Craig Payton/ Class 6: Communication Skills

by Craig Payton

151. Describe situations you can recall when inadequate communication skills led to decreased opportunities in your life.

I have not had the same experience as Michael with regard to language.  Expressing myself with the written word has been a strong suit.  Starting in 1997 a large part of my career as a trader in nutritional bulk ingredients involved communicating solely through the written word, mainly email as well as faxes.  Much of that communication was done with those who did not speak English as their first language.  Because of this I know very clearly how important good communication skills are.  Creating trust and covering all technical details of a business transaction through the written word requires attention to detail and the ability to anticipate what was not being said by the other party.  What concerns were not being expressed but needed to be addressed?  If there was a failure in this communication it could lead to problems or even failure in the business transaction.  I believe my greatest failures in communication are those which I have had with family and friends.  Failing to communicate with my wife about the problems I was going thru in my work life may well have allowed me to work thru some issues and change the decision making which lead to my illegal activity.  Successful communication is essential in the world of business and word.  It is even more vital in personal relationships.  Good communication is the essence and purpose of any relationship.

Communication and connection go hand in hand.  Making deep connections with others is what makes for meaningful and lasting relationships.

152. Describe situations where stronger communication skills may have enhanced your prospects for success.

Refer to answer for question 151.

153. What do communication skills mean to you?

Refer to answer for question 151.

154. In what types of ways can improving communication skills assuage the burden of confinement?

Consistently working to improve a skill, any skill, while enduring  confinement is always a good way to spend time.  Of course improving ones grasp of the English language can be an ongoing project for even those who are well educated, especially in these times of diminishing academic expectations and achievements.  To improve your writing skills may lead to opportunities to create written work which could become known outside the prison system.  Many prisoners throughout history have created great works during the time of their imprisonment.  Even in ancient Chinese history the creation of the Book of Changes, one of the most important books in all of Chinese culture was attributed to a king who was kept hostage for several years. Improving ones face to face verbal skills is closely related to reading and writing skills.  Learning to communicate effectively in prison has great values.  One can use communication skills to get along with people.  Related to this is the skill of learning to tailor your communication to individuals who may have a very different societal and educational background.  Learning to be well understood by those with disparate backgrounds can be valuable outside of prison.

155. What types of influence do communication skills have on an individual’s prospects for success upon release?

As previously stated the skill of effective communication is universally useful in life.  In the job interview process an individual is judged by how the present themselves.  Physical appearance is important but the real test is how one expresses oneself to the prospective employer.  Perception of intelligence and capability are inexorably linked to the candidates manner of speech and mastery of language and vocabulary.  Confidence is projected by the individual who has an easy mastery of the language.  When already engaged in the working world effective communication helps one develop relationships with fellow workers and good relationships create trust and promote effective teamwork.  In sales, the ability to speak well improves ones’ ability to influence potential buyers and convey to them the strong points of the product or service in question.

156. How can developing communication skills open opportunities through imprisonment?

Skillful communication may help a prisoner to make himself known to those outside of prison.  This could include attempts to contact prospective employers to convince them to consider providing job opportunities or simply writing to ones future probation officer in an effort to convince them of your commitment to improvement and contribution to society.  A prisoner could also use communication skills while imprisoned to help other inmates.  Writing letters home, composing resumes, soliciting prospective employers are just a few services which someone might offer to their fellow inmates.  I myself have helped fellow inmates with transcribing and editing work they had already written.

157. In what ways can an individual take clearly-defined, measurable steps toward improving communication skills?

One can explore many ways to improve communication skills.  Using flash cards to improve vocabulary is one.  As for myself my primary means of developing my writing skills is to continue to work on answering The Straight A Guide questions to my fullest ability as well as regularly writing thorough reports on books I have been reading.  My step by step approach is to set a goal to read a certain number of books a minimum of two per month and write full reviews of the material contained therein.  A side benefit I have gained is to work verbally presenting some of this material to friends and family.  I seek not only to read and relay the information in the books I am reading but to study and integrate what I have learned into my overall understanding of the subjects and the world in general.  I seek to be able to derive and maintain mastery over those subjects in a way that each one represents an accomplishment that can build upon the next.

158. In what ways have you taken measurable, deliberate steps to improve your communication skills?

Refer to answer in question 157.

159. What value do enhanced communication skills offer to a prospective employer?

An employee who demonstrates good communication skills is one who can be counted on to follow instructions well and who will also make sure that instructions and job requirements are clearly relayed and understood.  Further an employee who demonstrates the ability to communicate well can also be seen as having food potential for management and leadership.

160. How can a prisoner convey the extent of his communication skills and his personal investment to improve such skills?

161. How does the prison experience influence an individual’s development of communication skills?

162. In what ways do developing communicating skills resemble the development of physical fitness?

163. What does it mean to read with a purpose?

164. Describe the pattern of books you have read throughout your term in prison. What kind are they and why do you read them?

165. In what ways do books you read prepare you for success upon release?

166. When you consider the amount of free time available to you on a typical day, how do you determine the most effective ways to use it toward preparations for success?

167. In what ways do you work to improve your dexterity with language, using words, sentences, and paragraphs to communicate ideas?

168. How would you describe the argot of the imprisoned class?

169. In what ways does the jargon of imprisonment compare of contrast with the language in the society you expect to encounter upon release?

170. What does an individual speaker’s enunciation convey to his listeners?

171. In what ways do an individual’s grooming habits or manner of dress communicate his values?

172. To what extent does documenting a prison journey communicate an individual’s commitment to success upon release?

One of the exercises Michael embraced to develop his communication strategy included writing book reports.
In Earning Freedom, he wrote that books opened opportunities that contributed in meaningful, measurable ways to prepare him for triumph over the obstacles he expected to encounter. Each book had a purpose, and to stay on course, he used the following format to write his book reports:

  • How I came across the book (title
    of book):
  • Why I choose to read (title of
  • What I learned from (title of
  • Ways in which (title of book)
    will contribute to my success upon release:


173. In what ways would writing similar book reports contribute to the development of your communication skills and preparations for success upon release?

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