June 8, 2014

One Month Down in Federal Prison

As I already wrote on my blog, I’ve survived my first month here in federal prison. Yay! One down, a few more to go. However, I decided to return to the topic here on the Etika site not because I wish to belabor the subject and not because I expect congratulations or huzzahs for merely biding my time, but rather to publicly thank Justin and Walt for helping me prepare in advance to use my time wisely. Thanks to them, this first month has gone much more smoothly than it otherwise would have.

Here at camp I am surrounded by people merely doing time, that is, biding their time for however many months and years until they are freed. The typical con who’s merely biding his time spends his days watching TV, avoiding his prison-assigned job, eating, hanging out around the bunks. If he’s feeling adventurous, maybe he’ll play a game of horseshoes or wander out to the weight pile.

My intent is not to denigrate anyone’s approach to doing time. Prison is a difficult environment and we each react to it differently. There are those who withdraw into their shells or act like Rip Van Winkle until their time is up. There are those who “hang out” from dawn to dusk. And there are those who spend their days complaining about how the system shafted them. But there are also those who manage to do more than just do time, who use their time to their advantage to improve and enrich both themselves and others. They do this, each in his own way, by participating in classes, AA, Toastmasters, religious services, tutoring, learning a language, reading, writing, yoga. While prison is not as enriching an environment as college, or travel, there are opportunities out there, opportunities that can be fairly easily accessed.

With Justin’s and Walt’s help and prison advice, I came in prepared to use my time, not merely do my time. They suggested I focus on self improvement, on reading, on writing, that I plan ahead as to how I will spend my time. This approach, this planning, has really helped me get through my first month – arguably one of the most difficult times of the whole experience – with fairly little trauma. Although I’ve still had my share of bad days, I’ve managed to remain fairly focused. I set aside blocks of time each day for writing, for reading, for yoga, for exercise – all areas I had planned to focus on before turning myself in. In retrospect, I know, reading Lessons From Prison, then meeting with Justin set the tone on what has turned out to be a productive experience so far. The fact the Justin and Walt not just got through the system, but thrived through it inspired me. They have walked in my shoes.

Each person’s areas of focus will be different, but it is important that you have them as without them, time will drag and you will suffer as you spin your wheels. With Justin’s help you can prepare a successful plan to not just do your time but to use your time. If you do that, you will come out of prison prepared to get on with the rest of your life. Take it from me: the last thing you want to do is to waste your time and come out so unprepared that you end up back here again. My prison advice: prepare well, do your time wisely and get on with your life. Prison can be destructive but, done right, it can potentially be transformative. Although I often hate the fact that I am here, I resist the temptation to look at this time as a waste, a meaningless hiatus from life. Through planning and setting goals, I’m determined to make it more than that. At the very least, it made the first month pass faster which, in prison, where time often seems to drag, is no small accomplishment.

Leigh Sprague


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