NFL Coach Tony Dungy Motivates Prisoners

By · Monday, May 11th, 2009

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy has been an inspiration to me and other prisoners since he coached the Colts to a Super Bowl victory. My wife knew that I admired his leadership skills and ordered copies of his books. On April 19, I read Jarrett Bell’s article in USA Today describing the efforts Coach Dungy is making to motivate prisoners.

I know that adjusting to prison requires a deliberate strategy if the prisoner wants to emerge successfully. Tony Dungy’s books can really help prisoners who aspire to such positive prison adjustments. As Coach Dungy described in his second book, Uncommon, a prisoner who wants to triumph over the adversity of confinement must master discipline and virtues that will help him cope with the constant struggle.

Long-term imprisonment can feel like a continuous assault on the mind. Prisoners who cannot withstand the hopelessness pursue prison adjustments that keep the barrage of problems coming. When I lived inside the 40-foot walls of a United States Penitentiary, staring at the reality of decades in confinement, I had to envision how I wanted to emerge from confinement in order to set the prison adjustment that would guide me. As Tony Dungy “coaches” through his ministry, prisoners must take the uncommon approach to prison adjustment.

In the story that Jarrett Bell wrote for the newspaper, I learned of a prisoner named Traveguz Butler, who served a 30-year sentence for a violent crime. Mr. Butler’s scheduled release will not come until 2028. I remember when my own release date stretched so far into the future, and I remember the hope that carried me through.

When leaders like Tony Dungy come into the prison, they sow the seeds of hope. Ultimately, however, each prisoner must nurture his own garden. When those who inspire leave, the prisoner must work to ensure the garden he tills bears fruit, good fruit that will sustain him through the many years of drought that can become the prison experience.

If I were to speak with Mr. Butler, or any other long-term prisoner, I would advise that the key to a successful prison adjustment lies within the self. The prisoner must envision how he wants to emerge. Rather than depend upon the prison system to offer programs for growth, the prisoner must create them himself.

For me, setting incremental goals has been the essential aspect of my prison adjustment. Prayer strengthened me, and through those conversations with God, I found the tiny seeds I could plant that would serve as my garden. That garden has nurtured me through 22 years of prison, and I feel the strength from within. I hope my fellow prisoners can work their way to peace by choosing similar prison adjustments.

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