Colin Walsh/ Class 5: Self-Improvement Training

by Colin Walsh

126. When you assess your environment, what opportunities for self-improvement can you create or seize?

When I initially assessed my current environment, I searched high and low for every and any opportunity that could exist. I quickly discovered that the prison itself has little useful to offer, and that many of the opportunities exists within myself.

When I first arrived at prisoner I began a search for opportunity. After talking with a few peers I was directed to the education building. That evening I entered the education building only to find that there was very little education  going on there. I entered through the front door and walked straight to the library. The library was unlike any library I have ever been in. it was a mad house. There were about 100 people hanging out, talking, and yelling. I couldn’t even find a seat to sit down. This environment was not conclusive to anything. I approached the county and picked up the card catalog book. I fingered through the passed and realized that more than half of the books are James Patterson novels and the rest are other fiction. I ask the quasi-librarian if they had any non-fiction. He walked down to the far end of the county and grabbed another card catalog book. This was the non fiction booklet. It was only half the size of the fiction book. When I read through I found that the majority of the non fiction books were “The complete Idiots” to anything from astrology to Zen. I set the library. I walked from the library down the short hallway into the education department. The hallway walls adorned with bulltins of the different programs they offer. I read them one by one as I walked. Cage Your Rage, Alcoholics Anonymous, Successful Re-Entry, Help for Gambling Addicts, I think to myself these all may be great for some people but I don’t think any of these will help me reach my goal. Then I come across “Kent State University Business Program 22 College Credits.” That Sounded more interesting.

127. What is your interpretation on the value of self-imposed structure of free time?

If a train were taken off the track and let to roam free it would most definitely wreck. I believe that is the same people. People who lack structure lack success.

I personally see a lack of structure in people every day. People in prison who lack structure spend their days minute to minute. This allows them to fall victim to spontaneity. Like a pin ball; they bounce from one thing to the next and never go anywhere besides down the hole. This life leads a person to not advance anywhere. Therefore day after day nothing is accomplished, except wasting time.

When people are first born, they are free from responsibility and structure. What do they do? Well, they eat, sleep, and cry a lot. This lack of structure accomplishes nothing. It isn’t different for adults either. Just as a lack of structure in a baby’s life doesn’t accomplish anything, a lack of structure in an adult’s life is the same. Lack of structure in anyone’s life leads nowhere. Structure is the rail that we follow that leads to success.

128. What relationship do your daily activities have to the vision you have for your life upon release?

Every activity that is a small building block in the foundation for my future. Therefore every activity I perform relates to my vision.

The time I spend on each individual activity aggregates into one gigantic activity. These aggregations will eventually accrue to become my vision. 

Every day from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep; I study various subjects. This constant studying is building my skills on these subjects. Eventually over time I will build a solid foundation in which I will be able to build my life upon that is my vision and I am working toward that every day.

129. Imagine that you were to replicate your activities or use of time yesterday every day or your sentence. If you did, what level of preparation would have to triumph over the obstacles that await you upon your return to society?

I really don’t have to imagine replicating my activities everyday, because I do replicate my activities each and every day. I know that doing this will elevate me to a high level and prepare me for my future.

This effect is like a snowball rolling down a hill. At the top of the hill the ball is small and rolls very slowly. Then with each roll it picks up a little bit of snow. Even though the ball is only picking up a small amount of snow, it is growing progressively. As is grows it begins to pick up speed. Eventually the ball is exponentially bigger, and moving much faster. Likewise I will do the same.

Replicating my activities daily will eventually aggregate into a bigger, better version of me. Like the snowball rolling down a hill, I may have started small, but I am rolling, accumulating, and picking up speed.

130. What activities within the prison environment can you pursue that will enhance your strengths?

I try to pursue all activities that will enhance my strengths and my weaknesses. 

I consider my strengths to include writing, reading, and analyzing what I read and personal relations. I enhance these strengths by practicing them daily. Every day, I write and read. I actively read about 100 pages daily, I read the newspaper, magazines, books, and textbooks. While I read, I take notes on what I read from these notes and write reports. These reports help me analyze what I read.

Also, I study and learn ten vocabulary words daily. These words improve my writing and diction.

I strengthen my personal relations skills by corresponding with people daily. Also, I read many books on various theories of human relations.

As much as I work on my strengths, I emphasize my weaknesses more: I consider my math skills to be somewhat of a weakness. Math doesn’t come as easily to me as literary arts. Therefore I spend more time working on this weakness than my strengths in hope to turn the weakness into a strength.

Every day, I am in pursuit of making my strengths and weaknesses stronger.  Therefore as a professional athlete practices his game daily to improve, I am practicing my game toward improvement.

131. What activities within the prison environment would you categorize as a weakness?

A weakness is a matter of perception. Many may consider that they lack of commissary or the lack of recreation activities are a weakness. The people who believe this favor these activities. As for me I have another set of particular weaknesses.

The prison system has numerous weaknesses. The list of these is innumerable. Lack of available contact with the outside world, lack of useful educational programs, lack of motivation to prisoners, an excess of useless activities, the encouragement to chase after useless certificates. I can enumerate these weaknesses for pages. Although these are important prevalent weakness these are what I consider to be external weaknesses. There are an entire other set of weaknesses that are internal, and they are in many of the prisoners that I see every day.

Everyone in prison has some amount of time to serve in prison; even the guards. The manner in which they all choose to use the time, is either a great strength or a great weakness. The people who use the time to learn and grow, I consider to be a strength. People who use the time to waste, through useless activities, I consider to be a great weakness. I believe that the only weakness that can exist is the weakness that we are not trying to improve.

The best example of this is Michael Jordan. Everyone know Jordan as one of the best basketball players of all time. What many people don’t know is that Michael didn’t make his high school basketball team. When Michael asked the coach why he didn’t make the team, his coach told him that his free throw percentage was too low. So that defined Michael’s weakness. That is until he started improving it. The story continues that Jordan would practice every day, and he would stop shooting free throws until he made 500. Every day he became better, and the rest is history. If Michael simply accepter the fact that he couldn’t shoot free throws as a weakness, then he would have never became the greatest.

Therefore, I consider the only weakness that exists in prison, is for people not working on their own personal weaknesses, and wasting time instead.

132. What activities within the prison environment would you perceive as offering opportunities?

Just as weaknesses are a matter of perception so are opportunities. I am sure that many prisoners will tell you the fact that there are five more televisions is an opportunity. My perception is much different.

In reality the prison environment restricts opportunities more than it facilitates them. But there are some opportunities that exist. The main opportunity that exists for me is the fact that I have the entire day, free of responsibility, to devote to personal growth and development. This is an opportunity that I have never had before. This is a great advantage, I will spend these three years honing in skills, building my strengths and weaknesses. This is a great opportunity and I take advantage of every second of it.

Maybe having a few extra televisions is an opportunity for some, but not for me. I found true opportunities here, and I will take advantage of them.

133. What activities within the prison environment do you perceive as threatening your prospects for success upon release?

There are three determining factors through which I assess an activity. This way I assess everything that I do and judge whether it is threatening  or not. This method is very simple and effective.

Previously, I defined my roles and my goals. That is all that I am, and who I want to be. Therefore, When I am faced with an opportunity I ask myself whether or not the activity is in line with first, my role, and secondly, my goals. If it is not, then what is the point of doing it. If the activity is not in line with a role then the activity is not who I am. Likewise, if the activity is not leading me toward a goal, then I consider it useless. There is no point in doing it.

For example, If I am studying and someone approaches me and asks, “Hey, would you like to play cards.” I would ask myself first, “Am I a card player? … No.” Then I ask, “Do I want to be a card player…No.” Then, “is the person my friend” Then I will ask, “Do I want to build a relationship with this person?…Not really.” After I complete this thought process I graciously decline their offer.

Therefore, I consider any activity that is not in line with my roles and goals, to be threatening.  This is because anything that is contrary to these two simple values can change my path. They can change my roles and my goals. That alone is a great threat.

134. To what extent do the activities you pursue inside the prison environment contribute to your strengths and opportunities?

I believe that all of the activities that I pursue, contribute to both my strengths and opportunities, to the highest extent.

From the time that I wake up, until the time that I go to sleep, I spend each minute in constant pursuit of enhancing my strengths, changing my weaknesses, and creating opportunities.

Everyday, I work toward multiple goals. As time passes, These goals aggregate into big accomplishments. Chasing these goals enhance my strengths, change my weaknesses, and open opportunities. Therefore, all of my activities are in pursuit of my strengths and opportunities.

135. What steps do you deliberately take to minimize your exposure to weaknesses and threats?

Prison is a very different place. There are threats and weaknesses lurking around every corner. Crossing paths with one of these, can totally derail my entire progress. To avoid this, I take multiple steps daily in an attempt to avoid them.

Every morning I wake up at five in the morning. This is before the majority of others wake up. At this time I go to the recreation department to exercise. I choose this time because the “yard” is practically empty at this time, thus avoiding any conflict. Then I return to the housing unit and take a shower, before anyone else is awake, and the showers are empty. Then I get dressed and leave the unit just as everyone else is waking up. I go to the library because it is much safer and quieter. After the library closes at ten, I return back to the until. I read until eleven then I wait until the entire unit has left for lunch, then I trail behind the last of the group. I go to lunch by myself and try to sit at an empty table. After lunch I return back to the unit. From 12:00-3:30 the unit is empty, because everyone else is at work. This is when I do the most of my studying. At 3:30 everyone is recalled back to the unit, so it gets unbelievably noisy. During this short time, I thumb through a magazine. At 5:00 I go to dinner and then straight to class. At 8:30 class is over, and I go back to the unit. Then I plan my next day and as soon as the guards pass by and count at 9:30 I go to sleep.

Each one of my actions throughout the day are created to minimize my exposure to other prisoners. Reducing this exposure reduces rick.

To avoid being derailed from my track of success, my entire schedule revolves around avoiding threats and weaknesses. This in turn enhances my strengths and opportunities.

136. Using the SWOT-assessment technique, how would you assess your decision-making process prior to imprisonment?

Prior to being arrested, I don’t think I assessed much of anything. I may have been an ordinary 17 year old, but I don’t think my decision making process was great.

Prior to being arrested, I really didn’t know who I was. I was lost, and I fell victim to others deciding who I was. I was essentially a slave to others. The only way that I assessed an activity, at that time, was by whether or not another person was doing it.

Basically, I was told what to do by everyone else. Rarely did I make a conscious decision of my own. This lack of personal assessment is probably the leading cause of my arrest.

Prior to my arrest, my decision making process was virtually non existent. Every decision I made was extemporaneous and lacked any purpose. I believe this lack of direction and discipline led to my arrest.

137. In what ways can the SWAT-assessment technique guide your decisions as you prepare for success upon release?

As I prepare for release, the SWOT analysis works as a gauge to assess my life. The SWOT analysis takes into account everything that matters when making a decision. This assessment allows me to clearly see my surroundings, and helps me make any and every decision.

By assessing my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, I am able to see the whole picture. I can see where I am, and where I want to go. Like the many gauges on a car, that tell someone when they need more gas, or when they need to change their oil; the SWOT analysis tells me what I need to fix, work on, and avoid, to prevent a breakdown.

I use the SWOT analysis to gauge my every decision. The SWOT analysis takes risk verse reward into consideration. I use this to determine whether or not a decision is worth doing. I will continue to use this gauge throughout my prison term, and through the rest of my life.

138. What types of activities in prison fall into quadrant one: low-risk/high-reward?

Low risk high reward activities are activities that don’t entail much risk, but produce high rewards. These are the activities that everyone should be looking to do. For investors this is a dream stock. For prisoners, they are activities that a prisoner should spend their time doing.

In prison avoiding risk at all costs is essential. A prisoner’s well being and livelihood depend on avoiding risk. Taking risk in prison can mean uprooting a prisoner’s life, and sending them down the wrong path. To avoid risk a prisoner must choose activities that are low risk.

Avoiding risk doesn’t always mean avoiding reward. There are activities, that a prisoner can do both at the same time. These activities are anything that aids in self improvement, but avoids conflict with staff or other prisoners. These activities include, but are not limited to, Reading, writing, exercising, studying, and preparing for the future. These activities are sure to avoid all prison risk, and also are guaranteed to produce a high reward.

Anything that has a low risk and a high reward is worthwhile.

139. What types of activities in prison fall into quadrant two: high-reward/high-risk?

High risk high reward activities are activities that entail a risk, but produce a worthwhile reward. For an investor it is a stock that they have the possibility of losing everything, but they can also gain a lot. For a prisoner, it is an action that can get a prisoner into trouble, but the reward is great.

In prison there is a long, innumerable list of activities that a prisoner can receive that will lead to a disciplinary infraction. Therefore, there is always a lot of risk, for a lot of activities. Although most of these activities aren’t worth the risk, some are. One activity that is frowned upon is any legal legitimate project that has the potential to produce an income. A person can do this and risk getting a “shot,” but the reward of earning money to aid in release is also great. This is an activity that I consider to be high risk but also high reward. Other than earning money for release, I don’t perceive any other activities to be worth taking a risk.

140. What types of activities in prison fall into quadrant three: low-risk/low-reward?

141. What types of activities in prison fall into quadrant four: high-risk/low-reward?

142. To what extent do your consider risk-reward analysis when assessing activities, interactions, or time allocation in prison?

143 What type of self-improvement programs would enhance an individual’s prospects for success upon release?

144. What thoughts have you given to the type of employment you want to pursue upon release?

145. Define the qualifications necessary for the type of job you want to pursue?

The qualifications for an entrepreneur are vast. An entrepreneur is the boss and the employee. They have to be able to do it all. In a business everything is always riding on the owner. Success or failure is determined by the actions of the entrepreneur. Therefore it is imperative for an entrepreneur to be adroit.

Specific qualifications needed by an aspiring entrepreneur include all of the business disciplines. Marketing, finance, human relations, business law, accounting, and sales. These are the most important skills required for an entrepreneur to be successful. Developing those specific skills requires a strong base of prerequisites. These include: basic math, algebra, and calculus, and also, very strong writing and speaking skills. Building a strong base in these areas is a good foundation to build the the more specific skills.

Being an entrepreneur requires many skills. They need to be multi-faceted, in many fields. But first, they need to be very strong in rudimentary, reading, and writing, in order to be successful in the field.

146. How do your self-improvement programs prepare you for the type of job you want to pursue?

Every program that i do is geared toward the type of career that I want to pursue. Throughout each day I practice various skills that will lead to me being more apt for the job I want to attain.

I begin each day by writing responses for the Straight A Guide. Writing these responses serves many purposes. Not only do they help me think more openly and give me a clear prospective, but they also help me to improve my writing and diction.

Writing daily and processing the questions presented, makes me more tactful with writing and critical thinking. Building these two skills are essential to being an entrepreneur.

Also I study and learn almost ten new vocabulary words everyday. Learning these new words improve my writing and diction also. Having a vast vocabulary is a sign of intelligence and helps me to be precise, and clear in speech. Therefore Simply building a strong, multifarious vocabulary is also essential to the field that I am pursuing.

Along with these two programs, I study a second language. I know that America’s population is becoming more and more diverse. The Spanish speaking community is growing the fastest. Therefore I feel that speaking the language of a fast growing population is important. As an entrepreneur communication is pivotal. I don’t just want to be able to communicate with people who speak my own language. Doing that would cut off an entire market. Therefore I learn Spanish daily to improve my communication. I know that these skills will prove useful in my future.

I also practice math daily. Everyday I practice simple basic math; such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I practice these to improve my computation speed. Practicing  these every day, I am able to do most of this basic math in my head, and without a calculator. Also to improve my math skills I do puzzles called Ken Ken. Ken Ken puzzles are Japanese math puzzles. They are similar to Sudoku but involve math as well as logic. Doing these puzzles helps improve my math skills greatly. Along with all of this I study algebra. All of this practice helps me build skills that are essential to being an entrepreneur.

On top of all of this I read constantly. This reading helps me learn skills in various disciplines. I read books on management, human relations, and many self help books. Reading these books teach me how to do what I want to do in the future. Along with books I also read magazines, and newspapers. I read the Wall Street Journal every day, also I read many business magazines, such as, INC, Entrepreneur, Business week, Fast Company, and a few others. Reading these publications teaches me through presenting real life examples. All of this reading builds many necessary skills.

Lastly in order to build skills that will prove useful in the future, I take college courses. These courses, are specifically focused on the business disciplines. The courses build many skills that will help me in the future.

All of these exercises that I spend my entire days doing, are distinctly designed to build skills that will make me more tactful and adroit as an entrepreneur.

147. What types of self-improvement programs can you pursue independently that will enhance your prospects as a candidate for employment upon release?

Self improvement can come in many forms. Many scholars say that there are three aspects of a person’s “self.” These three things are, mind, body, and spirit. Building these three areas is important to maintaining life. Programs that build these aspects will greatly enhance one’s life.

Programs that build the mind can include studying skills such as, math, writing, art, science, or any other subject. Any program that increases these skills, thus increases the mind. Strengthening these will also enhance one’s chances for success. Building the mind can also include building mental stability. Programs that help a person deal with stress and life appropriately will be very helpful to a person’s future.

Building the body is essential to health, thus it is essential to life. Therefore, any program that maintains or improves one’s is enhancing their chances for success.

Lastly, building one’s spirit is essential to success. A persons spirit is everything that they are. It is their personality, and entire being. Therefore, any program that will build this skill, is essential to success.

Overall, I believe that any type of self improvement program that builds in any of those three aspects of life, is a program that enhances one’s chance for success.

148. In what ways do academic credentials influence an individual’s candidacy for employment?

Academic credentials are essential to any professional level position in the workforce. These credentials serve as proof of knowledge. They are like a ranking system that shows what level a prospective employee is. Therefore, the greater level of academic credentials a person has, the greater the chance of good employment.

Academic credentials are like a step ladder. Each credential earned is a step in the ladder. Since one cannot skip steps in the ladder, these credentials prove a lot about a person. They prove to an employer that a person is qualified or not for a particular position.

It is a fact that the unemployment rate is lower for people with higher degrees. It is also a fact that most people with degrees have more favorable working conditions. For some positions, one isn’t even able to apply for, without a certain degree. Therefore having these credentials is essential to employment.

Academic credentials are essential, from a doctorate to a high school diploma. Each credential offers proof that one has completed a required number of hours in a field, and also proved to be proficient in that field. Just as a drivers license is a credential that offers proof that one is proficient in driving, academic credentials offer that same proof.

149. How do prospective employers gauge the value of academic credentials?

Academic credentials are important to employers. These credentials are usually the primary qualifiers that an employer uses to gauge a potential employee.

Most all jobs require some form of credential. Even a cashier at McDonalds requires a high school diploma, or some equivalent. Likewise, a computer engineer is most likely required to have an engineering degree. Potential employers wouldn’t even consider someone without these credentials. Therefore, it is evident that employers place great weight on academic credentials.

From what I know, based on experience, academic credentials serve as a preliminary filter for employers. This filter weeds out potential employees. An employer may receive 1000 resumes in a week. Based solely on academic credentials, this employer should be able to make the 1000 resumes 500. Thus filtering out 500 people. Therefore this shows that academic credentials are important to obtaining employment.

150. What types of self-improvement steps trump academic credentials?

There are two different types of learning: theory and practice. Earning academic credentials usually focuses more on the former of the two. Although there is a lot of importance in academic credentials, there are a lot of other, ancillary, and essential self-improvement programs that are more important than the credentials themselves.

One of these self improvement essentials, and the most important, is life management skills. These skills envelope everything required to live a successful life. These include: how to manage time, how to set and attain goals, how to manage relationships, how to manage money, how to be a parent, how to manage stress, how to live with values and morals, and everything else that is required to live a happy successful life. There are thousands of books written on these subjects, but these things are rarely taught at any school. One can be the smartest man in the world, but if he doesn’t possess these skills he will surely fail. People must teach themselves these skills above academic credentials.

The epitome of this is my cube mate. He has a long list of prestigious degrees, from his ivy bachelors degree, to his MBA, and PHD. Even with these extensive degrees, this man lacks many of these basic life skills. He is proof that there is more required in life than earning degrees.

I still believe that academic credentials are essential, but there are things that are more important, than just a degree. Learning those skills are essential to success.

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