Challenges and strategies in prison

By · Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

I had never been in prison before, and the first time I had to walk through a puddle of human blood, I knew that I was amidst constant danger. I was 23 years old and locked inside the high walls of a high security penitentiary.My goal was to avoid the chaos while simultaneously preparing for the law-abiding life I wanted to lead upon release.

As a consequence of my having a very clear vision of how I wanted to emerge from prison, I avoided interactions that could lead me into trouble. I did not gamble. I did not engage in the trafficking of contraband. I was cautious in my activities and in choosing my associations.

Mostly, I focused on educating myself and in keeping physically fit. By spending a lot of time studying and working out, I became comfortable with being alone. Every day brought another opportunity to work closer to the goals I had set. And with clearly defined goals, I had a tangible reason to avoid altercations with both staff and other prisoners. I expected challenges, and when they came, I navigated my way around them.

I avoided problems by finding niches within the prison that would allow me to advance. For example, I had a clerical job in an office. Once I completed my duties, I could sit at my desk, alone, and work toward my school assignments. I exercised every day early in the morning to avoid the crowds. By keeping physically fit, I discouraged others for mistaking me as prey. In the evenings, I volunteered in the hospital as a suicide-watch companion because that job isolated me from the chaos of the penitentiary. The strategy was successful, as I served my sentence without any disciplinary problems. In time, my security level dropped and I transferred from high security prisons to medium-security, then low-security, and in 2003 I transferred to minimum-security open camps.

Those who want more detailed strategies that lead to successful prison adjustments may find value in the articles included in my topical report series Thriving Through Prison.

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