My Strategy for Staying Focused Through Prison

By · Friday, February 20th, 2009

Kyla commented on my entry about the value administrators could create for society by offering incentives that would encourage more prisoners to work toward earning freedom. In light of administrators’ reluctance to offer incentives for productive adjustments, Kyla asked how I stayed focused and avoided the negative influences of confinement.

As I have written elsewhere, focusing on the preparations I had to make for release has been a survival mechanism for me. It began more than 21 years ago, when I was locked inside the walls of a high-security United States Penitentiary. I was young, and the sentence I was serving mandated that I would remain in prison for 26 years. Yet because I was only 23 when I began serving the sentence, I knew that if I prepared, I could lead a meaningful life upon release. I focused on educating myself.

By setting incremental goals, I had clear objectives toward which I could work. The strategy imbued me with a sense of empowerment, giving me the confidence to believe that if I applied myself, I could achieve goals that I deemed valuable. The more goals I achieved, I believed, the more prepared I would become to meet the challenges that would await my release.

As a consequence of the adjustment strategy I chose, I had all the reasons I needed to avoid the negative influences of the penitentiary. I could not afford to engage in behavior that might bring the threat of further sanctions or restrictions, as such problems would interfere with progress I was making toward the goals I set.

The key to my adjustment was in accepting that I would serve a lengthy term inside adverse conditions. I did not expect administrators to support or encourage me. My rewards were internal, with a sense of accomplishment and a restoration of my sense of efficacy. In essence, I was giving myself a degree of freedom by reaching goals that the prison system was blocking or obstructing.

In time, those goals led to further opportunities that I perceived as enhancing my life. I found mentors to work with me. I found others who would encourage me. I derived a sense of satisfaction in making contributions to society that others valued. All of those efforts brought meaning to my life, and they diminished the feeling of oppression I felt from the prison system.

My adjustment strategy provided powerful reasons to avoid confrontation with other staff or inmates. Accordingly, I lived with the walls of boundaries of the prison, but I found niches that would enable me to use my time effectively. The goals became essential to my sense of self, and I avoided putting myself in situations that could threaten any disruption to my progress.

As the months turned into years, and the years turned into decades, my commitment, or total immersion into my adjustment strategy, gave me credibility with my fellow prisoners. Rather than complaining about the conditions in which we lived, I invited others to join me in succeeding despite the obstacles. I felt a sense of responsibility to show others that we could overcome the obstacles wrought by confinement through discipline, commitment, and clearly-defined goals.

With the use of incentives, administrators could improve the infrastructure that governed the lives of prisoners and persuade more men to pursue positive adjustments. The onus was on each prisoner, however, to prepare for success regardless of the conditions in confinement.

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2 Responses to “My Strategy for Staying Focused Through Prison”

  1. Frances Sierra says:

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I miss you and wish you well this Saturday, February 21, 2009. God bless you and yours.
    I love you,

    • Michael Santos says:

      Dearest Mother,
      I was happy to see your message included with many I received in today’s mail. I didn’t know whether you were aware of all the work Carole and I are doing to interact wtih society. This is the strategy we’re using to prepare for the career I’m trying to build upon release. I spend many hours writing each day, as I interact with many universities and students. I’m glad that you’ve been reading the entries. I continue to create new content each day and I hope you will follow my work. I love you and I miss you.