Following a CNN interview about Peter Navarro, I got many nasty Instagram messages and a phone call from someone claiming to be close to his family. Essentially, he called to reprimand me or give me the “411,” as he said.

To be clear, I don’t think Peter Navarro should be in prison. It’s a waste of money. Also, this post isn’t about politics; it’s about helping people on their way to prison, even those adamant about their innocence.

In the interview I posted below, I mentioned that Mr. Navarro should use his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard to teach his fellow prisoners new skills. He should recognize that four months is a blip in the totality of his life, and he should NEVER complain.

This is where things went south.

“You went to prison because you are guilty. You have no right to complain. My friend is innocent. You would also complain and cry foul if you were wrongly convicted,” he said.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that he is innocent. Would he be the first innocent person to be locked up?

I told him leaders like Viktor Frankl and Nelson Mandela endured unthinkable hardships without resorting to complaints. Regularly, we hear of individuals released after decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit who speak of gratitude rather than bitterness.

Consider those guilty but serve disproportionately long sentences, such as my partner, Michael Santos, who served 26 years for a nonviolent drug crime. You have a better chance of winning the Powerball than hearing Michael complain.

A benefit to prison, especially with a short sentence, is finding perspective. When I was sentenced to 18 months, it felt like a lifetime. Once inside, seeing others facing far harsher realities, I found myself grateful for my sentence.

I conveyed to Mr. Navarro’s friend that through this experience, Mr. Navarro might gain a new perspective, learning to value what he still has rather than what he believes he’s lost.

“They took everything from him,” he said.

I countered, “No, they haven’t. If you’re truly his friend, you wouldn’t enable this mindset. He still has his family, education, life experiences most can only dream of, and the empathy of half this country. He can choose how he responds. He can lead or play the victim.

“You’ll never understand,” he responded.

“Thank you for calling,” I said.

Learning from leaders, both alive and dead, while in prison changed my life. It’s why I speak so positively about my short time in prison.

Whenever I hear someone say, “You have no control in prison,” my mind goes back to Michael’s lessons in that prison’s quiet room: “You can control your attitude and express gratitude for opportunities that remain. When you focus on what you can and cannot control, your time in prison will serve you rather than feeling like you’re just serving time.”

I attribute my success since my release to the lessons I learned in federal prison. I hope Mr. Navarro learns similar lessons from this experience.

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Justin Paperny