Prison to Society

That initial meeting with my case manager, Charles, went well. Why? The roots for that successful meeting extended way back to the 1980s, when I was still locked inside of the Pierce County Jail. Recap? While in my cell I read about Socrates. From his story, I learned the importance of living for something greater than myself. Instead of dwelling on the challenges that had come from my own decisions, I could empower myself by thinking about others. Through Socratic questioning, I could learn the relationship between my decisions and the ways that others would perceive me.

With that insight, I began contemplating people like Charles—case managers and probation officers—before my judge even imposed my 45-year sentence. They were my avatars. By thinking about what they would expect, I could create plans to influence their perceptions. Then, by executing those plans every day of my sentence, I believed that I could influence a better outcome upon release.

Some readers may be familiar with the social scientist Abraham Maslow and his theory about the hierarchy of needs. Maslow wrote that in order to advance to our highest potential, we first needed to satisfy our basic needs. For example, in order to appreciate the value of education, or art, we first needed to satisfy the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. The same principle would apply to my adjustment in society. In order to make a full adjustment after a quarter century of confinement, I would need to start with identification. Charles agreed.

 

DMV

Before the meeting concluded, Charles authorized me to walk to the Department of Motor Vehicles, a few miles away. I needed to obtain a driver’s license. A driver’s license would be essential for the development of my career. Some people may think that once you know how to drive, you never forget. In my case, that wasn’t true. I didn’t know I forgot how to drive, or when I forgot. It may have happened after 10 years of imprisonment, maybe after 20. I can only say that when Carole and I went out to practice for my driving test, it became clear really quickly that I didn’t have any confidence behind the wheel. I passed the written exam first, then took some lessons with Carole before taking the driving portion of the exam.

Fortunately, I passed the exam and received my license. Once I had the license in hand, I felt as if I’d crossed off one of the first challenges of my return to society. With a driver’s license, I could advance.

 

The First Job:

Several years prior to my release from prison, I met Lee. Lee is an amazing human being and I consider him one of my closest friends and mentors. He built several remarkable businesses that employ hundreds of people and generate billions in revenue. While I was incarcerated, I explained my situation to Lee. When I returned to society, I explained, I would need to satisfy specific conditions that included employment. In other words, before I could build my own business, I would need to show that I had a steady paycheck. I asked him if there were any opportunities for me to provide value to one of his businesses so that I could earn a paycheck.

Lee was incredible. He offered me a desk and a paycheck. While I served my final year in the halfway house, one of Lee’s businesses would pay me $10 per hour to satisfy the halfway house. But instead of doing any work for him, he tasked me with the responsibility of building my own venture. “I’ll give you a year to build a business,” he said. “If after a year you can’t make something happen, then come work with me and we’ll build a business together.”

What’s the takeaway here?

Some people would say that I’m lucky to have a friend like Lee. Without a doubt, there is truth in that. As many wise men who lived before me have found, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Lee embodied all of the good characteristics and traits that I aspired to develop while I was in prison. He was incredibly smart and a gifted businessman. Further, he was a community leader, providing opportunities and resources that influenced thousands of lives. When I contemplated avatars, or thought about the types of people I wanted to surround myself with upon release, Lee was exactly the type of person I had in mind.

Because I had a vision of connecting with people like Lee, I had to figure out what Lee and leaders like him would expect of me. Obviously, he didn’t know me when I was beginning my prison term. In the 1980s, I was a reckless young man who sold cocaine. A judge sentenced me to serve decades in prison. If I didn’t do something to change perceptions, people would always see me as a criminal. Yet by focusing on avatars and contemplating what they would expect of me, I could create new pathways. Masterminds convinced me that if I worked to educate myself, contribute to society, and build a support network, I could persuade influential and successful people to believe in me.

This “mastermind” strategy characterized the life of every successful person I met. I first met Lee at the federal prison camp in Lompoc, California. He served about a year in the camp for an offense related to taxes. When I met Lee, I didn’t know the extraordinary levels of his success. We were both prisoners. Yet during the time we served together, we developed a friendship that would last a lifetime. I’ll always work hard to prove worthy of the trust that Lee placed in me.

In reality, anyone who served time in Lompoc had an opportunity to earn support from Lee. In fact, opportunities that opened for me throughout my journey were available to anyone in prison. When I started serving my sentence, I didn’t have any financial resources. Nor did I have an education. I had the advantage of hope. Hope for a better future led me to seek wisdom. I found the recipe for that wisdom from masterminds, first Socrates, then many others. They taught me the art of question-based learning. By contemplating the best possible outcome, and questioning what my avatars would expect, I crafted a strategy that would lead to success.

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