White Collar Support Group 350th Meeting Reflection: “I’m More Than a Number, and It Took Going to Prison To Understand That”, by Fellow Traveler Craig Stanland
Craig Stanland is a member of our White Collar Support Group that meets on Zoom on Monday evenings. On March 6, 2023, we will hold our 350th meeting – 7 years of community!
I wrote this 7 years ago (2016); I was just released from the Brooklyn halfway house and was navigating the shame, uncertainty, and fear that shadowed me.
I was learning how to get back to myself and who I am. – Craig Stanland
Having completed my twenty-four-month sentence in Federal prison, I’m at the beginning stages of supervised release.
Essentially probation in the federal system.
My supervised release will run for three years.
During this time, I will report to a probation officer.
As part of this process, I’m required to complete financial disclosure documents.
I understand why I must do this and accept responsibility for my actions.
I received the documents during my initial visit to the probation office.
I didn’t really look at them at the time.
When I got home, I decided to start working on them. Grabbing my pen, I turned the page and found myself staring into the past.
These were the same forms I was required to fill out before I was sentenced to prison.
I was immediately transported back in time to the day my attorney told me to fill out the form.
Fear and uncertainty shadowed my every step.
The dark cloud of prison looming over me. Moments of joy snuffed out like a candle in the wind.
Unaware of where I would be going, my safety was a perpetual concern. I feared that I had permanently destroyed my life and I would never recover.
Now, sitting in my apartment, as free as I’ve been in years, I’m consumed by the same feelings I had two years ago.
Shame. Guilt. Sadness. Embarrassment. Self-loathing. Worthlessness.
My heart races, and my breathing is short and labored.
A panic attack is only a few pen strokes away.
I put the form down; the pressure is too much.
The memories are too strong and powerful; my emotions are as clear as the day I first felt them.
The gigantic hole that I have worked so diligently to fill returned. I feel empty inside. My confidence shattered.
After a week of torment, of starting and stopping, I finished the documents.
Only to find out that I didn’t have to. The week of anxiety didn’t need to happen. I was both relieved and pissed.
But now, I’ve been asked to complete the forms again.
My heart skips a beat, and my breath becomes shallow.
It’s the same reaction I had the first and second times staring at these forms.
The forms are insanely detailed.
How much to the penny do you make, how much do you spend, and what do you spend it on?
Individual lines for every expense, groceries, phone, clothing, transportation, everything.
It’s a financial dissection of my life, and there isn’t much to dissect.
I have an acquaintance who is buying a home.
She’s filling out similar paperwork, but obviously for much different reasons.
Every expense is under a microscope, and the bank analyzes every purchase she makes.
We commiserate about the process.
About how we feel that we’re letting somebody see us in a way most people don’t.
How quickly a human life can be distilled from all that it is into nothing more than a number.
This is how I am being viewed by the government and how I have viewed myself.
I’ve been complicit in this myopic viewpoint.
So many of us have. So many of us have filled out similar paperwork for whatever reason.
We feel exposed as though we are showing our true selves to whoever is on the receiving end of the form.
All because of a number, we fall prey to the judgments of ourselves and the judgments of others.
A competitive measuring stick in a competition that can never be won.
So many of us fall into this trap.
It might not be a number written on paper, but the car in our garage, the watch on our wrist, or the clothes we wear.
When did we take such a wrong turn associating our identity and self-worth with how much we make? And, in turn, how we spend that money?
When did a number and things become who we are?
I have been working diligently to change this perception of myself.
To fill myself from the inside and not seek externals to fill the holes inside me.
It’s a long road, but one worth walking.
This train of thought has led me to the eternal question:
Who am I, and why am I here?
I don’t know the answer to this question. How many people do?
But what I know is this:
These numbers are not me.
What I wear, what I drive, and where I live are not me.
They are not a snapshot of who I am.
They are merely things.
Providing details of what I make and what I buy may feel personal, but it isn’t.
This is not being exposed. This is not what matters in life. This is not who I am.
Being authentic and honest, sharing my fears, my loves, my ideas, and my passions.
Writing and opening my soul and showing my true self, warts and all.
Experiencing life, not purchasing life.
This, to me, is being exposed. And it’s through this exposure that comes courage.
This is what I’m learning is essential in life.
The truth is:
I’m a guy who is trying to keep his head above water.
I’m a guy who is scared of plenty of things.
I try every day to do something I enjoy.
To add whatever value, big or small, to this world that I can. Trying every day to help somebody.
Stranger, friend, or loved one.
Some days I succeed, and other days I fail. But I will approach each new day and try again.
I am not my past.
I am not a number.
I am a free man.
Craig Stanland is a Reinvention Architect & Mindset Coach, TEDx & Keynote Speaker, and the Best-Selling Author of “Blank Canvas, How I Reinvented My Life After Prison.”
He specializes in working with high-achievers who’ve chased success, money, and status in their 1st half, only to find a success-sized hole in their lives.
He helps them unleash their full potential, break free from autopilot, draft a new life blueprint, and connect with their Life’s Mission so they can live extraordinary lives with purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. Connect with him here.