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Essay: "Winners and Losers"

Making a Win Out of Loss

Prisoners all know about losing. No one gets to prison without losing in court. To lose there is to lose your freedom. Even if a prisoner has the conviction thrown out on appeal (a rare win) and their freedom returned, for a time he has known loss as only a prisoner can. Your freedom is your most important possession, whether you know it or not. Most don't miss it until it's gone.

Being incarcerated brings losses of its own. Time can steal family and friends, from some it takes away the will to live, bringing the loss of health and wasted youth. It's hard to get beyond such losses. I even lost my humanity for a time. I was hitting bottom. There was nothing left to live for and I continued to lose more by taking anybodies drugs I could get, usually prescribed psych drugs, to alter the reality of life that wasn't worth living.

Fate sent me new friends to take the place of family. They made me face the pertinent question: How can I win in prison if I'm never going to live long enough to get out? My new friends, however, brought more than questions. They brought support and answers and guided my life into a new direction. The answer for me was to write. At first I was judging the worth of my writing according to the dollars it was brining in. That was and is zero. The goal of making money gave me incentive to write and changed the direction of my life. I had a reason to keep living for a little longer.

Now my expectations are lower, though I would like to get rich, at least by prison standards, which doesn't take much. In most people's eyes I am wealthy now, and I really am. Winning today is being read by intelligent people, having them enjoy my work, maybe be moved by it and have their perspective of prisoners and prison changed by what I have to say. I'm winning big on that front. Still, I receive no payment of money for my writing, but I 'm getting lots of satisfaction.

I had a real big win this morning. I mailed the last section of my first book out to a friend. If it get where it's going (the postal service has lost my mail before), I'll have one book written. It may never be published. That's another goal and connected to the money thing. It is suitable for submission and that's no small achievement. You appreciate books more once you have written one.

Those may seem like small wins, but they are large for me or anyone else locked in a prison cell. I received Honorable mention from PEN's Writing Contest and a six month subscription to "The Sun" for a little piece they used. Even my losses at writing are wins. Rejection letters abound and gather in my files. It takes self-confidence to submit work to publishers. That's a win even if you don't win and a personal note on the form letter of rejection is a major win for me. It's a matter of never giving up.

Whatever your personal talent, you can win too if you strive to improve. You can't win if you give up on trying. Life is too precious to give up. Prison does not have to be the end of life. It can be the beginning if you continue to live and refuse to give in to it. A loss doesn't have to remain a loss if you turn it into a win.

-Daniel H. Harris