My 10-year prison sentence became my training ground to retire early
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I've got a truly remarkable story from a guy that spent 10 years in prison but is still on the path to early retirement. Taking control of your life and working through your challenges can have a remarkable effect on achieving your goals. Here's Bill.
Prison is a horrible place. Trust me, I’ve been there.
I lived in that concrete world for ten straight years. My journey through the state prison system began when I was 21 years old when I was charged
with, “Reckless homicide by delivery of a controlled substance” after a good friend of mine who I partied with one night died from a drug overdose in his sleep.
You can read the full story of that night, and my decade in prison, by clicking on the link at the bottom of this article.
Before I go any further, I know you can evaluate what I have to say in one of two ways:
- You can ignore me because I am a felon, and most ex-cons don’t offer great life advice, or
- You can keep an open mind about the things that I have learned during my survival of a ten-year prison sentence, which has helped me to build a net worth of a quarter-million dollars in five years after my release
This is how I did it:
My first day in jail
I’ll never forget the moment I was arrested. I was a senior student on a college campus. The police locked me in my first jail cell, and as I took a long look at my life, I thought, “What has my life become?
How in the hell am I going to survive this nightmare?
As the images of jail trickled into my brain, they mixed with the emotions and memories of my friend, and I began to cry. I shoved a pillow into my face so the other inmates wouldn’t hear me crying. This was my reality.
As I began to mentally process this new reality, I heard two voices:
One voice said: “Take your life. It’ll be easier. You won’t be able to survive this.”
The other voice said: “Don’t give up. You can fight against bad decisions you’ve made and the terrible things that have happened to you. You can overcome them. You’re alive for a reason, and your second chance is waiting for you on the other side of this nightmare.”
I sat up on my bed. It was just a piece of metal with a 2-inch thick piece of padding on it. A metal toilet was a few feet away with a sink above it. The blanket I had over my shoulders was like a thick potato sack. I don’t remember how long I sat there thinking about what I should do next, but I remember when dinner came.
A plastic tray with food was shoved through a rectangular hole in the door of my cell. I don’t remember what the food looked like, but I remember the feeling of swallowing it and forcing myself to eat it. I remember the taste of the bland food and tears mixing in my mouth. I stared afraid and confused at the cement walls surrounding me for the rest of the night.
My mind swirled with thoughts of panic as I tried to make sense of this nightmare. I tried to stay strong. I tried to talk to God. I remember finding comfort hearing another inmate on the cell block say, “It will get better. They can’t hold you forever.”
I don’t remember falling asleep, but I remember my exhaustion. I wouldn’t be surprised if my brain erased that memory as a survival technique.
I woke up at 6 AM when the breakfast food tray was shoved into my cell. After eating, I remember the first thoughts of my new life. It no longer mattered who my family was, or where I went to school, or what neighborhood I grew up in.
My future was going to be dependent on the life and opportunities I created for myself.
I had to start working now - in the cell I was in - because I could already feel like it was going to be a long time before I could go home.
Two years later...
Rather than seeing prison as a horrible place, I choose to see prison as a training ground that could help prepare me to achieve my goals in life.
I used my imagination to transform the prisons I lived in into adventures that could empower me. Every morning, rather than waking up depressed about all the bars and razor-wire fences surrounding me, I chose to see these worlds as distraction-free environments where I could finally think for myself and discover the dreams I wanted to live.
Even though my body was incarcerated, I realized my mind was still free.
In some ways, the prison was a liberating mental experience. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel the pressure of school, family-expectations, and career choices that were confusing me and weighing me down. I didn’t feel like I had to be perfect. I could make mistakes. I finally felt like I was free to go on an adventure to find the type of person I wanted to become.
I spent the next ten years incarcerated in a tiny fifty square-foot cell with a roommate. I didn’t have to worry about making money, or choosing a job. I didn’t have any bills.
I realized that living in prison was like an entirely different planet, where the quality of your life depended on the quality of your thoughts. If your thoughts were positive and full of hope, you could live a good life. But if your thoughts were angry and depressing, your mind would tear you apart from the inside.
I realized very quickly that I wanted to end my addiction to drugs and partying. I mean, look at where those choices led me. I wanted a different life. I began exploring new possible missions I could live. I realized the only way for me to move on from the past was to change how I process life.
I tore down all of my old ways of thinking and I went on a mission to re-build my mind, attitude, and perspective. I wanted to create new ways to think that would lead me to a better life post-prison.
Re-building my mind became my new addiction.
I started to think that if I could re-build my mind into something I was proud of, my mind would naturally create a life and reality I could be proud of.
I didn’t know if this idea would work or not. But the logic made sense to me: Transforming my mind will be how I transform my life, even in prison. I began to see myself as my first test subject. I devoted my entire life to see if this experiment and logic would work.
Rather than becoming an expert in prison gossip, card games, and wasting time like most inmates; I rebelled against what was normal inside those walls. I became determined to learn how to maximize every second of my time.
I saw every minute as an opportunity to become either stronger or
weaker in my life.
By my second year in prison, I had developed a routine I stuck to almost every day. I woke up at 8 AM and worked on my writing until 11 AM. After the 11 AM count, (the guards counted every inmate 8 times a day to make sure no one escaped), I’d eat lunch in the cafeteria at 11:30 AM. At 1 PM, I’d
return to the desk in my cell to work on my writing again until 4 PM. After dinner, the evenings were my time to read, hang out with friends, and exercise in the prison yard.
This was my life for a decade. I spent most of my energy trying to learn what I called, “human truths.”
I considered “Human Truths” fields of knowledge that could help a human-being become successful in any era of human history. Since I couldn’t comprehend studying money or starting businesses (money and business didn’t exist in prison), I spent most of my time studying great leaders who had mastered these “Human Truths.”
I found great leaders like Martin Luther King, and Abraham Lincoln fascinating. My logic was if I could learn to think as they thought, then I could change my life just like they had changed the world.
My daily goal was simple: How do I become a smarter person today than I was yesterday? How can I build my mind into a machine that can change my reality, just like other great leaders had changed history?
The days of concentrating and studying in my prison cell turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Months into years. Suddenly, I realized I’d been in prison for 9 years and 364 days, and I was finally getting released the next morning. I was finally going to be free to put everything I had learned into real-life action to see if it would work and change my life.
It's been 17 years since my first day in jail
It’s now been 5 years since I was released from my decade of incarceration. I had a ton of apprehension before getting out. Would all of the knowledge and philosophy I studied for ten years help me overcome my troubled background? Would it even make a difference? Or had I wasted a decade?
Now that I can look back on it, I remain stunned by how much changing my mind ultimately changed my life.
Rather than focusing on short-term success when I got out, I focused on long-term success. I finished college my first year out. After college, I got my first job as a 31-year-old adult making $9 an hour. But that was just my start.
I then started my first business while living in my parent’s basement. I learned how to contract with vendors and manufacturers, and I went door to door selling branded apparel (t-shirts, hats, jackets) to businesses. The greatest skill I studied in prison was communication, (the ability to speak and write clearly) so I used those skills to build a network of awesome relationships that created a business for me. I made $20,000 in my first year of selling. I made $40,000 my second year. I made $60,000 my next few years.
As I made money, my new problem was: ”What do I do with the extra money I didn’t need to be happy?” My first big purchase was my house. I then learned how to buy mutual funds and invest in tax-free retirement accounts. I had such a positive experience with my first house that I decided to buy an
investment property and learned how to rent it out. That property now cash flows me $600 per month, which I use to buy more assets. After five years of doing everything I could to pursue "Everyday Excellence," I realized getting rich was the result of pursuing excellence in life.
The key was to avoid liabilities and invest in assets.
Now that I have been out of prison for five years, I am starting to live every dream I had when I was in prison. And, I'm realizing something truly remarkable: in the personal finance community, every article reminds me of the life I lived in prison.
This is what I mean: In early retirement and prison, you no longer have the pressure of people telling you who you should become and how you should live your life. You get to create what you think is important in life. In early retirement, YOU get to decide who you want to become in life.
In prison, money didn’t exist for me. Similarly, when I retire early, I think the meaning of money will cease to exist because I will have more money than I need. The problems I plan on exploring in early retirement are the same human problems I explored in my prison cell. Questions such as: “Who do I want to become? How do I create the most meaning and purpose out of the life I am living? How do I accomplish the goals my soul dreams of living?”
I believe these are the questions that will lead you to find wealth beyond your wildest dreams.
After all the crap I had to live through, I now realize that life is at its most exciting and beautiful when you have the freedom to become the person you have always dreamed of being. That’s what financial independence and early retirement is all about. It’s about having the time to become your most
Now that I am living that life in freedom, and inching closer to financial independence every day, that’s the same life I dream of living full-time in my early retirement.
READ THE FULL STORY OF THE NIGHT I WAS ARRESTED AND MY YEARS IN JAIL BY CLICKING HERE.
Here's a picture of Bill the moment he was released from prison.
Billy B. is the blogger behind WealthWellDone.com and is on a mission to help re-define wealth. The wealthiest person is NOT the person with the most money. The wealthiest person is the individual who best masters their mind, compounds their cash, and PURSUES THEIR PURPOSE IN LIFE. You can find him on Twitter @WealthWellDone as well as on Facebook.