Monday, April 6, 2009
Forty-Three Days Until My Release From Taft Federal Prison Camp
With nearly a year of imprisonment behind me, I’ve learned some strengths that can help a prisoner adjust. Over the next five days, I will write about what I’ve learned. These lessons don’t only come from my own experience. They also come from what I’ve learned by talking with prisoners who have thrived through decades of imprisonment.
The first, and perhaps most essential strategy, is to lead a proactive prison adjustment. What does that mean? I’ll explain.
A proactive prison adjustment means the prisoner is not waiting around for time to pass. Those prisoners who serve time by the hour suffer needlessly. Without a plan, serving prison time can become like watching paint dry. The prisoner sits around. He waits for meal times. He waits for mail distribution. He hates the weekends because time seems to slow with the less structured routine. With a proactive prison adjustment, on the other hand, the prisoner creates his own opportunities. Part of a successful prison adjustment begins with acceptance.
The prisoner must accept that aspects of his day will lie beyond his ability to control. He will not have much control over the other prisoners with whom he must share bathroom, eating and other small living spaces. He may not control his job assignment or the overall structure of the day. By finding areas he can control, on the other hand, the prisoner can empower his own adjustment. That finding of an area that he can control represents the first and essential step of a proactive prison adjustment.
It makes no difference what a prisoner chooses. What matters is that the prisoner chooses for himself. His choice must have a relationship to an overall purpose. I know a prisoner who chose to devote his every minute of free time to drawing. He wanted to become a great sketch artist, and every day he spent hours with his pencil in hand drawing. The prison routine did not matter to the artist. He set his own schedule, and the effort that he invested became tangible as his skills improved.
Other prisoners who pursued proactive adjustments became writers. Some devoted their energy to fitness. I knew one prisoner who studied hard and earned degrees in divinity that would further a career he intended to lead as a preacher. The adjustment pattern did not matter so much as the strategy. Serving a successful prison adjustment began with a choice; that choice meant the individual would not wait for the prison system to define his structure. He would lead a proactive adjustment.