I went to prison once.
Well, now that I come to think about it, I’ve been there a few times. Not against my will, I hasten to add. On a few occasions I have visited prisoners in their cells and toured a prison facility.
For those of you who have not had the opportunity to wander beyond the bars, I need to tell you that a prison is not a pleasant place. Not by any means. It is, after all, a place of punishment, not a holiday resort. And although the public often go on about the privileges prisoners sometimes are allowed, only one trip through the gates is enough to convince you that whatever privileges they receive in no way makes up for what they have lost.
The abiding memory I have of my visits to prisons is the constant opening, closing and locking of thick steel doors and gates as I moved through the place. You seldom move more than a few metres before another gate gets locked behind you. And even though I was free to leave at any time, the feeling of being trapped and held was overwhelming.
It is a feeling of being deprived of the most basic necessity, freedom. And those in prison encounter many other deprivations. Everything that identifies you as an individual is taken away. You wear their clothes, eat their food, obey their rules, arrange your day around their schedules, and associate with people they force you to associate with. As I said, it is not a pleasant place.
So why am I telling you about this? Well, unless you have recently returned to earth from another galaxy, you will know that Oscar “The Blade Runner” Pistorius is now in prison. In theory he could be there for five years, although in reality he could be out within a year. And whether or not that is a fair sentence for his crime, the fact is that one day in prison is a long time. And one month is an eternity.
During his time in prison, and especially now as he adjusts to prison life, he will need to draw on the considerable mental skills he used to make him an elite athlete. That he became arguably the most successful para-athlete of all time, and then pushed beyond that and fought for the right to compete against able bodied athletes at the highest level, indicates that he has well above average mental stamina and determination. He will need all of that stamina to get through the next few months.
Right away he will need to move on.
Prison is the perfect place to indulge in self-pity and rumination. Just as cows ruminate, bringing partly digested food back up to chew over yet again, in prison with the interminable hours of boredom, there is more than ample opportunity to bring up past issues, chew over them for any anger or resentment they may still contain, and then tuck them away for a future “chewing the cud” session. I am sure you know that every person in prison is innocent and is the victim of injustice. And the pastime of most prisoners is to chew over that injustice. It is emotionally destructive behaviour.
Oscar will have to use the same resilience he used on the athletics track to recover from failure. Every athlete has experienced failure. At that point they can either wallow in the failure and allow it to consume them, or they can move on. He has failed in his attempt to stay out of jail. He can either exhaust himself fighting that reality, or he can accept what is and work within that reality to serve each day in the most constructive way possible.
The advantage that Pistorius has is that he has, or should have, a higher level of mental stamina than other inmates. He should have the ability to recover from failure, take the blow, and look forward to improving himself.
Such are the choices around failure. Either ruminate on it and let it sink you, or swallow it once and get on with life.
Mental Conditioning Coach
083 4617 123 www.jonathanpayne.co.za