Those who claim to know such things tell us that ten thousand hours given to any one task leads to mastery of that task. So, after 205,000 hours in prison I’m going to qualify myself as a prison expert in doing time. Granted, many of those hours were spent sleeping, thumb-twiddling, and exploring the various definitions of “self-love”, but who doesn’t goof off at work sometimes?

In my newly appointed role of Time-Doing Expert (or “Prison God” — whatever you’re most comfortable with), I feel it incumbent upon me to share some readily apparent but oft-overlooked tidbits of wisdom.

Tidbit 1: Don’t be fooled by appearances.

When arrested at the age of 21, I had never seen a transvestite up close before, so this was one of the first lessons I learned (that jail was not, after all, co-ed). Years later, in 1999, the lesson was taught to me again.

My benevolent landlord at that time, CCA [largest operator of private prisons] granted a request I can’t recall making to transfer me to a prison in Tennessee. While there, on a whim, some friends and I engaged in some nonviolent (though moderately destructive) “civil disobedience.” (Though not an official tidbit, it’s also a good idea to second-guess any “whims” you may have in your 20s.)

The correctional officers we met soon thereafter appeared the epitome of professional: physically fit, clean-cut, dressed alike, and carrying every possible accouterment on their utility belt. Their response to our actions, however, was decidedly lacking in professionalism. Indeed, it felt almost personal.

After being drenched in pepper spray and spending over 20 hours in a “dry cell” wearing nothing but boxers and handcuffs, I was developing serious doubts about my previously conceived level of toughness. I did not, however, doubt the toughness of the sweet grandma-looking nurse who raised fire and brimstone upon seeing our condition, and swore Southern Justice if we were not uncuffed immediately. (We were, and I’ve included Grandma Hell Raiser in my prayers ever since.)

Tidbit 2: Appreciate everything — and everyone.

It’s easy to complain in prison; there are so many masters of the art around us that it’s hard not to absorb their skills. It is, however, a one-way trip to Grinchville.

For example, I have an above-average fondness for food (as evidenced by my above-average gut), so it’s always been easy for me to complain about the [lack of] quality and quantity of prison fare. Also, though I love my family dearly, I used to complain about their inability to perform simple tasks. (Seriously, how hard is it to send a support letter to the parole board and a picture of my nephew to me???)

Then I spent 30 days eating bologna sandwiches and being incommunicado from the outside world. The first tray after that was the best food since Mom’s lasagna, and my first phone call was 10 minutes of pure love and appreciation (followed by 10 minutes of arguing over the question in parentheses above.)

Tidbit 3: Don’t sweat the small stuff.

This final tidbit is a bit cliche, but cliches become so for a reason. As a Time-Doing Expert, I’m inclined to view all of my tidbits as pure gold, but if you retain nothing else from this monologue, dear reader, remember this: Don’t sweat the small stuff — and remember, it’s ALL small stuff.

We’ve all seen Angry Andy, Gossiping Gary, and Worrywart Willie. These guys pull hard time no matter where they’re at or what is happening around them. They send nothing but negative energy into the Universe, and (surprise, surprise) receive lots of it in return.

Take a lesson from Eckhart Tolle [author of “The Power of Now”] and remember that whatever situation you are faced with, you have 3 choices: leave it, change it, or accept it — for all else is madness.

I wish you well, whether you are doing a long haul like myself or are coming to the end. If you are the former, you already know this stuff; for the latter, I strongly suggest you make good use of the luxury of time currently at your disposal, learning what you need to learn to avoid a return trip.

Otherwise, you may find yourself locked in a cell with a fat old-timer know-it-all who gives unsolicited advice about tidbits of wisdom you’ve already heard.

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