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7 Lessons I Learned Through Incarceration

So you don’t have to

When I was 17, I went from living in an affluent neighborhood with a beautiful family and supportive friends to spending the next few years incarcerated. Now at the age of 24 and having served 5.5 years of my 8.4 sentence, I’ve learned a few things about life that would have taken me much longer to grasp if it weren’t for adversity. We all have different backgrounds, but many of the lessons we’ve learned throughout our lives are applicable to the masses. Here are 7 lessons I’ve learned through my personal experiences with incarceration.

1. Many of your friends are only temporary: Despite the many people you have in your life that you consider your friends; years from now, that won’t necessarily be the case. As time progresses, so do people, causing us to outgrow one another in some aspect. You’ll experience eye-opening adventures, your interests will spring from one subject to the next, and your perspective on life will change, as will the people you consider your friends.
Case Study: Prior to my incarceration, I contacted many of my friends in an effort to establish some line of communication once I began serving my sentence. Not surprisingly, many of them gleefully handed over their contact information. Towards the beginning of my sentence, I would receive many phone calls, letters, and visits, but as time progressed, so did all of us. We grew older in terms of age, maturity and experiences, causing us to gradually drift from one another’s lives.

2. Be grateful for everything you have: Often times, we take many things in our life for granted, only to appreciate its worth once they have been taken away from us.
Case Study: I sat in a single-man cell for 23 hours each day for five days, waiting to be classified. For the hour that I was free to explore the cell block, I eagerly made attempts to call my family so that I could be comforted by their voices and reassurance. I was 17 years old and was new to the justice system. Being forced to part ways with my family made me view my life differently, allowing me to realize how much I had taken them for granted and how fortunate I am to have such a loving and supportive family, among many other things.

3. Being bored is an excuse: Life presents us with an unlimited amount of resources that help satisfy any and all of our interests. Stretch your imagination and explore the intricacies of the world. Try out a new café, meet different people, learn a new skill, and heighten your sense life.
Case Study: I vividly remember the days when I would drape the couch with my body, complaining about how bored I was and how there was nothing to do. In retrospect, I was a kid who lacked curiosity and interests, hindering me from enjoying some of the simplest pleasures, like taking a walk through the neighborhood park. Although I am still serving my sentence, boredom doesn’t make an appearance in my life.

4. Educate yourself: Education is infectious and provides us with a renewed understanding and perspective on any subject that is of interest and more. It shapes the way we perceive life, handle situations, and how we interact with one another. You don’t need to go to school to get an education; be your own teacher and educate yourself in an effort to maximize who you are as an individual.

Case Study: I’m pretty fortunate for the opportunities I’ve come across. Last June, I graduated from Eastern Oregon University with a BS in Business Administration via their online program. Through education, I’m able to expand my interests and knowledge, and challenge old beliefs, all in an attempt to grow.

5. Look for opportunities that provide growth: This world is brimming with opportunities that offer both professional and personal growth. But all too often, we frequently decide not to grasp on to those opportunities for one reason or another. There seems to be an unlimited amount of excuses that promote inaction. Take the initiative and don’t plan on stopping.

Case Study: Albeit I am not fond of some of the decisions I have made in my life, my mistakes have not gone to waste. With each day, I look for opportunities to heighten my professional aptitude and personal development. My time is precious, as is yours, and despite my circumstances, I’m able to donate my time to a non-profit child safety organization, continue taking online classes for the sole purpose of learning, and bridge gaps between communities that promote social justice.

6. Know when to let go: Whether it’s distant memories, past and present relationships, and beliefs and values, learn how to distinguish the intricacies of your life into what will help you flourish and what will cause you to flounder. Once you’ve found what occupies those two categories, liberate yourself from those toxins by releasing its grasp on your life.

Case Study: Over the years, I’ve experienced days where I would constantly exhaust myself by revisiting many of the memories I once created, followed by droves of unstable emotions. Sentenced to more than three quarters of a decade, causing emotional and financial conflict for my family, and attempting to reconcile a destructive relationship, I, myself, created instability.
Harboring such leeching vices had a dramatic effect on me as a whole, causing me to consume medication that I prayed would resolve the issues in my life that my mind and willpower could not. Once I began to realize the impediments that were slowing my growth, I slowly released its grasp on my life as I used those vices as a catalyst by accepting and acknowledging them.

7. Be sociable and network: Yes, you can achieve many great things by yourself, but you can make the process easier and more efficient by having the right people that can provide a wealth of resources. Need to be introduced to someone? Trying to lead through influence rather than power? Be more sociable and network.

Case Study: Growing up, I was an awkward kid who unquestionably lacked decent social skills. Although I was able to achieve outcomes on my own, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the advantages of having a diverse social network. Let’s face it, the odds are stacked against me. Although one moment does not define me in its entirety, people are going to put an emphasis on my past mistakes and felonies. Having a strong and supportive group of people will allow me to be introduced to others, gain meaningful employment, and reach new heights.

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