“From 2010-2013 I had the opportunity to learn as much as I wanted. I had no financial obligations and could spend my time virtually how I pleased. I read all the books that I wanted to and I had many successful people from various industries that were eager to answer any questions I had. For 3 years I was in federal prison and I learned more in that time than I did in 4 years of college.”
The above paragraph was from an article I wrote for opportunityof.com about how “Learning that leads to knowledge makes you a fool… unless it leads to action”.
The advice knowledge is power is still given today. Our society is obsessed with the idea. Teachers would tell us, commercials would tell us, the president has told us, but in my opinion all of them are wrong. If knowledge is really power then prison should produce the most powerful and successful people shouldn’t it?
It’s true I learned more in prison than in 4 years of college but today, a little over 2 years out of prison, I haven’t reached my idea of success. I had a lot of motivation too but I’ve only made modest progress that has taken time to see even the slightest positive results.
Once released from prison I tried a Kickstarter campaign that did just okay. I spent the next six months working for two separate businesses for a grand total of $600. I was routinely denied consideration for employment and even contract work. One year out of prison I was the most knowledgeable I had ever been in my life and the only thing I had accumulated was $30K worth of credit card debt.
I’ve come to realize the criminal justice system is a hostile system that mainly punishes people who they are mad at, not in danger of. With that being said the system is effective! If a government wants you to stop doing something they can simply take away your resources like money, transportation, etc. If they want to make sure the chances of you doing it again are slim to none, they stall your action for a prolonged period of time.
Action predicts success, not knowledge. The longer you are in action the more powerful you become. Prosecutors and judges know this, and when it comes to sentencing, the potential the individual once had to commit a crime is considered at sentencing. The greater the power to commit a crime the greater the period of inaction, or prison, that is given. If anyone encounters a prolonged period of inaction at anything at all, his or her skill set will fade.
The system that is so effective at stopping someone from committing a crime again is also creating bad citizens, disengaged community members, and inactive family members. Someone who has been to prison doesn’t automatically turn into these things but the tendency of anyone who is inactive in any role will lead to them being much less skilled in those areas. What they will be better at is being a prisoner because that is what they will have applied action to for the previous years.
So never mind the idea of rehabilitation, I think that was thrown out the window a long time ago. Our system is currently creating life long prisoners; people who feel, act, and are good at being prisoners, except they live in society. Transforming the mind of a person, criminal or not, into the mind of a prisoner is one of the hardest processes to reverse.
This mindset is the reason returning citizens are slow to reach self-sufficiency. It’s the reason that they experience PTSD. It’s the reason they quickly resort back to crime because they have no recent experience being a law-biding citizen.
I’m not making excuses for anyone who goes back to prison. I went to prison myself and have managed to live within the law, but my sentence was only 3 years and I have an amazing support system. I know that I could have received 1 year and I would have never done what I did again. 1 year would have surely stopped my action so much so that I wouldn’t have done it again, and I also would have re-entered society needing much less help, and had a lot less issues.
I know it’s not as black and white as give people less time but considering the consequences of our current sentencing guidelines I would be willing to try it out. In the mean time, remember… knowledge DOES NOT equal power, otherwise people like me would be running the world.
Ryan Ryskamp is a Mission: Launch, Inc. Entrepreneurial Fellow. He also writes about harnessing the power of adversity at http://opportunityof.com.