In our first class in our Federal Prison Gone Bad series, I wrote about the importance of leading a proactive prison adjustment.

To repeat, if you are to be successful in federal prison you cannot wait for the prison system to dictate your adjustment pattern. Instead, to succeed you will have to create your own prison adjustment. Doing so requires you to adhere to the second step, which means you must begin with the end in mind.

Imagine any success you have had in life. That success happened in part because you knew exactly what you were striving to achieve. Part of the problem, however, is that managing a criminal case and adjusting to life in federal prison can feel so overwhelming too many people never stop to access what success is.

“Somehow I will get through it,” is the common response I heard while serving my sentence at Taft Federal Prison Camp. And if I may offer some free prison advice, those of you who simply wish or presume you’ll somehow get through it without a plan are deluding yourself. There is no success without effort and a plan. It starts from your first day in federal prison.

I don’t do motivational training. I do, however, believe in personal responsibility training. Accepting personal responsibility means determining exactly what you are striving to achieve. For some prisoners, it doesn’t matter whether they are serving sentences of one year or 10 years. Those that succeed envision exactly how they want to emerge from this experience. With that end in mind, they then manage their day-to-day adjustment more effectively.

In prison I learned the concept of “reverse engineering.” In other words, if I understand where I want to be in three years, I can better plan what I need to do tomorrow, next week, next year and so on. Prisoners that succeed reverse engineer their way to success.

Without a clear destination in mind how will we ever know if we have gotten anywhere? 

Meandering leads to Prison Gone Bad…Way Bad…

Too many federal prisoners meander through their sentences. Instead of creating a positive daily routine in prison, contemplating how they want to release from white collar, and the manner in which they want to live the remainder of their lives, they seem to serve one day at a time, or worse yet, they serve their sentences hour by hour. That is not a strategy that leads to success for people who live beyond prison boundaries nor does it help those inside.

Let me paint the picture by contrasting two prisoners I know. In fact, one of them is a client and friend, David Applegate, who blogsthrough my sister site, Etika LLC.

David was a former senior executive for a health care company who is serving a 60-month sentence. Steve was a health care administrator who is also serving a 60-month sentence. Both men had been convicted of white-collar crimes, and both were college graduates. They serve their sentences differently, however.

Steve hates every day of his time inside. He tries to sleep as much of his sentence away as possible. He continuously harps on how unjust it is that he is in prison. Steve illegally purchases cigarettes ($10 bucks for each smoke!) on the black market, smokes several each day, he’s gained weight, and a combative attitude has led him to segregation twice. As a consequence of his disciplinary problems, Steve lost his eligibility for halfway house consideration. His family hardly visits him nor does he want them to.

David, on the other hand, thinks about the career challenges he will face upon release. His felony conviction will interfere with his ability to work as a health care executive. Instead of dwelling on what he can not do, or the freedoms that he has lost, however, David thinks about steps he can take to open new career opportunities. He blogs, he writes his network, he reads, he thinks, he educates himself, he helps new prisoners, and as important, he is always thinking about both his strengths and his weaknesses. He spends time each day accessing what he needs to do to emerge from federal prison successfully. David is a perfect case study on how to succeed through life in a federal prison camp.

David has an end in mind. He knows the career he wants to pursue, and he knows that he needs to spend every day of his sentence preparing for such a career.

To close, those who begin serving their sentences with the end in mind, like David, lead more successful adjustments. It is that simple!

P.S. Check out newest White Collar 101 vidoes!