Brian Buehrle/ Class 2: Goals

by Brian Buehrle

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

I do not believe there is any particular values which might lead to success upon release.  Each person is different; each situation is different.  What works for me may not work for someone (or anyone) else.  The most important aspect is determining the values particular to yourself whether it be your religion, your fitness, your network (friends and family), et cetera.  When making this determination, consider how valuing such a thing could provide you with success.  Will it help you provide for yourself and/or your family?  Will it help you stay away from trouble?  Can you comfortably dedicate yourself 100% to such a value?  Will the value help prepare you for what is out there when you step our the front door?  If you cannot answer “yes” to these questions at a minimum for each of your values, perhaps you should try for a different frame of mind.

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

A person can become his values by committing to them with 100% effort.  People have asked my why I worry so much about things which may never happen.  Why bother with school when nobody will hire a sex offender who is not allowed to use the Internet?  Why open a savings account when the most you could save is about $25 per month?  Why consider opening your own business when you probably will not be allowed to by the P.O.?  Why look at “help wanted” and “for rent” advertisements when those openings will be gone in a year?  Why write to old friends who never write back, or worse, tried to give evidence against you?  Why work so hard for only $70 a month?

One way or another, all these questions have the same answer.  How can I ever ask anybody for the second chance I so desperately want and need if I have not done everything in my power to feel in my heart I actually deserve a second chance.  To believe serving the required time by law is enough to earn a second chance is to set yourself up to fail.  A person who has worked for his or her second chance will have more confidence in the abilities gained by that work–something others will notice–while those who just “did their time” will get only what they worked for.  This is what it means to become your values: to strive for what you want to become.

66. How does a person strengthen his integrity?:

To me, integrity is best compared to a house.  A house must have plans, materials, a foundation, and someone to build it or put it all together.  If you just “wing it,” you may still have a house, but a house with very little integrity.  It only looks like a house and I know I would not want to walk inside it.  But, a house with well drawn blueprints, quality materials, and a sound foundation, built by someone who puts forth every effort to make sure the job is done correctly, is a house of strong integrity. A person can strengthen their integrity is some of the same ways.  Come up with a plan (goals), lay a good foundation (values), use high grad materials (your own time and full effort), and you will show others your house is worth venturing into.

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

This answer is different for every prisoner.  For some, there simply is no challenges awaiting their release, at least not at an obvious level.  Some people have a family, home, job or money in a bank account, and all they need to do is wait and finish their time in prison.  For others, the immediate challenges are numerous, especially if not given an opportunity at prerelease or community confinement (half-way house).  Employment, housing, clothing and transportation all seem to be the biggest challenges.  Fortunately, a half-way house will take care of housing, food, and basic necessities while a prisoner obtains employment.

68. Housing:

Normally, with housing, I have heard it takes three times the amount of rent due per month to be able to get into an apartment.  This includes first and last month’s rent and a security deposit.  While I do not know where exactly I may be trying to live after my half-way house time–either in Saint Charles County or Saint Louis, I believe–I have seen one ad for rent in the $400-500 range.  Assuming a rent of $500 per month, I would need approximately $1,500 saved.  Given the state of the economy and unemployment rates, I would recommend an extra month in savings to fall back on in case of hard times. $2,000

69. Household furnishings:

Of everything else someone would need upon release from prison, household furnishings seems to be about the least important.  Some things may be required, such as bedding, refrigerator, perhaps a dresser for clothing a table, a couple of chairs, etc.  Others, such as dishware, sofas, TV’s/electronics, desks, etc., are not necessities and could be purchased as funds become available.  I could guess it may take about $2,000 to purchase the necessities. $2,000

70. Clothing:

I remember decent business clothing costing around $10 for one complete set, i.e., shirt, pants, tie, socks, shoes, belt.  Assuming a five-day workweek, plus non-working attire, I would thing $500-600 would cover the cost of clothing. $500-600

71. Transportation:

This depends in large part on where you live and where you work.  If public transportation is available, and feasible, this could cost less than personal transportation.  As I’ve never really used public transportation, I can only guess its costs which are different for every location.  If personal transportation is desired, or required in my case if I want to go see my daughter, there are several additional expenses.  Loan ($200), gas/oil ($100), insurance ($150) are all paid monthly or even more frequently: approximately $500 per month.  In addition, taxes must be paid yearly, perhaps another $500 per year.  $6,500 / year

72. Incidentals:

Incidentals are supposed to cover anything you do not normally think of.  Lawyer’s fees, medical bills, vehicle repair, leaky roof, refrigerator breaks; all of these are “incidentals.”  In other words, it is the “rainy day fund.”  With such a wide range of events to cover, it may be best to keep $1000 or more in a savings account for these purposes.

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?:

Based on the above answers, I would expect not only prisoners, but anyone starting off on their own for the first time, to need approximately $6,500-7,000 in savings to start them off and last them for a couple of months.  This includes housing, furnishings, clothing, personal transportation (2 months worth), and incidental savings.  After the initial purchases of furnishings and clothing, apartment deposits, and setting aside the incidental fund, one would need about $1,000 per month, plus an extra $100-250 set aside for taxes and replacement of funds taken from incidentals, to simply survive.

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?:

Many of these people will not respond well to criminals in general; they will probably act the way society expects them to react.  In my case, it is worse than with the typical criminal because of the sex offender registry.  Prospective landlords, and possibly employers, are especially weary about this because in order to provide me with housing and employment, they have to subject themselves to warrantless searches, probation/parole officers, their address listed as being where a sex offender works/lives, and who knows what else.  For some, this is simply too much to take, or makes no business sense.  For others, and I know these people are out there, it is just a price to pay to give someone who has paid their debt to society a chance to prove themselves.

As for creditors and others in society, my main concern is the “others.”  These are the future friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, etc. who one will interact with the most.  Or, not interact with depending on the situation.  These are the people who can quickly decide to ignore you, or worse, based only on the disclosure of the criminal information.  Usually these people would rather just avoid you.  I wish I knew what to expect here.  Unless someone violates and comes back to prison (something I rarely see before moving to someplace else), the only source of information of how sex offenders are treated on the street is from the news.  Unfortunately, by this point, the news is usually either about a repeat offender, a kidnapping, or somebody “making certain the sex offender never harms a child again” (sometimes quite violently).

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

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

As my opportunities for research while I am here are quite limited, I have only once source for my information.  The starting range of salary based upon May 2010 graduates of Ranken Technical College in St. Louis, MO  is between $24,000 and $43,000 per year, with an average of $34,000 per year.  The industry average with 3-4 years experience is $40,000 to $55,000 per year.  I was also provided information regarding job opportunities for the Ranken graduates.  There were 240 job opportunities to split between 39 graduates.  This averages about 6 possibilities per graduate!

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

I am not certain what exactly is typical for employment in the Information Systems field.  I do know this is not a field which normally offers to train somebody “on-the-job.”  At a minimum, I have heard it is recommended to have an A+ Certification and be a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist.  My plan is to go to Ranken Technical College for an Information Technology program (Network Systems Technology) and St. Louis Community College for my general education and an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science.  If I plan ahead, I could earn an Associate’s from both schools.  I would also like to attend University of Missouri-St. Louis for my Bachelor’s's in Science-Information Systems.  My goals right now are quite high and, considering the field and my internet restrictions, very optimistic, but I feel this should not stop me from setting the goal.

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

While I have heard a prison record is a major hindrance when it come to employment opportunities, I have also heard it can be beneficial.  Those employers willing to hire felons who have been recently released from prison know there can be incentives in such an act.  A supervisee/parolee must maintain their employment or risk being sent back to prison, so there is less of a risk in the employee not showing up for work or stealing from the company.  Financially, the government gives tax breaks (WOTC) to employers hiring “at-risk” employees.  The government also offers limited bonding against theft if an employer hires somebody deemed at-risk or untrustworthy.  None of this guarantees employment, but I would think it helps some.

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

I do not know the unemployment rate for my community.  I am still unsure of where my community really is.  I believe the average is around 8-9%.  I hardly get to see my local newspaper, but if the total of five help wanted listings (three of which were for the newspaper itself) are any indication, this percentage may actually be higher.

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?:

Unfortunately, my background primarily consists of my prison background and not much else.  I did not do well at all in high school with a cumulative GPA of 1.965.  Since high school, I have attended multiple colleges but I have no degree to show for it.  My official experience in the technology field is nearly nonexistent.  Then again, I suppose this is fairly consistent with many people in prison or just getting out.  I will have a certificate in office technology, which I believe will help some, but this may depend on my ability to access the internet.  Therefore, I cannot rely solely on the certificate. Because of the regular prejudices against prisoners and (ex)felons, I suspect the unemployment rates for us are higher.  This may also be attributed to some people who simply do not try to obtain employment.

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

The job I expect to get after my release is in the fast food industry (P.O.s willing).  Thus, I do not anticipate a significant amount of time to pass between my release and finding a job.  I have no qualms regarding “flipping burgers.”  I have done it for a while, and, actually, I enjoy it to a certain extent.  This may not be my chosen career, but I expect it will take at least two or more years to complete my education before I can land the career I truly desire.

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?:

Considering at least 6 months half-way house (5-5 1/2 months actually working), and saving between $250-500 a month, I expect to have $1,500-2,000 in savings prior to leaving the half-way house.  This assumes a minimum wage job and taking advantage of everything the house will provide instead of taking home confinement when it is offered.  With an extra dollar or so per hour, I may be able to save closer to $3,000 before my discharge.

I have no real basis for an average household.  If the average household in America has two incomes, each making at least $10 per hour and working 40 hours per week, this would be $41,600 per year.

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

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

I anticipate not being close to this amount.  Even cutting the average in half for only one income, I may only be able to work part-time if my hopes of going to school are finally realized after my release.  I have heard of loans designed for students which help provide cost of living expenses while in school.  Between this sort of loan, a part-time job, and possibly my own business, I will hope to have enough to get by until I graduate college.

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

The biggest emotion we introduce when we obsess over anything we have no control over is stress.  I know this stress well since I have gone through this process once already.  Even knowing I was not to be going home, I paroled from the Missouri Department of Corrections to go to the United States Bureau of Prisons.  I stressed for a long time not knowing what would happen when I got here and had no control over it, nor did I know many people who had been through it and could tell me what to expect.  We also introduce a lot of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of what will happen next.  Personally, I handle things much easier when I know what to expect.

Prison is all I have known for around 65-70% of my 20′s.  Soon, I will walk out of prison for the first time in over 6 years with no physical shackles attached to me.  I suppose I am slightly institutionalized.  I know what to expect in prison, and while I despise this place, it has become easy to live here.  I want out so bad, but am afraid of what will happen when I walk out of these doors to be homeless and labeled as a sex offender.

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

We overcome this despair by planning ahead, doing research, finding out what these obstacles will be.  I believe I have an idea, if only a general one, of the obstacles I will face.  A lot of relief can come with knowledge.  The first couple of days, weeks, even months, in the county jail can be unbearably slow simply because you do not know how long you will be there.  The moment you find out when you can expect to leave the jail–either by release or transfer to the prison system (few people spend more than a year or two in jail)–he or she has something to look forward to, something to plan for.  Instead of just thinking about how things could be or how you want them to be, take the extra step and actually make the plans, do (some of) the research, anticipate the obstacles, and put it down on paper so you can reference it later.

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?:

I’ve heard other inmates say, “Don’t worry about it.  You’ve already done all the bad you can do,” as they let their buddies cut in front of fifty something other inmates in the chow line.  I’ve seen fights break out because someone stepped into someone else’s conversation.  A favorite homemade weapon of many inmates, probably due to its simplicity and destructive capabilities, is the standard lock-in-a-sock.  I’ve heard of this one being used over a disputed book of stamps.  Sometimes, this can be fatal.

Just listening to other inmates who will tell you how to solve your problems can sew the seeds to such behavior.  I never would have thought of such ideas outside of prison, but they certainly crossed my mind once or twice as viable protective measures after having my life threatened so many times.  The outcome: I never hit anyone or did anything to anybody, and still spent over four months in the hole (very little of this time was when it got below 95-100 degrees during the day with no air conditioning) “for [my] own protection.”  A standard prison official statement.  Sometimes, due to the actions of others, violence or non-violence does not matter, you still can aggravate your prison conditions, or rather, others can do it for you.

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

Harsher prison conditions influence our ability to prepare for success by suppressing contact with the outside world and sometimes our inside world also (i.e.. the hole).  Phone calls which are not considered local cost 23 cents per minute and are cut off after only 15 minutes (a 15 minute call to my daughter costs $3.45… quite a bit considering the amount of money I earn and can spend each month), visitors are few because of distance or get turned away for wearing a shirt with a beer logo on it, or newspapers and letters from home are delayed for weeks or more before being delivered.  Combined with no decent library for reference materials, and obviously no internet access, preparing for release is quite difficult.

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

When behavior leads to harsher prison conditions, our support network suffers with us.  Most prisons I have been in will not allow a person in segregation to have contact visits.  Currently, if you are trying to visit somebody in the hole here, an appointment can be made for up to two people to come in and sit in front of a camera for an hour.  If the person must drive for several hours, this is a massive waste of the resources of the network.  Worse is when the behavior leads to transfer.  Not only does this usually result in segregation, but sometimes months (some have experienced years) of time “in transit.”  More than likely, this means moving even further away from the support network.  But, it also can make it difficult for the network to keep up with where someone is, especially if the person moves every couple of weeks or months.

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?:

I cannot say I have found too many objective mechanisms within this system for a prisoner to distinguish himself in a positive way.  While there may be other programs I am unaware of, the one I am most familiar with is the vocational program.  Most facilities seem to have some sort of program which is not run by the prison, but by an outside school with contractors who come in to the prison to teach classes.  These programs offer college credit through certificates from the college (without mentioning the prison on the certificate or the transcript).

Some prisons offer inmates the opportunity to participate in organizations linked to the outside world.  N.A.A.C.P. and Toastmasters are two examples.  Participation in either of these organizations helps to build various skill sets which look impressive on a resume.

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

This system makes no real effort to encourage individuals to work toward release.  In Missouri, their “effort” included requiring offenders to sit through what amounts in my mind to guilt-tripping.  The class is called Impact of Crime on Victims Class (ICVC) and its sole purpose is to try to make you feel what your victims felt.  Please, do not misunderstand; I am not saying it is a bad program, but it does nothing besides make somebody feel bad about what they did.  Remorse is only the beginning to rehabilitation.

In the BOP, the Case Managers recommend Release Preparation Programming (RPP) classes.  RPP classes are suppose to prepare “inmates” (as opposed to “offenders”) to prepare for law-abiding lives upon release.  As I have mentioned before, these classes are a joke.  The Parenting class: the inmate instructor dedicated an entire class period to talking about his drug preferences, what sells the best, how to avoid getting caught next time, and the high each would provide.  Showing up and signing in each week practically guarantees a pass for the class and a certificate.  Some do not even show up, instead paying someone a “book” (of stamps, valued at $6) to take the class for them.

In other words, the system does not care.  They put up a front so they can say, “we tried,” but hardly put any real effort behind the attempt.  Warehousing at its best.

91. Describe the goals you have set?:

My biggest goals right now revolve around my education and my daughter.  While I am still trying to get into school when I am released, I am in school right now through East Arkansas Community College taking an Office Technology Certificate Program.  It is worth 30 credit hours, some of which should hopefully apply to my eventual Associate’s degree, and as long as I can continue at my current rate I should graduate in August with straight A’s and honors.  I graduated high school with 25 F’s and a 1.965 GPA, and because I worked hard for it I will finally turn it around.  My new goal after this will be to continue this trend at my next school(s) if I am allowed to attend.

My other goals involve me being able to have contact with my daughter.  Currently, my visitation schedule set by the family court, which I had no chance to dispute, allows me supervised contact with her on the last Sunday of every month from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. if I cannot convince my ex-wife for more time.  Four hours per month is all I would get to see her and even this much would be with every move being watched with a court-approved supervisor.  I could not take her anywhere, just sit in a room and talk… it is just like it would be in prison visiting rooms.  Between this and my criminal conditions, I may not be able to see her even the once a month if a supervisor is unavailable.  My goal is to get all of this changed as soon as possible after my release.

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

Most of my goals, either directly or indirectly, relate to my connection with my daughter.  Whether it is so I can have meaningful contact with her; provide for her support; give her the occasional gift; or save money for college, a car, or a wedding; she is behind much of my planning.  My education is to earn more money for savings.  My business would allow me more time for school and to be home to spend time with her.  Obviously, my attempts to fix the previous judgment are so I may be able to see her.  One person tried to tell me these goals go against my daughter’s well-being (because of my conviction, some people believe the best thing I could do for her is to stay away from her), but I believe this shows one cannot always listen to what others say.  Call me selfish; I have certainly been called worse.

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

My progress with my education is easily measurable as each semester I complete my classes, I receive an unofficial transcript showing each of my grades and my credits earned.  Come August, I will have a Certificate in Office Technology.  My other goals are a little more difficult to gauge because I must be much closer to my release before I can do much more than plan.  The prison system is only required to provide access to federal statutes and case law, not state’s laws, so research on both the business and custody/visitation laws cannot be done until I have internet access or access to a law library.

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

I try to loosely define my goals.  This way, my goals can evolve as needed to fit the current situation.  For example, I define my “education” goal as “to further my education so I may obtain entry level employment in the computer technology field.”  Currently, this means completing my Office Technology courses with straight A’s and honors.  In approximately nine months, when I get to the half-way house, this same goal will mean using those credits earned to start work on my Associate’s degree in either Information Technology or Information Systems.  Afterward, the same goal may evolve again to mean working on earning a Bachelor’s degree.  The goal can continue to evolve until I feel I have completed my education, then I will have to continue taking classes to make sure my knowledge is always up-to-date.

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

Being so close to leaving, my goals do not much influence my prison adjustment.  Instead, they help me plan for my future and what must be accomplished after my release.  Knowing the only way I can be transferred to the half-way house when I want to be so I may complete my goals is to keep out of the prison system’s way, my goals help keep me out of trouble.  They also help to keep my mind as focused as it can be.

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

I certainly believe my education and business goals will influence my success after release.  While I do not have the actual statistics, I have heard college graduates with a Bachelor’s degree can make around a million dollars more over the course of their careers than someone without a degree.  Having my own business means, if I have this much success, the success will be hard-earned and worth the investment in my education.

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