7 Powerful Lessons from Prison to Help You Survive Quarantine.
You have been locked down.
You will be trapped inside four walls.
And you don’t know how long it will last.
Maybe in a few weeks, you will be able to go free. At least for a short period of time. But they might lock you back up. And then it could be for months, years, or even decades.
Wait a second.
You probably won’t be locked down because of the Coronavirus for decades or even years. But when you are locked down in the criminal justice system, it is a very real possibility.
I know because I was there. I ended up with a “light” sentence of just over 2 years. The average sentence for drug offenders in the federal court system is close to 5 years. (1)
But I survived and came out better than I went in.
Using the lessons I learned in prison, I quickly rose through the ranks at a major gym chain, opened my own business, and graduated Magna Cum Laude from college with a degree in Exercise Science, and even had the opportunity to consult for the Baltimore Police Department.
Since you won’t have enough time to learn the hard way how to survive in a box, here are some lessons that will help you get through the next 2 weeks and come out better than you went in.
And if you (or your entire country) get locked down for longer, it is just more time for you to keep growing until you can return to the real world.
Cultivate a Positive Mindset
The first obstacle that you have to overcome is yourself.
It is depressing to be a prisoner in your own home, no matter how big or nice your house is. And if you rent a small place with roommates you don’t care for it can be infuriating.
You need to remember that there is a lot that is out of your control. This current emergency has taught all of us that lesson if nothing else.
You need to remember what you do control: Your mind and your attitude.
You can choose to make this a positive experience for growth. You can choose to find moments of enjoyment. You can choose to keep a sense of humor. You can choose to learn and grow with whatever tools you happen to have available.
And if you have an internet connection you have a lot available.
But you can also choose to hate every moment. You can choose to suffer. You can choose to distract yourself with booze, drugs, and television. You can try to sleep through the entire time to get it over with as soon as possible.
Choose the positive mindset. When you can’t change the situation you must change yourself. If you don’t, nothing can help you make the most of this situation.
Cultivate A Healthy Space
The reality of lockdown is: you are stuck where you are.
And your environment influences your mood, your actions, and everything else about your life.
You can neglect your space and soon it will be a dump. A chaotic dirty mess that will drag your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being into it.
Or, you can make the best of whatever you are dealing with.
If I can do it in a prison cell, you can do it in a small apartment. And if you have a house with multiple rooms you might not even have enough time to get everything set right in the short time you are locked down.
Imagine what it will be like to return to the real world with your house finally clean and organized.
So, get rid of the stuff you don’t love! Find a home for the stuff that you do love!
Sweep. Mop. Clean your toilet.
Your toilet should be so clean that you could host visitors on it.
In prison, it is often the only place they can sit to have a conversation with you.
Create a Super Schedule
How do you want to spend your time?
What things do you really want to get done?
It is easy to think that because you are locked down you have endless time and can get anything done.
You don’t. You have the same 24 hours a day that you had before. If you do something like watch 8 hours of Netflix a day, at the end of your lockdown you will be fatter, lazier, more disorganized, and in a mental fog.
Also, you might have time-based responsibility like work from home.
If you think inmates don’t have work here is a fun fact for you: All federal inmates are legally required to work. But they don’t have to be paid much unfortunately.
I spent many hours in the kitchen working for 12 cents an hour, something that I had to schedule the rest of my life around.
Start your schedule with time-based responsibilities. Next, schedule everything else around these.
You might also have completely empty days. Something else that I dealt with in prison. When you are transferred or locked down you can have months with nothing you “have” to do.
This can be even harder. Because you will try to distract yourself and pass time as quickly as possible. Before you know it the time is gone and you have achieved nothing.
Sleeping in can seem like a very appealing way to distract yourself as well.
It isn’t. You will just end up staying up late at night, with artificial light messing up your hormones and natural circadian rhythm and feeding depression.
You don’t need to get up at the crack of dawn but you need to find a reasonable hour to wake up by. And you need to keep it consistent.
A regular schedule is the best way to pass time and get more done.
Start by scheduling your 7–9 hours of sleep and some time for exercise. They will help anchor you when there is nothing else to keep you on schedule.
Indulge in a Healthy Diet
You might think that food is a great way to pass the time.
It is. But only if you use it properly.
While it is much easier for you to eat lots of snacks and junk food to entertain yourself, you will only feel better while you are chewing. Overall it will make you feel worse.
You need to eat good food.
One of the obstacles that stops you from eating healthy during your normal life is not having enough time to prepare food that is healthy and that you enjoy.
Now you have the time.
First, remember that there are certain nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy:
Next, remember that with the internet you have unlimited access to new recipes and cooking skills.
Instead of just experimenting and learning from others…the only option in prison.
An hour preparing a delicious meal is much better for you than an hour munching on snacks.
Remember too that eating healthy doesn’t mean you can’t have any sweets and snacks that you love. Eat the ones you love, but eat them in moderate amounts, and most important, enjoy them!
But no binge eating! It will make only you feel worse.
Exercise Your Body
You might be inactive in your normal life. Walk to the car, walk to the office, walk to the car, walk to the house.
Or you might be a gym rat, spending hours in the gym weekly.
Either way, staying active is more difficult when you are confined to a small space.
But it is still necessary for your physical and mental health.
The most commonly cited reason for not exercising enough: lack of time.
With your social calendar cleared, now is the perfect time to get into better shape.
You might think that lack of equipment is a problem. But the only equipment that you ever need to get a good workout is your own body.
If you don’t have any equipment the bodyweight calisthenics workouts are the way to go.
In prison we often had to make use of these, as you can’t just order the exercise equipment you want and put it in your cell. If you are lucky you might have some weights, but even then your time on them is limited because there aren’t enough for everyone and you have to share.
Or maybe you have fitness equipment that you bought a long time ago that is collecting dust at the moment…so now is the time to start using it!
And there are also common home items (like a chair) that can be used for exercises.
For some ideas check out my Guide to Creating a Home Gym.
And with the internet you have access to all kinds of workouts that you can learn from or follow along with.
Don’t forget, exercise is an important thing to put on your daily schedule.
It is a great way to start your day or take a break from being glued to your computer.
Expand Your Mind
You are going to spend a lot of time entertaining yourself to pass the time.
The easiest way to do this is mindlessly. Like Netflix, easy reading, and social media.
But easiest doesn’t always mean best.
Instead, seek entertainment that expands your mind.
Read good books. Classics, self-improvement, anything that helps you think and grow.
Meditate. There are countless apps and videos online to guide you with this.
In prison I read Full Catastrophe Living and did meditations from that book. Now I use the Waking Up app (which costs $15 a month but if you can’t afford that email email@example.com and they will provide you with free access).
Play games that make you think. A prison favorite is chess, which you can play online with friends.
Pick up a hobby that you have been meaning to start that you can easily do at home.
Tackle some of those projects that you have been procrastinating.
Lockdown is an amazing opportunity for self development that you might never have the chance to experience again.
Don’t just consume junk; binge watching is just as bad for your brain as binge eating is for your body.
Remember You Are Not Alone
You need other people.
You need to communicate with people who aren’t physically with you and also maintain a healthy relationship with anyone locked down with you.
When it comes to people on the outside, you live in a blessed time where you can text, email, call, video call, or send a message on social media.
Reach out to the people whom you care about. Talk about your frustrations, and share your strategies for survival (like this article if you found it helpful!).
And don’t forget the people who are locked down with you.
The most important thing you need to remember: Treat them with respect.
Sometimes they will need space, sometimes they will need to talk. You have your needs and so do they. You have your things, and so do they.
You will have disagreements but you can also have many special meaningful times.
You are in this together, we are all in this together.
Being locked down might feel like your life is over.
It’s not. Life goes on during lockdown.
You can still find ways to enjoy life, you can still make progress towards your goals, you can still take care of yourself, your friends, and your family.
And there is also life after lockdown.
Lockdown is a special opportunity for self-improvement and growth.
See this time as an opportunity. Grow. Improve. Flourish.
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