Before prison, I worked in IT consulting, so I definitely felt like a geek in prison. What's it like to be a geek in prison? I can only speak to how it was for me. It was scary, since I hadn't punched anyone since the 7th grade, and most of the people I might have to fight were 20 years younger than me. It's humbling, since I found myself in an environment that was nothing like my prior life and where the traits that had made me successful outside had little value on the inside. For me, it was eye-opening. I learned so much about the flaws in our justice system: the police, the prosecutors, the adversarial trial process, the appellate process, and more. For me, it was an awakening of sorts. Everywhere you go, you have to be alert. There are so many dangers. You could be in danger if you bump into somebody, if you look at someone wrong, or for no reason at all. I am so much more vigilant of my surroundings, even years later. My ability to read people is greatly improved, because it was so important there.
The surprising thing to me is that it was also an opportunity. Before prison, I liked to play guitar. Inside prison, I got to play in the music program and got pretty good. It was a matter of putting in the time. I also had books sent in so I could study music theory. Before prison, I had 6 years of jr. high and high school Spanish. In prison, I made friends with many people from Spanish-speaking countries and got fluent. I didn't just talk with them, I watched TV with them, studied the Bible in Spanish with them, read novels in Spanish. In those 8 years, I went from high school Spanish to fluent. I also found a job where I could program computers, creating databases used within the facility for things like tracking sports leagues or scheduling medical appointments. I then had books sent in to study new languages, design patterns, Xtreme and Agile methodologies, and more. I left knowing so much more than when I arrived.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was how I was able to form close friendships with such a diverse group of people. I had friends from Mexico and Honduras. I hung out with a murderer, as well as a guy who used to do home invasions. I got to be friends with drug dealers and a jewelry store robber. I still have pen pals who remain locked up.
I learned many things from inmates that I never learned in my prior life. I learned that you should go straight to the person you're upset with rather than go to authorities. I learned that giving and keeping your word is the ultimate measurement of character. I learned that loyalty is easy to promise, but few really deliver. Don't be that guy. Prison is really a learning crucible since the reactions are so quick and amplified. If you have annoying habits, you'll find out fast. If you are not respectful to others, you'll hear about it, and you may get a "tune up" to teach you respect.
I also learned about true friends from those who supported me from outside of prison. They stood by me during the trial and all the appeals. They wrote me, took my calls, drove hours to visit me, and more. They really taught me about what true friends do for one another.
So for this geek, being in prison was a chance to learn about so many things.
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