I asked my good friend and client, Leigh Sprague to write about some of his experiences at Lompoc Federal Prison Camp, including one full day in his life. Enjoy and learn…

“When Justin asked me this morning to describe a typical federal prison day it made my day. The perfect opportunity to create, I thought. But before I set out to describe my day in federal prison, let me explain what I mean.

In the real world, time is a precious commodity: there never seems to be enough. In federal prison, it’s just the reverse: too much of a good thing in a bad place. I didn’t fully understand that before I self surrendered to Lompoc Federal Prison Camp in May 2014. But what I did know was that the months leading up to prison were, for me, more about destruction than the opposite. I watched, helpless and inert, as life as I knew it, the life I loved but had taken so much for granted, crumbled around me. So, although I didn’t know at the time how I would do it, I decided that I would focus my 50-month federal prison sentence on creation. Creating something out of nothing: my pathway, I hoped, to eventual redemption. Rebuilding my life step by little step. And that rebuilding really began a couple weeks before I surrendered, which is when I hired Justin.

I’ve always been a pretty productive person, but my indictment and sentencing really knocked me for a loop. In the months leading up to my surrender, it was all I could do to crawl out of bed each morning to face the day. Well, surprisingly enough, federal prison turned out to be the very first step in the gradual process of getting my mojo back. As I walked through the prison doors and saw zombified inmates staring at the TV, I realized that I needed to make the most of my prison time from the very first day not only to fend off boredom but to show myself I was still somebody I could respect, somebody with grit and determination, somebody who could turn lemons into lemonade, somebody down but not out. I could go on with the cliches for hours, but when I walked through those gates and saw guys weightlifting, eating and TV-watching their sentences away, I knew that, for my own self respect if nothing else, I needed to do more. I recall Justin challenging me to do more when he told me that many good guys make promises about what they will do in prison, but in time they slowly succumb to the environment.

Looking back from my present vantage, 25 months into my prison sentence, with my “three hots and a cot” shortened by one year through completion of RDAP (thanks Justin) and with the doors to freedom about to open, I have four eventually-to-be-published manuscripts under my belt, a long “ideas” list of future writing projects, and a post-release plan to guide my way. I’ve learned to play guitar, taken up singing and songwriting (youtube, here I come!), and can meditate and do yoga for hours. Not bad for a guy who came to federal prison in a bad frame of mine and unable to touch his toes. I have also completed an intensive, year-long course in cognitive thinking and sober living and done my best to remain connected with my kids. Not only that, but I taught myself how to write left-handed and make microwave fried rice with the best of them. Ok, not all my activities have been equally productive: sometimes there’s just too much time to kill. Overall, though, looking back, I can say that I used my time in this place well enough to be content. And to top it off, in many, if not most, ways, I’m a happy, healthier person than I was when I walked through those prison gates. My goal each day has been to create something new, something, however small, that did not exist before I crawled out of bed. And, by and large, I think I’ve succeeded.

So, now, my day: since no ‘perfect’ prison day came readily to mind, I decided I might as well describe the present. This morning started with my alarm beeping insistently through my earplugs at 5:30 a.m. I crawled carefully down from my second-story bunk in the still-sleeping dorm and wrote in my journal in the dark for about half an hour before heading over to the chow hall for breakfast du jour: today it was grits and a banana. After that, I meditated and contorted for 45 minutes before starting my job as an orderly, which consists of sweeping and mopping floors in the dorm. It took me about an hour to get our drab dorm sparkling, after which I took a shower to wash off the prison germs. Then I played guitar and wrote songs until lunch – my current greatest hit is called “I believe” (I believe in second chances, I believe in one more time….)

Today’s Wednesday, which per the unvarying prison menu meant soy burger for lunch (only four more to go before release!). I ate lunch with the camp van driver – a nice man from Chicago named Ron – and a new guy in shock at his newfound circumstances. Ron and I tried to cheer him up, remembering how difficult the first weeks are. With the soy hockey puck resting in my stomach like a rock, I took a little nap before heading back to my cubby cum office in the rec-room to write for the afternoon, picking up where I left off the day before. Currently, I’m working on a self-help guide to surviving prison. My prison advice – surprise!, surprise! – is to keep busy with productive activities; in the lingo: to do time, not let time do you.

After 4 p.m. count, I was the first in line at the phones when they were switched back on at 4:30 p.m. This is the highlight of my each and every day: calling home to my kids! We talked for the allotted 15 minutes about nothing and everything: their day at school (good), what they had for dinner (risotto), our plans for what we’ll do together when we finally reunite on the outside (everything, starting with a big dinner of sushi and ice cream). Then I set out as the fog rolled in from the near but unseen ocean to walk the track for an hour or two (I average 7-10 miles per day). While walking, I listened to the news on NPR, thought about my kids, about life, about anything and everything but prison. Track time is just for me, my chance to escape into my own little world away from the noise and distraction of the dorm. Sometimes I just watch the cars drive by, ordinary people returning home from work after a long day, as I dream of returning to the real world.

In the evening, I sometimes write again. We’ll see about today – at the moment I’m writing as I wait for the call for “chow”. Green slop’s on the menu today (also known by its official name, hummus). Can’t wait! Because I’m a lawyer, some evenings I spend helping inmates with appeals, motions, commutation requests and the like. Prisonhouse lawyering is likely how I’ll spend this evening. I like to think that, by helping in this way, I’m bringing a little hope into a hopeless place. In any event, you will never find me watching TV: 2 years in and I have yet to watch an entire program. Before lights out following 10 p.m. count, I’ll probably read for an hour or so; at the moment, I’m 300 pages into Anna Karenina. What a beautiful book. As I lay in my bunk in the dark before sleep, I like to thing back on my day, about whether I’ve created anything, a new line in my book, a song, a brief, a smile. Today, I know, will be a good prison day: I wrote this blog, for one. And talked with my kids for another: keeping those connections alive. Something out of nothing. Nothing but my mind.

Yes, there are days when my motivation lags, days when I procrastinate, days when I get into my feelings about this prison “life” of mine. But when I’m flagging, I think of what a college professor once told me after a bout of procrastination on a big report: “A month from now, you’ll wish you had started today.” So instead of waiting, I set about, whether or not I’m “in the mood”, to create something, however humdrum or banal. As added motivation, I think of my kids, how I want to get out and do something they will be proud of, something I will be proud of. Creating something out of nothing despite the circumstances, despite my past mistakes: my pathway to self respect and, maybe someday if I’m fortunate, redemption.

Looking back now on my time in prison I don’t wish I had started years ago, because I did start then. I didn’t wait until tomorrow to create something today. For that, despite my circumstances, I am proud. And hopeful. Federa Prison is, like life, what you make of it after all.

Leigh Sprague”