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Breaking Free Of Shackles

Lessons From Prison

There is a group of people who understand the reality of being truly stuck…literally in a prison. To be confined to a small space, restricted to a regimented routine, with minimal choices…without question sucks. No one gets excited about doing time.


If you think about it though, it is arguable that the situation is all that awful. There are zero bills to pay. There are three hots and a cot meaning chow time is 3x a day and there is a dry place to sleep. And, it is possible to get a college degree for free. Yet, the threat of being locked up is such a powerful deterrent that it keeps the majority of people on the straight and narrow.


Well, most people…


A Degree From The School Of Hard Knocks


A while back, I did some time. I had a lot of time to reflect on how I got there and what my future would look like if I didn’t pull my head out of my ass. After a while, I came to some powerful realizations. Here are five that you may benefit from:



Regardless of our home address, we are all locked up in a prison…it’s called the human condition. The disconnected experience we wrestle with daily is the prison that restricts our full creative potential and expression. Better illustrated by a great movie; when Morpheus explains to Neo about the nature of The Matrix, he said, “It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth…That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.” Well, we are all born into the confines of the human condition. No matter what we say or buy or do, there we will be, so freedom within is the real goal or prize.



‘Never give up the game’ is a code that many gangsters live by. But, by never taking responsibility for their actions, inmates are doomed to repeat the patterns of thinking, feeling, and doing that landed them behind bars in the first place. If we don’t get brutally honest with ourselves and own up to the shit we think, feel, and do, then we are just robots acting out our programming within the system. Being brutally honest and accountable will keep you on the growth path within.



Your life is the result of your best thinking. What I had to face was that my best thinking landed me in the joint. So, regardless of all the bullshit I told myself about being smooth, clever and savvy about things, I was still behind bars. It’s smarter to not trust your thinking….the reactionary thoughts. Our human condition programming drives us to do things in a way that we’d probably do differently if we sat awhile with the urge to examine it. As Buddha is known for saying, “doubt everything.” I believe that applies to ourselves foremost. Questioning everything, even when things are generally good; its empowering. By not trusting your reactionary impulses and questioning everything you do, you can start to understand what makes you tick…and how to adjust and grow.



Learn to do the time and not let the time do you. My first few days in prison, I was put in the hole or solitary confinement. In there while detoxing from cocaine and alcohol, I was terrified and lost my shit. A guard pitied me. He told me to get it together and let me make a phone call for support. Later a friend explained to me that I had to learn to do the time, not let the time (un)do me. That stuck with me. So, I developed a formula for doing time that involved 2 things: 1) mapping my day out and then 2) learning to sit still within. Each morning, I outlined how to make the most of my day: how many times I’d walk the track or work my job…everything. Then, I’d do the real work. I slowly got comfortable being still within. This is no easy task since all that we avoid surfaces in the practice of stillness. As the seventeenth-century philosopher, Blaise Pascal remarked in his book, Penses,“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” This is so true! Learning to appreciate stillness is the most important skill for being successful at anything. It means being comfortable within your own skin. Doing so is owning your time, versus it owning you.



You’ve gotta live. It is easy to play it safe, and in the joint that’s important. Keeping your head down and being invisible will keep you breathing, but that’s not the same as being alive. For that, you’ve gotta burn for something. But, that’s such self-help vagueness. I found that having a primary purpose in life sets the tone for everything else to fall into place. Nietzsche put it this way, “’He who has a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW.” Mine is “to know me in the deepest possible way and live from there fully.”  There’s a catch. By putting yourself as number 1, you are actually putting God number 1…this is powerful because at the core of your being that’s who you are…we all are.




There you have it. Some of the lessons I learned while doing time. The good news is you don’t have to go to prison to grow from them.


We are all prisoners of the human condition; a gilded cage is still a cage. Choose to free yourself. Be accountable and brutally honest about your inner workings. Craft a clear picture of what you intend to do. Sit your ass down, do nothing and get cozy within your skin. And, craft your primary purpose for existing. Otherwise, someone else will dictate where and what you should do with your entire life.


Ultimately, I hope this helps you as you learn to do your time on your terms.




Oh, for those of who question if I actually did time, here’s my prison headshot!




Erica Rogers