Prison altered my lifestyle in more ways than you can ever imagine. Things that were meaningless to me outside the walls became my entire world inside. Understandably, I was forced to learn a lot of lessons *fast*. But there was one lesson that stood out above all the others: How to deal with change.
Most of us have difficulty keeping up with changes in our lives. Many changes are caused by technology. Almost everything we touch is affected by some kind of automation that is not directly controlled by a human. In some ways, this has increased the quality of life. In other ways, it has made things a little scary.
Change is the most difficult thing we have to deal with in our lives. Understanding and embracing change can make all the difference between being happy or constantly in a state of fear.
Chasing Change: Adventures with the First PCs
Growing up, I loved technology. During my senior year of high school, I was beside myself. I had the opportunity to use our spanking-new PDP-11/35 computer. The school hired a special teacher and created a computer science class just for seniors.
The year was 1976. The computer had two hard drives, each with 256K (yes, “K!”) of memory, and cost only a mere $70,000. The thing stood six feet tall. It was housed in a pair of bulky cabinets that mostly supplied space for all the fans needed to keep it from overheating. But it was a state-of-the-art computer, and I had access to it!
The bulk of the faculty was terrified of the thing, which amazed me. Many of the students treated it as a curse thrust on them by the devil himself. The fear of this change made it impossible for them to adapt to what was to come in the future.
When I got older and went to college, I discovered that I was not adapting to the changes in technology. Rather, I was chasing change. Every time I learned something new, it became obsolete!
Architecture school is a five-year program with an additional year for those of us looking for a graduate degree in a specialty. I spent my six years very proud of my 4’x6’ drawing table and all the wonderful tools I had accumulated to create my drawings. Yet, by the time I graduated from school in 1984, some genius had come up with the “personal computer.” And, of course, some other wonder-kid had to immediately develop the software to allow us architects to do our drafting using a computer. I fought this change like a mother protecting her child!
Wouldn’t you believe it: I actually had my PC set on my drawing board for years. I just could not give up the centuries-old idea that drawings should be done on a drawing board, and not just “magically” printed out by a bunch of circuits. Oh well. Times changed, and I had to adapt. But I went kicking and screaming the entire way!
The Terrors of Change in My Book Retribution: Serendipity
Then came the greatest change in my entire life: prison. When I went to write my first novel, I wanted to include my prison experiences into my stories. To share how I learned to adapt, I decided to make one of my main characters a set-in-his-ways “computer architect.”
At the same time, I wanted to place a street-smart, extremely bright, but poorly educated character into my story. Her entire life was made up of the need to constantly adapt to the changes forced upon her. As a cat-burglar, she could never relax or make the mistake of sitting still.
As the novel progresses, the two characters meet in Georgia’s first co-ed prison. They find out that their talents and skills mix well to create an amazing team. This all happens in an environment that only wants to crush their hopes and desires.
So, there they are: a technology expert and a street-smart burglar. They are thrust together in a high-tech prison to deal with all the bells and whistles that are supposed to make this facility fool-proof, as well as demoralizing. Everything in their lives has changed. As extreme as this change was, though, it ended up not being all bad.
Like my real life experience, their challenge was learning to deal with the other inmates. They had to learn to get over fear and figure out how to survive. Most of all, they had to learn to adapt to the new environment. Everything they had ever experienced was nothing compared to this.
Learning to adapt was one of my greatest life lessons. Worrying about keeping up with the new things in my past became almost unimportant. All of a sudden, my life had changed in every way imaginable. Like my characters, I had to learn to adapt to a new world.
Without realizing it, we can become scared by even small changes in our lives. Big changes, like a new job, a new relationship, even simply moving to a new home, can be terrifying. So just imagine the shock to your psyche when you are thrust into a prison environment! There is no control and no safe places in prison. Adapting to this nightmarish change can crush a person’s soul.
Many inmates adapt by allying with gangs or like-minded individuals. Like my novel’s characters, I did not fit in. But isolating one’s self from other inmates can be worse. So, like my computer architect character, I chose to learn, adapt, and then teach.
How to Adapt to Change: Lessons from an Ex-Prisoner
Do you know that the fastest way to adapt to a change is to learn everything you can about your new situation? Well, the fastest way to learn is to find a good teacher, and prison was no exception. I sought out people to teach me about the culture and rules. Then, I worked hard to find ways to use my skills and talents to become a “go-to” person for others needing help.
In many ways, fear is our greatest enemy. In almost all cases, fear is caused by change. The best way to avoid being afraid of any change in our life is to conquer our fear by learning.
There was one lesson I learned in prison that stood out above all others: You can take advantage of being afraid of change. You can use it as a tool. Along with the characters in my novels, I learned to embrace change as a reason to learn. By doing this, I became a conduit to help others accept their fear of change.
Yeah, I can be set in my ways. But today, I look forward to new challenges instead of being fearful of change.
In my first novel, two very different people have to learn to adapt to what seems like an impossible change in their lives. Their meeting and learning to survive is just the beginning of their adventure.
My book just goes to show: Once we learn how to “expect” and “accept” change, the more we can enjoy life and all the adventures yet to come.