Seven Habits of Highly Successful Prisoners–Article Two

By · Monday, February 9th, 2009

Prisoners Should Adjust with the End in Mind

Prisoners sentenced to serve one year or 25 years share at least one eventuality in common. Both have scheduled release dates. As such, they can both begin serving their sentences with the end in mind.

Those prisoners who envision how they want to emerge can chart a course that will ensure that they reach their destination. They might think of themselves as captains of a ship on course that they must navigate. Those with short sentences might only cross from one island to another, while those with long sentences would have to cross entire oceans. Once at sea, however, anything could happen. Storms and rough seas could erupt without warning. Those who tried to navigate their way through storms without a compass could easily drift off course. The man who knew where he was going, on the other hand, could advance with confidence, measuring his progress daily.

In prison, it is easy for a prisoner to lose his way. He must live amidst hundreds of different personalities–each of whom feels the frustration of confinement–forced to live locked inside societies of deprivation. Whether the prisoner is confined inside a minimum-security prison camp or a high-security penitentiary, volatile situations can erupt. The prisoner who has a plan, who knows where he is going, can figure out how to succeed in spite of the turmoil around him. The prisoner who truly applies himself toward thriving through turmoil can emerge stronger than he was upon his arrival into confinement.

Prisoners who live with clear visions of how they want to emerge will never suffer from boredom or lack of direction. They have both short- and long-term goals to guide them. Every quarter they review what they accomplished over the past 3 months, and schedule themselves to meet new goals for the ensuing quarter. With specific goals to achieve, they always have tasks to complete. Prisoners who set tiny goals can make incremental progress while those who strive for more significant achievements can change their lives.

Common goals that I’ve heard prisoners express include losing weight and strengthening relationships with their wives. Other prisoners said they wanted to educate themselves or become closer to God. In my experience, the prisoners who set more clearly defined goals enjoyed more successful adjustment during their terms of confinement. In other words, there is a tremendous difference between making a vague promise to lose weight and stating a commitment to reaching a target weight of 170 pounds by March 1st, and remaining within a five pound range thereafter. Rather than a simple promise toward strengthening a relationship with his wife, he could outline specific steps he would take to enhance his marriage. A prisoner who says he wants to educate himself could identify the courses he will complete, the credentials he will earn, or the books he will read.

Clearly defined goals have helped me thrive through more than 21 years in prisons of every security level. I know that beginning with the end in mind can help other prisoners as well. We need prison reforms that will encourage more prisoners to adjust with the end in mind.

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