Questions from Criminal Justice Students at University of Maryland:
In the memoirs we have read, the main characters have met more experienced prisoners who have helped them learn the ropes. Did you have this experience? Or did you learn to navigate the system on your own?
My journey differed from most prisoners, I suppose. I was arrested when I was 23 and I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d never been incarcerated before. In the beginning I made a series of bad decisions. All I really wanted at that time was for my lawyer to get me out of jail. It wasn’t until a jury convicted me on every count that I realized I had to make some changes in my life. At that time, I was still locked in the county jail.
During that awkward transition between the day of my conviction and the day of my sentencing, I made a commitment to spend every day of my sentence working to reconcile with society. Specifically, I wanted to use my time inside to prepare for the challenges I expected to face upon release. That adjustment required that I project thoughts into the future rather than live in the present.
Rather than striving to live in accordance with the culture of the penitentiary, I focused on a three-pronged strategy. I wanted to work toward educating myself, toward making measurable contributions to society, and toward building a support network. Those principles guided my adjustment and my every decision, including the people with whom I associated. In summary, and in response to your questions, my commitment to preparing for success upon release necessitated that I learn to navigate the prison system on my own.