Article – Surviving Prison


An interesting article on the Marshall Project in NY State. The program is designed to help individuals survive in prison. This one is more about physical survival than our focus, which is more about using the time to improve one’s self. But it does offer some relevant advice as it is difficult to work on improving yourself if you are fearful for your safety. The article works to connect the program’s premise to business. It isn’t a tough stretch. I always thought it might be interesting to write a book like – “Everything I Needed to Know about Business I learned in Prison”


Journal Entry – May 18, 2011 – Lockdown

633643_lockdownThis is an excerpt from my prison journal. It should give you a taste of my experience while serving my six-year sentence. This post is about a lockdown caused by an inmate food strike while I was at FCI Elkton in Lisbon, Ohio.


2:00 pm – The inmates decided to begin a food strike, starting with a boycott of today’s lunch. It is mostly about some of the lights being kept on at night. I was one of about 20 people (out of 2000) who actually ate lunch. I was nervous, but it just seems so silly. I could get behind it if it were over some kind of abuse or something. It just seems like these guys are whining. It looks like we’re going to be locked down for now.

9:15 pm – Yep, we’ve been locked down for 7 hours or so and will likely stay that way for days. I just don’t get it. But if anything good (from the BOP) comes from it I will be surprised. I am spending time with the Bible, though. Praise God! I’m not about to call Lisa because of the lock down. (End of journal entry)

PS – The lockdown lasted about 4 days. We weren’t allowed to leave our unit for any reason. They turned off ice machines, limited showers, no TV, etc. I’ll post more from this episode in the future.

Great Prison Reads About Prison

hiding placeAs I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the blessings and curses in prison is the time you have to do. I chose to use much of my time working to improve in body, mind and spirit. One way I sought to grown in mind and spirit was by reading uplifting, encouraging and enlightening books. Many of these books were about men and women who used their own prison experience to also grow in body, mind and spirit. I highly recommend reading these books either in preparation for prison, or while in prison. You certainly can’t use the excuse that you don’t have time. Click on the the book title to read more and purchase it

  1. Born Again – Chuck Colson
  2. Gulag Archipelgo – Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn
  3. Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  4. The Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom
  5. Letters and Papers from Prison – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  6. Heavenly Man – Paul Hattaway/Brother Yun

From Inmate to Personal Trainer

Coss Marte training in the studio. He now has about 400 clients, holds 14 classes a week and has two trainers working under him. Coss Athletics

Coss Marte training in the studio. He now has about 400 clients, holds 14 classes a week and has two trainers working under him.
Coss Athletics

Another great story, this one from NPR, of a former inmate, Cross Marte, who used his time in prison to not only improve his health, but also his professional opportunities (click here for full article). I know many guys in prison who used their time to earn a personal trainer certification and learn about how to start a training business. It is probably one of the more accessible programs and relatively inexpensive. I think you only pay for the test, which amounts to about $25. FCI Elkton also offered a certification in entrepreneurship from Kent State University. I participated in that program and learned a great deal about starting and managing businesses. I also taugh public speaking and small-business marketing to the inmates through the Adult Continuing Education program. It was great to see these men work toward a goal and to play a small role in helping them improve their chances for success on the outside. I strongly recommend participating in these programs during your prison time.

For Sale (Legally) in Federal Prison

I ran across this quirky tidbit in the Houston Chronicle on what various Federal prison commissaries offer for sale to their inmates. From my experience, the commissary was a welcome source of comfort and at times a taste of the outside. I was able to get everything from thermal underwear (much needed for the freezing winters in Elkton, Ohio) to a fan (much needed in Petersburg, Va. where there was no air conditioning). The downside is that it can get expensive and the pay in prison amounts to about 15 cents per hour.

Click here to view Houston Chronicle piece on prison commissary items

Below is a sample commissary list from FCC Petersburg Low where I spent 2 years.

petersburg commissary 2014 page1

petersburg commissary 2014 page2













Journal Entry – 3/29/12 – FCI Elkton – Feeling sad today…

From my prison journal (18 months in):

Feeling sad today about not getting letters and visits from many of he folks who stayed in touch the first year or so. It’s not that I feel neglected or rejected. It’s more that I miss the connections and relationship that come with communicating with them. I am grateful that they still care and pray for me. I am confident most of the still do. Maybe when I get down to Petersburg, VA it will pick up. Or, maybe God has another plan. 

Prison, like life, is a series of ups and downs. A real roller coaster ride. There are periods of peace and periods of stress, loneliness and sadness. This day I was probably feeling a little sorry for myself. Writing it down helped me put it in perspective and realize that even if no one writes me, I still have God. We all desire relationships, that is how God made us. There are times where I felt alone. When I did I would try to pick up my Bible or some other faith-centered book and try to focus on my relationship with God. I also prayed a lot and would pick up the phone and call Lisa as well. I am so grateful for Lisa and her support of me during the 5 years I spent in prison. She did her own time in her own prison of separation. I’m so grateful we prepared for prison with counseling and continued to practice being open and honest in our communications. It sure made the time more bearable and was a huge factor in keeping our marriage together. I strongly recommend using whatever time you have prior to prison to strengthen your relationships.

Prison Journal

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were many experiences and events that took place during my five years in prison that impacted my life. In an effort to remember these I started to journal. At first it was just about recording my walking and exercise, but quickly became an outlet for recording my joys, fears, hopes and frustrations. I strongly recommend keeping a journal of your experiences in prison. It helped me keep things in perspective and to put into words some things that I couldn’t seem to explain to my wife and others, at least in a way they could understand. I’ll be sharing some of my journal entries through this blog. I hope you will find them helpful, insightful and encouraging.

Waiting is the Hardest Part

prison-cell_1552105cThinking back on those 9 months we had between when I was first investigated and my sentencing words like awful, horrible, painful, fearful and agonizing come to mind. We had no idea what to expect and no one to tell us what we could do to prepare for what was likely going to be a fairly lengthy prison sentence. So how did we handle it? Not very well, to be honest. We did the best we could with what we had, but looking back and knowing what we know now, we could have been so much more productive. The worst part was the waiting for the inevitable. So what can you do to make the most of the time prior to incarceration? Here are a few tips. There are many more to follow in future posts.

1. Don’t lash out at those you love. There are going to be times when the stress is almost unbearable. You’re going to feel like you’re ready to explode with fear, anger and anxiety. Don’t. Instead, find ways to reduce your stress. Work out, run, pray, attend church, seek counseling, read, etc. Do all you can to focus on building up you and your loved ones. This may seem like the darkest time, and it may well be, but it is not the end. We got through it and so can you.

2. Congregate, don’t isolate. The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself away from the world. You may want to just shut off the lights, crawl into bed and sleep away the wait. Fight that urge. Get out and do something, anything. Go to the mall, church, a movie, the library, anywhere with people. Isolation breeds fear, congregating breeds hope.

3. Plan ahead. Once you’re in prison you won’t be able to easily manage your finances and other affairs. Take this time to get them in order for you and your family. In prison the most you will likely make is less than $100 per month (a few make more, but it is the exception) so you won’t likely be able to send money home. Do you need to sell your home? (We did). Do you need to down-size? Do you need to sell a car? It will provide much comfort and peace to make these decisions now rather than to wait until you are in prison and your family is left holding the proverbial bag.

4. Get healthy. Prison life is taxing. The food leaves much to be desired, the beds are steel, the facilities are usually spartan and health care makes medicare look like a platinum Obamacare plan. Use whatever time you have prior to prison to get into shape. Lose weight. Tone up. It will not only make your time more productive and help you stay out of medical, it will also help you walk a little taller and feel more confident if/when you are confronted physically.

5. Strengthen your faith. There are many temptations in prison. Preparing spiritually will help you overcome those challenges and avoid the troubles that go along with succumbing to temptation. Connecting with a church, a pastor and others who have a strong faith with also provide you with a support group with whom to communicate during your sentence. Phone calls, letters and email are a huge lifeline for those in prison. Mail call is the most popular time of day. Just one letter can sustain you for days if not weeks. Building relationships before prison can help you feel connected even as you do your time apart from your loved ones.

I read a great quote recently by Rev. Frederick Langbridge –  “Two men look out the same prison bars. One sees mud, the other sees stars.” The better you prepare for the prison experience the more likely you are to see stars instead of mud.

Getting Prepared for Prison – Relationships

doing-time-together-tee_designThe mission of the Paul Project prison preparation ministry is to help individuals and their loved ones prepare for the prison experience. As we go along I will post tips and suggestions around various subjects related to preparing for prison. In this installment I want to cover relationships. I saw many marriages and families collapse in the 5 years I spent in prison. I can’t count how many guys I saw receive divorce papers, get the Dear John letter or have family or friends just stop taking their calls. So what can you do before you go to prison to help ensure your relationships survive?

1. Come clean – The biggest relationship killer is dishonesty and deception. It is amazing how many inmates continue to lie to their families, and even themselves, about their crime and the pain they’ve caused so many people. Telling the whole truth and repenting of it is a critical step in healing a relationship. It may cause some initial pain, but that is far outweighed by the joy of building a solid relationship built on trust and integrity.

2. Listen – One of the areas in which I continue to struggle (and improve) is in listening to my wife and others. But this is another crucial aspect of rebuilding a relationship. While in prison, Lisa and I only had one ten-minute phone call per day to communicate. I worked to listen to her more than I spoke. It is tough, but it demonstrated that I cared about what she was going through. Not to generalize, but most women just want to know that they have been heard. They don’t want us to try to fix the problem, just acknowledge it. Learning to actively listen is a great use of your time in prison.

3.Sacrifice – In prison it is easy to get caught up in a self-centered lifestyle. So many of us focus on our own needs and wants that we forget about what our loved ones are experiencing on the outside. While we do have our own concerns about issues like safety and filling time, we don’t have the pressures of paying bills, keeping food on the table, taking care of the kids, helping our sick relatives, etc. Choosing to sacrifice some of our time and comforts can go a long way in proving our contrite heart and helping our loved ones see that it isn’t all about us anymore. This can be as simple as cutting down our requests for books, food and money to understanding the challenges involved in visitation and not pressuring them to visit. The key is to demonstrate our willingness to sacrifice for their good.

Prison doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship. It can be the beginning of a deeper, more intimate relationship if you are willing to be honest, listen and sacrifice.

Why Prepare for Prison?

prison-cell_1552105cThis is a question I’ve heard as we’ve undertaken starting the Paul Project. And the answer is simple. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And there are many opportunities in prison to fail. The temptations are there to get involved in drugs, sexual activity, gambling, violence, and other illicit behavior. In fact, engaging in some of these activities may help provide financial support to you and your family. So there is an even greater temptation to follow this path.

When I entered prison I made an intentional decision that I would use the time to prosper in body, mind and spirit. For me, at the center of this decision was my faith. As a Christian I live for a higher purpose. All that I do I try to do in a way that glorifies God. So as I entered prison I sought out opportunities to learn, teach, lose weight, build strength and deepen my relationship with Christ. As I write additional posts I will go into detail on how I lived out this lifestyle, avoided the temptations and started on the path to becoming a man of integrity.

If you or a family member are facing prison, don’t enter the experience without a plan. If so, you are just planning to fail.