June 22, 2014

Prison Advice: Avoiding Self-Deception

Since my release from prison I have continued to read voraciously. Additionally, I have devoured dozens of audio books, and take great pride in listening and learning from them while running long distances. In fact, as soon as I hit enter on this blog I will run a half marathon while listening to How To Live or A Life of Montaigne, by Sarah Bakewell.

Earlier this week while flipping through Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics, written by Professor Tina Smith of the University of Texas at Austin, I re-read these simple lines, “Accordingly, self-deception often leads to anxiety. By evading threatening thoughts, the person leaves a dark cloud hovering over his days. As he goes about his activities, the fear lurks…” Re-reading those profound words inspired me to offer some helpful prison advice for my readers.

Through my prison advice services I receive scores of inquiries every month. The majority are dealing with the myriad anxieties that accompany a federal investigation. Additionally, too many are living in denial or self-deception. Rather than taking measurable steps to better prepare for the road ahead, they spend their days floundering, pretending as if somehow this nightmare will miraculously just end. They hope the prosecutor or judge will see them as a good person, and that this will simply go away. Many, see their case as atypical, meaning that their circumstances are so unusual that a different outcome is warranted. Through those delusions, they are not working properly with counsel, they are not managing their health, relationship, or career. In short, they are regressing in all areas of their live. What they need is someone like me, or akin to me with similar credentials, to throw a bucket of cold ice over their head to wake up them up. And yes that person should have experience through the criminal justice system. I am against hiring bureaucrats or former guards or prison counselors as advisors–they cannot relate to the struggles that await you. They may have sympathy for you, but in no way can they empathize with you and your family, of that I am sure.

Now I must acknowledge that some positive action is being taken simply by reaching out to me. I acknowledge that. I also acknowledge many immediately grasp the severity of their problems, retain me, and take action. Some of those people write on this website. But as we all know I was once in their shoes and like many of the people who reach out to me, I once found some peace or solace in self deception.

Sometimes the initial calls with my prospects and clients are hard. Rather than buying into the fantasy that they can escape from this escapade unscathed, I alert them to the obstacles that await them before, during and after prison. I remind them that if you respect someone you tell them the truth, always. Through that true telling I begin breaking down their decisions and explain to them how it will impact them today, tomorrow and for the rest of their life. One of my initial goals is for them to begin focusing on the end game, and to better think about how they would like to emerge from this experience.

A strength I cultivated in prison was awareness. Understanding that my life would be significantly different because of my conviction, I embraced my underdog status and began living more introspectively, always thinking (obsessing really)  about whether my decisions aligned with the goals I had set.

To that end, I came across a blog I wrote from Taft Federal Prison Camp on January 14, 2009. Up until that time I have been exercising nearly four hours a day. In evaluating my prison term, however, I knew I would not be earning a career as a professional athlete upon my release. As such, I adjusted. This adjustment was simple, but profound. Living in the moment or reality helped me shift gears. Many of the people reading this blog need to shift gears.

Many of the people reading this blog will reach out to me. Some will hire me. Others will not. Regardless of whether you choose to reach out or retain me, never forget that the initial step to thriving through the criminal justice system is embracing the reality of your situation—self-deception is a vice, it will crush you and your family and delay the healing that needs to begin.

Justin Paperny

“Blog from Taft Federal Prison Camp, January 14, 2009

I’ve had a bit of a change in my schedule at Taft Federal Prison Camp. Whereas I used to exercise for nearly four hours a day, seven days a week, I’ve realized I no longer have time for such heavy training. My prison term is coming to an end and in four short months I will walk outside these boundaries a free man. I must use every day that remains to prepare.

Exercise will always be an integral component of my life. Yet, as Aristotle suggested, there is gold in moderation. A healthy adjustment requires perspective. Since I do not intend to earn a living as a professional athlete, I must prepare myself for realistic opportunities. That requires more reading, more writing and more time for introspection. In fact, I’m going to lie down and begin reflecting right now. “

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