Time is meant to be well-spent — even in prison with a life sentence.
Photo by Justin Veenema on Unsplash

I’m serving a life sentence, so what difference would it make for me to indulge in programs or work or school? Since the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it harder to secure work or partake in academic or prison programs, why not take the path of least resistance? 

In here, I’m constantly told that work, education or programs are a waste of time. The people who express those beliefs have become hopeless through constant setbacks. 

I understand their perspective. In confinement, most people are burdened and stressed. An unintentional sense of discouragement pervades this environment. 

But I don’t let it stunt my growth. I keep asking myself, “What is it that I want, and how bad do I want it?” And, “What am I willing to do to get what I want?”

When I arrived at 4-Block on the C-yard at California’s High Desert State Prison, I was frustrated. I knew it would take an excessive amount of time to enroll in school or a program. Six months passed, and I was still on the waiting list for enrollment and job assignments. I wanted to take initiative, even though people told me this would be a waste of time. 

But what is doing nothing in a place where time is all you have? To me, that sounded like a waste of time.

I’ve been hit with roadblock after roadblock. I eventually decided to ride it out for a while and be patient, which is a skill I highly recommend to anyone incarcerated. 

Then, in the early days of December 2021, I found an opportunity that gave me purpose. It came in the form of a writing prompt from the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Getting Out By Going In

The prompt called for a 15-page personal essay. I felt hesitant to complete the assignment because the deadline was just weeks away. I doubted my work simply because I had never taken the time to reflect in depth on myself before. But I had to see where I might get with it. I wrote the essay and mailed it in. 

I was open and honest in my essay and satisfied with my work. I reminded myself that I had chosen to use my time in a positive manner in a place where I had to constantly find the will to do so. 

A certificate of completion arrived with my mail in January 2022. It took me about two weeks to write the essay — and countless hand cramps to finish — but the recognition was a morale boost for me and fuel for my will. I felt proud. 

Through this assignment I was able to relive the positive and negative experiences I believed had most affected my life. Self-reflection reminded me of where I wanted to be, what I desired and what I still had to say. I wanted my actions, efforts and my ambitions to speak for me. 

Experiences like this can be empowering. In prison, doubt and discouragement circulate in the air — I once believed this perspective too. 

Some folks can’t see the point in indulging. Some folks have lost all they had to lose. I get where they are coming from. But ultimately, I’m against the action of wasting time more than I’m against doing something that might be a waste of time.

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.

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Paul Soulik

Paul Soulik is a writer incarcerated in Nevada, where he is trying to build a new life as he faces a long sentence. He tries to find healthy ways to occupy his time.