Much depends on how we view or “define” our environment. Some men define prison as a playground, and they play and act like children. As a result, they get treated like children from both the staff and mature prisoners. Others view their confinement as a cage where they are penned up, treated unfairly or abused like animals. These men eventually begin to think of themselves as animals and act accordingly. Yet there is a much healthier way to view our incarceration. We can view our prison experience as an opportunity: a sanctuary where all our needs (such as food, shelter, utilities, etc.) are met, a place where we have the benefit of time to learn and grow as men, to better ourselves for our families and communities.
It is this last definition of prison that is conducive to personal growth and success in this world. Despite the circumstances that led to our incarceration we ARE in prison now. We can choose to make the best of a bad situation and grow, or we can refuse to change and continue to get what we’ve always got: failure. The fact that we are in prison in the first place should be ample evidence that our old way of thinking DID NOT WORK FOR US.
We don’t have to remain in that destructive and immature mindset. Some of us have “life” or many years in which to work on ourselves. Prison is full of opportunities–and free ones at that! Unlike people in the free world, we are blessed with lots of time to pursue our own endeavors. We are not distracted with working all day to pay the bills–most of our needs are provided by the State. It would seem foolish therefore not to take advantage of this “opportunity” and use our time in prison to grow into mature men.
My challenge to you incarcerated men is to answer the following questions about yourself honestly:
1. Do you believe you already have all the answers–like every other teenager?
2. Do you spend all your time in the dayrooms, playing cards, gambling, telling “war stories”, or otherwise wasting your time?
3. Do you watch more than a couple of hours of TV or reading fiction each day?
4. Are you constantly angry, frustrated, and pointing out the flaws in others in order to feel better about yourself? Engaged in prison politics and drama in order to feel a sense of power in an environment where you actually have none?
5. Do you take life seriously or fool around all day?
6. Do you take responsibility for the circumstances in your life? Or do you blame others for the things that happen around you?
7. Do you justify your actions, despite the negative results?
NOW CONTRAST THESE QUESTIONS:
1. Do you divide your days up with lots of positive outlets, such as library, religious programs, education classes, N/A or A/A meetings? (If you do not think you need any of these things, refer to #1 above.)
2. Do you surround yourself with positive people who share your positive aims? “Show me the five people you hang around with and I will show you who you are”–unknown.
3. Do you spend a lot of time reading or studying literature that can help you discover more about yourself and/or equip you to generate a brighter future for yourselves?
If you answered in the affirmative to the latter set of questions, then you probably define your environment as a SANCTUARY, and you are engaged in the struggle to rise above those circumstances that break others or keep them in mental stasis. However, if you answered in the affirmative to most (or any) of the former questions, then I urge you to take an honest look at yourselves and begin the self-repair process (the second set of questions) that will enable you to view your present circumstances as an obstacle to be overcome and not an excuse to continue to fail.

by D.E. Steilman