Seven Habits of Highly Successful Prisoners–Article Four

By · Monday, February 9th, 2009

Prisoners Should Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Prisons differ from other communities in America. Those of us who live inside the boundaries must contend with administrative rules and policies that frequently seem ridiculous. We, as prisoners, do not see the logic in restrictions that preclude us from nurturing family and community ties while we serve our sentences. Similarly, we experience frustrations as a consequence of sharing crowded, intimate spaces with so many others.

Thriving through prison environments requires prisoners to understand as much as possible about both the infrastructure of confinement and the mindset of other prisoners. Those who walk into prison with expectations of living as they did in society will meet resistance from both administrators and other prisoners. The better strategy, my experience convinces me, is to begin a prison term like a submarine. The prisoner should pass his first months in any prison environment maneuvering his way amidst the currents, undetected, keeping his periscope up in order to learn as much as possible about the perils in which he is immersed. Once he has mastered his environment, he can begin to reveal more of himself.

Some prisoners coming into the prison environment for the first time do not grasp the wisdom of this strategy. They arrive with expectations that the values of the free world are consistent with the values that dominate the prison culture. Such misconceptions frequently lead to altercations with prison staff and conflicts with other prisoners. A successful prison adjustment, in my estimation, prepares an individual to emerge from confinement stronger than when he began serving his term. Making conscious efforts to understand the prison environment goes a long way toward preparing offenders to achieve such a goal.

Prisoners who choose to thrive understand that administrators place only negligible value on individual efforts to prepare for success upon release. Similarly, the overall prison population concerns itself more with easing the pains and inconveniences of confinement than preparing for the obstacles that arise after release. By understanding their environment, prisoners who possess the necessary discipline and inner determination can make proactive adjustments that will enable them to achieve the goals they deem important to their lives, obstacles notwithstanding.

We need prison reforms that open opportunities for prisoners to earn freedom through merit. Succeeding through these environments requires the individual to empower himself. Successful prisoners overcome the obstacles by first understanding their environment, then making the adjustments necessary to thrive.

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