My Mindset in Prison

633 Days Inside by Greg Lindberg


My Mindset in Prison

Someday you might be faced with having to choose which prison you will lock up in, a prison of your own making or a prison run by those whom you have been bold enough to challenge.

was prepared to do my time in prison regardless of how long it took.

Admiral Stockdale describes this mindset well: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.” Admiral Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for 8 years. He survived unspeakable conditions and cruelty. He talked about two groups of fellow prisoners who were unable to survive: those who gave up hope, and those
whose hope was based on overly optimistic prognoses. Stockdale said the overly optimistic folks always believed they would be home by Christmas, by Easter, by their anniversary, by year end. When it didn’t happen, their spirit was crushed.

Stockdale took the other route. He believed that, while they may not get out today, this month, or even this year, they would get home. While none of us are likely to be called upon to show the heroism of Admiral Stockdale, we can learn from his experience. We must accept the facts before we can deal with them. When I checked into prison in October of 2020, I was facing up to 87 months in prison. I resolved to continue my fight behind bars as long as it took to win. Yes, I hoped my prison time would be short. But I resolved at the time to learn how adaptable I could be to survive and thrive in this new environment. Humans are far more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for. Some of the greatest works in history have been dreamt up by people who were unjustly incarcerated.

In 1605, Miguel de Cervantes wrote the first volume of the groundbreaking literary classic Don Quixote while serving time in prison. French nobleman Marquis de Sade spent nearly all of his stints in prison writing, eventually completing 11 novels, 16 novellas, and 20 plays. Open editorial piece Letters from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. was written and published while he was imprisoned in Alabama. A direct criticism and call to action against the injustices of the U.S. court system, particularly its racial prejudices—an incredible work by an incredible leader whose significance can hardly be duplicated—was written in prison.

Humans can survive just about any adversity and turn it into a greater advantage. The first step is getting to the cold, hard truth about the adversity that you face.

Twenty years ago, everyone subscribed to print magazines and newsletters. The industry was bullish on print, even as circulation numbers began to fall. Publishers found articles entitled “Why Print Will Never Die” and circulated them among themselves. At every conference, there were feel-good presentations about how nothing would ever replace the weight of a book or magazine in your hands.

Some publishers faced the fact that print and mail were getting more expensive, while free content was becoming more and more readily available on the Web. Some of these publishers started testing workflow products and software. Others came up with creative ways to monetize Web content. Still others began using their content to sell products. Those companies look very different than they did 20 years ago. Some aren’t even recognizable as publishing companies, but they are thriving.

The companies that spent their time telling each other that print would never die have failed. How were the successful companies different? First, they had leaders willing to face realities head on and who fearlessly tried and failed with many models knowing that one would prevail in the end. Second, they had a culture of reality.

“We must not lose our sense of proportion and thus become discouraged or alarmed. When we face with a steady eye the difficulties which lie before us, we may derive new confidence by remembering those we have already overcome.”

–Winston Churchill, (Broadcast “Report of the War,” April 27, 1941)

Winston Churchill personified resolve. He believed England would prevail against Hitler’s war machine against all odds. He knew there were almost insurmountable challenges in their way. He knew his intelligence personnel were discovering new facts about Hitler’s growing munitions factories and troop movements every day. He also knew he had a huge, challenging personality and few people would be willing to tell him bad news. So, he created the Statistical Office. This ministry existed outside the regular chain of command. Its sole purpose was to feed him unvarnished facts.

You want leaders with big personalities. You want strong, aggressive leaders. Those traits can also create an environment where people hesitate to come forward with bad news. That is why you must create a Culture of Reality where people are encouraged to speak up, no matter what.

Ask yourself: “How often do I get bad news before it shows up in the numbers? Do I get it early enough to act on it instead of reacting to it? How short is the path of information from the customer to my ear? How do I know what customers think about my products?”

Use these strategies to create a climate where brutal facts are shared:

  • Make sure all employees are trained on your values
  • Lead with questions, not answers
  • Engage dialogue and debate, not coercion
  • Conduct autopsies without blame
  • Build red flag mechanisms
  • Ensure a robust customer feedback loop

I saw the power of the Stockdale Paradox firsthand at FPC Montgomery. Those inmates who said “I’m going to get out by Christmas” because of some x, y, or z potential development in their case or new Bureau of Prisons policy were almost always disappointed. Some of them became bitter as a result and turned to unhealthy habits like overeating, etc. Those inmates who planned to be in prison the full length of their sentence did the best. They adjusted to the new life. They found happy places where they could find some contentment despite being locked up. They took on projects and found productive work that not only occupied their mind but made them stronger.

The survival formula for prison or for any major adversity and extreme circumstance you face is simple: (1) Accept the worst as a real possibility; (2) Find work and find daily productive tasks; (3) Set goals for improvement of your circumstances and measure your progress towards those goals. Every incremental improvement is a reason to celebrate. The Stockdale Paradox doesn’t mean to give up optimism. It simply means to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. And preparing for the worst means daily work and daily incremental improvements that will sustain you as long as it takes under the worst-case scenario to overcome your ordeal.

Get Better, Not Bitter*

It’s natural to be angry at whoever has set you back, done you harm, and treated you with indignity. For some time, this anger is unavoidable for most of us. However, the faster you turn this anger into productive activity, the faster you can turn the adversity to your advantage.

After I was incarcerated, I started fasting for 44-48 hours in between meals. The stress of my legal battles and incarceration had already taken years off my life. I decided I was going to do whatever it took to get those years back. That’s when I began researching intermittent fasting. Dozens of studies show numerous health benefits, including a potential 10x increase in ketone bodies which stimulate brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which stimulates brain cell growth.

*SPECIFIC DISCLAIMER: As I share my experiences with intermittent fasting and theories on quantum physics, I acknowledge that I am not a medical professional and that one should always consult with a physician before undertaking intermittent fasting and making other drastic changes to their diet and lifestyle. For independent research, see Appendix D for scientific studies, research and articles on the benefits of intermittent fasting.Your Content Goes Here

Since I’ve started my fasts, my memory has improved dramatically, my sleep quality has improved dramatically, and my creativity, focus, and attention to detail have all increased. Fasting is quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is far harder than checking into prison. I would never have found the discipline to make such a life-changing step if I wasn’t focused on turning my adversity to my advantage.

In the middle of my fast, when the hunger is the greatest, I tell myself, “If I don’t succeed, they win.” Bill Stetzer, one of the prosecutors in my case, said at my sentencing hearing that he wanted to “incapacitate Greg Lindberg.” I am not going to be incapacitated. I am not going to let them win. I transformed the anger into productive activity. From the hundreds of medical journal articles I read, intermittent fasting is the single most powerful anti-aging treatment on the planet. And it’s free and available to most of the 7.7 billion of us humans. The catch: intermittent fasting in a world of food abundance where 3 meals a day is socially acceptable is extraordinarily hard to do. I am thankful that I faced the challenges I’ve faced. They have given me the strength to do what I never would have done before. What strength can you find from your adversities?

Calm Under Fire

If there is anything that prison teaches you, it’s calm under fire. “They’ve already locked me up; so what else could they do?” I see in the outside world enormous angst and fear over this and that. It’s unproductive, and it undermines good leadership. The best leaders operate primarily in the cerebellum and have figured out how to disconnect the “fight or flight” emotion from their decision-making. They face indignities, insults, threats, pain, and failures with a calm determination. Their communications don’t carry a negative emotional load that furthers the angst in the organization at the very time the organization requires rational and fearless thinking.

A simple technique: if you are facing a grave threat, start fasting. Your body will produce the brain-stimulating chemical compound “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” in substantially increased quantities after 24 to 48 hours of fasting. On that second day of fasting, your creativity, memory, confidence, and focus will multiply rapidly. You will become supercharged with energy to overcome the threats you face. Your heart rate will slow down, and a general calm will overcome you. These are all the traits we humans evolved over tens of thousands of years as hunter/gatherers.

When food was scarce, our bodies went into over-drive and produced extraordinary mental and muscular energy. The gene that produced this response to hunger very quickly came to dominate the human gene pool as those who became stronger and smarter about hunger lived longer and had more children. So stay calm under fire. Don’t eat—drink only water. And take your leadership to a new level. The most amazing thing about intermittent fasting: the changes to your memory, speed of cognition, and vascular health are permanent because they occur via epigenetic changes, i.e. your genes are expressed differently and permanently after a period of intermittent fasting.