Exercise In Federal Prison

I’m Justin Paperny, and today we’re going to talk about exercise in federal prison.

To begin, don’t be like me. Before I surrendered to federal prison in 2008, I was bloated, fat and miserable. Have you ever heard of Tito’s Tacos in Los Angeles? A landmark? Believe be, I’ve heard of it. Because I would make the 40 minute drive to Tito’s Tacos off Sepulveda and Washington, then devour the tacos.

My friend Brad Fullmer would often join me. I also liked a lot of In And Out Burger, as I wrote about in Lessons From Prison. My point is, I didn’t exercise before I went to federal prison. I ate poorly, I thought life was over because I was going to federal prison, and I made a lot of bad decisions. It’s part of the reason I felt like I was already in prison before I actually got there.

Before you go to federal prison, begin to exercise.

Walking, stretching, running, do something, okay? Begin to exercise before you go to prison. What happens is you surrender and it’s like, “Oh my god,” you see this track 50 yards in front of you. 100 yards in front of you. You have all of this time on your hands. It’s very easy to want to become an Olympic athlete. To jump right in, and pursue what I bet is one of your highest values in prison: Fitness, health, getting stronger.

Exercise In Federal Prison

Exercise In Federal Prison

Of course you’re going to want to exercise a lot inside of a federal prison. The problem is, you can get hurt very easily if your body has atrophied over a period of years, as was the case with me. Maybe I’ll put up a photo of my love handles before I went in. It was no joke, okay? Imagine 10 years ago, chubby and fat. I got some chubby cheeks to begin with, imagine nine pounds and 40 … Nine years and 40 pounds ago, okay?

Start before you go in so you don’t get hurt immediately after you get there. I got hurt, I powered through it. My runs were miserable, in part because the shoes I was wearing had tons of holes in them before I could buy new shoes. Exercise before you get into federal prison, the transition will be easier.

Exercise in federal prison tip # 2: Create a routine that you can actually take home.

For example, are you going to be able to exercise for four to eight hours a day when you’re released from federal prison? Probably not. In Lessons From Prison, which is a book you should read. It’s free. I wrote about a conversation I had with my colleague and mentor Michael Santos. In the book I was lamenting because I was still a little arrogant, spoiled, and I was still doing some stupid things.

In the book I wrote how I was kind of complaining to Michael over how some men seem to watch TV all day, complain or play spades all day. The irony was, I was simply exercising all day. Michael really called me out on it. He’s like, “Bud, you may not be watching TV all day, but all you’ve done to adjust in prison is exercise. Are people going to pay you to do pull ups when you go home? Are people going to pay you to run miles? That’s all you do all day. You’re making fun of these other guys, you’ve adjusted differently with exercise.”

It was sort of an aha moment for me. He was absolutely right, and I should have been embarrassed that I even said it.

I’m still a little embarrassed that I thought it ’cause I was already in prison and beginning to reform myself. But I was clearly not as far along as I should have been.

I can tell you, I’ve run into at least 20 people since my release from prison in the San Fernando Valley. Calabasas, and Chino. Some I talk to, some I don’t. In 19 of those cases, every one of the people with whom I ran into had put all of the weight back on, and then some. It’s demoralizing for them, let me be really clear. One thing that is measurable and specific is getting fit in prison. Then to come home and put it all back on, like I said, is demoralizing. The problem is two fold. One, they didn’t cultivate new habits, they didn’t really develop the discipline of exercise. They did it to help pass the time.

I’m at the point now with exercise where I don’t need discipline to run, just like I don’t need discipline to brush my teeth.

I don’t want run like I did in federal prison, I ran 10 miles everyday. Now maybe I run five, and my values have changed as I’ve gotten older with a business, and family, and other interests that I like to pursue. It’s still ingrained in me. You have to develop the habit of exercise, but you also have to exercise in doses you can maintain when you come home. It does no good to exercise for six hours a day, walking that track, losing the weight. And then you come home and you’re going to put it back on if you can’t do six hours a day, okay? It happens all the time.

I’m going to talk about joining classes, exercise classes in federal prison.

Now, admittedly I preferred to run an exercise alone. In fact, I had been told by a number of people that I’m not the best small talker. In fact, Kathy Kaplan who’s an essential member of my team. I love her, couldn’t do any of this without her. Many of my clients, they love her. She’s great and also very honest. She’s a very good golfer by the way.

Anyway, Kathy said to me in December, “You know, you’re not really into small talk are you?” I said, “have you been speaking to my wife? Yeah, I’m not the best small talker.” I’ve tried, I’ve been to some dinner parties where I’ll try to engage in some small talk. “Have you seen the new Star Wars film? Do you know anyone that’s been to prison?” It just sort of comes out of me I suppose, the prison type stuff. I’m not even saying it to joke, I’m not the best small talker. For that reason, I didn’t want to do exercise classes. I didn’t want to do the ab class, or the Tae Bo class, or the burpees class. You can do it. For me, I wanted to go at a pace that I can control, that I knew I wasn’t going to get hurt. I ran a lot of miles, but it was at a slow deliberate pace.

I also didn’t want to do exercise classes, in part, because I didn’t want to be beholden to anybody else’s schedule.

For example, you don’t want to be beholden to three softball practices a week. Think about that for a second. There’s actually softball practices three or four days a week in federal prison as you prepare for the weekend game. There’s soccer, softball, volleyball, bocci ball and tennis. All of those things are fine and they do qualify as exercise, but I’m not sure it’s in your interest to have to go to classes, or practices during the week because upon your release, you’re not going to be a professional softball, or tennis player. It’s moderation, exercising in dosages that you can maintain when you come home. If not, you’re going to put a lot of the weight back on.

Another tip if you are planning to exercise in federal prison

Take your time and adjust to the culture of confinement before you start paying people to train you. I’ve gotten some calls over the years where family members have signed up. A prisoner has signed up for a class, they’re so happy with how the class is going, and then the prisoner leading the class says, “Mikey, it was $10 a week, and now it’s 20.” Then it goes to 40. This new prison who is adjusting to life on the inside is like, “Do I continue to pay? What I if I don’t pay? What are the repercussions?” I’m a loner, I’m not the best small talker. There are benefits to that. Not necessarily when you’re at a dinner party with your wife, but there are benefits when you’re on the inside, and you walk around with your earbuds in all day exercising by yourself, at a pace you can control.

Exercise in federal prison, last tip: Be careful of injury.

I have had clients say to me, “Justin, I have followed all of your advice. And probably the only thing I didn’t follow was playing in a softball game, or a soccer game, and getting hurt.” The unfortunate reality is healthcare in prison is, it’s just not great. Despite what the Bureau of Prison’s will tell you, or what they tell … These private prison companies tell their shareholders in these perspectives. The truth is, medical care in prison is terrible.

You have to be very careful about getting hurt, because if you get hurt at home, you call 911, people can drive you to the hospital. If you get hurt in prison, you tear your ACL, or break your ankle, they’re not allowed to pick you up. The prisoners can’t pick you up and carry you to medical. You have to wait. They’re not allowed to touch you or help you, you’re all inmates. You have to wait.

You’ll never be the same because despite what they tell you, they’re not going to treat you to the degree that they should. Some injuries are inevitable.

I developed a hernia in prison, I slipped in the kitchen, I asked them if they would tend to me. They basically laughed me out of the office and said, “You’re going to be home in six months.” I came home and paid a lot of money to a doctor at UCLA. Part of the journey, that’s the way it goes.

As we wrap up talking about exercise in prison, let me close with how I started: begin to exercise before you surrender.

If you do, you won’t get hurt because your body will be used to the exercise. Create a routine that you can take home with you. If it’s an hour a day, if it’s two hours a day. Admittedly my first few months in federal prison, it was like five to six hours a day, and I began to transition to two hours a day, which is about what I maintain now. Probably a little bit less. I’ve been home nine years. My life is much busier than it was when I came home. But I’m still exercising in dosages that I was able to maintain in federal prison. Be careful if you’re going to join exercise classes. Be very careful about getting hurt. And, make the most of the experience.

It is demoralizing every time I run into some of the fine men with whom I served time. They say to me, “Dude, I put all of the weight back on. The food, the drinking, the travel. It sucks, and I’ll never be able to lose it again. It’s just too hard. It’s too hard to get back into the gym. I kind of miss the six hours a day I had walking the track at Taft, or Lompoc, or Sheridan Federal Prison Camp.”

Take that into your calculus. Fitness is a specific goal you will be able to take with you upon your release from prison.

Work hard, cultivate the habit of discipline, ingrain the habit, and get to the point where you no longer need discipline to exercise, just like you don’t need the discipline to tell your wife, “I love you,” or your children, “I’m proud of you.” Or the discipline that you don’t need to brush your teeth everyday.

Hope you found this blog helpful.

Justin Paperny

P.S. You can get my book for free here.