Deliberate Adjustment Plans
The Pew Charitable Trust estimates that by 2011, American jails and prisons will be releasing 750,000 prisoners into society each year. Of all those people returning to their communities, the Pew Report tells us, two out of every three will return to prison. That high recidivism rate has been steady since the time I began serving my term. It concerns me, as it should concern everyone.
Ever since prison gates first locked behind me, I’ve thought more about what kind of life I would lead once I finished serving my sentence than I thought about advancing my release date. I hope readers will share that strategy with their loved ones in prison. My position has always been that I could not do anything to change the bad decisions I had made that brought me to prison, though I could do plenty to ensure that I would feel prepared to live a successful life upon release.
To succeed upon release, I feel strongly that prisoners must choose a deliberate adjustment plan. This means not allowing environment or circumstances to dictate how prison time is served. A deliberate adjustment plan requires a clear vision and contemplation about emerging from prison in a way that ensures every decision the individual makes is advancing him toward that goal.
The prisoner with a deliberate adjustment plan does not wait for prison administrators to offer programs that will help him develop skills. Resistance and discouragement from the prison machine are expected, and by accepting those obstacles he can condition himself to triumph over the “you’ve-got-nothin’-comin’” attitude.
Similarly, the prisoner with a deliberate adjustment plan avoids the wicked influences of the prison. He creates opportunities to avoid interactions that can interfere with his progress rather than succumbing to those negative influences. He understands that decisions he makes today will influence the man he becomes tomorrow.
If two out of every three prisoners fail upon release, then I think the one prisoner out of three who succeeds must make different decisions. Instead of allowing his environment to dictate his future, the prisoner who succeeds upon release is always thinking about what steps he can take to create more positive opportunities for growth.
I have relied on this strategy for the entire 22 years of my imprisonment. It has made a huge difference in my life, and I really urge those in a prisoner’s family to encourage their incarcerated loved ones to think about steps they can take to empower themselves. If prisoners think about the challenges that await them upon release, finding the strength to discipline themselves in ways that will allow them to overcome those struggles comes easier.
In my own adjustment, I came up with a three-part plan. The first component required that I educate myself from prison. The second component required that I create opportunities to contribute to the lives of others, both inside and beyond prison boundaries. The third component required that I build a strong network of support that would have a vested interest in helping me succeed upon my release.
Every decision I have made throughout the decades I have served in prison has been in harmony with this three-part plan. I do not concern myself with prison certificates or acceptance from the prison machine. My duty and responsibility is to my family and to ensure that I have a fulfilling life when these gates open.
I know that serving time can extinguish hope, not only for the prisoner but for the prisoner’s family as well. It is not easy to cope with all of the challenges. Restrictions on telephone access, visiting, and the overall negative atmosphere of imprisonment frequently lead to bitterness and anger. It is our responsibility, however, to transcend the prison experience. We must empower ourselves in order to ensure that when prison gates open, we stand ready to make up for the time we lost.
I feel a responsibility to share what I have learned.