Colin Walsh/ Class 1: Values

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.

 

 

6 Responses to “Colin Walsh/ Class 1: Values”

  1. Hank Faleski says:

    You keep yourself together, you have been dealt an unfair hand but you seem to have your priorities in order. do whatever you have to get thru this. You have your whole life ahead of you where you can do whatever you want, marry, have kids if you so desire. Many,many years of life awaits you. I grew up in Shenandoah when it was even a more violent time with drinking,partying and fighting was just the norm. Police would chase the victor home and take the loser to the dispensary if needed. I was a C/O at SCP while you were there and I am a friend of your mom who even used to cut my hair. Also consider turning to God if you haven’t already done so..He will be a true scource of strenght for you and will get you thru this just for the asking. Take Care Colin…Hank Faleski

  2. Karen Sugrue says:

    I just read your comments, Colin. I think you are a very brave young man. I think you have an absolutely amazing mom, a loving family, and I believe you will come out of this a better, wiser, stronger person. I will keep you in my prayers. I think everyone makes mistakes in life, and somehow or other we all learn from them. best of luck to you, it sounds like you’re on the right path.

    I was your 2nd grade teacher at FWC,
    Miss Klocek, now Mrs. Sugrue

  3. D says:

    Cheesesteak stromboli. no sauce, sauce on the side. :)

  4. Sherri D says:

    Colin~ I wish I could find the right words to express how proud of you I am. You have taken your situation and absolutely made the best of it. If we could all react the way you have in bad situations we’d all be much better people. I have no doubt you are learning from your experiences and you will come out of there the person you always wanted to be. Keep up the great work Colin~ so very proud of you. You’ve inspired me for my new year.
    If only the world realized that we could all make these changes and we are free to do so we’d all be better people.

  5. Cindy says:

    Such insight Colin! You’ve taken a really bad situation and made it into an opportunity to better yourself. You have accepted your situation and taken responsibility and with doing that, you will have peace in your mind and heart forever. Something no one can ever take away. You are living the “Serenity Prayer” to the fullest. Keep up the terrific work! Looking forward to more posts :)

  6. Tonia Grigas says:

    Colin-
    I’m so very impressed with the man you are becoming. Your insight to all that has occurred is truly inspiring. It’s an absolute unfortunate circumstance that happened one night that has changed your life forever. You’ve taken this situation and really turned it around, you developed the right values and goals a strong respectable individual should have. It’s obvious by your statements how much you have changed, and changed for the better. I admire how you have taken responsibility for your actions. People make mistakes and when they recognize that they deserve another chance….You’re making all the right decisions now. I wish you so much luck in achieving all the success you envision in your future! Really looking forward to more posts from you.
    Take care!!

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