Why I Set High Standards for Myself in Prison

By · Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I strive to be the best in the world at what I do. That means I must measure my progress not in accordance with what others in society achieve, as they have resources that are beyond my reach. I measure my progress every day, and I compare the growth I make with others who have served long prison sentences. I feel ready for my return to society, as if I have sailed through more than 21 years of imprisonment because I set the highest standards for myself.

As a long-term prisoner, I have no doubts about the destructiveness of this system. Statistics show that seven of every ten people who serve time in prison fail upon release. They find themselves arrested again for either technical violations of the conditions of release, or they return to prison for new criminal conduct. The responsibility is mine, I have always known, to prepare for success.

Since I could not contemplate a quarter century in prison, I thought about the first ten years. I set some clearly defined goals of what I wanted to achieve during that first decade. I wanted to educate myself. I wanted to contribute to society. I wanted to build a network of support. As I worked toward those goals, I began to grow more comfortable with the reality I had created for myself with the bad decisions of my early 20s. Yet I also understood that one day I would return to society. If I did not make serious progress, I would leave confinement into a prison of poverty and hopelessness. After 26 years of confinement, I knew that I would be nearly 50. I would not have a home. I would not have any clothes. I would not own a vehicle. Within less than two decades, I would be eligible for social security, yet I questioned whether my lack of a work history would entitle me to benefits. What would I do? I understood that starting a career at 50 would not be easy, especially since I had not lived in society since 1987.

Changes were occurring in the world. I realized that the onus was on me to prepare myself in every way for the obstacles that would be a part of my future. I had to do more than earn university degrees. I truly had to educate myself by expanding my vocabulary and building my communication skills. Writing was one way, I felt, that I could connect with society and prepare for the challenges that would await my return to society. I also had to keep in tip-top physical shape, as I could not allow my health to deteriorate. I had to reach beyond these boundaries and connect with other citizens. Those efforts, I hoped, would prepare me. That adjustment pattern has guided me through the first 21-plus years of my imprisonment. I will continue to rely upon the strategy as I move through these final years of my term. I am totally committed to the goals that I set for myself.

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