How to Avoid the Negative Drama of Prison

By · Sunday, October 12th, 2008

My focus during this lengthy prison sentence has always been on preparing for the law-abiding life I wanted to lead upon release. I understood that I would spend several decades in prison. Yet I was only 23 when I was locked inside a high-security penitentiary. If I did not focus on how I wanted to emerge from prison, I knew that I would fall susceptible to all of the negative influences of prison.

My strategy required that I understand what tax paying citizens would expect of me. I wanted to reconcile with society for the bad decisions I had made as a young man. If I could figure out what those in society expected of people in prison, then I could set plans in motion to not only meet their expectations, but to exceed them.

I came up with a three-part plan. First, I would have to educate myself. That pursuit of higher learning would prepare me to overcome the obstacles that I knew were certain to follow the 25 years I would serve in prison. A second part of the plan would require that I make contributions to communities inside and outside of prison boundaries. A third part of my plan would require that I focus on building a strong network of support. That three-part plan became a compass that has guided me through the first 21-plus years of my imprisonment, and I continue to rely upon that compass as I advance through these final years that I expect to serve.

During my first decade, I focused exclusively on educating myself. I earned an undergraduate degree from Mercer University and a graduate degree from Hofstra University. I was studying toward a Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut, yet after completing the first year of my course work, prison administrators prohibited me from continuing with the program. That limitation put an end to my formal education, yet it did not put an end to my plan of preparing for the challenges I would face upon release.

Since I knew that I wanted to emerge from prison with skills and resources that would help me overcome the stigma of my past, I was able to evaluate every step I took. I could not engage in confrontation or in any type of behavior that might interfere with the progress I expected to make. Having a clearly defined plan made it necessary for me to choose my activities and associates in prison with extreme caution; if others were not committed to preparing for release, then I avoid interactions with them. I was fully invested in my commitment to succeed, and I do not deviate from my plan.

In my Topical Report series titled Thriving Through Prison, I offer more specific steps that I took to lead me closer to my goals. Those articles may be of interest to readers who want to avoid the negative drama of prison.

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