How to Make Use of Your Prison Time Productively

prison time
Most people think of prisons as places of punishment and isolation where people who have committed crimes are sent to pay for what they have done, and this is true for inmates who have committed heinous acts and are destined to spend the rest of their day behind bars. For others, incarceration can be a turning point. Prisons are designed to rehabilitate as well as punish, and inmates who make the best of their situations sometimes go on to lead productive and successful lives.

One thing that successful former prisoners all have in common is the way they used their time behind bars productively. Instead of falling into the pitfalls of anger or self-pity, these men and women learned new skills, turned their prison experiences into a career or looked deep within themselves and vowed to never again make the mistakes that led to their confinement. They returned to society as stronger and more determined people who possessed the kind of confidence that comes from surviving an ordeal that would have broken many others. The stories of these remarkable people serve as a reminder that even the bleakest of situations present opportunities to those who have the vision and courage to seize them.

From Convicted Killer to Civil Rights Icon

Daniel Manville could have been forgiven for thinking that his hopes for a happy and successful life were all but gone when he was sent to prison in the 1970s after being convicted of manslaughter. Manville put his four years behind bars to good use and left prison with an associate’s degree and two bachelor’s degrees. He says that he threw himself into his studies because he wanted prospective employers to think the time he had spent the four years attending school, but his attempts to land a decent job were unsuccessful.

Manville then drew upon his prison experiences to overcome his disappointment and redouble his efforts. He went on to earn his Juris Doctor and now teaches law at Michigan State University. He is also a fierce advocate for criminal justice reform and has represented both prison guards and prisoners in civil court. Manville says that he is successful now because he came to terms with what he did to others and what society did to him.

Chef Jeff Learned His Trade in a Prison Kitchen

Before he became the first African-American to hold the position of Chef de Cuisine at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and long before he was offered his own television show by the Food Network, Jeff Henderson was a felon who spent 10 years in a California state prison on drug trafficking charges. Henderson went from earning tens of thousands of dollars a day selling drugs to waiting for transfers of less than $100 from Wester Union, which is how his family and friends were able to send money to an inmate in state prison. His life changed when he was assigned to work in the prison kitchen.

Henderson quickly learned that he had an aptitude for the work and began to experiment with the bland prison menu. State prisons are not known for their culinary diversity, and Henderson had to use all of his creative talents to turn the meager resources available to him into delicious meals. Adaptability and ingenuity became Henderson’s trademark assets, and he has gone on to become one of the brightest lights in the culinary world.

Best Selling Author Was Once a Drug Trafficker and Money Launderer

Television viewers who watched the hit Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” may not be aware that the show was written by a woman who spent 13 months behind bars after pleading guilty to federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Piper Kerman was incarcerated six years after being indicted, and she says that this delay helped her to prepare for prison and formulate a plan. That plan was to let the world know what life inside a woman’s prison was really like, and she enlisted the help of her fiancĂ© to put her plan into action.

The result of this collaboration was the prison blog the PipeBomb, which provided much of the material for Kerman’s bestselling book “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.” Kerman now sits on the board of Women's Prison Association and is a vice president at a major communications firm that works with foundations and nonprofit groups. She has been invited to speak before groups including the American Correctional Association and a Senate subcommittee, and her book spawned a television show that won four Emmy Awards.