3 Life Lessons I Learned From Running in Federal Prison

When I was sentenced to 18 months at the Taft Federal Prison Camp, I knew that I would have plenty of free time to get back in shape. In fact, getting in shape and maybe learning Spanish were really the only two goals I had before surrendering to federal prison. At the least, I wanted to emerge from federal prison in good shape. Running in federal prison would help get me there. What I did not expect was how running would truly change my life, and I am not even referring to the health benefits.

I discovered pretty quickly that running countless circles around that dusty prison track could do more than help me lose weight, gain muscle and improve my endurance. Running every day also taught me some important life lessons.

Running in Federal Prison

Running in Federal Prison

I’m Stronger Than I Know

I wasn’t exactly thrilled about going to prison, but I was determined to use the opportunity in a positive way. When I started running in federal prison, I immediately felt more energetic. It didn’t take long before I started dropping pounds and feeling more confident.

Once I become strong enough to run about three miles, I ran five, then 10 and 15. I ran regardless of conditions. I never hit a wall and I never grew tired of running. Running daily helped me realize how much I was capable of.

Feelings Come and Go

Even on those days I did not feel like running, I did it anyway. That is a good lesson for life. Many white collar defendants do not want to prepare for federal prison or look for new work or work to rebuild their reputation, but they do it anyways. Like I wrote in Lessons From Prison, “if you say you are going to do something, you do it.” I derived self-esteem running long distances on days I did not want to. I endured the struggle and pain and felt great when it was over. Naturally, I have many days I do not feel like doing something, but I do it anyways. Running in federal prison created that habit that keeps me moving on those inevitable tough days I would rather decompress and not work or run. Feelings come and go, I know, I don’t let them rule my decisions.

Alone Time Is a Blessing

Finding a time and place to be alone isn’t easy when you live in a federal prison. Someone’s always keeping an eye on you.

Running in federal prison gave me a way to find alone time in a crowded place. Of course, I wasn’t alone physically. Mentally, though, I could do anything while running. I listened to my brain play songs, reflect on moments in my life and make plans for the future.

I still use running as a refuge from life’s pressures. Alone time is a blessing that I don’t want to waste. The photo attached to this blog was from a business trip I took to San Francisco a couple of weeks after my release from Taft Federal Prison Camp in 2009. As soon as I unpacked my items at the hotel, I went running!

I believe that long-distance running can make a lot of positive changes in a person. I’ve seen those changes in myself. Those lessons were difficult to learn, but the difficulty makes them even more precious. I hope these quick thoughts help you as you traverse your own journey through the system.

Best,
Justin Paperny

P.S. If you have yet to be sentenced or sit for your pre sentence interview, check out our course on how to write a compelling, first person narrative.

3 Life Lessons I Learned From Running in Federal Prison
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Last Day In Federal Prison Camp

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