Adobe Stock
If you’re honest with yourself about some of your current habits (eating, fitness, spending, use of time, etc.) what unwanted destination are you heading inevitably toward?

From the students at The Other Side Academy: This is the start of a series designed to offer wisdom from students and graduates of The Other Side Academy, or TOSA. TOSA is a two-year minimum life skills reeducation academy for those with deeply broken lives. Students have been arrested an average of 25 times. We have spent years and decades in addiction and homelessness. At TOSA we learn to become a person we have never met before. The damage and misery we have caused ourselves and others gives us a unique perspective on what works and what doesn’t in life. Our pain is your gain.

Could prison be in your future? Don’t answer too quickly.

Your destiny is best predicted by your habits. Most of us have habits that are leading us to a future we don’t want. How about you?

Jail or prison is never in anyone’s plans. But some of us behave in ways that put prison in our plans whether we like it or not. And even for those of us who don’t do dope and commit crimes and, therefore, aren’t necessarily headed to the literal brick-and-mortar-barbed-wire-guards-with-guns kind of prison, there are still the “metaphorical prisons” that remove more attractive life options from us as our life choices take us inevitably toward them.

If you’re honest with yourself about some of your current habits (eating, fitness, spending, use of time, etc.), what unwanted destination are you heading inevitably toward? What default future is just as certain for you as it was for TOSA students who were arrested on average 25 times before making the choice to come here?

Have you ever really thought about your life in this way? Once you choose the first step of a path, you also choose the last. What default future have you chosen by the way you show up in your life today? We all have “stated values” that we like to tell ourselves. But, as we say at TOSA, “I don’t care what you say, all I care about is what you do!” If someone were to look at your behavior, what would they conclude that you really value?

We share this message in colorful ways to those who hope to enter TOSA. An interview might go something like this:

Do you have kids? Yes.

How many? Four. Three girls and one boy.

With the same man/woman? No — four different ones.

How old are they? 6, 9, 14 and 15.

Do you love your kids? Of course! I would do anything for them.

Really? Anything? Yes.

Well, let’s see. You’ve been to jail eleven times. You’ve been to prison twice. You’ve been with them a total of 17 months out of the past 15 years of their lives. If that is called “loving,” how would you treat them if you hated them?

That question is usually followed by a stunned silence. That’s what it feels like when you finally tell yourself the truth about the mismatch between your habits and your “values.” Talking means nothing. Only doing shows what you really care about.

So, what are your real values? What future have you already chosen by sustaining your current habits? What do you do that you know is wrong, that you know could eventually bring harm to you or your kids, but you do it anyway? Do you eat or drink in a way that could cause you to die prematurely? Do you gamble money you don’t have, putting your family at financial risk? Do you gossip at work, harming your relationships or your own advancement? Do you procrastinate to a degree that causes unnecessary hardship in your household? These are just a few examples of metaphorical prisons that can actually cause just as much pain and suffering as real prison.

The first step to avoiding prison is to tell yourself the truth. Admit what your default future is. Imagine, for example, you were to ask kids to help you look at the truth of your life as you were headed to the brick-and-mortar type of prison. They’d say things like:

2 comments on this story
  • Mom/Dad, you don’t love me. You are robbing me of my present, of any idea what a real family is. You care more about fill-in-the-blank (drugs, friends, sex, thrills) than you do me. The only time you spend with me is when I visit you in jail. You are a terrible parent.
  • You are stealing my future from me. I am four times more likely to go to jail and get addicted to drugs because of your behavior. I am missing the chance to learn what connection means. I don’t know what a mom or dad are supposed to act like. I’m on the hunt right now for ways I can distract from the painful feelings you keep giving me.
  • I want to be just like you. Odds are decent that I’ll grow up to be just like you. Which “you” do you want that to be?

It’s hard to stay stuck in bad habits unless you tell yourself stories to make you feel OK about them. At TOSA, we learn rigorous honesty. We challenge our self-deceptive stories. You can avoid every prison of your life if you start with that same kind of honesty. Fess up to the destiny you are heading toward, then ask yourself, “do I want that prison in my future?”