What Serving Prison Time Taught Me

And how you can apply these lessons to your own life-without going away yourself.

Luke Wiese
Jan 27, 2020 · 8 min read
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Photo by Matthew Ansley on Unsplash

This may come as a surprise to my newer readers, and if you’re stumbling across my work for the first time please hear me out.

I was young and dumb, just your typical college guy, aside from the fact I lived a half life of selling pounds of cannabis to pay for my education. I simply didn’t realize the severity of my crime, and always told myself “It’s just weed Luke, if you get caught you’ll be okay”.

Well, the fact is: When my apartment was raided (just a block away from my college), and twelve pounds of cannabis was seized by the drug task force, I was definitely not okay. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

I was charged with two Class 3 felonies in the state of South Dakota. Needless to say when I heard that, my heart plummeted to my stomach. I was allowed a phone call from jail, and I called my dad. The first words out of my mouth were “Dad, I think I just ruined my life, I need to tell you something”.

The year I was fighting my case, I was a complete and utter mess.

I didn’t know what to do or how to move forward, so I did what any rational human in my situation would. I let go, and let God. I changed my life instantly.

I quit smoking marijuana. I definitely quit distributing it too, and decided I would face my charges like a man. I didn’t give up any names when asked by detectives, I didn’t place the blame on anyone but myself. If I were to go down for this, I was at least going to be proud of myself for facing the consequences of my foolish decisions.

On October 25th of 2018, I was sentenced to a year and a half in prison.

I was given a week to turn myself in. November 1st of 2018 I arrived at the city jail with my parents, and before I was escorted away (to be transferred the next day to the state penitentiary) I turned and threw up a heart sign to my mom as the door closed on my regular street life. She was crying, I couldn’t.

It was suddenly my first full day incarcerated, and I knew it wouldn’t be my last.

Enough about my story leading up to prison, here’s how my experience can help you succeed.

First and foremost, you quickly learn the value of closing your mouth and listening.

In prison, people love to talk.

Inmates waste time (if that’s even possible in prison) trading what inmates and AA members everywhere refer to as, “war stories”, and you can quickly discern between the real and the fake.

Talking too much only serves to place a big, red target on your back, and the more attention you attract, the more you’ll have to back up your words.

In prison, that translates to absolute disaster for a person. You never want to actually back up petty talk, it’s not pretty.

So, for the duration of my time spent locked up, I learned to mind my own business, never ask questions, laugh quietly at jokes, and read for over eight hours at a time. I did everything within my power to stay under the radar.

And guess what.

Now that I’ve been back in society for over a year, the simple (yet incredibly difficult, for an extrovert like me at least) strategy of just shutting up and listening has worked wonders for me.

Because I’m being silent and listening more than I did before prison, I learn more than I ever have. People trust me with confidential information because they know I don’t spread rumors, and it’s a cool feeling knowing that people can trust you. It builds a respect for yourself you never knew you had.

You’re more resilient than you realize.

Do you think I grew up thinking I’d ever spend time in a state penitentiary?

Of course not. My parents have been married for 25 years, I’ve always been blessed with a stable home. I attended a private Christian school until I was in high school. I played sports and participated in debate. I graduated on time. I went to college and got involved in a life I didn’t even realize was so incredibly illegal.

I was raided just a brisk walk away from where I was going to school and maintaining a 4.0 gpa.

So, when my lawyer informed me I was facing a potential 30 years behind bars I could’ve broke down and went clinically insane. I’d never even been arrested before! How is it possible the courts weren’t able to make an exception for a “kid” like me?

Well, you find out pretty quickly the court system doesn’t care who you are, or where you came from. If you did the crime, you’re going to do the time. That’s how the saying goes!

As I was battling my case though, I began to surprise myself.

Although I was depressed and scared, I kept waking up and dealing with my responsibilities.

I had good days. Spectacular days even, and I smiled and enjoyed the company of my friends and family while I still had the chance.

I went on long walks, enjoying the breeze while counting my blessings.

I listened to music and had the best workouts of my life.

I drank cold beers and ate wings with my college buddies. We cracked jokes and laughed. In fact, this is what I was doing the night before I had to turn myself in. I still have the photos, and looking at them now almost brings tears to my eyes.


Because even in the face of tragedy, the human psyche is more resilient than we can even begin to comprehend. You can truly withstand any obstacle life throws in your path.

To start my sentence, for five days I was locked in a suffocating prison cell with two other grown men for 23 hours a day. Cold, depressed, and terrified, instead of crying, instead of giving up hope, I began to workout in the small space I still had. I would do bodyweight squats and pushups with my two cellies (who quickly became my close friends) until I’d vomit up the little food I was fed into a cold and tiny toilet.

I read books, and even caught myself being whisked away in the stories.

After I was transferred to where I’d live for the next months of my life, I befriended Spanish speaking inmates, and started picking up the language faster than ever before. I would recite words to myself in Spanish when I was so bored I could go crazy.

When fights broke out, when crazy stuff went down, when I saw things I wish I never had, I stood up within my own mind and reminded myself to stay strong. In fact, the only time I ever even came close to crying in prison was when I was finally allowed a visit with my little sister and brother.

Your mind quickly adjusts and survival mode kicks in. My mind wouldn’t let me give up, no matter how much I consciously wanted to. Until I was forced to within those prison walls, I didn’t even know I was capable of handling so much pressure.

Give yourself some credit, you’re still here, and you’re stronger than you can possibly imagine.

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Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

Hope and genuine belief are the only ingredients you need to succeed.

Zachary Babcock can attest to this message.

He doesn’t write much on Medium, but please check out his podcast, Underdog Empowerment. He’s an ex-con that has built a six figure business.

I found a video of his on youtube as I was fighting my case, well before I was sentenced to prison time.

When my peers ridiculed me online, when people cracked jokes about how I was of course studying “Marketing and Sales” (fitting, I know), and I was convinced my life was over, I reminded myself that if a convict can come back from five years of time behind bars and still succeed, that I can too.

I’m a business owner and serial entrepreneur, and it seemed Zach was wired the same way. Rather than succumbing to the doubt my situation thrust into my life, I chose to believe in myself as much as I could, and hope for a future as gratifying as other successful people.

If someone in my situation, arguably an even worse one, could do it, then why the hell couldn’t I?

When the doubts seeped into my mind and my depression proved more powerful than I was prepared for, I reminded myself of this over and over, until finally, I actually did believe I could make it. Because of this mindset I harnessed the courage to start a commercial cleaning company. I started writing more than I ever had. I started building my social media accounts, I was already publicly ridiculed, what more did I have to lose? For once I truly gave it my all, regardless of how I felt.

“If he can do it, I can too”, became my battle cry.

I went door to door selling my service.

When my pending charges somehow snuck their way into a sales conversation, I didn’t cower and hide from them. I faced them head on and reassured the potential client that all those decisions were well behind me, and they could in fact trust my company.

We reached profitability in just a few short months, and it’s only because rather than give up, I decided to hope. At first, hope was all I had!

I’ll be honest, at first I didn’t even believe I could succeed in business and especially in writing online. My story was always a google search away! I just hoped to God I could and at least gave myself a fighting chance. I was terrified, but I didn’t let the fear of failure or embarrassment hinder my progress.

Almost two years later I’m definitely not satisfied, but I’m further along the road to success than I ever expected that night I called my dad and told him I ruined my life. And it’s only because I had the audacity to hope for an even better future than before I made my mistakes and was arrested.

If you don’t fully believe in yourself now, just have the audacity to hope, and work like you never had a doubt in the first place.

Those are my most powerful lessons from my prison experience. I’m glad to report that I was released only 88 days into my sentence because of good behavior and an ankle monitor program for work.

I wouldn’t suggest finding out these lessons like I did, but I’m sure many of you have conquered demons even more powerful than mine and can back up the potential these lessons possess.

You’re stronger than you know. Shut up, cross your fingers and hope, and work like mad.

Yes, success is really that simple.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Luke Wiese

Written by

Follow my poetry journey

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 150,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Luke Wiese

Written by

Follow my poetry journey

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 150,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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