by Colin Walsh

64. What values might lead a person to success upon release from prison?:

A man’s thoughts become his values, his values then become his actions and his actions collectively become his life. So in order to lead a life of success one must begin focusing on their thoughts.

One must begin thinking with the end in mind by setting goals. If one thinks they are going to be a failure or if they are unsure, then how can they be anything better than what they expect.  If one wants to succeed they must think and commit to success. Every great work is created twice, once in theory, and once in practice. In order to succeed we must first create our lives in theory by creating goals, before creating it in practice. Thinking of success is the first step leading to success.

Thinking and working toward the end result and creating goals will lead to the creation of ones’ values. If one focuses and constantly works toward the end result, then he is going to automatically live values that will march him closer to the end result. If the end result is success then one is going to automatically live values that will lead to success.

Values can change for different people. Everyone is different. There is no perfect recipe for success. But values that are going to lead to success have to begin with ones’ thoughts of success, everything else will soon follow.

65. How does a person ever become his values?:

One becomes their values when they constantly live a life in accordance with defined goals. By living day by day step by step toward a goal one will become his values.

It is easy to profess to live certain values but talk is cheap. Action is the only way to become anything.

Taking action toward a goal is a good way for one to become their values. Goals create values and living in accordance with those goals, will force one to become their values.

66. How does a person strengthen his integrity?:

Integrity is defined as adherence to a code of values. In order to strengthen ones integrity, a person must prove to be living in adherence to a code of professed values.

It is not enough to just talk about living these values. One must prove to be living them, through constant action, toward defined goals. A person that says they are going to do something but never does weakens their integrity. But a person that says they are going to do something and executes it,  strengthens their integrity. Doing this consistently over time will build unyielding integrity

67. What immediate challenges will a prisoner confront the day his prison term expires?:

The exact second that the final grain of sand falls of the hour glass of the prisoners sentence, he is casted of into society and cut off from the government’s support. The subsequent challenges an ex prisoner will face are numerous.

Six months prior to one’s release a prisoner has the opportunity to go to a halfway house. The halfway house is intended to help ease the transition into society. But the onerous rules and regulations prevent one from doing much of anything. Working within the rules while transitioning into society, is a challenge alone.

After one’s six months of halfway house time is over, they are kicked out of the nest and are expected to fly. At this point a prisoner either sinks or swims. He must obtain income, secure shelter, food, clothing, hygiene items and everything else that the government once provided them with. A prisoner can no longer depend on the stability of the government. This is a great challenge and a great burden. The only way to counter the challenge is through careful planning.

68. Housing:

Depending on a prisoner’s circumstances, a prisoner needs to accumulate some amount of money to use upon release.

A prisoner’s first responsibility upon being released from prison is to obtain shelter. The most realistic approach is to rent or lease an apartment or home. Depending on where one wants to live, monthly rent can be anywhere from $500- a few thousand. Most reasonably one could expect to pay about $1000 for rent. Along with rent one could expect to pay for amenities such as internet, phone, and cable, those could add up to as much as $500. I would predict that one would have to save $3000 to obtain and sustain safe housing. This estimate includes first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit plus utilities.

69. Household furnishings:

house or apartment, they are going to have to furnish it. These things can add up. TV’s, computers, couches, chairs, beds, tables, shelves, lamps, and appliances can rack up a huge bill. I estimate that all of these items, even buying low end, will add up to around at least $6,000.

70. Clothing:

Clothing is another item a prisoner must think about. If one has been in prison for decades the styles have changes dramatically; yes MC Hammer pants are out and a prisoner can no longer wear one khaki uniform or a sweat suit every day. So he must prepare. Buying clothing in lump sums is very expensive. If one wants to be respected they must buy clothing that deserves respect. This means buying suits, professional casual clothes, casual clothes, workout clothes, socks, underwear, dress shoes, sneakers, and accessories such as jewelry. A prisoner who is leaving prison with no clothes can expect –if wanting a respectable wardrobe—to pay $3000 to start and expect to triple that over time.

71. Transportation:

Obtaining transportation is a key to success. It supplies a person with the freedom to go to where they want when they want. Without personal transportation, one is a slave to the public transportation system and their schedule not their own. It is near impossible for one to succeed without their own transportation.

Therefore, it would be wise for a prisoner to save some amount of money for a car. In order to secure a reasonable monthly payment – having little or no credit– one will most likely have to put a lot of money down upfront, as a down payment. I predict as a safe guess 40%, for a $12,000 used car one could expect to pay $4800 upfront for the down payment. Then a monthly payment of $150 per month for five years. This is only at an extremely low interest rate if interest rates rise the payment would be higher.

One is also required to have insurance in order to legally drive. It is advisable to obtain full coverage is if one is financing a car, because they do not fully own it. Full insurance can cost $2,000 a year or $170 per month. But with no driving record and a criminal record one could expect to pay more.

After obtaining a car and insurance, the money doesn’t stop flowing. Having a car requires constant care, which requires constant expenses. One would be wise to have a contingency fund to cover the cost of repairs, parts, and other things the car will need over time.

With all of these things taken into consideration, a person should save about $8,720.00 to start and that amount includes $4,800 down payment, six months of monthly car payments, which equals $900. 6 months of insurance payments which equals $1020 plus $1,000 for a contingency fund. This amount is a safe estimate for a person to obtain safe, reliable, and respectable transportation. But it is only a start, a person can expect to pay double that over the next two years.

72. Incidentals:

Incidentals are probably the most important aspect of one’s savings, because without it one cannot survive.

Incidentals include everything from food to going out to the movies, and includes everything in between that one needs to sustain life.

I feel a persona should save at least a year’s worth of incidentals. At the very least one must have $500 a month in order to survive but one should expect to pay closer to $1,000 a month if they want to live more comfortably.

73. How much in the way of financial resources should a prisoner expect to need in the way of financial resources to transition to society?:

Acquiring all of the previously mentioned things will be an ongoing process. It will take time. In reality, not many can save enough to immediately obtain everything all at once.  But one being released from prison does still require some amount of startup capital. I would estimate that for one who is starting from nothing, they would need close to $10,000 just to get started. That would cover the startup expenses of an apartment, a down payment on a car, some decent clothing, and other remaining expenses. Anything less than having $10,000 would pose many difficulties and prolong the entire process.

74. How will prospective landlords, employers, creditors, and others in society respond to an individual who discloses his criminal record(s) and history of imprisonment?:

Unless they are somehow empathetic towards ex-prisoners; creditors, employees, and others alike are going to stereotype and prejudge someone who has a felony on their criminal record. This is inevitable. Society already has a preconceived perception of all prisoners, as being useless. They have a mentality that once a criminal always a criminal.

I know for me, most employers won’t look past my application, all creditors will be weary and others in society may shin and avoid me. This will be a constant battle that I will fight daily. I am going to have to spend some amount of time proving that I am not a criminal. Proving that I am a human being who committed a crime once, served his time productively, grew and prospered through adversity, is now ready to bounce back to society and live a successful life.

Describe the job market in the sectors for which you would like to find employment::

75. What range of income does the market offer?:

I believe that my best chance for success lies within myself. I cannot waste time trying hopelessly to find decent employment from someone else. I have to make it happen myself therefore I aspire to start my own company. Then I can hire myself, and not worry about obtaining employment from others.

Some call this being an Entrepreneur but that is just a fancy word for one who assures risk to make money. An Entrepreneur can make a variety of incomes. A figure cannot be placed on it. It can be anywhere from 10 made by the guy down the street who decided to quit his job and start selling widgets on eBay to 25 billion made by Mark Zuckerberg the CEO of Facebook who created the site from scratch in his college dorm room. The range of income is whatever one makes it. That is the great thing of running your own company. You get what they put into it.

76. What level of education or experience do candidates for such employment typically have?:

There is no education or experience requirement for an entrepreneur but having them both always helps.

Being an entrepreneur is very instinctual. No level of education or experience can make you one. One can learn all of the ratios, equations, and techniques in school and still fail to succeed in the field.

For example, Steve Jobs quit college and had little experience and Bill Gates was the opposite. But now Apple is far surpassing Microsoft in the field, because Bill Gates may be a complete genius but Steve Jobs was a better entrepreneur. Many entrepreneurs are not college educated and are not experienced, and just as many are both. Therefore, I believe that education and experience are somewhat irrelevant. Being a successful entrepreneur begins within education and experience must follow that will.

77. In what ways will a prison record influence possibilities for employment?:

One of the great benefits of being an entrepreneur is that I will be working virtually as my own boss. Therefore gaining employment won’t be a problem, because I can hire myself. But even being my own boss, my criminal record may create some future challenges.

An entrepreneur’s ultimate boss is the consumer. Therefore, I must please them and gain their trust. Knowing that I have a criminal record could weaken their trust in me. This initially can pose a challenge.

Also being an entrepreneur requires one to be a great networker. This means I will have to communicate contact and build relationships with many people: suppliers, creditors, other businessmen, consultants, and many others. If my criminal record were revealed, they can lose trust in me or may not even want to deal with me. Dealing and overcoming this second prejudice is one other future employment challenge.

Although I may not have to satisfy a prejudicial Human Resources Representative, as an entrepreneur, I still have many others to please. Having a criminal record places me somewhat behind in the race. Those are the challenges I must recognize, face, solve and overcome.

78. Where is the general employment rate in your community?:

I personally don’t know the exact unemployment rate nor does anyone else.

The figure the government releases has been wavering over the past few years between eight percent and ten percent as a national average.

I feel this is a misnomer because there are many variables not taken into consideration.

I believe the actual nation unemployment rate is much higher per capita. The numbers that are released are polished and manipulated to look better.

The local unemployment in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania that is higher than the national average. The rate given is 8.7%. The county I expect to move home to is one of the highest unemployment communities in the country.

Regardless of the actual rate, the unemployment is high and I don’t see any reprieve in sight.

79. How would you expect the general employment rate to compare with the unemployment rate for people with your background, considering prison record, educational record, and experience?:

For me, my background doesn’t exist. I will be 25 years old, have no specific job experience, have merely a high school diploma and a criminal record on top of all that. I expect the unemployment rate for that specific background is much higher than the general average.

But in the field of entrepreneurship, unemployment doesn’t exist. It is either 100% or 0% because as a entrepreneur, one is either employed or isn’t. But either way it is their decision. Therefore I don’t believe the unemployment rate will affect me directly.

80. How much time do you anticipate needing between your release date and securing the job you expect to land?:

Time is definitely one my side. Upon being released I won’t immediately be forced to fend for myself; Because of my supportive family. I will have my lowest needs taken care of; thus allowing me to focus on my higher aspirations. Therefore I will take advantage of this time to build credentials, experience, and trust in society I estimate this will take approximately 3 years.

I estimate this time based on this calculation.

The first 6 months I will busy appeasing the halfway house financially and psychologically. Doing this will probably prevent me from doing much that will help me reach my ultimate goal. Although hopefully I can use this time to attend college while at the halfway house. That will be the first step toward my goal. Six months late upon leaving the halfway house, I will still be attending college. I expect—if the college accepts all of my previous credits—that I will be able to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree in two years following graduating is when I become completely focused on my future career. By this time I will have narrowed down what business I want to establish. I will have the plan in place, I expect it will take about another year to get the business up and running.

Also during these three years I will be networking ridiculously. Doing this will help me gain trust in society and will help me establish contacts for future endeavors.

Time can be one’s best asset or one’s worst liability. I expect to use it for all that it is worth, building. I said previously while in prison I am laying the foundation brick by brick. These subsequent three years, I will begin to erect the walls board by board at the end of these three years; I will begin to put on the roof. Life is a process and one cannot skip essential steps.

81. If halfway house placement requires forfeiture of 25 percent of gross earnings, of your monthly take-home pay, how much do you anticipate you will keep during the time you’re in the halfway house?:

During my stay in the halfway house, I don’t expect to save anything for a few reasons.
First, I don’t expect to obtain a full time job so that I am able to attend college fulltime. Therefore, I won’t make much.

Also, part time jobs usually offer low wages so per hour, I won’t make a lot initially.

From the money that I do make, twenty- five percent goes to the hallway house and about thirty percent goes to taxes. So if I make $9 an hour for 25 hours per week I would make $225 per week minus thirty percent for taxes minus twenty-five percent for my contribution to the halfway house. I can expect to take home $123.75 per week. At this rate I can only expect to make $434.13 per month and $2604.75 for the six months I will be in a halfway house. That money will be barely enough to pay to sustain life at college. Therefore I don’t see myself saving anything more than a few dollars during this time. And at this point I am okay with that thought.

82. What do statistics show that average households in America earn each year?:

The government statistics show that the average income for Americans is about $50,000. Some make billions, some make $5,000, the average is the middle. Poverty is now considered earning below $20,000 for a independent person. Being rich is considered making over 250,000 per year. The stats are endless and tend to change every year.

Upon the first year of release, I expect to focus more on schooling and less on making money. I won t make much but I won t need much either. I expect to earn just enough to survive. I estimate to make $10 an hour for 25 hours per week. That will earn a gross of $250 per week minus about 20% in taxes and 25% contribution to the halfway house for the first 6 months I expect to net $137.50 per week, $595.38 per month, and $3572.25 for those 6 months. For the second half of the first year I will no longer pay 25% to the halfway house so I will net $200 per week. $866 per month, and $5196. Therefore for the first year I expect to earn somewhere around $8768.25.

Relating to the national average, what I will make will be 82% below the average and it is even 56% below the poverty line. But considering that I won t be totally financially independent the statistics don’t really relate to me directly. And the money that I do make will be enough to survive while I am in school.

83. How so you anticipate your income will compare with that average one year after your release from prison?:

SEE ABOVE

84. What emotions do we introduce when we obsess on issues beyond our ability to influence?:

Focusing on issues beyond our control is like trying to move a brick wall. You can push and push. It isn’t going to move, you can stand there and punch, kick, or curse it; it still won t move. You can run 200 yards. Full speed into it, it still won t budge. At the end of the day, the wall is still there, you are tired, bruised, and angry, and you wasted the entire day. The next day only gets worse. You become more tired, more bruised, and more angry and the wall is still there. Day after day you languish and nothing is changed. Eventually when your body and mind cannot take any more you will give up and feel hopeless.

This concept applies the same to issues beyond our control. Many focus all of their energy and all of their time to something they cannot change. They end up eventually beating themselves down physically and mentally, constantly trying to change something that cannot be changed.

This constant effort without results induces anger and frustration. Anger and frustration leads to more anger and frustration which leads to despondency and depression, which leads to lack of motivation and laziness.

85. How can we overcome the despair that accompanies imprisonment?:

One can overcome the despair of prison by simply focusing on things within their circle of control. All too often, one obsessed about the things outside of that circle such as their location, housing conditions, and other amenities. A prisoner – no matter how much worthless paper work they file—can never change these conditions. They cannot receive more phone time, they cannot receive more visiting time, some cannot move close to home or go to a camp, they cannot choose what they eat, or where they sleep and ultimately they cannot change their sentence. These things are the metaphorical brick wall. If one removes their focus off of the wall, they can avoid despair.

Psychologist and ex holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl describes it best with his theory of logotherapy, which is about finding meaning in any situation. Frankl explains that, “one cannot always avoid suffering but he can choose how to cope with it.” In other words, one may not be able to change certain conditions but they could change how they react to it. By focusing on things they can control will eliminate despair. A prisoner may not be able to change the amount of phone time allotted to them, but they can maximize and appreciate the time they do have. The same goes with visiting hours also. One may not enjoy the food and not be able to change it. But they can appreciate the food they do receive –for free—and realize there are starving people in the world that didn’t commit a crime. A prisoner may hate being away from the outside world, he cannot change that condition, but he can enjoy the solidarity and use it to focus on things he wouldn’t be able to do in his life without it. And ultimately one cannot change their sentence only how they choose to serve it.  The list goes on endlessly.

There is always two sides to every coin but one can only see one side at a time. One must choose the side they perceive. Focusing on the side that invokes positive feelings and meaning will eliminate the despair of prison.

In prison, a prisoner loses most of their control. Their circle of control shrinks significantly. Many lose sight of the simple fact that one never loses control of themselves and no matter what happens, one never loses the control of how they react to any situation. Hanging on to this small amount of control and avoiding things one cannot change will destroy all despair and despondency of prison.

Michael wrote about the numerous ways that his behavior could lead to the extension of his prison term or the aggravation of his prison conditions. No one wants to serve longer prison terms or serve sentences under harsher conditions. :

86. What types of behavior lead to such outcomes?:

The behaviors that can lead to either a prisoners sentenced being lengthened or to harsher conditions is vast. They fill four or five pages of every prisoner’s handbook. But these hundreds of punishable offenses can all be enveloped by one characteristic and attitude. This attitude leads to punishable behaviors, which can lead to a harsher conditions and a longer sentence.

This characteristic is personified as the ostrich that stick their heads in the dirt in fear. A prisoner that sticks their head in the dirt and tries to hide from the pain and suffering of prison loses focus on the future and sticks their head deep into the present. Doing this forces prisoners to indulge in the pleasures of prison.  They enjoy the instant gratification and ignore the consequences of their actions thus ignoring the future. Focusing on the daily life of prison and ignoring one’s potential future tends to lead to behaviors that can lead to harsher conditions or longer sentence.

Some examples of this are:
Jim is  72 years old and enjoys watching the Price is Right every Wednesday morning.  While Jim is watching TV, John comes in and changes the channel. This situation can go one of two ways. Jim can either concede or fight for his TV watching privileges. If he concedes now John controls the TV until someone challenges him. It is like the childhood game of king of the hill. Now a week later Shane comes along and tries to change the channel. John though, doesn’t back down and they end up fighting. Shane loses the fight and has a black eye and a bloody lip. Later, the Lt. at dinner sees Shane has a black eye and takes him to segregation. They lock the entire unit down to check everyone’s hands and bodies to see if they have any bruises. John has a scratch on his face and a swollen hand. They take him to segregation unit also. Shane and John are later found guilty of fighting and are punished with one year in segregation and loss of good time and a $300 fine thus extending their sentence and making conditions more harsh. This becomes a lose/ lose situation. Now they both must spend one year under harsher conditions and also extend their sentence.

Or this example: Roger is new in prison. He meets some guys that play poker. Roger is depressed and wants to blow off steam so he starts playing with these few guys. Shane plays all day and night, but he loses more than he wins but keeps taking more chips to play. He assumes he is playing for fun. At the end of the week someone brings Roger a bill for $1000 and tells him where to send the money. Roger can barely afford to survive in prison. Shane is now forced with a problem. He can either “hustle” something and earn the money back or someone is going to come and beat him until he pays. Either one of these decisions can lead to harsher conditions. Either way his life just became more complicated.

One final example is about Rich. Rich has no outside income. He is new to prison and has a ten year sentence. Rich sees some of the other prisoners in his unit always wearing new shoes, new clothes, and lockers full of commissary. He knows they too have no income coming from the outside. He asks some of them how they make their money. One guy tells him he is a good gambler and makes it gambling. The other guy says he steals food from the kitchen and sells it. The third guy says he sells drugs that someone else sneaks in. Rich is really intrigued and he really wants the extra money. He eventually tries all three examples.  The first gets him in debt with the bookie, the second gets him a “shot” for stealing which loses him good time and sends him to the segregation unit, and the third gets him a new federal offense and adds 5 years to his sentence.

All of these stories happen every day in all prisons. And each event was caused by indulgence in prison. Jim, John, and Shane wanted to indulge in the TV, Roger wanted to indulge in gambling, and Rich wanted to indulge in commissary items and money. This lack of focus on the future will always lead to behaviors that will lead to harsher prison conditions or a longer sentence.

87. How do harsher prison conditions influence an individual’s ability to prepare for success upon release?:

Believe it or not prison can get worse if one makes it that way. There is always a reaction to every action. And in prison, the reaction can make conditions much worse than they are. These harsher conditions force prisoners into a vicious cycle that greatly hinders one’s preparation for the future.

The first and most common harsher condition is being sent to “the hole.” The hole is a euphemism for the Segregated Housing Unit or SHU. The SHU is essentially jail inside of jail.

Spending time in the SHU can greatly hinder one’s preparation for anything. Upon entering the SHU one loses all property. They are sent to the SHU without books, papers, letters, pens, or anything. SHU inmates, as they are commonly referred to, are the lowest priority to the prison staff. They rarely get any attention from anyone. They are restricted from email, phones, and letters. They are locked in a small cell for 23 hours a day with next to nothing. Ultimately, all of these obstacles make it near impossible to do anything. Let alone prepare for success.

Another condition that can become worse is being sent to another prison as a inconvenience to the prisoner. A federal prisoner can be transferred anywhere in the county and they are often transferred for discipline. These moves are generally intended as an inconvenience to the prisoner and they are usually further away from their home. Also, a prisoner can be transferred to a higher security level. The higher the security level, the harder it is to prepare for the future. Being transferred is a gigantic burden to the prisoner and a transfer can take anywhere to a few months to a year. These transfers greatly impede one’s preparations for success.

The final impediment is a prisoner who has prisoner creditors.  A prisoner that owes someone money is in a dangerous situation. They either have to act or be acted upon. This position forces this prisoner to either spend time paying the bill or protecting themselves from retaliation. Either way, they are unable to prepare for success.

Prisoner conditions rarely improve nut they can easily worsen. The worse the conditions, the harder it is to prepare. It is already hard enough to prepare for a successful life outside of these walls. So anything that hinders these preparations make it near Impossible to succeed in this effort.

88. How does behavior that leads to harsher prison conditions influence the lives of those in our support network?:

Believe it or not prison can get worse if one makes it that way. There is always a reaction to every action. And in prison, the reaction can make conditions much worse than they are. These harsher conditions force prisoners into a vicious cycle that greatly hinders one’s preparation for the future.

The first and most common harsher condition is being sent to “the hole.” The hole is a euphemism for the Segregated Housing Unit or SHU. The SHU is essentially jail inside of jail.

Spending time in the SHU can greatly hinder one’s preparation for anything. Upon entering the SHU one loses all property. They are sent to the SHU without books, papers, letters, pens, or anything. SHU inmates, as they are commonly referred to, are the lowest priority to the prison staff. They rarely get any attention from anyone. They are restricted from email, phones, and letters. They are locked in a small cell for 23 hours a day with next to nothing. Ultimately, all of these obstacles make it near impossible to do anything. Let alone prepare for success.

Another condition that can become worse is being sent to another prison as a inconvenience to the prisoner. A federal prisoner can be transferred anywhere in the county and they are often transferred for discipline. These moves are generally intended as an inconvenience to the prisoner and they are usually further away from their home. Also, a prisoner can be transferred to a higher security level. The higher the security level, the harder it is to prepare for the future. Being transferred is a gigantic burden to the prisoner and a transfer can take anywhere to a few months to a year. These transfers greatly impede one’s preparations for success.

The final impediment is a prisoner who has prisoner creditors.  A prisoner that owes someone money is in a dangerous situation. They either have to act or be acted upon. This position forces this prisoner to either spend time paying the bill or protecting themselves from retaliation. Either way, they are unable to prepare for success.

Prisoner conditions rarely improve nut they can easily worsen. The worse the conditions, the harder it is to prepare. It is already hard enough to prepare for a successful life outside of these walls. So anything that hinders these preparations make it near Impossible to succeed in this effort.

89. Although the prison system offered ways to lengthen a prison term or aggravate the conditions under which a prisoner served his sentence, what objective mechanisms exist within the system for a prisoner to distinguish himself in a positive way?:

In prison everyone is materially equal. Each prisoner has the same clothes, the same housing etc.

The prison itself offers no tool to distinguish oneself. Regardless if a prisoner participates in one program or ten, he is still considered the same prisoner. Other than a lousy certificated, a prisoners earns nothing for his time in these programs. A prisoner is always toeing the fine lines trying to avoid discipline regardless of what he does.

The only accomplishment becomes appeasing not achieving. At the end of the day, all effort to distinguish oneself to prison staff becomes wasted.

Although prison may seem like a wasteland for positive distinction, one can still be eminent in the rest of societies eye’s without the systems help. In order to do this a prisoner must set goal, work toward them each day, then achieve them. Doing this and documenting it along the way sets one apart from the crowed and distinguishes him.

90. How then does the system encourage individuals to work toward reconciling with society, prepare for law-abiding lives upon release, or earn freedom?:

I set various goals for various time periods. Each goal is in line with my values.  I set yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals.

My yearly goals for 2012 are to finish the Straight A Guide; Speak and write Spanish fluently; Read 24 books; Complete 22 college credits; Learn 1500 new words; Improve my math skills; Maintain and strengthen my relationships with friends and family; Maintain fitness and health. These goals are attained by taking steps each month, week and day.

To attain these goals, each month I set goals also. My monthly goals are to finish 20 responses in the Straight A guide; Study Spanish for twenty hours per week; Read two books; Attend class and study; Study 200 words; Study math for 20 hours; Maintain communication with family and friends, and exercise for 10 hours. I break these goals down further into week goals.

Weekly, my goals are to complete 5 responses per week of the Straight A guide; Study Spanish for 5 hours; Read half of  a book; Attend class for 10 hours; Learn 50 words; Study math for 5 hours; Maintain communication with my family and friends; Exercise for two and half hours.  Then to assure I reach each goal, I break every goal into daily goals.

My daily goals are to complete one Straight A Guide response; Study Spanish for one hour; Read 1/14 of a book; Attend class for two and half hours; Learn ten words; Study math for an hour; Talk to family and friends daily; And exercise for a half an hour.

By setting step by step goals daily, I take steps everyday toward my ultimate goal of growing through adversity and overcoming prison.

91. Describe the goals you have set?:

The ultimate goal that I have set is to be successful in the future. That goal is very large and vauge. Therefore I broke that future goal into small distinct goals. In order to reach my ultimate goal of success, I take incremental steps; yearly, monthly, weekly and daily toward that goal.

Yearly my goals are to finish the SAG, write 365 consecutive days. learn 1000 vocabulary words, learn a new language, earn college credits, Read 24 books, Improve my math skills, maintain meaningful relationships, read the Bible cover to cover, and maintain my physical fitness.

In order to reach my goals I work at them monthly by: Working on the SAG daily, writing everyday, studying 200 vocabulary words, studying Spanish for over 20 hours, attending college, reading two books, studying math for 30 hours, write and call family daily, read 1/12 of the bible, and  run 20 miles, do 500 pullups, 1000 pushups.

In order to be certain that I reach these monthly goals I break them down further into weekly goals. Weekly I complete 10 responses of the SAG, I write for ten hours, I study 50 words, I study Spanish for 10 hours, I attend college and do homework, I read a half of a book, I study math for 8 hours, I write and call family, I read 1/52 of the Bible, and I run five miles, do 120 pullups, and 250 pushups.

To be certain that I reach my weekly and monthly goals, I take one last step down the ladder. I break my weekly goals into daily goals. Daily I complete two SAG responses, write for two hours, study ten words, study Spanish for two hours, I attend classes monday through thursday, I read one eight of a book, I study math for two hours, I write and call family, I read 1/365 of the bible, and I run one mile, do 40 pullups, and 125 pushups, twice a week.

This is how I break down a large gauge goal into small distinct steps that will lead me to the goal. I feel that these small steps, like rungs on a ladder will lead to success. Everyday is a rung on this ladder, the ladder of success.

92. Describe how your goals relate to your professed values?:

Each one of my goals derives from my proposed values. Everything that I do relates, in some way, to the values that I profess to live.

93. How clearly can you gauge your level of success toward each goal you set?:

I gauge myself by incrementally documenting my progress.

I log my yearly goals along with my monthly, weekly, and daily ones.

After completing each, I look back and grade myself on completeness as one would grade a test.

On a day by day basis I gauge my progress by documenting my goals and grading myself.

94. In what ways does one goal lead to the next?:

By living in sync with one’s values creates one’s goals. By living in sync with one’s goals will create other goals. Over time, every step toward a person’s goals will lead them to that goal then above and beyond.

Goals are like rungs in a ladder. A person’s goal may be to make it to the top of the roof. They can’t just make it there in one move. In order to reach that goal, they much first start climbing the first rung then each subsequent rung leads to the next and so on. Eventually they make it to the top. Likewise each goals lead to the next, ultimately leading above and beyond one’s final goal.

95. If you achieve all of your goals, how will they influence your prison adjustment?:

Reaching the goals I have set is not a matter of “if” I will achieve them, achieving them is a must.

The goals I have set are well thought out and deeply considered not impromptu and unwitting. They are designed to be a solid foundation to build a successful future on. Therefore, reaching these goals is curtail is essential to my success.

Each incremental goal is a rung in the ladder to my ultimate goal of success. They are the target that I aim for; because of this, these goals govern every aspect of my life.

Step by step, day after day, I grow a little further, laying another block in the foundation. As days turn to weeks my small achievements accumulate into bigger achievements. As weeks turn to months to years, I only continue to grow. Then as I leave the front gate of the prison, I will have a strong solid foundation to build the rest of my life on.

96. How will the goals you set influence your prospects for success upon release?:

By expressing each goal publically that I set and achieve creates is a piece of evidence that proves that I am serious about my life and about succeeding. It proves that I am a forward thinker and planner. It proves without a doubt that I am not stupid and am capable of doing and succeeding through anything. Presenting this evidence publically shows everyone and anyone that I will be reformed and ready to re-enter into society. This proof should influence anyone who has the opportunity to read it.

 

by Colin Walsh

16. Who are you?

Who am I? A felon? a convict? a criminal? an inmate? These are the answers that many people would use to define me. When I ask myself the same question, I don’t even consider and of these labels. I perceive myself differently.

My name is Colin Walsh. I am 20 years old. As my current circumstances dictate. I am a prisoner of the federal government. As a prisoner, most of my freedoms are limited. The government control most of my basic aspects of my life, such as; what I eat, when I eat, where I live, what I wear, how I wear it, When I see my family, how long I see them and many other basic freedoms. Although they control most aspects they can never control how I react to the situation. Therefore they can never control who I am. Although I am currently a prisoner, I still have the power to to decide my roles and values. Even as a prisoner, I still serve many other important roles in life.

Ultimately, on the most basic level, I am a human being and a man. I am a member of the human race. I have a mind, a body, and a soul, I have the same basic psychological and physiological needs just like everyone else. I need food, shelter, clothing and also interdependent relationships. Based on these basic commonalties, I am completely equal to every other human being.

I am also a member of a family. I am a son to a mother and father, a brother to a sister, a grandson to two grandmothers, and a relative to many other members of the family.

I believe that family always comes first . As the old adage goes ” blood is thicker than water” As a member of a wonderful family, I owe it to them not only to keep in touch with them day to day, but to redeem myself and be a success.

Also I am a companion to a wonderful girlfriend. Everyday I strive to build a strong and long-lasting relationship with her. Also I need to succeed for her so that we can live a successful and stable life together.

I am also a friend to hundreds of friends, young and old. They are my support network. I spend time each and every day connecting with them, maintaining our relationship.

Lastly and most importantly, I am a student. I believe that education and knowledge are the most important keys to success. I also believe that every single experience in life is an opportunity to learn something. This is how I spend every day, learning and building my knowledge base. I will continue to so this for the rest of my life.

I may currently be a prisoner, but I am not an ordinary prisoner. I choose not to be defined by my circumstances, I choose to define myself. I base my entire life on these main roles and values, and nothing can ever change that. This is who I am and how I define myself.

17. Describe your background with regard to your education, vocation or career, troubles with the law.

Prior to July of 2008 my experience with the law was virtually no existent. I was your ordinary everyday 17 year old high-school student. I was headed into my senior year of school. I was a honor student, with a 97% average the previous year. I was also a standout athlete, in football and track. I just received my drivers license and I was loving life. My life was carefree at this point. I lived in an upper class home and rarely had to work for anything that I wanted. Also do to my local sports career I was well known and respected around my small town of Shenandoah, PA. Everyone that knew me considered me a “good kid”. At this point, life was good and I was complacent. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I was young, smart, and good-looking, what else was there to want in life? I had no future goal, aspirations or even dreams. I couldn’t even tell what I was going to do the next day let alone the rest of my life.

Then one random night, and one spontaneous event changed my entire perspective on life. It was only a month after my 17th birthday, and I was riding high on life. I really think that I thought that I was invincible. My friends and I decided to drink that night, which was a common occasion in my life and was also generally accepted around town. After our night of partying, we were on our way home. Then we got into a fight with a Hispanic man. I didn’t participate in the initial fight, but when the fight broke up and he came back after us, I joined in. In defense I threw one punch that sent him to the ground. As he lay on the ground my friend kicked him in the side of the head. This man died three days later.

That one brief spontaneous reaction sent my life into a tailspin of misery. I was initially charged by the state of PA with 1st and 2nd degree murder. Because of that I was sent to the county jail and spent 33 days in solitary confinement there. During that time in jail on the outside world, my story was going viral.

My entire story quickly became global news and was featured on every news station in existence. Also it was in many magazines and newspapers everywhere. The new media made me out to be a villainous character. I was portrayed as a hateful murderer, which I have never considered myself.

After 33 days in solitary I had my preliminary hearing. That is when I signed my rights away to have a juvenile trial, in exchange for the 1st and 2nd degree murder charges being dropped. Then I was released on bail. While on bail I had a very strict PM curfew; this totally destroyed my social life. Then I was not allowed back into school or allowed to play football. I was eventually forced to join the Alternative education program, which in my opinion is a glorified detention, for delinquents. Eventually I fought through it and became one of the first even to receive my diploma and graduate the program.

During the time that I was in school, I also made the tough decision to plead guilty to a federal civil rights charge. After much debate between my father, my attorney and myself, we all decided that it was our only option.  My choices were: either plead guilty and accept 5 years in prison or go to trial and face a potential sentence of life in prison. I made the only reasonable decision. By pleading guilty in the federal system my charges in the state system were expunged. Now all I had to do was sit back and wait for my former co-defendants to face their trials, before I was sentenced.

After I pleaded guilty, I felt a sense of relief. I felt as if I could move a little forward. I thought that maybe I could make amends with society. During this time while I was waiting to be sentenced, I tried to shed some light on myself, by being the best citizen that I thought I could be. The first thing I did was get a job. I began working at a local golf course that same summer. Then in the winter I applied for a job at UPS as a “christmas helper” and believe it or not I got the job. This job was only seasonal for the christmas season. As a “christmas helper” my job was to deliver christmas packages door to door in the same town that I so wronged. Eventually I was hired permanently in the warehouse, loading trucks early in the morning. I worked there until the day I went to prison.

During the time that I worked at UPS – August 2010 to December 2010- I also attended college. I completed one full semester, and finished with a 4.0 GPA. I did this because I felt that it was the only thing left that I could do to be a good citizen.

Then on April 6, 2011, almost 3 years since I was arrested, my sentencing day finally arrived. It was finally time to face my consequences that I deserved. I had no idea what to expect that day. The sentencing hearing in all was very brief. The decision was made within minutes. The judge half-listened to both attorneys speak. Then he half listened as I made a statement. I could already tell at this time that he had already made his decision, regardless of what was said. After everyone else was done speaking he imposed his decision. He said, “I truly believe that you are sorry, and I also believe that you will never be back here but your sentence needs to reflect a just and fair punishment and has to act a a deterrent for future crimes of this nature, so I hearby sentance you to 55 months.” and that was it just like that it was over with. The decision was final, there was nothing that I could do to change it. I was then instructed to report to prison in exactly a month.

May 6th 2011, My dad and I drove the 5 hours to rural Elkton Ohio. This is where I will be living for the next 4 years. We both parted ways and my new journey began.

18. What are you going through now?

As I approach my 7th month of incarceration. Physically I am completely settled and adapted to the prison surroundings. All of my primary basic needs are met. I have my routine set and I spend everyday productively. But Mentally I still struggle everyday with the various absurdities that prison life presents. The mundanity alone is enough to drive one insane. Also I struggle to avoid the rampant sedentary lifestyle that the majority of other prisoners live. I have to refuse to conform to that low standard. I have to rise above the crowd not recede into it. To cope and be disparate, I do the complete opposite of most of the other prisoners; as they all watch TV, I attend college, study and learn. As they all hang out and play cards or dominoes, I read or write. As they play pool or handball. I study more, to learn more than the class has to offer. I separate myself and cope this way.
Also right now I miss the easy life that I once lead. I miss my family, my girlfriend, my friends, my dog, and everything else that I once had. This nostalgia is sometimes difficult to cope with, but I do not let it hinder my progress, no amount of self pity is going to help my life in the slightest. So instead of feeling sorry for myself I use these nostalgic feelings as a motivating force that helps drive me through each day.
Living in prison is difficult, but it is supposed to be. It is precisely designed to be that way. I clearly acknowledge and understand this, but I also understand that although being here may be difficult, it doesn’t have to be worthless. Right now I believe that I deserve to be here, but that doesn’t mean that I am going to give up the rest of my life. This is how I cope. I am and will continue to use this time to better myself and emerge an overall better person. Otherwise I deserve to remain her forever.

Describe your vision of the best person you can become during the following time frames:

19. Time remaining to serve.

Taking these small steps day after day for the rest of my sentence will help me achieve my goals.

My body goals are simply maintain a healthy physique. Completing this requires that I exercise daily. I spend at least an hour everyday exercising. Maintaining a healthy diet is also essential. I eat healthy every day and avoid the prevalent — high fat high calorie — “junk food.” I will perform these tasks everyday to achieve my goal.

I build my spiritual through religion. As a Christian I have various responsibilities and goals. My personal spiritual goals and very concise. I intend to practice my religion fully and openly and also learn all aspects about the religion that I can. Achieving these goals not complex. To practice my religion, fully, I not only attend weekly services, but also practice everyday by being a generous and kind person to other prisoners. To learn more about my religion I read the bible each night. Performing these tasks every day until I leave will Guarantee that I reach my goal.

These three separate human parts combine to form my being. Training them separately everyday, constantly. Will help me reach my overall goal of bettering my entire self.

My second role is a member as a family. As a family member who is in prison, I need to maintain contact with all of my family. Maintaining contact is one goal but another is also to strengthen and build strong relationships with each of them. Accomplishing this requires that I use all of my available resources. Using e-mail, phones, letters, and occasional visits is how I ease close to attaining my goal. Doing this is an ongoing process. I use time everyday to work at it. I expect to maintain this level of contact over the remainder of my prison experience.

My third role is a companion to a great girlfriend. I know that he love does not come free. Therefore I need to earn it each and everyday. That is my goal as her companion: to build a strong, long-lasting relationship with her. Achieving this requires that I devote time each day to this. Everyday I spend time communicating with her, through email, letters, phone calls, and frequent visits. I will continue to do this for the rest of my time, ultimately reaching my goal.

The forth role that I represent is a friend. My goals as a friend are not only to maintain current relationships, but also creating new ones. Maintaining relationships with all of my friends require that I write and e-mail them constantly, continuously maintaining contact. Building new relationships on the other hand entails that I meet new people — in and out of prison– that I share a common interest with. I will spend time each day that take steps toward these goals.

My last and final role is a student. Being a student, I have many various goals. Firstly, I want to strengthen my rudimentary skills in reading, writing, and math. I do this by reading 2-3 books a month, writing daily, and practicing math daily in SAT workbooks. Along with building rudimentary skills, I also want to obtain 56 college credits. That is equivalent to two years of college. In order to accomplish this I began taking college courses that the prison offers for free. These courses when complete with equal 22 legitimate credits. After these courses, I plan on taking correspondence courses to finish the remaining 34 credits. Taking correspondence courses requires money, so I will also have to obtain funding to pay for them. To obtain the credits I will also have to study a lot and work every single day. These college credits with later go towards earning my degree in the future. My final goal as a student is to learn how to speak 3 different languages. Beginning with Spanish. I work on Spanish everyday using workbooks and studying with native speakers who act as tutors for me. This is how I am going to achieve my goals as a student.

All of these achievements are going to steadily make me grow — step by step — one day at a time. My goals are clear and I know I will achieve every one if I work at each aspect, everyday. This is how I plan to spend the remainder of my prison sentence. This will allow me to emerge a better person.

20. One month after release.

The initial month following my release from prison, is going to be a time of great change, and transition. Still the government will predominantly control my life, because I will be in a halfway house. I will have much more freedom than I do now though. This first month will be a time of rebuilding and adjustment.

My primary goals will still pertain as they did when I was in prison. My goals though will change subtly, with the external change. My first new goal will be to acquire a decent part time job. Doing this will appease the halfway house and also maintain my subsistence. Also depending on timing. I will either enroll in college or spend time acquiring funding in order to pay for college. These two tasks will be my new primary objectives, for the first month.

Along with all of my goals, I will also use this first month to physically and mentally readjust back to the real world. doing this is a serious matter. The cultural shock is going to take some time to wear off.

This entire month is going to act as a transition period. Leaving prison can be just as hard as coming into prison. The change is virtually the same, only reversed. So I feel that I will need this short month to readjust. Therefore I can move forward with my life from there.

21. One year after release.

Subsequently following the initial month of release, it will continue to be a time of change. The whole first year will be spent building a steady life, also using a lot of time catching up with friends and family.

Following the first month of release I will most likely still be housed in a halfway house. Acquiring a part time job is top priority. Following obtaining a steady job I will need to buy a car. Then after that I will enroll in school. Doing all of this should take in total three to four months. Hopefully doing all of this will please the half-way supervisors, convincing them to send me home early. Either way I will leave the half-way house within the first year.

Leaving the half-way house is going to be a giant leap. After leaving I plan on moving back home with one of my family members. Doing that will remove the huge financial burden of finding housing.

All of my free time will be devoted to family and friends whom I have missed so much over these years. Mostly my girlfriend who served my sentence with me. I owe it to them to spend as much time possible to make up for the time lost being here.

Also after leaving the halfway house, I will be on probation. Therefore I will be under the watchful eye and scrutinized by a probation officer. I will have to live within whatever parameters he imposes. Hopefully within the first year I can gain his trust and lower his expectations of me. Therefore I will be able to live more freely.

All of these changes, that are going to be happening around me are all external. Internally I will be the same person that I became in prison. Even after all of the changes I will continue to live by my established roles and goals. I will always live my life based on my roles and the goals that I have set for those roles.

The first year is going to be helter-skelter. Moving, preparing, and adjusting, is what this year is going to consist of. Therefore it will be my responsibility to gain control and create a strong, steady base to establish the rest of my life on.

22. Five years after release.

Continuing into the first five years of release is going to be one of the hardest points in my complete transition. This is also a time to use the skills that I have already developed to developed new skills. These five years will continue to be a time to build and prepare for my future. For the first five years the decisions I make are going to be crucial. Being relatively young I am lucky enough to have this time to utilize. Therefore I can use this time wisely and continue to grow, thus also continuing to separate myself from my crime, and allowing me to prove my true self. Each decision that I make during this time is going to be essential.
For approximately, the first three years following my release, I will be attending college, and working part time. Doing this will provide a steady lifestyle for these years — until graduation. Attending and finishing school will then provide me with the final skills and credentials that I will need for my future.
Graduating college is going to be the next big benchmark in my life. Proceeding graduation, my life will change significantly. After I complete college with the skill that I need, I will attempt to find a steady job. If I am unable to find a job I will earn an income on my own, using the skills that I have developed over the years.
After I acquire financial stability. I will then move out of my family’s house and find somewhere else to live, with my girlfriend, that we can call home.
Getting married will subsequently follow gaining financial stability, and buying a home. After my girlfriend and I both have a home and are both financially stable it will be time to settle down and start our own family, in our newly acquired home. This should provide a happy ending to the first five years upon release.
Doing all of these steps will build a strong base to build the rest of my life upon. Without this base my life will not grow to it’s full potential. Each one of these steps in the five years is preparation for a successful future.
Knowing that these five years will pass faster than the previous five year, I need to utilize every second of this time and use it to my advantage, I don’t have any time to waste. I cannot and will not let it slip away. This is will be the time that I have to truly define myself.
Following the first five years of freedom the seeds that I have sown should begin to subtly grow, I cannot predict the future I can only plan and prepare to face it. Each decision that I make for the rest of my life will lead to the next point. Eventually each decision will lead to where I want to go.

23. How do those in society perceive people in prison?

When anyone hears the word prisoner, what do they automatically think of? Is it an image from the o’clock news? Is it an image of an actor from a famous prison movie? Is it an image of a rowdy prisoner from the prevalent prison “reality” television shows? Is  it the thought of the billions of tax dollars going to waste? Or, Is it nothing at all, a complete blank? Whatever it maybe it is probably very general and stereotypical.

Hearing this term makes me think of myself, and the thousand of prisoners that surround me right now. Considering each person as an individual, not an entire group.

Our perceptions are distinctly different because everybodys’ perceptions are formed by what one hears and/or sees. Unfortunately what society sees and hears about prison is limited and biased. Therefore society’s perception of prison reflects the same. Many peoples’ perception of prison is very provincial, stereotypical, and, prejudicial, based on these sources of information.

The news media is a gigantic source that generates a negative stereotype. Everyday millions of Americans gather to watch their local news station. Everyday there is also another person whom has been arrested and shown being taken into custody. It is the same image everyday only a different face. This notorious image shows, the person escorted dressed in his prison uniform, fresh out of court, after being sentenced. He is shackled, handcuffed, and escorted by a team of police officers, through a sea of reporters and placed into a police car, never to be seen or heard of again. This common image projects a distinct stereotype. Everyone is left to assume that if every night each person is treated the same. Each requires handcuffs and shackles then therefore they must all be equally dangerous. Seeing this image day after day becomes engrained in the minds of the viewers and creates a negative stereotype.

Another source of negative input is the various “reality” prison television shows. The shows take a very small sample of the most precarious prisons in the country, the most dangerous prisoners, and the worst events that happen in prison. Then they portray this small sample and portray it as if all prisons are identical. They take occasions events and portray them as everyday occurrences. This leads people to assume that this is true. Thus also creating a stereotype.

Movies about prisons are also similar to the television shows, only worse. They depict the same negative aspects of prison, but the director has free rein to create whatever fictitious event he wants. They depict prisoners directly in line with the stereotype. They depict prisoners as rough, tattooed, unkept and dangerous. Also the majority of prison movies are about prisoners trying to escape from prison. These films make people assume that all prisoners are: deceptive, manipulative, and even murderous, doing whatever it takes to obtain their freedom. This negative image only strengthens the preexisting stereotype.

The government is also a source that creates and strengthens a preexisting prejudice. They do this by releasing misleading numbers about prisons. This ultimately leads people to believe that the prisoners themselves, are the source of the gigantic tax burden, that the system creates. The numbers that people everywhere hear are usually only ever the totals, such as 75 billion a year of tax dollars for the prison system. People then automatically presume that this money is distributed amongst the prisoners. Society then perceives that the prisoners are living an easy life on the taxpayers’ dollar. This assumption creates contempt. With contempt for prisoners it is easy to feel prejudicial towards prisoners.

All of these sources — either individually or combined — create society’s perception of prisoners. These few and negative sources are the most prevailant information about prisoners. Therefore this is the most prevalent perception of prisoners.

24. Describe how television programs and movies depict prisoners:

Movies and prison television shows are the major sources of information that form and feed society’s prison perspective. These sources create a stereotype by depicting prisons in a similar way.

“Reality” Prison television shows involuntarily categorize prisoners as dangerous, rowdy, thugs, that are unfit for society. The shows project this image by airing only the most entertaining footage. Unfortunately the most entertaining footage is usually footage of the most precarious prisons, the most dangerous prisoners, and the most disturbing occurrences. The other footage, such as, prisoners playing chess, or scrabble for 16 hours straight, is never seen. Viewing these images forces society to perceive that this small sample shown is the entire picture. Thus, creating a stereotype.

Movies tend to project a worse image. The director has free reign to present whatever absurd fictitious event he chooses. The main topic of most prison movies are about escaping from prison. Through acting, the actors in the movies portray prisoners as, dangerous, ravenous, deceptive, and manipulative. The movies portray that prisoners will do whatever it takes to escape from prison. Superficially, the director portrays prisoners as, excessively muscular, tattooed, unmannerly, and un-kept outcasts of society.

Overall, movies and television depict prisoners as dregs of society, unable and undeserving to ever return as a normal citizen. They categorize all prisoners as pariahs that need to be segregated and feared. These two sources are the most influential culprit that drives the prisoner stereotype of prisoners.

25. Compare and contrast your prison adjustment with the prison stereotype. & 26. In what ways is your adjustment similar?

My overall prison adjustment has little to compare with the stereotypical prison adjustment. Before Beginning my sentence, I was semi-prepared. Before self surrendering I had spoken with Justin and read Michael’s blogs and articles. Luckily I had taken that first step in the right direction. Even though similarities were limited I found that some still did exist.

Dealing with my own prejudice of prisoners was the first similarity. Entering the system, I had no perception of what living in prison was similar to. I had seen many prison movies and TV shows. But that was the only depiction I had about prison. Therefore going into prison I had to deal with my own prejudice of prisoners. This perception made my adjustment similar to the stereotype.

Coming into prison, believing the prejudicial stereotype made it harder for me to transition. I saw every prisoner as dangerous, and deceptive. I was initially very reticent and barely talked to anyone. I was afraid to receive anything from anyone. I was on guard 24/7 always watching my back. Dealing with this was very stereotypical.

Worsening the situation, my first cubicle assignment I was placed with two men that — In appearance — were the epitome of the prisoner stereotype. They were both: big, muscular, tattooed, bearded, and African American. My prejudice of prisoners forced me to be extremely cautious and closed. They tried to help me by giving me, soap, a toothbrush, and other essentials. I refused and did without. They tried to feed me offering me meals free of charge. I also refused that. Then after a few days. I realized that their kindness was genuine. They had no ulterior motive. I quickly realized I was very wrong about prisoners in general. I felt like a fool for thinking this way. This initial prejudice of prisoners was consistent with the prisoner stereotype.

Another similarity, was my realization of the stereotypical prejudice of the staff. Guards and other staff are trained to treat every “inmate” equally neutral. Their motto is, “firm but fair.” In their eyes every prisoner is equally inferior to them. Adjusting these dehumanizing tactics used by the “COs” in order for them to assert their authority was consistent to the stereotype.

My first experience of this prejudice was during my first hours as a prisoner. It didn’t take very long to become evident. When I first entered prison, I was deserted by the guard, left in the unfamiliar housing unit. He left me with only one instruction, “22 upper” (I later figured out that this code was my bed assignment.) I eventually found “22 upper” then minutes later I was called into the “CO’s office.” I thought that this meeting may be helpful, maybe offering some helpful advice. I was wrong. This initial meeting with the guard was simply for him to make his superiority clear. He did although offer me some useless advice that was directly in line and based on the  he stereotype. He advised me, “stay out the way, keep busy, there’s alotta programs here at rec like crafts and sports, join em’ and, ya know, don’t take nothin’ from no one here nothin’ is free here in prisin’, you’ll figur da rest out kid, I better not hav’ta call ya in here again.” This experience and other subsequent encounters revealed the staff’s prejudice and showed how the staff governs strictly according to the prison stereotype.

For me, the similarities to the prison stereotype are limited. But I found that some will always exist. It doesn’t matter how much I work to resist it, it is still a harsh reality that I am considered a part of the stereotype. I must contend with this prejudice everyday. I must fight this prejudice and prove myself disparate from it. Otherwise I will just be considered part of it.

27. In what ways is your adjustment different?

I consider myself to be far different from the prison stereotype. I deliberately strive to be that way. Unlike the stereotype, I choose to define myself rather that let myself be defined by a generalization. I choose each day to be intentionally different and take positive steps to better myself and prepare for my future.

Three years ago when I was first arrested, I refused to give up and quit. I knew that I had many more years to redeem myself. I knew that my life wasn’t over yet. I chose not to let this one disastrous incident define my entire character. Then I quickly realized I had to prove myself different from the stereotype or be defined by it. I chose to define myself. I carried this principle with me to prison.

Right before coming into prison, I formed an objective. It was vague at the time but it was still a target. I knew that I wanted to use this time not lose it. I wanted to better myself and prepare for my future. I wanted to be different than the stereotype. The first thing that I did was join Michael’s program. Taking this first step, gave me a clearer view, and helped lead me in the right direction. But beside this I didn’t know what else I would be able to do in prison to reach my objective.

Then I entered prison on a search of ways to reach my main objective. Having even a vague objective helped me to filter out productive from non-productive activities. Therefore when other prisoners asked me to play cards, or to do other useless recreational activities, I was able to ask my self if doing these things would help me reach my objective. Then I was able to turn them down. Although doing this made me somewhat of an outcast. That didn’t matter to me because I knew what I was doing and where I was going. Then I immediately began to read, Then write, then I began attending college courses. Now I have a entire productive routine. Each activity leads me to my main objective. Intentionally doing these things, makes me different from the prison stereotype.

I refuse to let myself be defined by a stereotype. Therefore I must be intentionally different. I must work each day to prove myself disparate, and ultimately define myself. That alone makes me different than the prisoner stereotype.

Describe what opportunities for personal growth and development exist in the different prison security levels:

28. High security.

High security prisons, hidden behind walls and fences, remain an enigma to all, except the ones who have been there. The only knowledge outsiders have about them, are from tales told by the ones lucky enough to escape to a lower security prison, to tell their story.

All I know about these prisons is what I hear and see everyday, from the ones who have been transferred from these prisons. In order to flaunt their machismo these prisoners usually only vaunt tales of valor, and tell how the survived all the horrifying events that occurred there. I hear stories of: the fights, the stabbing, the riots, the rapes, the prostitution, and the drugs. I have never head any positive stories about opportunities for anything. Therefore I don’t actually know what opportunities there are.

Other than what I hear, the actions of these prisoners speak for themselves. These prisoners have usually been in prison a long time by this time, and are generally less motivated and more prison oriented. Most still feel the need to be on guard 24/7. Most establish a prison rank, and call themselves “shot callers” Most focus little on anything else other than the happenings inside of prison. These mannerisms tell their own story.

29. Medium security.

Medium security prisons, as do high security, remain a mystery to me. All I know about them is what I observe, looking down perched high above in the safe confines of a low security prison. My perception is base on what I see and hear about medium security prisons from the people that have been there. Judging by this small amount of information, I am left to surmise, that medium security prisons are similar to high security.

Low security facilities like the one that I am housed in now, are filled with prisoners that have transferred from medium security. Therefore I hear and see a lot more about medium security prisons than any other prison. One would then assume that I would know what opportunities for growth these facilities offer. But I don’t because, I mainly hear stories of the terrible events that happen at these prisons. The stories of the fights, the stabbings, the drugs, the riots. I rarely hear stories about what opportunities for personal growth these prisons have to offer. I assume that like high security prisons, hope is extinguished — in many prisoners– by other basic needs such as survival.

The mannerisms of several of these prisoners that have been transferred are also revealing. The actions that I see every day tell a story of their own. After decades behind locked doors and decades left to go, multiple prisoners lose hope and tend to focus little on their future and more on their present condition. I see this happen everyday. Many still maintain focus and strive to better themselves, but many also tend to be less motivated and more prison oriented than others. A lot of these prisoners want to ease the pain and make the best out of the time they have here, by doing this they tend neglect their future. In order to feel a sense of self worth or importance, not all but many, tend to leverage their decades of prison to their advantage, by establishing themselves as “shot callers.” This becomes these prisoners sense of meaning and fulfillment. Watching all of this take place give me a small perception of what medium security prisons may be like.

Based solely on this empirical information, I can only assume what opportunities exist. I believe based on what great feats Michael has accomplished and on common sense that opportunities do exist, but for many prisoners with little hope and no real guidance these many prisoners fall victim to the system, and tend to focus more on surviving, than on thriving.

30. Low security.

Low security prison is what I know best. I have been living in one for 8 months now. Low security seems to be very different than medium and high security prisons. But I guess that is a matter of perception.

Opportunities for personal growth do exist here. But these opportunities must be hunted down and found.

The prison itself doesn’t offer many useful tools for one to use for personal growth. But they do offer a few things. The prison does offer a entire education department assigned to personal growth. Unfortunately, The staff in the education is more concerned with the security of the prison than personal growth. The prison does also offer the opportunity for one to receive their GED. But no one barely ever teaches the classes, and the students are left to learn on their own. the prison also does offer a fully stocked library. But it is only opened 40% of the day and unfortunately it is 90% filled with useless fiction novels. The prison does also offer various education classes once a week. But the classes are taught by other prisoners, whom have little resources, and tend to have no solid curriculum. One does receive credit, and a certificate for the classes though. But the certificates are signed by the prison and resemble the ones I received in kindergarten for “outstanding achievements” What I am trying to show is that the prison likes to pose and appear that they offer prisoners a chance at opportunity, when in reality this is only a facade. In reality they offer very little beneficial opportunities.

If one searches hard enough they may be lucky and find a program that is beneficial. I found college business courses offered and taught by the local university. Other than that I am on my own.

The one thing that Low security prisons do offer is a feeling of security and safety. There are little distractions here. not many fights or violence. Therefore one is left alone to do as he pleases. Therefore I feel that one in a low security prison has endless opportunity. If one applies themselves, they can devote every hour to personal growth. That alone is a great opportunity.

31. Minimum security.

Minimum-security prisons, or prison camps, are the utopia of all prisons. They are the prisons with no fences. A place where all prisoners aspire to go to. Where the grass is always greener and there isn’t a chain link in sight. Unfortunately, I will never have the opportunity to personally experience this type of prison, because based solely on my previous crime I am considered violent. All that I know about these prisons is surmised from perception.

Prisoners return from camps, to low security prisons, everyday. They are transferred mainly for disciplinary reasons. And as a result of that everyone that returns to low security is unhappy about being here. Some of them learn their lesson and take the opportunity to better themselves, but many gripe about how everything at the camp was “better.” The food was better, the housing was better, the guards were better, the rec was better, the other prisoners were better. These querulous prisoners also tell stories of what they were able to get away with at the camp. They tell, how they had a cell phone, how they would leave the prison for promiscuous trips to meet girls, how they were able to sneak contraband into the prison. I don’t hear much about what opportunities these prisoners had at the camps. They seem to be distracted by other things.

The actions of these prisoners tell a similar tale. Disgusted with the fact that they have lost their pseudo-freedom. I see many prisoners that tend to hide and indulge in passive activities such as television, gambling, and anything else that was similar to the easy prison life they once led. Although I have seen some that have focused on personal growth, I have also seen many continue not to bother with it.

Judging by this, and by knowing the great feats of Michael. I can only suppose that prison camps — because of the extreme lack of security — offer a great deal of opportunity. But they do offer also a lot of distractions.

32. Prior to release, what do prisoners generally say about their prospects for returning?

Prior to release, hopes are high. It is the time every prisoner has been waiting for, for many years. Asking a prisoner if they are going to return to prison may seem like a stupid question, but some people may be surprised at the responses of some prisoners.

No prisoner ever says, “I am going to return to prison,” per se. No prisoner ever wants to return to prison, but one can interpret this message.

 

The majority of prisoners swear they will never as much as J-walk when they leave prison. Out of this majority, I believe 60% of them are sincere and 30% would do or say anything to leave here, and 10% just say this but have no intention of doing so. Although many are sincere, even the most sincere of these prisoners may fall victim to the harsh reality that society does not like them. Whether these prisoners are sincere or not, their words say one thing but their real circumstances say exactly the opposite. Without true preparation, words are only words.

 

The remaining small minority of the prisoners will tell you they are never returning to prison, but in the same conversation they will tell you they are going to do exactly what forced them into prison to begin with. They truly believe they were “born to be criminals” and that is all they are good at. They believe they will never come back to prison because this time they will “do it better.” These prisoners’ words superficially say “I am never comin’ back here,” but the only thing I interpret is “I’ll be back in a month.”

 

Nobody ever wants to return to prison. No one wanted to come here in the first place, but what prisoners say and what the statistics say is an anomaly. 100% of prisoners say they will never return. The stats say that only 30% of those prisoners are right.

33. In what ways, if any, do those who never return to prison serve their sentences differently from those who do return to prison?

Only being in prison for a relatively short period of time, I haven’t had the opportunity to observe a prisoner who has left and returned to prison. I have seen people who return, but I haven’t seen how they served their sentence prior. Therefore I have no clear perception of how one that will return to prison would serve their sentence. I could only assume.

It is easy for a prisoner– being behind closed doors for many years– to lose touch with reality. One can lose grasp easily in the unrealistic environment of prison, where one can sleep for 16 hours or play checkers alike if he so pleases, and still be able to survive.  It is also easy to lose hope in prison where one is referred to as an inmate or convict constantly. One must overcome this hardship in order to never return.

 

A prisoner that will never return will never lose touch with his values. He maintains his sense of personal responsibility and self-worth. He fills his days with productive activities and works each day towards his future–regardless of his surroundings. He never gets involved in prison politics and always maintains deep focus.

 

Prisoners that are bound to return to prison spend their sentence indulging in prison activities and becoming complacent. Absent of hope, and filled with fear, pain, and the suffering they face, these prisoners stick their head in the dirt, and try to ease the pain with passive activities. After years of living this lifestyle, they become the stereotypical prisoner and the stereotypical prisoner ultimately returns to prison.

 

Prison is a destructive place. It is a system that removes people from reality and places them inside of an air tight vacuum. After years of being out of reality, the system throws them back into society with nothing.

The prisoner that is never going to return is one that faces his sentence head on and doesn’t hide. He uses each minute focusing on overcoming it.

34. What steps can a prisoner take to improve chances of success upon release?

Nobody ever achieved success just by chance. Someone had to work for it. Same rule applies to prisoners. Success is a work of conscious effort and deliberate action. A prisoner must fully commit and focus in order to success.

Every prisoner must choose between two distinct roads. The road that is more traveled and the road less traveled. The road more traveled is clear of any obstacles and full of fun, leisure activities. The road less traveled is rocky, full of barriers and obstacles. Statistics show that the road more traveled circulates and leads right back to the beginning. The road less traveled does not. A prisoner who has a greater chance of success walks on the path less traveled.

A prisoner can take various steps in order to increase chances of success; the first step must be down the correct road. Once a prisoner is on the right path, they must decide where they are going. Without a clear destination or goal, one can wander aimlessly indefinitely. Setting a goal sets a target to aim for. Once the destination is set, one must then make a map to get there. Without a map or a clear plan of attack, one could easily become lost. The plan should consist of small steps everyday ultimately leading to the final destination or goal. Lastly, one must execute this plan. They must take the steps each and every day toward their destination. Otherwise they will stand in the same place holding the map. Each day should lead closer to your goal. Taking these steps down this road will greatly increase ones chances for success.

Success is a product of precise planning and deliberate action. These rules of life don’t ever change. To increase the chance of success upon release, a prisoner must walk on this road each and every day toward this goal.

Sentence length is not a factor that is controlled from within prison, but adjustment inside prison may influence success upon release. For a better understanding of prison expectations, describe your thoughts on:

35. What length of time would you consider long-term imprisonment?

The length of a prison term is relative to ones’ perception. Most of society believes that no sentence is long enough and a prisoner believes every sentence is too long. One year sentence is short to a prisoner that has 10 years and long to a prisoner that has 6 months. As for me, I believe that any sentence over one year is a long term. I have seen the devastating effects of what one year in prison can do.

I remember back to when I was first arrested. The first 48 hours of solitary confinement was torture. The next 31 days that followed weren’t much better. That month felt like years to me. By the time it was over, I was sorry for anything wrong I ever did. That month felt like forever. Even though it was only a month, it was more than a long term sentence for me. Following that term in prison, I was released on bail. For the months following, I was still basically imprisoned in my own home, by probation. By the end of the first year, most of my friends moved on to college, some just moved on. Some family went back to their lives and became distant again. After that first year, I was basically on my own. Experiencing this personally showed me early on what could happen to one who is imprisoned, even in such a short amount of time.

Even now, as I am in prison for almost a year, I have lost some less loyal friends and family. That is just the harsh reality of prison.  Also I can see others all around me lose friends, family, wives, or whoever else that moves on. I watch as new prisoners come into prison. They usually receive much mail, phone calls, and email. Then as time drifts on, it begins to slow, and eventually become only sporadic. Many prisoners that have been in prison for longer than a year generally receive little mail, use the phone or email little, and receive fewer visits. This shows the devastating effects that prison has on prisoners in only a year.

A lot can happen in one year. As prisoners are separated from society, society continues to live their daily lives. This means people move on, things change, and feelings change. It doesn’t take long for prison to hinder ones’ future.

36. What expectations do those in society have for long-term prisoners?

I believe that most of society doesn’t expect anything out of prisoners. They perceive prisoners as worthless and unable to contribute anything back to society. They feel the only thing one could expect out of a prisoner is to be a prisoner. They wouldn’t expect their plumber to do their electrical work. Likewise, they wouldn’t expect a prisoner to be anything other than just a prisoner.

For those prisoners who are lucky enough to find employment, society expects them to only work the lowest paid, lowest level positions, regardless of skill level, anything other than that would be unheard of.

Expectations are low of prisoners. This is a reality every prisoner must face. Society doesn’t like “convicts,” regardless of who they really are. Society believes prisoners can be nothing more. It is each prisoner’s responsibility to show them they are wrong.

37. What expectations do you suppose long-term prisoners have for themselves?

Many prisoners’ expectations of themselves reflect the expectations of society. Many prisoners are despondent and feel like their life is over. Every prisoner knows where they sit in the eyes of society and some prisoners see that as too big of an obstacle to conquer. On the other hand, many live outside of reality and have far-fetched fantasy expectations.

I asked many people around me “What do you expect to do when you get out here?”  The number one response is “I don’t know.” This shows the great lack of expectations many prisoners have. The number two response is “go into business for myself,” which is a more positive expectation but I always ask “Why?” Their answer is almost always “because I’m a felon, no one will ever hire me.” This shows me that these prisoners’ expectations directly reflect society’s perception.

Some other prisoners also have unrealistic expectations. Many prisoners live vicariously through TV and magazines that show rich people enjoying their expensive life. Many prisoners fantasize and expect to live similar lives with ease. These prisoners ignore society’s perception completely, and create their own false reality.

A small majority of prisoners actually have realistic expectations. They recognize society’s perception and the obstacles they are going to face upon release. They work each day to over-come these obstacles. These prisoners are the ones that will turn these expectations into reality.

On either side of the spectrum, whether it is the prisoners who believe they cannot be anything or the ones that believe they can be everything. Many prisoners’ expectations upon release are unrealistic.

38. What do prison administrators and staff members expect of long-term prisoners?

During a prisoners sentence the prison staff only expects a prisoner to be quiet and stay out of their way. Although some staff may give a prisoner some of their time to be helpful, most only see helping prisoners as a giant burden.

Upon release, the staff and the administrators expectations are similar to society, because they are a part of society. The prisoners so called re-entry program is an expose of what staff and administration actually expects of prisoners upon release. The program’s main objective is to prepare prisoners for what is considered successful reintegration into society. In reality, the program is far from that. The entire ephemeral program is lasts only two weeks. Regardless if one has served fourteen months or fourteen years, they only get two weeks. The program’s curriculum consists of teaching prisoners how to balance a check book, write a check, and obtain a credit card and other similar simple daily tasks. One does leave the program with a resume. Unfortunately, the resume contains the prisoner’s prison work experience, which renders it useless in the real world. This short condescending program reveals what staff and administration expect of a prisoner upon release.

Staff and administration do not expect much of prisoners. They see prisoners as inmates, convicts and felons not people. They hope for the best and expect the worst and do little to help either way.

39. How would you define a “model inmate”?

The model inmate is like the teacher’s pet of prison. They tend to do whatever it takes to mollify the staff and please them. Each staff member wants every prisoner to be a model inmate. Therefore, the staff tries to convert every prisoner into a model inmate. Many prisoners — in the search of acceptance– falls victim and concedes. Then the model inmate’s decisions are controlled by the staff, for the remainder of their sentence.

The staff wants model inmates to work eight hours a day at UNICORE. They cogently tell you “you can earn a lot of money,” a whole twenty cents worth doing slave work. That may be enough to subsist in prison, but it will not be meaningful outside of prison. In reality, I believe staff wants prisoners to work at UNICORE because it will keep model inmates busy and unobtrusive for eight hours every day. Prison staff also want model inmates to “program.” A prisoner can “program” by taking useless classes, making crafts, playing sports, or anything the prison considers relevant. Staff doesn’t consider what is learned in these classes only that one was in attendance. These classes normally result in nothing more than a generic certificate. But model inmates take part in every program possible because staff tells them it is important.

Generally, staff wants all prisoners to be quiet and stay out of their way. “Therefore, they creatively cajole prisoners to do useless activities so that these prisoners will stay busy and out of the way. The ones that take part in them to serve the staff are model inmates.

40. How does Michael’s prison journey support or refute prison stereotypes?

Michael is the antithesis of all prisoner stereotypes, in more than one way. This didn’t happen by chance. Since the beginning of his sentence until now, Michael took deliberate action –each day of his 23 year term –constantly refuting the prisoner stereotype.

From the beginning of his sentence, Michael rejected the stereotype. Even faced with a prison sentence that would scare anyone else into hiding, Michael quickly made a 100% commitment to proving himself disparate from the prisoner stereotype and worked to prove himself worthy of freedom.

His sentence began in the high tension, high violence, high security prisons. Even under these conditions that swallow most prisoners whole. Michael found a way to make it and amazingly avoided conflict, prison cliques, and “prison politics.” Avoiding these aspects of prison is never easy but Michael accomplished it and then he was able to focus on the betterment of his self. Eventually Michael earned amazing credentials that most people in general can only dream about. Then Michael weaved through the various levels of prison continuing his growth. Along the way, Michael created a quasi- career as an author from inside prison, writing useful books that colleges all over America use for part of their curriculum.

As the prison stereotypes are making only one hundred dollars a month being slaves to the government, Michael is making meaningful money that will be useful upon release and he is also helping millions of people. Over the years Michael has created an endless list of unbelievable accomplishments. Each one of these accomplishments individually refutes the stereotype and makes Michael distinctly different from it.

Refuting the stereotype wasn’t a product of chance. Michael—beginning with his 100% commitment—worked each day of his sentence creating accomplishments that distinctly separates him from the prisoner stereotype.

41. What role did the prison infrastructure play in influencing Michael’s journey through prison?

Michael navigated his way through prison so well that is difficult to notice if anything had prevented him from doing anything. But through reading his books and being in the same system myself. I know that Michael – like any professional – makes succeeding in prison look easy.

The prison system is one based on many of the same principles of communism; everyone is equal, yes, equally poor and unfortunate. Every staff member is trained on these principles. As a result every prisoner is treated equally inferior. Therefore, the prison infrastructure focuses on micromanaging day to day life of prisoners and governs as you would baby-sit a child thus eliminating free choice. As in any communistic society, this system inhibits personal growth.

Although Michael made succeeding through this system look easy, I know that it wasn’t. Michael encountered many impediments along the way and succeeded despite the obstacles created by the system.

42. What vision governed Michael’s decisions as a prisoner?

Beginning early in Michael’s prison sentence he set a target that was twenty three plus years ahead. That is like trying to shoot a target miles away. Although you cannot see it, you know where to aim. Even though Michael’s target was so far off, just knowing what direction the target was in led him in the right direction.

His vision was to not –under any circumstances—allow prison to debilitate him and no matter what and to emerge from prison an overall stronger person. With this vision, Michael was able to bob and weave avoiding the distractions of prison focusing on his target then reaching and surpassing each goal. This vision led Michael on a 23 year journey with each step leading closer to the target, ultimately leading to his goals.

The Straight-A Guide includes seven attributes that he describes explicitly in the books Triumph!  And Success! What do the following attributes mean to you?

43. Attitude: What level of commitment do you make to preparing for success upon release?

“Attitude is everything.” I heard this maxim a thousand times in my life. It never meant more to me then now. Attitude is the filter through which one perceives their life through. Attitude created ones’ perception of everything, which then becomes ones’ thoughts then ones’ actions and eventually ones’ life. Knowing this created my overall attitude. I life my life with a one hundred percent positive attitude completely focused on a successful future. I refuse to accept the despondent thoughts and preaching of others. Following this attitude guides every move I make, it keeps me focused on things that are important, and helps me ignore distractions that are not important, it helps me avoid people that don’t share the same attitude. It gets me out of bed in the morning and keeps me up all day. Having this attitude is the impetus that drives me through every day in prison, on the right path toward success.

44. Aspiration: Where do you see yourself at various checkpoints in the future?

Aspirations are targets that one aims for. Having no aspirations is like bowling without any pins.

My aspirations begin upon leaving prison around November 2014. I plan to react to leaving prison as a caged animal being released would. I am going to run as fast as I can and never look back. Upon leaving prison I aspire to obtain a part time job quickly to appease the halfway house. After obtaining a part time job, I will be able to leave the halfway house. Within the first year upon release, I aspire to attend college taking more steps toward my undergrad business degree. While attending college, I aspire to begin sowing seeds and preparing for some business ventures.  Following the next three years, I aspire to finish college and then begin my post grad degree.

Ultimately I aspire to use my experiences and skills acquired in whatever necessary in order to earn a living, make a difference, give back to society and be a success.

45. What distinguishes an aspiration from a fantasy? 46. Action: What steps are you taking toward aspiration?

Every day, seven days a week, sixteen hours a day I take action and steps that lead toward my ultimate aspirations.

Each morning I wake up at five o’clock in the morning and I quickly begin writing my responses for the Straight A Guide. Two hours later, exercise follows for a hour. After exercising I practice various math techniques for a hour. After math, I build and practice my vocabulary then Spanish for a hour each. After vocabulary and Spanish, I read and study for my business classes for a hour. After that, I read and respond to letters. Next I read a novel until class at six. My college classes follow and run from six to eight thirty. After class I take time to plan the next day and review my goals. Following that I call my girlfriend –for my allotted ten minute phone call–to review our days and remain close. Before going to sleep, I read my bible. Then to finish my day by reading my novel and I am sleeping by ten.

This routine is daily and continuous, no minute is wasted. Each action is a deliberate active step toward my ultimate aspiration.

47. Accountability: How are you measuring progress?

Accountability is like the gauges on a car. The gauges measure different levels of different things that we cannot see without it. Accountability measures levels of oneself. Accountability acts as a gauge so I am able to measure myself.

By setting, reaching, and exceeding goals, I hold myself accountable for them. I set yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals. Writing these goals permanently in a log forces me to hold myself accountable every day to accomplish and exceed each goal.

Following each day, month, and year, I record my progress and share it with friends and family so they can share it with strangers. Therefore, anyone can hold me accountable.

Just like a gauge on a car, accountability gives me a reading of things that I wouldn’t be able to see without. Accountability gives me a measurement of my progress.

48. Awareness: How knowledgeable are you about the atmospherics around you?

Coming to prison, I quickly realized the need to become aware. Therefore I took time to learn my surroundings. Within the first month, I learned all that I needed to know. I quickly became fully aware of every happening inside of this prison. I know the bad as well as the good. Knowing the ins and outs of prison helps me to avoid the bad and welcome the good. Without awareness one can accept the bad and avoid the good.

For me, living in prison is like driving in New York City. I am patient, I am very careful, and watch all other traffic around me. I only merge when necessary and to avoid any ruckus I don’t beep my horn.

I navigate through prison very carefully, always aware of my surroundings. Not having awareness is like driving in New York City with a blindfold on. One is either not going to go anywhere or they are going to get into a wreck. Awareness is key to any situation especially prison.

49. In what ways do you reach beyond the boundaries that currently confine you?

I reach outside of the prison boundaries every day in more than one way. Every day I communicate with people who are outside of prison. I keep in contact daily through letters, phone calls, visits and emails, with dozens of people: friends, family, and many others. Keeping in constant contact with these people lets me break out of these prison boundaries. Another way is through writing and posting these responses and blogs. Doing this also helps me reach out beyond the physical barriers of prison daily, by virtually communicating with the many people who read them. These two small things help me to stretch one foot far outside beyond the prison boundaries while maintaining one fixed inside

50. What do you know about the challenges that will confront you upon release?

I know being released from prison is going to be unbelievably difficult. But each day I prepare myself for the challenges I will face. Acknowledging these challenges will help me prepare to overcome them.

Upon leaving prison, the first difficulty I am going to face is the austere restrictions of the halfway house. Being in a halfway house is exactly what it sounds like. A person is halfway in prison and half-way out.  Adhering to the strict guidelines while enjoying some freedom can pose some difficulty. Also the halfway house forces one to obtain approved standardized job and forces one to hand over 25% of your gross pay to them. They expect one to obtain a permanent job while confessing to the potential employer that you just left prison and are a convicted felon. That will be difficult. No matter how long one remains employed at this job, they are always going to be considered the “ex con that came from the halfway house.” This is not a formula for success and will pose a challenge.

Upon leaving the halfway house the difficulties continue. Being on supervised release I expect to have to adhere to whatever restrictions  imposed by probation for five years following my release. Probation can impose a wide range of restrictions. I have to be prepared to face each potential one.

Along with facing the restrictions imposed for five years following my release by probation, I will also be forced to face the discrimination and prejudice that society has against “felons.” I will have to constantly deal with the prejudice of future, bankers, creditors, clients, investors, landlords, employers, and other peers that look down upon felons. I will have to work every day to gain the trust from society.

These difficulties are realities, but only difficulties not boundaries. Acknowledging then is the way to prepare and overcome.

51. Achievement: When do you celebrate success?

I celebrate small achievements many times throughout the day. Waking up and being able to drag myself out of bed at five every morning –as hundreds of prisoners sleep around me – is an achievement in my eyes. As the day progresses I celebrate every activity that I do. I celebrate my workout, my writings, my studying , and everything else that I do during the day.

Each night I review my day and grade it based on completeness. Then I do the same for weeks, months, and years. Doing this is how I recognize my achievement.

As time moves on, and days become months, and months become years. I recognize the progress that I have made over time. I realize that I am becoming smarter, stronger, mentally and physically.

52. Appreciation: What role do others have in your success?

I have deep appreciation for many people in my life. Many people stuck by my side through every hardship I incurred.

Each has devoted something in my quest for success.

My family encountered much financial and mental struggles because of me. They always stayed by my side and absorbed the entire financial burden I created.  Also they were all humiliated and vilified because of my actions. Now, my family continues to maintain their support. They provide me with the money I need to exist here. This allows me to use my time more efficiently. Without their help, I would be forced to work longer for less money.  I am forever indebted and grateful beyond words to every one of them. Without them I would never be able to succeed

Secondly is my girlfriend. She –knowing that I was going to prison—still took a chance on me. She made the subsequent years following my arrest meaningful without any obligation. Through this time she was often ridiculed and judged for being with me. She always remained staunch and never gave up. Now, she is my rock. I lean on her so much, often too much. She is my connection to the outside world and does everything I ask of her. I will always have appreciation for all of time and energy she invested on me, because she is the one who helps me the most. Without her I would be lost and buried in prison.

Along with family I have many friends that contribute their support, through letters and emails. I appreciate every letter and receive more than even they can comprehend. Their constant support helps me through each day.

Lastly, I appreciate Michael and Justin. These two contribute so much to society and also to me. Michael is my inspiration. Without knowing his story, I would believe that it is all over for me. Without his inspiration, I would have given up long ago. Justin being Michael’s first success story is also a great inspiration. He showed me that it is possible to be a felon and successful, otherwise I would have fallen victim to the stereotype. Also, Justin’s work at the foundation is what makes everything possible. I will always appreciate their commitment, inspiration, and dedication they devote to me and every other person they help. Without them, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

I have appreciation for everyone in my life. Having these people in my life that support, help, guide and inspire me makes life worth living.  Everyone contributes in their own way and each act collectively becoming my impetus.

53. Where did those choices lead?

The choices I made through high school progressively ended up leading to my imprisonment. I never imagined going to prison nor did anyone expect me to go. Superficially I was the quintessential all American boy. But looking back I see that I was always at risk, because of the minor decisions I was making.

I lived my high-school career constantly checking myself in a social mirror. No matter what I did, I always weighed it against what other thought of me. I was a slave to my peers. They told me what to wear, how to wear it, how to act, what to do with my time, and every other aspect of my life. I was always in a race to be accepted. Living like this led –in small steps—to my failure.

Having these distorted valued led me to play football. Why? Because it was commonly accepted and popular.  It made me a local star. People knew my name. Thousands of people watched me play each week. I was playing for those thousands of people, not myself. I wasted 25 hours a week –killing myself—practicing, weight lifting, and preparing, for what? Only to please a crowd. Playing football only worsened my urge to be accepted and please others, thus neglecting myself and my future.

Also I chose my friends based on what others thought. I gravitated toward the “popular group,” because people would think that I was popular by association. Even when I realized these friends has questionable beliefs, morals, and practices contrary to mine; I still hung around them because that the “popular group.” Over time I began to accept their questionable values and never mentioned that I thought they were wrong. I accepted them as they were. Choosing, accepting, and becoming loyal to these friends just for the sake of being popular was a major factor that led to my imprisonment.

All of these choices may seem minor but these choices created other choices that led me to make the worst choices.

On the night that I was arrested, when I decided to hang out with my friends that night, I didn’t ask myself: Is what they are doing right? When I chose to drink illegally I didn’t ask myself “How can this affect my future?” When I decided not to walk away from the fight I didn’t consider the future consequences. When I chose to jump into the fight I didn’t think “What could happen to me if I do this?” I was so absorbed in others opinion that night that my true thoughts were: “If I don’t spend time with these friends they will find someone else to hang out with.” “If I don’t drink what will people think of me, what will my friends think of me? “If I walk away from this fight my friends and everyone will think I am a pussy?” If I don’t jump in and defend my friends my friends will hate me for not backing them up?” The choices I made that night all stemmed from others opinion of me not what was right or wrong.

The choices I made throughout high school led to the choices I made that night, which led to my imprisonment right now.

54. What did you value then?

In high school I didn’t value much. There are only three distinct things I can identify that I held as values during high school.

My first value was my high school football career. I spent countless hours practicing and preparing since I was six for that. Football was what was most important. Not even the sport itself but the notoriety I received from playing. It was all I thought about. In high school I skipped classes to watch tape. After school I practiced for hours all year around ignoring everything else. Football consumed most of my life and was my highest value.

The second highest value was my friends. If I wasn’t playing football with them I was hanging out with them. I spent more time with them than anyone else. Being with them was “cool” so therefore I was “cool.” My friends and the popularity they brought was my second highest value.

My third value was my reputation. I always wanted to be perceived as the quintessential jock. Fit, strong, tough, and popular. Maintaining this image was my third and final value in high school.

Those three distinct values are what my life revolved around. Living by those values led to failure.

55. How would you guide your children if they were making choices in the same way?

I intend to teach my children to live a values based life, based on the right values. I will teach them to set the right goals and work each day to attain and exceed them. Everything outside of those goals will be taught to be irrelevant.

I will use my terrible experience as an example to show them that every choice is crucial and has to be in line with a goal. Without living in line with goals one easily becomes wayward and small choices over time become big problems.

I will teach them to never take anything for granted, because I know things taken for granted can be  gone overnight.

I will teach them not to have allegiance to anyone but themselves, the law and their family.

I will teach them to never use their hands to settle a dispute unless it is a handshake. Also, that the mind is the strongest part of their body, stronger than any muscle and it should be used accordingly.

I will teach them to be open minded and to accept people for who they are not for what they did or do, and to never pre-judge anyone for any reason.

I will teach them that education is the key to success and comes before friends and sports. Also those sports are simple to sport nothing else.

I will teach them to be an individual and a leader and to base all of their decisions on their future goals, not opinions’ of others.

Overall I will teach my children to live the complete opposite life as I did. The life I led through high school led to failure, so I must teach my children to live the opposite life based on values and teach them to lead a life that is going to lead to success.

56. What would you do differently if you could?

If I could change my current circumstances, the change would have had to take place years ago. I only realized this when it was too late. The change would have to have taken place around the beginning of seventh grade. I was thirteen years old with low self-esteem transitioning into middle school. Somewhere around this time I became lost. My subsequent choices began to lead me down the wrong road. If I were to change something it would have to begin there.

This change would have to be an entire change in character. I would have been an individual and focused on succeeding not on impressing others. I would have been pro-active by setting goals and working each day to achieve them. Focusing on these goals would have forced me to devote myself to education and would have helped me to avoid all other distractions. Anything that didn’t coincide with the goals would have been irrelevant. I would have spent the time I wasted practicing sports on preparing for college. Ultimately I would have lived my life as a value oriented scrupulous person.

There are hundreds of changes I could have made, or things I could have done differently. But those main changes would have led to all other changes which would have led to success instead of failure. Unfortunately it took a major life change and a terrible incident to realize this.

57. Describe the differences in your life today from the first days of your confinement.

My life now at the age of 20 is the complete opposite of the life I led when I was 17.

When I was first imprisoned in county jail and scared to death, I made a commitment to myself to change the person I was. I didn’t want to be the same person that resulted in me being thrown into that cell. I knew that I was the only person that could change that. Ever since that point I have been living my life devoting myself to personal change.

Looking back, I realize how far I have come. In high school right before being arrested I was totally immersed in pleasing others. Now I am becoming more of an individual; doing only what is going to lead me to success regardless of public opinion.  Three years ago I was cocky, arrogant, provincial, and pugnacious. Now I am humble, open-minded, and equable. In the past I was enamored with football.  I couldn’t get enough, now I have no interest in the sport at all. In high school nobody could get me to study, or do school work; now nobody can get me to stop. In the past I lived day to day disregarding the future; now I think only with the end in mind focusing on goals and taking steps toward them each day, making each day lived with purpose. In the days of high school I chose friends based mainly on popular opinion, now I only choose friends based on shared values, interests, and goals.

The person I am now is a 180 degree difference from the person I was when I was arrested. So different, that now, I don’t think I would even bother talking to the person I was.

58.  How have your activities from last week led to your activities for this week?

I am building myself as one would build a house or any architectural structure. One cannot put on a roof without first erecting walls or buttresses, one cannot erect walls and buttresses without a firm, solid foundation and one cannot lay a foundation without surveying, leveling, and clearing the land. One can only build from the ground up. Therefore each week’s actions are essential for the next weeks.

Now as I am in prison I am laying the foundation to build the rest of my life on. Each day is a building block in the foundation. As days turn to weeks the foundation grows. As week turn to months, then to years the foundation only continues to grow larger and stronger.

Each activity every week is in step with a role that is in line with a goal. Thus every activity I did last week built on this week, which then will build on next weeks.

59. Identify the values by which you live.

I express my entire character with eight broad categories: 1.) erudition 2.) family 3.) Religion 4.) discipline 5.)effectiveness 6.)versatility 7.) relationships 8.) fitness. Each action I take in life falls under one of these categories.

60. To what extent do your daily activities harmonize with the values by which you live?

My everyday activities are directly based on my values that I profess to live. Otherwise, what would be the point of professing them?

61. How do your professed values relate to your perceived role in society?

My values relate to my perceived future role in society, by not relating to societies perceived role of me.

As a “felon, convict, and ex inmate,” society expects nothing of me. They don’t expect me to do anything or be anything. They expect me to have values such as deviate, ignorance, laziness, uselessness etc.

My perceived role of myself for my future is different than that. I will not settle for anything less than success. Therefore in order to achieve this goal I must live values completely opposite than the ones perceived by society.

Living opposite of what is expected of me, by society, I am disparate from what they perceive. This will ultimately lead to my perceived role in society.

62. Where does your allegiance lie?

My allegiance lies completely unto myself. This may sounds selfish but based on past experiences I know I cannot take others’ matters into my own hands without first considering my own risk. I know I have to think of myself first and then others, because otherwise I will ignore myself.  This doesn’t mean on any level that I will not help others or take care of others. It simply means I must consider my own consequences first, before acting for someone else.

Having allegiance to others is what landed me in prison. I cannot let that happen again. Therefore, I must be an individual and consider my own values first before others.

63. Are values situational or absolute?

I believe my values are absolute. I created them to be that way. Therefore regardless of where I go or what I do, each action I make, will be in accordance with these values.

Even though things can change around me, things around me cannot change me. The values that I live are absolutely absolute.

 

 

by Colin Walsh

January 23, 2012

I asked Colin to submit a timeline to completion and he, quickly, sent me the following:

“Justin, I do have a timeline, I forgot to tell you, I am expecting to be finished on or before November 23, 2012. That is the latest it will be.  I gave myself some margin for error, because I never know what can happen between now and then, so I just estimated 5 responses a week, which is 43 weeks or 10.7 months. I broke it down into lessons also. I will finish lesson 1, 1-63 Feb. 8; lesson 2, 63-96 Mar.; lesson 3,96-104 Apr.; lesson 4, 104-125 may, 4; lesson 5, 125-150 June 8; lesson 6,150-173 July, 11; lesson 7, 173-199 Aug 16; lesson 8, 199-222 on Sept. 18; lesson 9 222- 250 on, Oct. 26; and lesson 10, 250-271 on Nov. 23, 2012. What do you think? That is 285 days approx. 570 hours. Do you think that I am moving at a fast enough. I should be finished before that date but I am giving myself some room. I have it all marked on the calendar and I am moving along. How long did it take you to finish? Also when did I begin? One more thing, I finished the fountainhead last week. I loved it by the way. Now I am beginning the long journey of atlas shrugged, I just wanted to know about how long it took you to read all 1004 pages of the book with the infinitesimal type. Hope to hear back from you soon.  Colin”

This is the commitment it takes, and clearly Colin is embodying all aspects of the Straight-A Guide. Justin

by Colin Walsh

January 3, 2012

I can still remember the old maxim from my childhood, “as soon as you graduate from high school, time is going to fly.” I remember hearing this over and over again when I was young. I always used to think, “yea right”.

Now I wish I would have taken this statement more seriously. Because as I watch time begin to fly by me I realize how valuable time is. Time is our most valuable asset. Time is the only thing that everyone has equal amounts but nobody ever has enough. But still everyone has the exact same amount. The only difference is what we choose to do with out time.

Time is malleable; we can transform it into anything we want. Time can become anything we want it to. It can become money, knowledge, power, strengths, relationships, or it can become the complete opposite of each of those. But in the end time is never wasted, because it can never be stopped or destroyed. Time never stops for anyone. It doesn’t matter where we are, what we are doing, or how we feel, time continues to move on. This is why I feel that everyone must grasp each moment and use it to work toward something, anything. Everyone has a equal opportunity to turn their time into something. What are you turning your time into now?

lleable; we can transform it into anything we want. Time can become anything we want it to. It can become money, knowledge, power, strengths, relationships, or it can become the complete opposite of each of those. But in the end time is never wasted, because it can never be stopped or destroyed. Time never stops for anyone. It doesn’t matter where we are, what we are doing, or how we feel, time continues to move on. This is why I feel that everyone must grasp each moment and use it to work toward something, anything. Everyone has a equal opportunity to turn their time into something. What are you turning your time into now?

Colin Walsh

by Colin Walsh

November 5, 2011

Emerging Successfully From Prison:

The general term success is relative to one’s own interpretation of success. Many individuals interpret the word success as being a status symbol, based mainly on personal wealth. As for me, I personally don’t base success solely on external wealth, but on internal values, without internal values external possessions are meaningless and worthless.

Through my experience of prison, I personally witnessed firsthand that success cannot be determined by what one owns. Everyday I witness self proclaimed “successful”, former millionaires and CEO’s Of big companies. These individuals Lose every possession. Then they crumble under the pressure that imprisonment imposes. They just give up and spend their sentence sleeping, desperately hoping that time will somehow accelerate. On the other side of the same coin are some former drug dealers, who also considered themselves successful. They boast day in and day out about all of the expensive: cars, clothes, house and women that they once had. They too lose everything through  prison and now lack the skills and knowledge to move anywhere but backwards. During their sentence they waste their time building useless skill, and playing table games, and sports. Do these examples really personify success?

I believe that success is different. I see success as an  attribute based on internal values. not as a status symbol, based on external wealth.
Even now as I sit in prison at the lowest point in my life, I posses very little and have virtually 0 money of my own, I still consider myself successful. Every small achievement that I make everyday is a positive step toward my future. Everyday I build skills and work hard in preparation for my future, to me that is a good example of success.

Upon release I will continue to follow the same path. As long as I follow my roadmap of planned goals and my values from within, never give up and always take positive steps forward, I will always be successful. Regardless of my  financial position. I firmly believe that if I maintain this attitude and practice these principles and values, everything else in life will follow suit.

by Colin Walsh

Colin Walsh’s note to Justin Paperny expressing his enthusiam over Straight-A Guide program:

Hey Justin,

Just wanted to send you a quick message to give you an update.

A few weeks ago I received a book called the 7 habits of highly effective people. I am assuming that it was from you, That book was great and now I can see where Michael has gotten a lot of his knowledge. That book was probably one of the best books I have read in my life. I am guessing that you are familiar with it.

I received triumph. On the 10th and I have read through it. It was very inspiring and expertly written. I was very impressed. I would like to congratulate Michael on a terrific job.

The book helped me to keenly focus and regain a transparent perspective. As you know, it is a complete shock coming here. The environment seems unreal, Almost as if it were another world. I see how it is easily possible to get sucked up into the negative “prison culture”. I personally see day to day the negative things that were portrayed in the book. It seems to be the same here as it is anywhere else in the system.

I personally try to do the complete opposite and personify the Straight A guide to the fullest. I spend every second as constructively as I possibly can. Each day working harder than the last to progress closer to success.

I am now ready to continue forth on this journey, with Michael, yourself, and all of the others enrolled in the program. What is my next step?

Thank you Justin, for your continued support. You are doing a really great thing.

Colin

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