Craig Payton/ Class 5: Self-Improvement Training

by Craig Payton

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

First I recognize that seeing clearly the nature of my environment and circumstance is essential to any endeavor.  My motivation is urgently provided by keeping in mind the hurdles society at large is likely to set in front of me.  Knowing this, I am creating opportunities for self- improvement first of all by aspiring to any path of self-improvement and constantly reminding myself that my duty my purpose is to engage in those activities which are self -improving.  I write every day, whether it is answering workbook questions, writing blogs or book reports, I strive to improve my use of the written language further every day.  I aspire to teach others Self Applied Health Enhancement Methods in some form.

Whether that be Yoga, Taiji, qigong or in other ways.  Therefore I am practicing those arts which I already have been training in everyday, morning and evening.  I also am reading related material to the purpose of deepening and broadening my understanding.  As a student, I could distill my practice down to what is most effective or right for me at the moment.  As a teacher, it would be useful to understand and have a broad grasp of knowledge at my fingertips to offer just what a particular student, client or class might find most useful. I am using the opportunity to contribute to the Straight A Guide website to make myself know to more people in  addition to being part of my strategy to provide a way to stay in touch with friends already in my life.  I am studying material provided me to prepare for a position as an environmental sire assessment technician upon my release.  This is not my absolute aspiration, but may be a great stepping stone towards opening the doors for other possible pursuits.  Meanwhile I am always looking for other opportunities to improve myself.  This is a demonstration of my awareness of my surroundings.  Without preparations and awareness one will miss opportunities.

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

If one does not find a way to consistently generate self-imposed motivation, it is far too easy to fall into habits of taking it easy and looking for ways to fill the day only to pass time.  Only by living on purpose with intention will you be able to consistently advance your goals.  Success is no accident, it is hard work.  This reminds me of the definition of a Chinese word most of us have heard of Kung-Fu.  Most people might consider this word to identify a martial art.  In fact it is much more general term.  It means “Diligent work performed correctly/effectively over a long period of time”.  No one achieves good Kung-Fu without a self-imposed structure of their free time.

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

If I am honestly striving constantly, urgently to achieve my goals which are pegged to my values, everything I do from moment to moment will be a reflection of those values and in pursuit of my stipulated goals.  This is admittedly a high bar.  I have examined my values, I have set some goals.  I am seeking self -improvement.  To be honest, thought I have not fully realized the vision the overarching aspiration to pull me forward.  What I am doing is still maintain my attitude to pursue what I do aspire to with 100% commitment and urgency.  As days go by, my longer term aspirations seem to be coming clearer.

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?

Yesterday July 17th, 2012:

If I replicated my activities of yesterday, every day for the balance of my sentence, I expect that I would achieve a great deal of progress preparing myself upon return to society.  Yesterday I spent a good amount of time writing a book report on a book related to mind-body practice which is a component of my vision for how I will lead my life upon return to society. If I continue on the pace I have set, I expect to read, study and report on at least 3 books per month for the next 16 months.  That comes to almost 50 books by the time I am eligible for half way house (this figure is based on the most optimistic possible halfway house release date following RDAP program).  I expect to achieve a level of fitness not reached in the last 10 years of my life.  Although I currently have no weight goal, I am increasing my training to make myself stronger and more resilient.  Continuing to practice Taiji and Qigong daily, I see myself as accomplishing a higher level of vitality as well as expertise which I will seek the opportunity to share with others after my release.  I would like to answer this question more substantively detailing my career preparations, but the vision for the next step of my life is not entirely clear at the moment.  What I do know is that as time goes on, I continue to focus on my vision for the future and it becomes clearer over time.

I definitely will not set foot outside of prison the same person who entered 09-30-2011.  I will be strong, physically and mentally with the achievements developed by self imposed discipline adhered to daily.  I will have maintained a sense of urgency and a desire to create success which builds daily.

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

The only activities available within the prison environment which may enhance my strengths are those which I set for myself.  In my current location, there are ZERO activities which I would consider helpful to me upon release which the prison environment provides.

I enhance my mental strength through meditation, reading, writing and purpose driven conversation.  I enhance my physical strength through various mind-body practices along with basic calisthenics to maintain or gain strength and promote resilience and flexibility.  I enhance my emotional strength by maintaining and building on the relationships I have, especially spousal and familial relationships but not limited to that.

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

Every activity within the prison environment which does not resonate with ones values and plans and goals is creating weakness.  If it is tasks imposed upon one by the BOP as a “job”, this is something to be gotten out of the way as expediently as possible in order to return to ones’ own self-directed pursuits.  Watching television habitually or playing table games or any other entertainments are merely things which distract us from the urgency of our mission, which needs to be seen as akin to being under attack.

Complacency is the enemy and there are many ways prisoners fall victim to it.

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

My own self-directed activities provide opportunity.  Beyond that the only other opportunity I have become aware of is the opportunity to learn from other prisoners.  There are many experienced, intelligent individuals who although diverse circumstances have lead them here, can provide me with fresh perspectives and ideas in many areas.  I values the opportunity to meet new people.

I try to honor that which can be of value in society when they emerge like me from this uncaring monster which has swallowed them for now.  I have had the good fortune to interact with many people I never would otherwise have encountered in my daily life.  Some with similar backgrounds as myself and others with very different  backgrounds.  This is a valuable opportunity to expand my awareness of the nature of our society and it’s failings, especially those which affect people with backgrounds very dissimilar to my own.

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

Threatening activities are in two categories as I see it.  The first category is as I have already detailed those activities which would tend to be unproductive time-wasters or time-fillers which lead to complacency and lack of purpose.  The other category would be the more serious threats of engaging in behavior which could lead to prison sanction such as using cell phones or smoking tobacco or otherwise engaging in use of contraband.

Also any negative interaction with fellow prisoners which might rise to the level of physical confrontation is a threat and in the camp setting will likely earn a one way ticket to a higher security institution.  In fact, I don’t view any of these as threats to me personally because I remain aware of the rules of this institution and avoid these type of risks.  These are merely the types of risk taking I have observed or heard about.

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

What you pursue of your own volition through your own discipline, in pursuit of your goals, determined by your values represent the ONLY way to contribute to your strengths and to prepare to be aware of and seize opportunities.

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

The main steps I take to minimize weaknesses and threats if to always come back to my values and goals.  If I ever find myself getting sucked into watching TV, I return to awareness and remind myself there are more important pursuits to engage in.  In camp, the only real “threat” as I see it is falling in to complacency.  Staying focused and busy is the key to avoiding weakness.

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

My decision making process prior to prison was deeply flawed.  I characterize my life as having been out of control for several years, even prior to the criminal activity which led to my arrest in November 2009.  It would have been very useful to sit down at the beginning of 2007 and logically weigh my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  Perhaps I would have chosen differently.  If I had directly contemplated the real threat placed upon myself by engaging in criminal activity, I may have chosen a better path.  If I had more thoroughly examined REAL opportunities at that time, I could have forged new paths in the nutritional products field in which I had been employed for about 20 years.  If I had the courage to explore my weaknesses and the vision to exploit my strengths during the difficult times prior to my illegal activity in 2007, I may have become aware of different opportunities.

However at the time prior to my arrest I was like a cork afloat in a torrential river and not like a ship steering securely towards its planned destination.  How I came to be in such a state is a matter for contemplation to support my own ongoing growth, but from my current vantage point I can see that I had allowed myself to collapse into an entirely unresourceful state, almost an unconscious delusional state in response to the challenges which had been placed before me.

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

The SWAT assessment technique falls into the category of awareness.  If I maintain and improve my self awareness in the areas of strength, weakness, opportunity and threats, I have a tool to measure my progress, goals and aspirations.

Primarily SWAT reminds me of the weakness of my situation being a convicted felon and of the treat to my future this status conveys.  Being aware, daily and constantly of the nature of this threat provides motivation to seek to foster my strengths and attempt to open up and pursue opportunities.

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

Low risk/high reward activities are the activities I engage in daily to improve myself.  They are rewarding by moving me towards achievement of my goals and supporting my aspirations.  They are low risk because their pursuit removes me from potential activities which could put such progress at risk.

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

High risk high reward activities are rare.  I must defer to Michael Santos answer that the only thing I see which would be highly risky and rewarding would be to pursue some type of income generating project which goes against BOP policy.  I have not engaged in this myself but if the opportunity were to arise, I would not be averse to it.

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

Low risk/low reward would be activities like watching TV or playing table games and other non-productive pursuits.

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

Of these I might just re-categorize cell phone use as high risk/high reward because it could significantly advance the value of enhanced communication with friends and family.  I understand the temptation.

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

I do not need to spend time making assessments regarding risk reward now.  Once I examined and clearly made conscious my values and started to list my goals, I began to now automatically whether I was on track from moment to moment, hour to hour and day to day.  I maintain awareness through this process and remain motivated to make progress.

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

Self-improvement by definition, should enhance ones prospects upon release.  Making self- improvement efforts evident to others, making them aware of your work being able to demonstrate your work prior to and upon release are key enhancements to any self-improvement work.

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

I have given a great deal of thought to what type of employment I might pursue upon release.  I must overcome the problem of not being allowed to continue in any job related to the trades of food, cosmetics or pharmaceuticals for approximately 5 years after my release.  Therefore I must seek out opportunities to maximally utilize the skills I do have in an unrelated field.  My primary skill set is I believe, related to effective communication.  This relates to sales and marketing.  This relates to international communication in support of sales and marketing.

This relates to technical sales, ie, providing communication to answer complex customer service questions.  Also I have considerable experience in international trade, and logistics.  I would rush to point out that this experience is primarily derived from legitimate trade.

Therefore, I would ideally seek out employment which could exploit these strengths.

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

In A:144, I detailed qualifications a bit.  I have 10 years experience in domestic and international logistics, sales and customer service, inventory management and purchasing for business to business trade.

Rather than defining the qualifications necessary for any particular job, currently I am assessing my skill set to determine what jobs I may be qualified to perform.  In understanding the job market, I know I must be flexible and seek to widen the net of jobs to which I might bring value.

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

Currently I believe the most important self-improvement I can achieve is to further hone my written communication skills.  The Straight A Guide workbook is only one way I am working to improve my command of the written word.  I believe my mediation practice helps me to improve my focus and ability to work efficiently and effectively.

Also, my self-improvement work in the areas of mind and body training prepare me to pursue my avocation and potential vocation of teaching Self Applied Health Enhancement Methods.  I aspire to teach people how to improve their physical and mental health through methods I have trained in over the last  30 or so years.

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

I can continue to pursue methods to hone my writing skill.  I can complete The Straight A Guide, carry on contributing blogs as well as publishing highly detailed book reports.  Beyond working on writing ability, my subject of focus in book reports is primarily mind-body training and health in general.  This supports my aspiration to become a teacher of min-boy methods to support health and well-being.

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

Academic credentials are often seen as an essential pre-requisite even for cursory consideration of employment.  Certain opportunities will not be opened to candidates without credentials.

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

Employers seek to find the most qualified employee for a given position.  Credentials are an indication of a candidate fitness for a position.  This is of course highly dependent upon the position in question.  It seems likely that an employer might value very relevant experience over a candidate with credentials but no experience.  Sometimes individuals with credentials may be considered as over-qualified.  It seems that given the current job market that employers are able to select for the candidate with the best possible skill set of both credentials and experience.
Higher level credentials may provide an individual with skills that are immediately applicable in technical work and they also are in general
indicative of an individuals’ ability to learn and their degree of persistence.

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

Initially it is difficult to see what one could do to demonstrate value to an employer that would carry more weight than academic credentials.  As for myself, I seek to demonstrate persistence and achievement in whatever ways I can during the period of my incarceration.  I intend to continue to build a record of my pursuits which serve to demonstrate the adherence to my commitments, my ability to set and achieve goals and clearly provide an example of living according to my values.  Even if this demonstration does not sway a particular individual who may be a potential employer, I still recognize the tremendous value of living with a vision of a purposeful life.



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