Monday, October 21, 2013

Back from an amazing day in prison.

As many of you know, I returned to EOCI (Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution) on Thursday. It went extremely well and afterwards, the Assistant Superintendent and I even talked about a return visit (maybe even annually) as well as the possibility of a book signing where my books will be made available for pre-order, sent in, (inspected for possible contraband) and then given to the inmates who attend to have their copies signed.

I am a firm believer that people inside can change. I also believe that they have to work for it. My main message was that they are going to have to earn back the trust of society; that, no matter what, some people will never accept them and that they would simply have to come to terms with that, also that hard work can pay off, but nobody will do it for them.

The reverse of the view I had for over 11 years.
There was some real anxiety for me at first. It actually started when I crested the hill and the facility came in to view. I honestly had to pull over and just take a minute. Seeing it from this vantage was new. (Seriously, the day I got out, I could not put it in my rear view mirror fast enough as Denise drove us home.)

When I arrived, I was greeted by several of the staff who had known me. There were a lot of handshakes and congrats on sticking with my program. Many of them had watched me sit in the day room and write every single day. And I am sure that more than a few did not believe that I would do or amount to anything. 

One of the messages that I received a lot of positive feedback on was about giving people a chance. Institutions are very clique-ish (think high school to the millionth power). I asked the guys if they wanted to be judged outside by the same metric that they judge inside. I told them how society as a whole will see them, and that if they want to overcome that prejudice, they will have to work harder and do things better than everybody else. No excuses. I told them to be ready for rejection...even from those they love. Basically, I went in to wipe away the illusions and myths that I know exist inside. I held up a big mirror and told them that they needed to look into it every single day...starting now. They can't wait until they hit the gate to make positive change, otherwise, they will get left behind or beaten down by a society that wants them to fail so it can point and say, "See! Told ya!"

The reality for me has been that I knew the deck was stacked against me. I knew that I would not be able to count on anybody to lend a hand. For the most part, that has been correct. A few have reached out, but they are the minority. What the public refuses to realize is that these men and women WILL be back on the street in over 92% of all cases. Just like anything else, people can choose to be the problem, or the solution.

Here is what my talking points looked like (on a piece of paper that I kept handy while speaking).

The following is an outline for the presentation: Make your time work for you.
1)      Introduction
a.       Welcome
b.      My name, time spent at EOCI (5/99-6/11)
2)      How I spent my time
a)      Programs
b)      Keeping the circle small
c)       Find the guys who are doing it right and learn
d)      Decide what you REALLY want to do once you get out
(i)     Start of list of activities you want to try
(ii)   Pick some things you always wanted to do, but never found time
e)      List your goals and don’t leave out your dreams
(i)     I needed to change me first
(ii)   Writing was my dream, why not get started
1.       The day my first book arrived at EOCI
2.       Be a beacon, not a spotlight
(iii) Make your goals part of your daily routine
f)       Don’t wait until you leave
i)        Time is your ally here
ii)      If not now…when?
iii)    Some of the most common excuses
3)      Program, program, program
a)      Believe it or not, they do work  if YOU want it
b)      Take the time to come to grips with what was not working BEFORE prison
c)       Besides the cognitive, find activities that are pro-social
4)      Those first hours after release
a)      Find someplace quiet and just catch your breath.
b)      Resist the urge to contact “all the old friends”…this is YOUR time.
c)       Report in.
5)      The first year out is crucial
a)      Get over the prison mentality
b)      Don’t try to jam it all in at once
c)       Be patient
6)      Open Q & A

And then I was done. It went better than I could have hoped. And even more gratifying was when one of the staff who was present pulled me aside and said that my words about taking the chance to follow your dream really resonated with him was just a bonus. The drive home was done with a smile on my face. It helped that I got to listen to the Seattle Seahawks demolish the Arizona Cardinals.


  1. Awesome post! Congratulations on learning from your mistakes and changing your life, and using the opportunity to help others. :)

    1. Thank you. I hope to continue this. I am exploring the possibility of going in to other facilities in the future.

  2. I think your "chat" and notes could be used by everyone on the outside! I am also very proud of you for being able to face that demon and shatter its arse! I am pretty sure you will have inspired more than one person in there, I wouldnt be surprised if you suddenly got mentoring requests!
    go you!
    now crack on with some real work, when is the next book out! wink, wink xx

    1. Thanks buddy.

      If it just rings with one person, then that is one less person to return. That is the hope.

      As for the next book...the 6th and FINAL Zomblog is due October 30th. (Still doing some clean up, but expect an email soon with your copy to add to your Beta read stack).

  3. I think it is wonderful that you take the time to give to others. My son was recently in prison for a short time. I had read you zombie series and loved it, so I sent it to my son to read while he was there. He was as impressed as I was with the books. While he was reading them I had seen where you were going to visit EOCI. His reply was, "Oh I really wish he was coming here." He is home now and doing well, but I just wanted to let you know that you are reaching more that just EOCI. I am going to share your blog here with my son also, because I think it is very insightful. It is inspiring to see someone turn things around in such a big way.

    1. Thanks Kathy. I know that I will always have to overcome certain prejudices, but I also know that there will be people who take me for this version of myself that I have worked to become. The key now is to constantly live a life that justifies that faith other are willing to put in me. Tell your son that it is hard work, but can be done.

  4. I've got a lot of respect for you, Todd. That's a brave thing you did, going back inside the prison. And what an amazing gift you gave those who heard you speak! Karma works - Seahawks smashed Cards. Didn't think of that, didja? ;) Congrats on doing the right thing.

    1. Thank you, Lori. And I hope to make this a regular part of my year. Always good to remember where you came from and where you have managed to arrive at with a bit of hard work.

  5. Well done. Your list consists of good advice to anyone who would like to get ahead, just insert "college" or "divorce" or "heart attack" where "getting out" would be. You are brave, generous and wise.
    Jamie Smith

    1. And I owe part of it to those who have stuck by and believed in me like you and Doug. (And no, I am not forgetting Denise...I tell her every day.)