Say No In Federal Prison!

This morning I’ll be speaking with a female defendant who will be surrendering to the Federal Prison Camp in Phoenix later this week.

She scheduled a call and sent me an email after reading a blog I wrote about understanding your tendencies in prison. She’s concerned that her tendencies will continue to cause her troubles both in prison and beyond.

What are these tendencies?

Specifically, her desire to be a people pleaser and her inability to say no.

Through my lectures on white-collar crime, I have learned a lot about people pleasers. In fact, I would argue many of the good men and women serving time in federal prison are not necessarily there because they had criminal intent, but rather because they lacked the discipline and character to say no when faced with a difficult situation.

I think most people would agree that it’s a very difficult thing in life to say “no.” Certainly, there were times in my 20s and early 30s that I did things out of obligation, in part, because I didn’t want to disappoint the person who asked me. For many years I struggled to say no and also had the tendency to be a people pleaser–sometimes it is easier to just go with the flow.

Going With the Flow

Going with the flow, or pleasing, might provide some short-term comfort, but longer-term it is not a strategy to thrive through federal prison and beyond. It sounds strange to some, but the more I began to say no and hold firm to my principles, the more successful I became. I had more time to pursue interests that really mattered to me.

If this white collar defendant who is surrendering to prison for a Medicare fraud conviction does not fully master her tendencies, she will make decisions in federal prison that won’t be in her best interest. She will feel obligated to watch TV shows with her friends, pursue useless activities, and potentially associate with the wrong people because of her inability to simply say “no, thank you.”

Occasionally, I got some pressure from some fellow prisoners to join some activities. At times I was polite, but even then they continued to push. When I said, “thank you, but I just do not have any interest,” in a firmer tone, they accepted it and moved on. It never came up again. In those instances, I realized how being direct and simply say “no” was a winning strategy. I wish I had followed that advice when I was a broker at Bear Stearns and UBS.

A Loner In Federal Prison

Recently, I filmed a video that broke down each stage of a federal prison term. In that video, I discussed being a loner and finding value in making my own decisions. I’ll admit, sometimes it can be difficult to turn down requests and not do things that everyone else is doing. It can be very difficult to form new habits, especially good habits that might have been neglected for many years.

Too many good people in federal prison only work when they feel motivated or inspired. Saying no to useless activities, enabled me to work on days when I was inspired and on days when I was not inspired. Because I focused on my own routine, and in time, felt no need to please other people, I was able to run and write and think and educate myself on days when I was motivated and on days when I was 100% exhausted. The key was giving myself the time to do it, but most important, I gave myself enough alone time to ingrain the new habit.

You must learn to say no in federal prison

If this nice woman with whom I will be speaking, feels the need to please or can’t say no to time sucking emotions that can destroy her day, progress will be hard. Some of those time sucking emotions include the inevitable distractions that come in federal prison.

Learning To Say No In Federal Prison

Learning To Say No In Federal Prison

Distractions, regret, boredom, laziness and the need to fit in can halt a prison term. Defendants must learn to say “no” to these emotions. Doing so requires introspection (after all without analyzing your actions how will you know if you are doing it?), and accountability. If you do not have people holding you accountable in prison you are off track.

So to close, I offer this advice to anyone who will serve time in federal prison. Come to value saying ‘”no!”

Come to value saying: “No, I am not interested in playing softball on Wednesday nights.”

Come to value saying: “No, I am not interested in sitting around the chow hall to discuss how the prosecutor and or judge made their name on your case.”

Come to value saying: “No, I’m not interested sitting around all day discussing how difficult life will be moving forward because we are convicted felons. I will not let such limiting beliefs get in the way of what I’m after. No, thank you.”

The more we can begin to say no to the things that are totally useless and have no bearing on our life, the more we can focus on things that are truly important. Namely, developing the skillset that will help you overcome the obstacles that follow a white-collar conviction.

Justin Paperny

P.S. Having trouble writing your sentencing letter to your judge or the probation officer who will conduct your pre sentence interview? Check out fully completed sample narratives that do most of the writing for you.

P.S.S. Below is the video I referenced in this blog: 3 Stages to A Federal Prison Term.