How Seven Habits Change Lives
Today I enjoyed a magnificent visit with my wife, Carole. She came with a message that Dean, a representative of the group who promotes Stephen Covey’s work, contacted us through PrisonNewsBlog. Dean asked some questions about how the magnificent book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People influenced my adjustment through 22 years of imprisonment. Since I thought readers would have an interest as well, I make my response to Dean’s questions public.
For readers who don’t know Stephen Covey’s work, let me begin by endorsing it wholeheartedly. Dr. Covey studied leadership as a university educator. Through his work, he discovered that successful people from all walks of life, and from all eras, held seven habits in common:
- 1) They were proactive
- 2) They began with the end in mind
- 3) They took first steps first
- 4) They sought first to understand, then to be understood
- 5) They thought win/win
- 6) They synergized
- 7) They continuously sharpened their approach
These principles became habits for me, a “second nature” or integral part of my adjustment. Because I’ve embraced the habits, I’ve opened many opportunities that have enriched my life through this long journey of imprisonment. As my work shows, I’ve frequently relied upon what I learned from Dr. Covey to help my fellow prisoners overcome the struggle of imprisonment and prepare for law-abiding lives upon release.
Now I turn to the questions Dean asked:
When did I come in contact with the seven habits?
I found this book in the library when I was locked inside the high walls of a United States Penitentiary during the late 1980s. In my early 20s at the time, I was in my early adjustment of a sentence that would keep me confined for decades. A pursuit of education helped me avoid the negative influences, and when a friend recommended the book to me, the seven habits sounded like a concept I could embrace. I read it several times, memorized parts of it, and I began relying upon it frequently in my writings and in my efforts to teach other prisoners.
How did I begin teaching the seven habits?
In the prisons where I’ve been held, administrators have allowed prisoners to submit lesson plans for courses they wanted to teach under the Adult Continuing Education program. I have modeled several courses on the seven habits. I designed the courses in a way that would allow me to teach them in 10, two-hour segments for a total of 20 classroom hours. At the completion of the course, administrators issued certificates, though I always emphasized that the real value came by internalizing the lessons. Many people returned to pass through the course for second and third times.
How did I incorporate lessons from the seven habits into my teaching?
As long-term prisoners move through their sentences, a debilitating apathy can take root. I relied upon the seven habits as an antidote, showing how those who advanced through prison with proactive adjustments could lead richer lives. The individual had to envision how he wanted to emerge from confinement. With that end-in-mind perspective, he could take first steps first. If he could understand the complexities of confinement, I explained, he could educate himself and use that education to open new opportunities. Such a strategy would keep him out of disciplinary problems and help him build a resume of accomplishments to ease his transition into society, thus everyone won by his adjustment. Prisoners who embraced these lessons found the lessons turned into personal habits, working together in synergy to guide their every step through the journey to a better life. In time, the investment each man made in his adjustment inspired him to work harder so that he could achieve more.
How many people in prison have I taught using the seven habits?
I have been in prison for 22 years, and I’ve taught structured courses since 1995. During that period I’ve taught about 50 courses, with 20 to 30 prisoners in each course. A conservative estimate would exceed 1,000 prisoners. Motivating the prisoners to participate in the courses I taught based on the seven habits helped me as much as it helped them. I lived this program and derived a sense of fulfillment in showing others how such habits could enrich their lives, assist their prison adjustments, and prepare them to emerge successfully.
Has anyone from the classes I taught been released early because of what they’ve learned?
One of the lessons I teach is to focus on and expand our sphere of influence. That means we do not think about being released early as much as we focus on preparing ourselves to enrich our lives now, despite the limitations of confinement. In federal prison we do not have access to parole or opportunities to earn freedom. Those who participate in my leadership classes learn how to embrace the seven habits in ways that empower them to thrive through the adversity of confinement, develop skills and values that will help them triumph over the obstacles that await release, and lead fulfilling lives wherever they go.
Any other ways this book may help?
I intend to rely upon lessons from the seven habits as a resource that will help me show people how to overcome every type of adversity. Many consider imprisonment as one of life’s great stress inducers. By relying upon the seven habits, however, I have led a fulfilling, productive life through 22 continuous years of incarceration. I will share these experiences upon my release through speaking, writing, teaching, and consulting.