Formerly Incarcerated Person Now Teaches Reintegrating Citizens "How to Live a Resilient Life"
Date:  10-28-2015

Dwight Dickerson offers techniques on reaching positive goals after incarceration that might benefit the 6,000 people who were just released en masse
The following article was written by Dwight Dickerson, a well-known advocate for criminal justice reform who hails from Connecticut. The information posted here is condensed from an empowerment course he teaches. Dickerson, who spent two years in prison speaks both from the heart and from experience to those who are finding the transition from prison back into the community challenging.

Dwight Dickerson invites those who work in the field of reentry to share “Living a Resilient Life After Incarceration” with their clients.

From Dickerson's message to forrmerly incarcertaed person:

“Returning home from incarceration can be a very daunting, stressful and frustrating experience for returning citizens, their families, and the community at large. Challenged with the need to secure adequate housing, employment, employment training, health care (and the list goes on and on), coupled with striving to achieve unrealistic expectations set by themselves and a myriad of others can exacerbate the process of returning successfully back into the community.

Sadly, many returning citizens experience feelings of being overwhelmed and hopeless, which can lead them to give up, abuse drugs or engage in criminal behavior which lands them back in jail.

I’d like to share with you the “Living a Resilient Life After Incarceration” series that worked for me and enabled me to reach the level of success I have obtained since returning home over 19 years ago. Today, I am Founder/CEO of Tri-Cord LLC Empowerment Training Group dedicated to empowering individuals with the means to be thoughtful, competent and self-sufficient, and to live brilliant lives.

“Living a Resilient Life after Incarceration” is a guide for those willing to work towards achieving the benefits of successful reintegration.

1. Embrace your successes and failures in life

Why is it that we are quick to embrace our successes and quick to distance ourselves from our failures? In truth, what I have learned from my own shortcomings is that it is through our failures that we learn our greatest lessons about life and about ourselves. Embracing my failures with the same commitment I exhibited when it came to trumpeting my successes has been a healthy experience for me. By doing so, it has allowed me to accept myself for the total person I have become, without judgment, and has enabled me to focus on the areas of my life that needed to be addressed. For me, that’s when the real work began.

Acceptance of who we are coupled with the desire for change are the two main ingredients needed to begin the work that will lead one to living a resilient life after incarceration. I understand fully that embracing your failures may be a concept that may be unconventional and scary for some, but please do not knock it until you have tried it.

I’d like to share something my mother use to say to me all the time throughout my life which was, “If it doesn’t kill you it can only make you stronger.” Mom was right!

I would like to share with you the four nuggets of truth that I hope will encourage you as you began your journey to living a resilient life after incarceration:

  • You are not the sum total of your mistakes but the sum total of both your successes and failures. You are who you are today based upon all your experiences in life, both good and bad.

  • Falling down is a part of life. Deciding whether or not you are going to get back up, brush yourself off and keep going is the key to being successful in life.

  • Failures are nothing more than opportunities, therefore the question we should ask ourselves is, “How can I best leverage this opportunity to help me to fulfill my purpose in life”? We all have a purpose in life and living a purposeful life should be our focus.

  • Real failure is when you give up trying.

    Step 2: Developing a “What If” Plan

    When my wife and I decided to add an addition to our home we went to the bank and took out a construction loan based upon the worth of the house once it was completed. Within the loan agreement there was an additional 20% added in for unexpected costs during the construction period. The bank had their own plan B in place, and without their foresight our house would not be the home it is today. They had their own “What If” plan in place! And so should we!

    After returning home in 1996 I began attending a support group that exposed me to the “What If” philosophy. The “What If” philosophy is that by not planning for the unexpected you limit your chances for success. With life being so unpredictable it is wise to always have a plan B, and sometimes a plan C, in place

    For the next five years I was required to present a “What If Plan” to my group members for their input, for any activities or travel plans that were outside my normal daily routine. In the beginning I found this requirement to be very intrusive, silly, and a pain in the butt, yet as time went on it became a tool that I enjoyed doing and still use today.

    There is an old saying; “If you fail to plan you plan to fail.” Today, to be successful it is imperative to begin to practice creating “What If” plans. Although we cannot plan for everything that may come our way, by developing the habit of asking ourselves the “What If” question, and creating subsequent plans B and C, we will begin to build self-confidence in our ability to plan for the unexpected. Secondly, when the unexpected arises, being prepared will actually lower your stress level. Having a plan B and a plan C only increases your percentage of being successful.”

    The following are highlights of Dickerson’s “10 Steps to Living a Resilient Life Against All Odds.”

    1. Embrace your success and failures in life (Be willing to do the work).

    2. Develop the “What If” approach (Create a plan b and c).

    3. Build a well established support network (Success was never meant to be a one-man journey).

    4.Dream big (without a vision people perish).

    5.Be authentic with yourself and those around you (Truth is the first step to a new beginning).

    6.Renew your mind (cognitive retraining).

    7. Maintain a positive attitude.

    8. Give back to the community (It’s not just about you).

    9. Develop a strong spiritual foundation.

    10. Don’t give up (Failure is not an option).”

    Dwight Dickerson is the Founder/CEO of Tri-Cord LLC Empowerment Training Group, dedicated to empowering individuals with the means to be thoughtful, competent, self-sufficient and to live brilliant lives. Since his return home he has earned a B.A. in Sociology from Yale University, and a M.A. from the University of New Haven in Community Psychology. In 2014 he self-published his first book, “Inner Thoughts,” which can be purchased on Amazon.com, at Barnes and Noble and as well as other venues. To schedule a speaking engagement he can be reached at 203-497-2201 or at dwight.dickerson@empowermenttrainng.org.

    Dickerson's book "Inner Thoughts A Poetic Journey from Childhood to Adulthood" can be found here and here.