Every newly released prisoner, set to begin a new life, is operating under a misconception: He believes he must relinquish all traces of prison life in order to become a productive member of society. Most people would not only agree but encourage a complete rebuilding of the ex-con. They may see it as an inevitable part of the process of refinement, a renovation of sorts, like the gentrification of a human being. I’ll admit, when I was released, I thought the same way. Today, I no longer ascribe to that idea. Over the years I’ve realized there are some habits I had as a prisoner that I still possess today. These habits served me well in both worlds. I may have picked them up in prison but they’ve yielded beneficial results on both sides of the gate. Here they are:
1. Reading. This one seems ridiculously obvious but you’d be surprised how many prisoners develop a habit of reading, a true love for books, only to forget about it once they’re released. They forget all the hours spent in the company of books, being entertained by the written word. They forget those nights when they were exhausted and tired, and they wanted to just close that book and go to bed, but couldn’t, because the story had gotten way too good and they absolutely needed to know what was going to happen in the next chapter. Books awarded me so many reprieves from prison life that forgetting them was (and still is) an impossibility. I love books. No, I love books. I think of myself as a bibliophile. And reading is one of those habits that carries over well from prison life to college life. When you think of the average person who’s about to begin his first semester in college, how many books do you think he’s read? 50? 60? You’ve read hundreds of books! My advice: If you just got out and you’re thinking of enrolling in college, do it. I did. You’re probably way more prepared for it than you think.
2. Being watchful. Yes, by saying “watchful” I mean suspicious and vigilant, two things that were second nature to you as a prisoner. You’ve probably heard stories about guys who were released from prison and almost immediately found themselves in trouble, re-arrested or victims of violence. I believe, in most of those cases, it’s a matter of letting one’s guard down too much, too quickly. Being released doesn’t mean you get to let your guard down. The evil you contend with on one side of the gate is the same evil you’ll have to contend with on the other side of the gate. Actually, the evil that lurks outside of prison walls, in the free world, is the most dangerous evil of all, because it knows how to disguise itself. I’m not saying you should cut yourself off from the world, but I am saying you should stay alert, vigilant, ready. The LORD asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” (Job 1:7) Be watchful.
3. Exercising. Again, an obvious one, but so many prisoners get out in prime physical condition and a few months or a year later they look out of shape. Exercising is something that most prisoners do everyday, religiously. It keeps you strong, agile, mobile, in a good mood, working towards a goal, etc.,. It occupies your time in a constructive way. The previous habit goes hand-in-hand with this one. If you’re not physically capable of warding off or sidestepping negativity and evil when it approaches then what’s the use of Being Watchful. And, lets face it, anything you do is impacting your life in one of two ways, either constructively or destructively. Let’s opt for the former.
4. Envisioning and Planning. You remember those days, laying back on your bunk, staring at the ceiling, imagining what you’re going to do when you get released. You’d construct a good plan, a feasible plan, with steps, first this, then that, and you’d envision yourself carrying it out. Remember you couldn’t wait to get released to see if it worked out the way you imagined? And if it didn’t work out you had a plan B and C. Remember that? If you do, if that’s what you did, odds are you saw that plan through to the end. After that initial goal, if you didn’t get any further along, it’s probably because you set a goal, reached it, and had nowhere else to go from there. At that point it may seem like you have nowhere to go, but the answer is simple, go back to the drawing board. In one of my past posts I stressed the importance of constant goals. That’s exactly what’s needed here, another goal. Go back to that guy on that bunk, staring up at that ceiling. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you were just daydreaming or wasting time because there was nothing else to do. No, you saw a goal and was doing what anyone with a goal does. First, they see it, they imagine it. Next, they figure out a step-by-step plan. Third, they execute, carry it out. Go back to that bunk. Envision a goal. Plan your steps. Make it a habit again.
Somebody once told me, “That’s your problem, you’re not patient. You have no patience!”
I said, “Patience? I waited 9 years to get out of prison. I’m patient!”
listen, when you were locked up, you waited in line for every single meal. You waited for your cell to be unlocked in the morning. You waited in your bunk until the C.O.’s got done with “count time.” You waited weeks in between visits to see your family. You waited for your turn to use the phone. You waited to get out of prison. Through all of that you built up your patience. That will serve you. No longer do you expect things to appear at the blink of an eye. Take that with you to freedom. Be patient with yourself and your goals. You’ll get there.