The following is an excerpt from the book Think Outside the Cell: an Entrepreneur’s Guide for the Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated by Joseph Robinson. He began teaching prisoners about personal finance and business in 1995. He formalized a program several years ago, co-founded with former Wall Street executive and current president and founder of National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, Steve Mariotti. Robinson is a certified instructor of Inmates Teaching Entrepreneurship & Mentoring (ITEM). He is currently working off the seventeenth year of a prison term of 25-to-life for murder. The following is his introduction:
Point blank, you were not born to commit crimes; you were not predisposed to commit vicious and antisocial acts. And a life in and out of jail and prison is certainly not what your parents had in mind for your future. Granted, the hardscrabble environments you grew up in may have lacked positive role models to show you a better way to realize your dreams of success. Without consistent exposure to positive mentors, it might have been easy for you to fall victim to the alluring traps of get-rich-quick schemes. Without mentors to help broaden your scope to the countless options available to you in life, it became almost second nature to think (and believe) that you had no choice but to rob people, that you had no choice but to sell drugs, no choice but to do whatever it was that led you to prison.
The truth is, even when your options seem minimal or nonexistent, you always have choices. No one made you sell drugs. No one made you burglarize people’s homes or businesses. For whatever reason, you made a choice to commit crimes. Misguided, flawed, perhaps conditioned, but a choice nonetheless.
The ability to make choices is both a gift from God and a responsibility to yourself and others.
Making wise and well-thought-out choices is the single most important ability that you and I have. I say this because whether we weigh our options or not, we have to live with the consequences of the choices we make every day. Our thoughts, and the actions that derive from them, do not exist in a vacuum. There is a domino effect, a chain reaction: thought, action, consequence; thought, action, consequence; you get the idea.
Why am I talking about choices when this book is supposed to be about business, you might be asking yourself. Make no mistake about it, this book is about business. Specifically, it’s about how you can help your loved ones start a successful small business-while you are still in prison. And it’s about investing in your business knowledge so that you can create your own job when you are paroled, instead of hoping that someone is compassionate and open-minded enough to give you a job.
At the same time, this book is about the choices we make throughout life. It’s about choosing a different value system, one that aims to help others instead of hurting them, a value system that honors human dignity and worth. This book is about choosing a better life for yourself and your loved ones. It’s about being the best you that you can be. Remember, no one is going to make you do anything. The choice of living a rewarding life is yours to make. Yours and yours alone.