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Yes, we’ve all heard it: “Quarantine feels like a prison!” Well, I’m here to help you debunk that myth. There are myriad reasons why it’s not even close, but here are just a few that stand out: I’m assuming there are no prison riots in your home; you don’t have to worry about getting shanked while you sleep; you don’t have house correctional officers raiding your bedroom looking for contraband; you can use the bathroom at your leisure (what an amazing luxury); and most of you probably have cold, clean drinking water. I can go on, from food not made for human consumption to no daylight to shackles on your feet and hands when moving units.
So, while quarantine can totally suck, you’re still not quite in prison. Plus, there are a million ways to use your time wisely while dealing with the lockdown. And, please don’t let my sarcasm take away from my empathy towards the current situation though. No matter the scenario, nobody wants to stay locked up in a confined space all day every day. I feel you on that.
You’re probably wondering: Well, what makes you an expert? “Well, Jim,” as a young man, I went to prison and was institutionalized more times than I like to admit and have learned these invaluable life and business lessons by intimately experiencing the great challenges of life in lockup. Yes, yay me! You can read more about my life story on my website. I also wrote a comedy book about prison called Don’t Drop the Soap that shares some life hacks, workout and even food recipes. Go check it out if you want a good read during quarantine.
In prison, inmates focus daily on something they refer to as their “program,” which is essentially their daily routine. It is the backbone of a successful prison term, because it keeps you focused and active. Most inmates live and die by their program, and as a freshly minted quarantine-ee, I recommend you do the same.
Here are my 10 OG quarantine tips.
1. Learn a new skill
While I was in prison, I taught myself how to build websites using my #2 pencil, textbooks and a notepad, so I don’t want to hear your excuses. (I even have a course you can take.) This is a great time to learn a new skill to make a bunch of money, expand your mental capacity or to make the best use of your time.
2. Read daily
Over the course of two years in prison, I read well over 300 books. Reading keeps your mind sharp, expands your imagination and improves your vernacular. Even fiction has its place, especially in a confined space. What are you reading currently? I’d love to hear. Send me your list on Twitter @andrewmedal.
3. Write daily
As entrepreneurs and leaders, we must always strive to be the best communicators and learn how to clearly articulate our messages and words. In prison, your written word becomes your voice on the outside while being cut off from other communication means (like in-person communication, emails, calls, texts, etc.). Writing daily in prison had a profound effect on how much stronger I communicated, in all areas of my life, upon my release. If you don’t know what to write, keep a daily journal of your thoughts, ideas and feelings. Start writing and set dedicated time aside each day.
4. Work out daily
You don’t have weights? Who cares! Body-weighted workouts can destroy you and get you super-ripped. Plus, the dopamine and discipline you’ll reap from working out far outweigh the physical benefits, especially as an entrepreneur.
5. Connect with your higher power
Harvard research studies of meditation have shown benefits against an array of physical and mental conditions, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The most “woke” people I’ve personally ever met in my life are inmates doing life in prison, most of whom have dedicated their life to daily meditation or some form of spiritual connection. There’s something about captivity that reminds you how insignificant the human species is and how there must be more to life. It is also the secret formula for living with empathy and looking outside of yourself, which is much needed in our modern society.
6. Get a side hustle
The underlying fabric of the inmate prison system sits atop an unbreakable entrepreneurial foundation. Every single inmate in prison has a hustle. That hustle can be the yard’s tattoo artist, the laundry guy, the sports bookie, the yard chef and a million others both legal and not so legal (I mean, it is a prison, so what do you expect?). Side hustles on the outside are all the rave, and this is the perfect time to do it. The quickest way to create a side hustle is to monetize your skills and hobbies. For example, if you like to write in your downtime, create a content agency, or if you have a passion for baking, start selling your baked goods to friends and neighbors. A side hobby can net you an extra couple of bucks per month, and everyone loves extra money. I share tons of side hobby ideas on my Instagram account, so go connect with me there @andrewmedal!
7. Find a new hobby
The prison yard is full of hobbies, from drawing to working out, chess, reading, handball and playing cards 24-7. Inmates are unfortunately forced to pass the time, but it becomes a nice way to escape their current circumstances. This is a great way for you to do the same. One of mine and my wife’s new favorite hobby is playing cards after dinner once we put our newborn baby girl down for bed. We’ll even throw in a little bit of cash in the pot for bragging rights. This new hobby has been something we look forward to all day and provides a fun way to escape and bond.
8. Learn a new language
If you’re looking to improve your memory, your decision-making ability and overall cognitive health, you better dust off that ‘ol Espanol dos libro and get to studying. Prison language is a dialect unto its own, and as a fresh fish, if you want to survive without getting gutted, you better learn how to communicate with the other inmates fast. I previously wrote a useful article titled “13 Prison Slang Terms You Should Use with Co-Workers” for anyone wanting to learn some handy prison slang. And instead of using with coworkers, you can use it with your quarantine mates and on Zoom calls.
9. Share stories
Sharing stories in prison is almost a rite of passage. Inmates gather around the yard sharing their most epic stories from the streets. Sharing stories is an amazing way to entertain, teach, and learn about one another. As a species, our culture has been built on storytelling and this is an incredibly useful skill to build as an entrepreneur. Storytelling can help you raise capital, gain new customers, and create brand loyalty. We live in the attention economy and there’s no better way to gain an audience’s attention than through a good story.
I spoke briefly about what programming in prison above and how it becomes the lifeline for every inmate and how they manage their day. Creating a consistent schedule and routine becomes the most effective way to do time. Programming teaches discipline, provides structure and is a super-useful productivity hack. I’ve applied programming to my life as an entrepreneur and have reaped massive benefits in my ROI of time and energy. During quarantine, it can become too easy to just forget your normal routine and let the day run away.
For fun, here’s also a quick hit list of things to avoid during a lockdown: uncontrollable gambling, drugs, treating quarantine like it’s an extended spring break and excessive TV binging. Some of these vices are how inmates get into a wreck while doing their time, and you may as well learn from them what not to do too. Make the best of your quarantine time and come out of lockdown smarter, more jacked and with a side hustle. Then, you too can have that “slammer swagger.” Stay safe!