While the concept of going to prison is often a daunting one, it provides incarcerated people with the opportunity to better themselves through self-directed means and formal classes or programs. Instead of leaving prison with an overwhelming sense of wasted time and potential, prisoners can use their valuable time to set themselves up for current and future success.

The following content is based on information for incarcerated persons provided to Dr. Schaefer by a previous PPPC client who spent time in prison, edited for clarity and length.

1. Focus on the present & future.

When in prison, it’s easy to fall into the habit of rehashing past errors. Living in the past is unhealthy. An incarcerated person can set themselves up for success by imagining the type of future they want and the type of person they want to become. Accept what the past has taught you so you can move forward in a more meaningful and constructive way.

2. Work on your mental health.

The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) offers a variety of psychological services. Prisoners can request to see a psychologist at any time if they feel the need. There are also several programs available for those with ongoing mental health struggles. Supporting mental health is important no matter where a person is, and working to improve mental health is a great way to ensure post-prison success.

3. Develop your skills or learn new ones.

Find new opportunities, such as investigating employment or vocational training programs, to further develop your skills or learn new ones. Practice your hobby or special interest if you have one, or work on developing a new one. Your skills can make you a valuable asset inside the prison while also setting you up for success outside after your sentence is over.

4. Read a variety of books.

While reading is a great way to pass the time, it’s also an excellent way to improve yourself and expand your mind. Balance reading fiction for enjoyment with reading a variety of nonfiction books. There are plenty of options to learn from. Reading books about history, science, philosophy and more can help build a better understanding of yourself and the world.

5. Stay connected to the world outside.

For those fortunate enough to have family and friends on the outside supporting them, communicate regularly and honestly with them. Using visits, sending letters, and talking to them on the phone are all great ways to help maintain those relationships while on the inside. Stay connected to your family and in the lives of your loved ones.

6. If you feel inclined, find your spiritual path.

Many prisoners find that prison is a good place to develop a relationship with God. All prisons have weekly religious services, and many prisoners conduct regular Bible studies in the units or on the yard. This is also a good way to develop a circle of acquaintances that are decent and reliable.

With that said, don’t carry around a Bible as a “crutch.” Taking it to services or study groups is one thing, but it should not be used to replace efforts toward insight and self-improvement. Using spirituality as a prop will not be viewed in a positive light.

Strive to Use Time Wisely

Whether an incarcerated person’s prison sentence is a few months to several years, any amount of time spent on gaining insight and working on self-improvement is time well spent. We recommend that prisoners — regardless of sentence duration — use whatever time they are given for self-reflection, to engage in all required and self-help programming that is available to them, and strive to demonstrate positive prison conduct. Keeping busy will help the time pass more quickly and meaningfully. Try to focus on the changes that are needed and a plan for success on parole and after.