Something Fishy – Whole Foods Gets Fish, Inmates Get Training

downloadI ran across this piece (article) about Whole Foods buying tilapia from a prison fish farm. The article slams the practice because the farm uses inmate labor who receive $1.50 and hour and have very few “rights”. First, $1.50 an hour in prison is pretty good. During my five years in Federal prison the MOST I received was around 25 cents an hour. There were guys making up to $1.50 an hour working in Unicor or the commissary, but that is the exception.

Second, I think the author of the article is being short-sighted as the inmates are receiving valuable training in a skill they may actually be able to use once they are released. I saw this every day with guys working in the print shop, landscaping and other skill jobs in prison. They may not be getting rich, but they were earning some money for the commissary or to send home and they were also learning a trade to help them succeed on the outside.

So I applaud Whole Foods for supporting the training of these inmates and I encourage the author to step back and consider the full picture before judging. Most inmates enter prison with very little education and few honest skills. Anything that helps them gain valuable training offers them a better chance and a reduced risk of recidivism.

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













Real Housewife prepares for real prison time


While I had to laugh when reading this, in a funny (and sad) way it is an example of preparing for prison. By vowing to cut back on carbs and work on her body (I’ll leave it at that), Teresa Giudice is actually following our recommendation to use the time prior to prison to make a plan to help make the most of the time behind bars. And while her plans are somewhat shallow, they are plans and, if she chooses to follow through with them, should help her be productive in prison. I don’t usually promote the reality TV genre, but in this case it was too good to pass up. You won’t see this too often, so get what you can out of it.

Video – Five years in prison

I ran across this interesting interview with a guy who spent five years in the Colorado state prison system. It sounds like he was able to use the time productively and to improve himself. It is possible to come out of prison in better shape physically, mentally and spiritually than when you entered.

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.