- Who are your avatars?
- What would they expect of you?
- In what ways are the decisions you’re making today leading you closer to earning support tomorrow?
Chapter 3: Transition from Federal Prison to a Halfway House
By 3:00 am, on August 12, 2012, I was up and ready to start my exercise inside the federal prison in Atwater, California. It would be my last day locked inside of a prison. I had 9,135 days of imprisonment behind me, just over 25 years. Carole was scheduled to pick me up at 9:00 am. Together we’d drive to a halfway house in the Tenderloin District of downtown San Francisco, where I’d serve the next 365 days—completing my 9,500-day journey as a federal prisoner.
I walked through gates that separated the minimum-security camp from the penitentiary so officers could process me out. A staff member handed me a few hundred dollars in cash from my account and indicated that I’d receive a check for the remainder. That was it. I walked outside and met Carole. She wore a yellow dress with a yellow ribbon tied around her waist. With tears of joy in her eyes she hugged me and we drove off the penitentiary grounds, eager to start our journey together.
Although we were together for the first time, we weren’t really free. Within three hours I had to be in the San Francisco halfway house. Since it would take three hours to make the drive, we wouldn’t have time for diversions. We wanted to be together, of course. The time crunch, however, dictated that we needed to get on the road. I didn’t want to jeopardize possibilities for home visits or weekend passes that I knew the halfway house could issue. So we resisted the urge to stop for alone time and drove straight to the halfway house.
Once we got in the car, Carole passed me an iPhone. When I went to prison, this advanced technology didn’t exist. I’d never sent an email, never watched a YouTube video, never accessed the Internet. Everything about technology fascinated me.
While in prison, I frequently dreamed about the Internet, wondering what it was all about. I read many books and articles so that I could understand the power of this communication tool. I even took the initiative to participate indirectly.
Since the late 1990s I had a web presence. I persuaded people in my expanding support network to build websites for me. They published my articles and they’d send me screen shots. But there wasn’t any real way to experience the web without computer access. Reading about the Internet was like reading about playing tennis. Until an individual could access the Internet, he really didn’t know how to appreciate technology. When Carole gave me my iPhone, I got my first chance. As Carole drove, I played around with the phone and made some calls to family and friends.
Carole and I spoke about our plans. Goals had carried me through the 25 years inside and I pledged to continue living a values-based, goal-oriented life. During the final year in the halfway house, I pledged to sow seeds that would allow us to start my career. I intended to:
- Create products and services that would help more people who experienced the criminal justice system emerge successfully.
- Create a business model that would help more formerly incarcerated people transition into the job market.
- Create campaigns that would spread more awareness on why it made sense to reform our criminal justice system. I wanted to think innovatively, in ways that would inspire more people to pursue paths that would lead to success upon release.
But first things first. During my year in the halfway house, I needed to establish myself. Fortunately, I had begun making plans long before I left prison. I had a job waiting. I had money in the bank. I had an extensive support network. Further, with the different books that I wrote while I served my sentence, I had a product line to launch. My books included:
Inside: Life Behind Bars in America
Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Term
Prison! My 8,344th Day
Triumph! The Straight-A Guide For Conquering Imprisonment and Preparing for Reentry
Success! The Straight-A Guide for At-Risk Youth
I didn’t write books that were masterpieces of English literature. Rather, they served the purpose. They would help people understand prisons, the people they hold, and strategies for growing through prison successfully. I hoped they would build credibility for me as I ventured into the world to start my career. My intentions were to use the books as tools. I could build a business, or income streams showing all that masterminds taught me. Anyone could use those same strategies to reject negativity or overcome challenges. The message was universal, valuable to anyone and everyone. If those strategies could empower me through decades in prison, others could use them to achieve more as well.
If you’re in prison, I urge you to think about steps you can take now. Think about options that exist to influence the people you’re going to meet in the future.
The Halfway House:
The halfway house in San Francisco was easy to navigate. After decades in federal prison, everything seemed easy. I was assigned to a two-man room and I could use the iPhone to connect with the world. I arrived on a Monday and met with Charles, my case manager on a Thursday. While doing his intake paperwork, Charles commented on the length of time that I’d served. He suggested that I participate in counseling sessions to help me acclimate.
I was prepared.
I brought all of the books that I’d written in prison, showed him support letters that I’d received, a resume I wrote, and presented him with a letter showing that I had a job waiting. The letter confirmed I could start working as soon as the halfway house authorized me to begin.
“How did you get all of this done while you were in prison?”
As Charles flipped through the books, I could sense that the tangible work I presented influenced his perception. Instead of seeing me as the ex-convict who served a quarter century and needed counseling, he treated me as a man. He said that he would give me as much liberty as I needed. I was excused from having to waste time in the counseling classes. Instead, I could continue executing a plan for success that I was able to articulate to my case manager.