How Do We Know We’ve Changed?

“Die! Die! Die!” barked the 6’6”, 300-plus pound menace,
slamming the phone receiver with each outburst. He then
turned and caught sight of the dining room cart freshly-layered
with cups for chow. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh,” he yelled while lifting the
cart high before throwing it straight down, sending cups clinking
and clanking across the dayroom. “You better call ’em (backup).”
“I did,” responded the officer, clinging to the farthest corner of
his slightly elevated station.
There are a number of incarcerated individuals who appear kind,
reasonable, moral, in control, etc. Then something triggers their

dark sides. This is what happened to the ordinarily calm, ever-
smiling jolly green (state clothes) giant referenced above who

woke me up one morning with his explosion of rage in response
to getting bad news during a phone call. Within seconds he
erased the positive, safe image many of us had of him. However,
many of us had only known him in this monotonous world of
constant restrictions.
All day everyday The System works to shatter our spirits, beat
down our minds, and keep us in victim-mode. What’s worse is
how easily we get used to such treatment then mistake this
(mental surrender to the circumstances) for self-improvement.
Because we don’t get angry or flip out as much or we have a
better attitude than we used to, we convince ourselves we’re
different, evolved. But life always comes along with a new test
to remind us that changing our ways ain’t that easy.
For almost my entire bid I’ve worked on reacting more effectively
when people challenge me with their disrespect, incompetence,
selfishness, etc.—which happens constantly in prison. Despite

the many great opportunities I’ve had to work on this goal and
countless times I’ve told myself “I’m all set now,” these valuable
tests seem to always leave me disappointed in how I performed.
I’ve definitely improved over time, so some of this self-criticism
stems from my natural tendency to be hard on myself. But isn’t it
best I demand more of myself in preparation for a demanding
Success in changing our habits and attitudes, our character, is like
success in anything: complacency with early achievements
breeds failure. The positive and wholesome forces within us
can’t win if we think they’re already won. This applies twice as
much for us with felony records. What are small missteps for
others often have demoralizing and devastating consequences for
The battle over these personal struggles is in our favor since we
know our vices and weaknesses better than anyone (assuming
we’re strong enough to be honest with ourselves). We know
what is likely to trigger our dark sides. I’ve had a fair amount of
success against my weaknesses and triggers by imagining worst
case scenarios to prepare myself for the difficulties I’ll experience
in those moments—and, in turn, less challenging moments. Many
others rely on their religious faiths to prepare them for and
sustain them through these inevitable difficulties. Whatever
approach we use, we must remember and embrace that life is a
long lesson in tough love. But each test iss temporary—how we
respond to and let these experiences affect us is where the true
harm seeps in and corrupts our peace of mind and potential.
Keep boxing temptation.