Impact of Inmates.
During my incarceration, five guys impacted my life in a way that will reach beyond prison: Nate, Kyle, Chris, Ivan, and Ben.
Many more have been great friends who have helped me along the way but these five people have gone above and beyond what you’d expect from a prison friendship.
Nate was the first to get me moving in the right direction. He taught me about myself and about the importance of being a father. Nate reminded me that I should always put my relationship with my daughter first.
He showed me what I can share with my daughter now and what I should be telling her as she grows up. An example, he once wrote a letter to his daughter, who was at the time nine years old (the same age as Melrose is currently) and he told her how a man should treat her as she goes through life. Nate said, “It’s never too early to teach your children about how valuable they are.”
Another way he stayed connected with his kids was to send them his charcoal drawings and crocheted blankets. Following his example, I got into the leather class and started sending those gifts home.
After Nate left prison, he drove to Minneapolis, met my entire family and he sends birthday and Christmas gifts to my daughter and my mom every year. Whenever we talk on the phone, he focuses on me: how I am doing, how I am coping, and what I need? His thoughtfulness and generosity have changed my life.
I met Kyle when I got to Milan Federal Prison in 2013 but after only a few months, he was sent to a higher security prison in South Carolina. Kyle worked in food service delivering to and from the SHU (Special Housing Unit). Kyle and another guy were on this detail and upon delivery of the meals, the officer on duty discovered some marijuana on one of the trays. In prison they don’t ask questions: everyone gets locked up and put under investigation. Kyle was eventually cleared but not before being placed as a higher risk and shipped across the country.
I thought I’d never see him again but four years later he showed up in Yankton. Kyle and I have a true friendship. He has my back and even bailed me out one time when my life was a mess. Kyle wasn’t the kind of person I thought I’d meet in prison and I feel lucky I did.
When I’m around Kyle, I feel better about myself. He isn’t afraid to give compliments on physical appearance, which typically was considered weird or forbidden in prison. Most inmates use criticism to keep you down, but not Kyle. He was always lifting you up. (Check out “Dealing with Bullies in Prison,” for more on prison culture.)
Like Nate, when Kyle got out he promised he would be there for me and I knew he would.
Chris Warren is my “attorney,” and now a contributor to both construction2style and resilience2reform. He never actually did any legal work for me but whenever I was having an issue or argument, he would come to my defense.
Whenever he did, whatever roommate was giving me a hard time would say, “Oh shit, here’s Noah’s lawyer.” Sometimes I’d be twenty minutes into an argument and Chris, who’d been listening nearby, would pop around the corner and shout “Object!”
Chris was a great roommate and friend in prison and he taught me that you have to go get what you want. Nothing is going to come your way for free so you have to be hungry for it. He was always drumming up different ways that he could make a living when he left prison. He’s brilliant and full of ideas and I look forward to seeing what he makes happen.
Chris knew life wasn’t going to be easy for either of us when we are released and he was right! He was always trying to prepare me for the transition, for which I’m grateful. I’m fortunate to still be connected to him. (See more about his journey in “Search for Work Post Prison,” “Denied. Rinse. Repeat. Rise,” and “Work For Felons.”)
Ivan, also known as Zaka, is an easy-going guy, caring, thoughtful, and we share our “white people problems” together. Check out Bunkie Stories in the Drug Program and you will understand why he was my favorite bunkie throughout all my years incarcerated.
Ivan tells stories about his adventures on the Bighorn River including a time a guy named Groovy who got Ivan into a mess up on the Bighorn. Groovy didn’t know how to operate a drift boat and they ran over a bunch of big shot fisherman’s lines. Ivan didn’t go back for at least a couple weeks, to let the story die down, but it never did…even ten years later. Within a week of September 5th, the day Ivan finishes home confinement, he plans on being on the Bighorn with his son Noah, and I can’t wait for the day that I can join them.
As I got closer to the end of my prison time, I thought I was done meeting new people, but then I met Ben. He has taught life lessons and challenged me to be smart about people and my choices. Some of his wisdom:
- don’t go into business with people who cheat on their spouses, because they won’t stay faithful to you either
- graciously accept criticism
- share ideas with people who don’t think like you do and then use those conversations to make up your own mind
- believe in yourself, don’t sell yourself short
- be prepared to eat your weight in shit; just don’t ever enjoy the taste
- the less you know, the more you think you know everything and the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know shit
- don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand something and keep asking questions until you do
Ben challenges me every day to be my best self. There aren’t many people inside who will do that.
Ben has been a motivator his whole life and when he ran a sales force for a number of years, that’s exactly what he was paid to do. He said that there is a scale based on a person’s competency levels, zero being completely incompetent and ten being a rock star. As a manager, Ben said his strong suit was getting the individuals around the six-point range up to a ten: the rock star status. He said he could never figure out how to get a zero anywhere because there’s nothing to work with.
So I asked him, “What am I, a six?” He quickly responded, “Hell no, you haven’t succeeded at anything in your entire life, but you’re better than a zero.”
I laughed at his blunt seriousness and as he must have noticed my feelings were hurt, then he added, “But you have the potential to be a ten.”
That’s Ben for you, insultingly inspirational.
Ben loves my passion for writing. Even though he thinks I should focus more on construction, he sees there is great potential for helping people by getting our stories out. He also loves that I don’t have a backup plan. Ben hates Plan B.
He says going into something with a backup plan is the same as going in expecting to fail. He never makes a Plan B. He will do whatever it takes to make Plan A work. He loves a quote from Tony Robbins, “If you want to take the island you need to burn the boats.” Ben is about making success the only option.
When I came to prison, I had no idea I’d meet so many supportive and inspiring people and make long-term connections. I’m grateful for Nate, Ivan, Kyle, Chris, and Ben for not just everything they’ve taught me, but for their friendship and support.
Since I finished writing “Impact” there is one more individual that changed me for the better, while I was incarcerated, and that’s Dennis Cockerham, another contributing writer. Dennis made the coveted number six spot. Much like Ben, he isn’t afraid to give it to you straight. Check out “Being Authentic,” a story about a time when Dennis gave me some cold hard honest feedback, it hurt, but it also meant the world to me.