.

From the book, I would also learn how Joe worked with eight other rowers, plus the boat leader, to make progress. How do you get nine people (eight rowers and one leader) to work in unison when many have never even stepped foot in a boat before? 

To answer that question, I learned the importance of practice. Joe would practice day and night in various conditions. The climate during the fall and winter seasons of the Pacific Northwest, on the water, would not be ideal conditions for rowing. People on the team didn’t make excuses. 

I could learn from that lesson, and I know it will help me when I return to society. I will not disappoint my wife and family. That means I must do everything necessary to learn and practice my craft so I can be a phenomenal employee.

The book also gave me an example of how to react when every muscle and every square centimeter of lungs screams and begs for rest. Joe wouldn’t stop. The teammate at the front of the boat kept asking for ten more strokes.

Joe would remember why he was there. As a member of the team, he was there for the person in front of him. He could always muster the strength necessary to persevere for his teammates.

I felt as if I had reached my lowest point. Authorities arrested me and a judge sentenced me to prison. Once I transitioned to a Federal Prison Camp, I found another gear. I will not disappoint my wife and family again. I WILL re-enter society better. 

About Jeff Piecka: 

My name is Jeff Piecka and I was sentenced to 34 months in a Federal Prison Camp in Oxford, WI after committing and pleading guilty to a white collar crime several years ago. Before self-surrendering on June 6, 2022, I promised my wife and family that I WILL exit prison a better husband, son, brother, Christian, future employee, and overall better member of society because I am going to better myself in 3 ways: 1) Physically–Not just for vanity purposes but a better operating body equals a better operating mind. 2) Mentally–Reading books, stories, papers, and magazines that educate and elevate my mind and expand my vocabulary. 

3) Spiritually–For ME, this means learning more from the Bible but it can also mean whatever “Greater Good” you believe in. 

Shortly after self-surrendering and reading Michael Santos’s book “Earning Freedom–Conquering a 45 Year Prison Term”, it inspired me to want to help just 1 person who is possibly heading to prison so I started emailing my family Posts that my sister uses to post as a Blog on Reddit dot com called “Letters From Federal Prison”. I believe to date it has close to 7,000 views and shares plus there are now 3 comments from people advising the Blog has helped them. This has motivated me to keep writing (which i have NEVER done anything like this before) and I REALLY want to help more people when i return to society next year. 

Thank You, 

Jeff Piecka 


Page 2 of 2 10/5/2022

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