My education was from the California Department of Corrections. I spent more time inside than out during my formative years. So I think it is safe to say I met every type of convict in that time. They were my peers, my mentors, my allies, and my foes.
First off, not everyone in prison is bad ... only the majority! Every so often, you do meet someone in there who is good, and who brings vs takes. But unlike me, those people were not schooled or brought up in the prison environment. They just entered that environment from the outside.
When I spent time with these people, instead of those like me who have been in longer than they can remember, I could see a glimmer of life on the outside. I had a certain appreciation for them. I had a kindness toward them, I learned from them, and became protective of them because in truth I was protecting my vision of a "normal way of life". Speaking with them would take me back to childhood and make me long for a "real" life.
Everybody's life is so different, we are all unique. In prison, though, we are all in the same boat. No matter where we come from, what our life was on the outside, what color we are, we are on a level playing field when we are incarcerated. The only thing that sets you aside in there, is your way of thinking.
Sadly, many take the train of thought of "we are animals" and "this is where we belong for the rest of our lives" - as I did for too many years - and that becomes a reality. I did not realize at the time that my personality was creating my personal reality. For quite some time, I was lost in a belief of a world that I was upset at, and that I thought of as doomed. As a result, I actually was doomed. I expected the worst, while only harboring the slightest glimmer of hope for the best. With that way of thinking, usually the worst did happen.
'Expecting the worst in life' was a way of thinking I definitely learned due to being in the care of the Youth Authorities, and it continued long through Prison life. As a kid, my hopes would be crushed over and over again whether about parole, court rulings, family visits, you name it. I was let down to the point where I decided that if I expected the worst, it wouldn't be such a big deal and I wouldn't be so affected by it. What I didn't realize, is that this way of thinking can produce some really ugly results. I think it was Napoleon Hill who said “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” That lends credence to the Law of Attraction - whatever I believed in, that became reality. Unfortunately for me, I believed in some really bad things.
In addition to this bad belief system I lived in, my mind would grind on me. It still does to this day. The way my brain grates and grinds away is a large part of the reason I used drink and drugs - to escape from my head and escape the reality I created inside of it. Mark Twain said “I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” That mind, that has been left in prison for decades through traumatic experience after traumatic experience, boils down into negativity and creates a way of thinking that causes me to see the worst possible situation.
Now, I know if I sit and focus on negative then everything becomes negative. Now I know that if I focus on the positive, then my mind stays positive, positive things start to happen, and I appreciate my surroundings, my friends, family, work, and life in general, far more. Now I know how to enjoy life, not just tolerate life.
It is hard to switch. When you are raised by convicts who believe they belong in prison, your mind and personality are shaped by this. It is a "take, take, take" world in there, and if you don't expect the worst, you will crumble. The way I saw it was the more you let bother you inside, the weaker you were. The more numb you could be, the stronger outwardly you were, then the more successful and respected you were while inside. I spent years becoming the person I was. As a result, it is taking years to change that. I know I need to though. I am no longer locked up, I no longer drink, or do drugs, or do crime. I am leading a different life now, and so I need to live a different way. To live differently, I need to think and feel differently.
It is a slow road, but I am committed to it. I try to experience real emotions now - hope and fear, excitement and love, even disappointment and grief. Every day, I learn to feel more.