What Jail Taught Me About Human Nature

What Jail Taught Me About Human Nature

I’ve spent a lot of time in jail.

Not as an inmate, as a sheriff’s deputy working in the pods.

(that’s why you call the room with all the cells in it.)

I worked the maximum security/disciplinary segregation pods at the jail…

It’s for inmates with serious felony charges or those who lack the social skills to cope with everyday life.

You learn a lot by watching how inmates interact. It’s an unfiltered look at how we would act if we didn’t have any self-regulating systems for things like impulse control, the ability to delay gratification or a lowered ability to rationalize when emotions are high.

Don’t get me wrong. Not all inmates are like that. Most of them are average people who got in a bar fight or got caught with some weed during a traffic stop.

But the inmates I worked with had every social and emotional problem imaginable.

If you happen to be studying psychology in college right now I HIGHLY suggest you spend some time shadowing the psychologist in your local jail.

You’ll learn more in a week than you will after 4 years in school.

But despite all their problems I came to realize that we’re all very similar at our core.

1. We all lose the ability to rationalize when emotions are high.

Criminals are worse than your average person but you and I suffer from the same affliction.

If you want to shut off someone’s ability to reason, intensify their feelings of joy, anger, sadness and fear.

2. We’re all looking for a leader – even when we say we aren’t.

In jail, there’s a hierarchy similar to our political system. There are presidents (pod bosses), police (enforcers), laws (a code) and courts (groups of leaders who discuss how to deal with people who break the code).

Despite what people might say, we like these hierarchies because they give our world structure, making us feel safer.

3. We all crave human connection.

Repeat offenders may act hard but most of them suffer from severe depression, inferiority, anxiety and fear.

They’re desperate for human connection. Weekly visits are essential to an inmate’s mental health and they’re necessary for your health as well. So get out from behind your computer and go meet some real people.

4. Who you surround yourself with matters a LOT.

Most criminals are repeat offenders. They are in and out of jail their entire lives. The same for drug users. And the one thing I’ve concluded is that their environment has a bigger impact on their success than anything else.

If a guy gets out of jail and goes right back to his old neighborhood he is going to fall back into old habits and behaviors. The same is true for you and me.

If you want your life to change you have the change the places you go and the people you surround yourself with.

5. Everyone has a chance at a better life.

During my time in the jail, there was one inmate that stuck in my mind.

He was a habitual meth addict. His family owned a strip club on the edge of town.

Each time he came into the jail he was strung out and malnourished. He spent days detoxing in his cell before emerging looking like the walking dead.

But as the months went on his health would improve. He was very intelligent with a great sense of humor. He was kind and friendly to everyone.

Each time he came back to jail he told me, “This time I’m staying clean and never coming back.” Then a few months later I’d see him again.

Then one day he came up to me and said,

“Deputy Stapleton, you know I’m getting out next week?”

“Yes,” I said. “What’s your plan?”

“I’m getting the hell outta town. Going to my aunt’s place up in Colorado. I know that if I go back home I’m gonna go right back to using drugs and I can’t have that no more.”

“I think that’s a smart decision and I wish you luck.”

I didn’t think much about what he said. Inmates make a lot of promises while they’re locked up.

My life went on. I left the sheriff’s department and started doing private security work in Iraq.

A few years later while I was home on vacation I was shopping at a grocery store and saw this inmate.

He was almost unrecognizable. He was 50 pounds heavier. His hair was combed and he was dressed modestly but professional.

“Rick?” (not his real name) “Is that you?” I asked.

“Deputy Stapleton! Man, I never thought I’d see you again.”

“How are things going?” I asked. “You look great. Are you back in town?”

“Just for the weekend. My mom died and I’m here for the funeral.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. What are you doing now?”

“I’m still liv’in in Colorado. Got a job as the night manager at a convenience store. Just trying to keep my life straight.”

We chatted for a few more seconds and then parted ways.

I hope he’s still doing well. But even if he isn’t, it proved to me that there’s hope for everyone.

No matter how bad someone seems – everyone has some potential to improve.

The same is true for you. I don’t care where you’ve come from or how many times you’ve failed…

I don’t care who you’ve hurt or who’s hurt you. All of that is in the past. You can start new, right now, and create the life you want.

All you have to do is decide to take that first step in a new direction.

Happy Tuesday,


P.S. Enrollment in the ‘Influential Writers Intensive’ opens next week. Get on the waitlist to be notified first AND get an extra bonus when you enroll.


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