Does Writing Influence My Status in Prison?

By · Friday, November 21st, 2008

I’ve never fit the profile of a long-term prisoner. Rather than adjusting in ways that would bring me power through violence, I focused on educating myself. Instead of thinking about living in prison, my total commitment was in preparing for the life I wanted to lead upon release. That strategy required me to suspend my life in a way, as the term I received would require me to serve more than a quarter century inside. I felt confident that if I were to educate myself, I could create opportunities that would bring meaning to the lives of others and those efforts would empower me.

In prison, however, educational pursuits have little influence over a man’s status. The prisons where I served my first decade were violent. Earning respect required an individual to instill fear in other men. A college degree would not yield much respect, but a man who was skillful in using a knife might win the privilege of a single cell. If a person was able to control a prison gang, others might pay homage to him. Such distinctions seemed trivial to me. I knew that I would walk out of prison gates one day, and I focused exclusively on steps I could take to prepare for the challenges I expected to face.

Later, as I served more time, I found that I developed a kind of seniority. Prisoners respect those who have served lengthy periods with dignity intact. Now I have more than 21 years of prison behind me. That length of time gives me the unwelcome distinction of being the prisoner with the most time in at my prison. Wherever administrators send me, I will be in the top two percent of prisoners with continuous time inside.

The crime for which I am serving my sentence may not offer me much distinction in prison. The length of time I have served is what seems to matter. More than the time, however, would be the blessings I have found since my sentence began. Prisoners admire me because I have published several books and because I have created a life for myself while serving a lengthy sentence. Despite the limitations of confinement, I have resources in the world, employment opportunities that await me, an extensive network of support, and an extraordinary marriage with an exceptionally beautiful woman who married me in a prison visiting room.

Other prisoners would like to serve time in the way that I have, as my life surpasses that of most long-term prisoners. Anyone who makes the adjustment choices that I made can prepare for release and find meaning. I describe strategies that helped me in articles available at

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.