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Mr. Chauvin, 

I am writing to you today because you are beginning the next phase of a difficult journey. 

As a former police officer in his 14th year of incarceration, it’s a journey I’m intimately familiar with. 

In October of 2007, federal agents arrested me on an internet child pornography crime. I instantly went from being a hero to one of society’s most hated people. Like you, my life was turned upside down. 

You’re going to feel like you have no one to turn to, so you will be tempted to turn to anger as your only friend — anger at the situation you are in, anger at the people who turned their backs on you, anger at a system you trust that you believe failed you. 

The list of things you will want to rage at will grow longer everyday. Right now this emotion will seem like a good companion to listen to but I’m asking you to listen to me and take my advice instead. 

If you do, it’s possible to come out on the other side of this in a better position personally and professionally then how you entered. It won’t be easy though. Before you can truly put the work in towards this goal you will have to take a long hard look at your personal culpability. 

You need to see yourself as an individual, not as the role you were taught to play as a police officer. You need to recognize the different patterns of belief that led to the callowness of the situation you are in. 

People see prison as a physical punishment but the real harm is psychological. How you end up depends on your mindset and the choices you make from here on out. Ultimately, you will have to decide whether you choose to see this situation as a problem or an opportunity. 

As a problem, everything and everyone you encounter will become an obstacle to moving forward. As an opportunity, everything will be a stepping stone towards success and everyone will be seen as a potential wealth of knowledge. 

Contrary to popular belief and what the police academy teaches, prisons are not filled with the underbelly of society. They are full of doctors, scientists, professors and business leaders who made mistakes in their lives. When you develop a perspective of humanity you will no longer see these people as criminals, but as friends with the resources needed to help you achieve your highest potential. 

Finally, you will learn that this situation, combined with your background as an officer, has given you a unique set of tools that no one else on earth has. These tools can be used in ways you never imagined, from reaching out to families affected by incarceration to becoming a consultant in many different sectors of the multi-billion dollar a year prison industrial complex. There are unlimited opportunities waiting for you in the future. 

But it all comes down to that first choice. As you begin your journey into prison, will you choose to listen to the voice of anger that leads to a path of destruction or will you listen to me and take the difficult path of introspection that leads to healing, restoration and wholeness?

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Jesse Ward is a writer incarcerated in Louisiana. He uses his time to help everyone affected by the criminal justice system.