Twenty four x eighty one. That was the size of the cell I was thrown into. The guard yelled “Everything off!” as he watched me undress. “Lift up” as he instructed me to grab my junk, “Turn around, squat and cough” he said to make sure I wasn’t trying to bring in any contraband. At this point, it became real; I was no longer a human, rather a number. A number moved into a system that defines me by the 1% wrong done rather than the 99% right that I’ve done by in my life. I was handed an orange jumpsuit and escorted into my home for the next three weeks: Solitary Confinement.
The size of a a cell in the SHU is roughly 65 square feet. To put that into perspective, a standard guest bathroom has more space. And within this space, is a bunkbed, a stainless steel toliet, shower and a desk. There was nothing even remotely sanitary about it and it had enough free space to do some pushups and burpee’s – that’s it. It was 24 hour lock down with absolutely no access to the real world.
I couldn’t imagine anyone having to serve their entire sentence here. You are stuck alone with just your thoughts making it difficult to decipher when you are in reality versus your dreams – or even worse your nightmares. Ironically, there is no concept of time in the SHU so you have no idea if it is morning, evening or even what day of the week it is. There is a saying about serving time in prison, and that is the hours feel like days and the days feel like months – and that was very real at this point. I only had to stay for twenty one days, but I knew this was going to be one of the most difficult challenges of my life.
Life any other difficult situation, we will have to carefully analyze our surroundings and ask ourselves: Is this an opportunity or a chore? It is easy to make something into a chore: just complain and point the fingers at others. But to turn a negative into a positive you wil have to create a gameplan with an endgoal in mind. I decided I was going to make this into an opportunity simply by defining success as: using the next twenty one days in solitary confinement and using it to improve my mental acuity. It was a simple as that.
If you grew up in the nineties then you certainly remember the show McGuyver. McGuyver, being the hero that he was, would constantly find himself in life or death situations where he would have to use whatver limited resources he had to get the best possible outcome. In this case I had a few pieces of scrap paper that I managed to bring in from intake and a pen. So here was the plan I formulated:
First, knowing that prison have a large volume of donated books and a library, I was able to get me a set of four different fictional novels. The first one, ironically, was Outbreak by Robin cook which is what I started with. After a few days I wa sable to read the book cover to cover emerging myself in the medical thriller
Second, knowing the book was filled with some complex medical scenarios, I paid attention to any special vocabulary with the idea of being able to use the new ords in my daily conversations. So after completeing out each book I went back and read it again. This time I wrote out any words I was unfamilar with or did not use on the regular. I ended up with 24 new words by the time I finished out the four books.
Third, I took new words and wrote out what had understood as their definition to be. Using the context within it’s writing or just from hearing these words from the past – you can figure this out.
Lastly, I took the words and wrote out sentences on paper, putting the new vocabulary to work. Anywhere from job interviews to giving speeches, I envisioned extactly how I would use these.
I created this plan and executed it perfectly. At the end here were my pillars of success:
-I read well over a 1000+ pages of fictional writing
-Added 24 new words to my vocabulary
-Worked on my aspirations for my future (giving speeches, job interviews, etc)
-Put new words into my daily conversations by practicing their usage.
After twenty one days, I had accomplished what I had defined as being successful stay in the SHU and on my way to the camp to begin serving my sentence. But the treck there was not an easy one. To stay focused I constantly reminded myself of an old saying: Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.