The Way – A Fable About Right and Wrong

This is the second part of the first Chapter of my book:
The Way – A Fable About Right and Wrong.

Chapter 1 (continued)

PRISON Bunks
A man walked up to Paul, a big smile on his face, his hand outstretched. A diminutive older, almost regal looking gentleman with a cane, stood slightly behind the man.
“My name is Orlando, welcome to our humble abode. This is Levi, we call him O.C., which stands for ‘Old Codger’”, as he gestured toward the old man.

“Don’t believe a word he says,” said Levi. “The last person to call me O.C. ended up in the infirmary missing a few of his teeth. I still have them if you want to see.”

Orlando extended his hand further, until he grasped mine, and shook it firmly. The old man just smiled, as he handed me several items he was carrying in the hand that wasn’t holding the cane.

“Here are a few items you will need. They are supposed to give you this stuff when they check you in, but they never do. Seems the Federal Government doesn’t have enough money for the essentials, or perhaps it’s that the essentials disappear before we can get them.” With that, he handed me a bar of soap, toothbrush, and tube of toothpaste, deodorant, a razor, and a towel.

“I know you have a towel in your bedroll there, but you really need two. They are so thin, you could read a newspaper through them. That’s something you might want to invest in from the commissary. You won’t get anything else around here until at least Monday, probably Tuesday when the Camp Laundry opens back up for business. And it will take you at least until next week to be able to buy anything at the commissary. So, take these, and if you need anything else, just let me know.”

Orlando took a look at the shoes I was wearing, and the pants, as I had finally gotten the strength to stand.

“You are going to need something else to wear until the laundry opens up and you are able to get clothes and shoes. You can’t walk around all weekend in those shoes and pants. As usual, those assholes in Intake, love to mess with new blood, and give you stuff that they know won’t fit. I’ll find you some shoes and some pants that will feel a lot more comfortable. And I will get you a pair of shower shoes until you can buy some. You cannot take a shower in this place in your bare feet. I don’t even want to explain that to you just now”, he said with a wry grin. “In the meantime, let me help you make up your bunk, so that you are ready for the stand-up count. Have you met your “bunkee” yet? Here he comes now.”

With that, a short, balding, chunky, but powerfully built sixty-ish looking fellow with a sour expression on his face, strode up.

“Make sure you understand, that bottom bunk is mine, and so is that metal chair. The top bunk is yours, and you can use this green plastic chair.”

“You haven’t even introduced yourself yet Amado, and already you are pissing off your new bunkee and giving him orders. Be careful he doesn’t kick your ass and embarrass you in front of the whole unit”, said Orlando.

“Besides”, said Levi, “this man is going to have a lot of trouble getting up on that top bunk. Just look at him.”

Levi was right. I was at least 60 pounds overweight, and my body felt it. I had no idea how I would climb up into that bunk, and more importantly, climb down again, especially in the middle of the night when I had to take a leak.

“That’s not my problem” said Amado. “I’ve been in this dump for 7 of the last 17 years of my bid, and I have at least 5 more to go. I am not giving up my bottom bunk. I don’t give a rat’s ass who needs it, how fat or how sick they are“.

“If I were you my friend” said Levi, “what’s your name again? I would put in a request at the clinic for a bottom bunk. You stand a better chance of them giving it to you before the counselors or guards will”.

“Paul, my name is Paul Gonzalez-Perez, and I appreciate all of your help”.

Orlando continued to make up my bunk with an ease and dexterity that spoke to years of practice. I would have to learn how to do this. Without even looking up, he said “you won’t get phone privileges until you establish an account and put some money in it. That will take a week or two. Give me a phone number for someone you want to reach in your family, and I will have my wife call them to let them know you are OK.”

Before I could answer, and as Orlando finished making up my bunk, a raspy, obnoxious and incredibly loud female voice boomed from the front of the dorm, “COUNT!”. The entire unit, which just until now had been as loud as a rock concert, fell completely silent, and my first 4 PM count began.

I was in jail. Along, with 400 other men. Yet I was alone. And I wished I was physically dead, because I felt emotionally, mentally, intellectually, and most importantly, spiritually dead. And it was the absolute worst day of my 56 year old, worthless life. But little did I know, that at the same time, it was also the best day of my life.

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The Way – A Fable About Right and Wrong

highway sign
CHAPTER 1
Paul sat on the folding metal chair as the noise swelled around him and washed over him in waves. It was almost too much to bear. Dozens of different conversations, a hundred voices, all wanting to be heard, talking in riddles, speaking in tongues. The language of the street, of the scam, of the mundane, of the lawless, of the convict, as he would quickly come to know.
His clothes were provisional, given to him just 15 minutes ago during Intake, too tight, and reeking of sweat and a number of other unidentified odors. The pants would not fit over his hips, no matter how hard he pulled on them, exposing the crack of his ass, and who knew what else. The white t-shirt, was stained, and straining over his gut. The shoes were slip-on sneakers, with paper thin soles, and he could feel the bare concrete floor all the way to his knees.
The cacophony of the conversations continued. By his rough estimate, in his drunken stupor, about 40 or so conversations, men feeling the urgent need to make known a very important opinion about the most trivial thing. Some of the men lay quietly in their bunks, some reading, some just staring blankly at the bunk above them, or at the ceiling. This was J Camp, Unit A, one of 4 in the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) Miami Satellite Prison Camp.
There were 400 or so total inmates at the camp, 100 to a dormitory, each with 4 rows of double bunk beds. The camp was adjacent to a Medium security Federal Correctional Institution housing another 800 or so prisoners. He was now known as Federal inmate number 03479-049.
The reason for all the noisy conversations, on this Friday about 3:45 PM, was the end of the work day and week at the camp, with the men letting off a little steam, getting ready for the 4 PM stand up count, a without-fail, daily ritual. Soon after the count, it would be dinner time. Dinner at 4:30 PM? Unconscionable. Just one of many things that Paul would learn was starkly different about life inside versus his former normal life outside. But then again, who was to say what normal was.

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BFOs – Blinding Flashes of the Obvious

caution stairs Are you getting more than a little frustrated with the quality and value of Blog Posts on the Internet? Then why don’t we agree to do this: When you run across one of these posts, full of grammatical errors, too simplistic, stating the obvious, not adding much value, if any – make a comment, let them know “hey, watch your grammar, post something of value, don’t click-bait us” – whatever the issues are with the post. Yes, people have a right to Post, but we have a right to object to nonsense.

The world is full of voices. Voices are embedded inside Posts. My voice is embedded inside this Post. My voice is struggling to get out and be heard. There are loud voices, non-nonsensical voices, B.S. voices, voices that shout inane, moronic advice from the roof tops, voices that are out of tune, vitriolically filled voices, all kinds of voices.

Then there are voices of value. Sometimes, its really hard to hear the voices of value among the cacophonous voices that fill our airwaves, big screen TVs, print media, and blog pages. You have to wade through all the junk to get to the real valuable stuff. It’s kind of like going to a garage sale, and sifting though the junk, to find that one classic rare book, or vinyl record, or cameo brooch, or antique pearl handled buck knife that makes the effort all worthwhile. So here are some tips for wading through Blog Posts and their related voices:

1) Look at the background of the voice. Do they have a solid track record, with experience, and skills? When they give advice are they doing it purely to share their knowledge, and to leave the world a better place than how they found it? Or are they just talking to hear themselves talk?

2) Does the advice or point being made, make sense? Does it sound to good to be true? Is it so blatantly outright ridiculous, that you should be discounting it immediately? Is it so obvious, your 3 year old daughter has been saying it for weeks now? If so, quit reading, make a comment to the blogger, and move on!

3) Is the voice sharing something that makes you quickly come to the conclusion that you should in turn share it with family, friends, and acquaintances? Is it something you would be willing to link your name to?

Positive answers to these questions should give you a fairly good feeling that you have found a voice of value. Mark that voice down, and come back periodically. It will be good for your psyche, for your development, and for your soul. And it will become a haven and respite from that jungle of voices that continue to blare and shout, and to state Blinding Flashes of the Obvious.

I hope I was able to share a reasonable voice with you about this topic. As far as my voice being one of value, that will be totally up to you to decide!

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Walking the Talk – Are you “Followable”?

It is sometimes easy for Leaders to forget or overlook the impact they have on their followers.

In my experience, leaders cannot choose to lead people. It does not work that way. People choose to follow people who have exhibited a set of characteristics that make them “followable”. In my experience, there are three characteristics that makes you a “followable” leader.

  1.  Integrity – followable leaders have integrity. There is never a question as to their motives and whether they are ethical. You don’t find followable leaders looking for the loopholes, or walking the thin line or within the gray area. Followable leaders are consistent with their integrity and for them, it is black or it is white. A followable leader makes it very clear which kinds of behaviors are acceptable and which are not. And a followable leader enforces the established ethical practices completely and fairly. It is really hard to get in ethical trouble working for a followable leader. 
  2. Skills – followable leaders have skills. They can skillfully lead, skillfully hire, skillfully coach and develop, and skilfully steer their followers. They are competent in key areas of the business, and they hire competent people for those areas where they may lack skills required for the business. You will learn a lot from followable leaders because they are world class at coaching and developing.
  3. Accountability – Followable leaders hold themselves accountable, before they attempt to hold anyone else accountable. You will not find followable leaders passing the buck, or saying “not me”, “not my mistake”. They own up, woman up, fess up, and take full responsibility for what they say and what they do. And they do it, long before they expect anyone to do it as well. If you are accountable to yourself, you will thrive under a followable leader. Accountability is the cornerstone of organizational success and followable leaders talk it, walk it, expect it and reward it.

Of these three characteristics, Integrity is key. People won’t follow you for long if you are not competent, and may not follow you if you are not accountable, but only people who lack integrity themselves will follow a leader without it. And that is bad organizational mojo.

What about you? What kind of leader do you follow? Are they followable, or are you following someone lacking in any of these key areas? Your personal success and well being may depend on it.

I’d love to hear your comments! 



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3 Lessons Dad Taught Me

dad

My Dad is 90 years old. A crusty, proud, and feisty Cuban gentleman. He is all that and more. Mom died a couple of years ago, and Dad has never been the same. I think he actually thought he and Mom would live together forever, or at least until the day they would go to bed one night and both die in their sleep.

His kidneys recently failed, and we finally had to put him in a nursing care center. His long term memory is good, and he can still process most concepts and ideas, but I am starting to see the deterioration. However, he is doing remarkably well and is actually quite happy.

These days, I think about all the things he taught me, all the things he would say when I was younger. The things I never listened to when I was too busy thinking that I had all the answers. How is it that Dad got so smart in between the time I was 16 to the time I turned 30? It’s a miracle!

As we in life march towards the inevitable we all must face with our parents, I wanted to share three things that stand out from my Dad’s constant urging and teachings throughout the years.

  1.  If you are going to be dumb, you’ve got to be tough
    Dad was always telling us that it was a heck of a lot easier to go through life having thought through things and having taken the time to get some education on whatever it was you were going to engage in. But if you couldn’t or wouldn’t get educated, well, toughen up, because it was going to be a rough ride. Deal with it.
  2. Don’t ever lie. Ever. Face the music, tell the truth, stand up and face what you have done head on
    I made a huge tragic mistake while in my 50s, when I had been flying high at the top of my game. But I stood up, told the truth, and though it cost me dearly to this day, I have never regretted it. I slept better from the day I admitted my mistake, and paid my dues.

  3. Have compassion for people and don’t judge people who have made an honest mistake
    I remember sneaking in to the house late one night when I was 17, while he and Mom were out. I had been drinking (a lot). My Grandmother told Dad when he got home that I was inebriated. I was lying in bed, the room doing a great impression of a run away merry go round. Dad opened the door and asked me what was going on. I looked up at him, one foot firmly planted on the floor in an effort to stop the room from breaking away from the rest of the house. I told him I had been drinking, a lot, and I felt like I was going to die. Dad closed the door. I could hear my Grandmother asking him if he was going to punish me. To which Dad said that we must have compassion on me because I was suffering and had already been punished enough.

Dad is one smart guy, even though he never made it past 6th grade. I only hope I am half as smart when it comes to sharing the wisdom of the world with my children.

I bet you have many Dad and Mom stories just like this!

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3 Lessons Learned from a Random Act of Kindness

It was Saturday morning, about 10 AM. I had just run several errands, and had stopped at a little hole in the wall cafeteria in Hialeah, near the nursing home where my Dad lives. These are restaurants with an open window to the sidewalk, where you can purchase all kinds of things, but primarily cafe (coffee), made in various and sundry ways, while still standing on the sidewalk.

I was on my way to see my Dad, and had promised when I saw him the day before, that I would bring him some cafe con leche and tostadas (cuban coffee with milk, lots of sugar, and Cuban bread with butter). His all time favorite.

I was catching a flight later that evening, and as usual, was trying to cram a week’s worth of stuff into this day, after having spent 2 weeks working out of my Miami office.

I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was having cafe cubano (expresso) himself, while my Dad’s coffee and toast were being made. While we were talking, I took out my debit card, and was absentmindedly tapping it on the counter. As we talked, the waitress put the styrofoam cup of cafe con leche on the counter, looked at my tapping card in hand, and said, “we can’t take your card, your purchase is not enough”. I asked her how much the purchase had to be, and she said $10, and that the cafe and toast were only $1.75. I had no cash, so I looked at the menu board above her head, and began to order enough to make up the rest of the $10. You see, I had NO cash, and I was not leaving without my Dad’s all time favorite. You do not show up to see a 90 year old in a nursing home without his cafe con leche and tostadas.

All of a sudden, the guy I was talking to says, “you are not going to buy all that stuff you don’t need. Here”, and he whips out 2 bucks and puts them on the counter. I was flabbergasted, and at the same time felt a wave of gratitude wash over me. I thanked him profusely, shook his hand, and walked to my car in wonder and amazement.

Here are the lessons that I learned that Saturday morning:

1) Kindness is everywhere. Look for it. When you need it most, it will find you.

2) People are by nature, good and kind hearted. Yes there is ugliness in this world, no denying that. But there is an immense amount of kindness and goodness too. Let’s not forget that.

3) Just like that guy did not hesitate one second to show me kindness, we should not hesitate when the opportunity presents itself.

My Dad really enjoyed that cafe con leche and tostadas, and I don’t think I have ever enjoyed watching him enjoy, any more than I did that Saturday morning.

Are you paying it forward?

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I’m Having a Bad Day!

badday

The alarm goes off, and I realize I set it for 7 AM instead of 6 AM. I cut myself shaving. I jump in the shower and after I’m wet, realize there is no shampoo. I stub my toe in the dark, looking for my shoes. Traffic is EASILY, 3 times as bad as it usually is. 5 people cut me off on the way to work, versus the normal 3. Slowpokes are out in force, cruising down the avenue. Burger King is out of French Toast Sticks. There is a brown out at work as I am booting up. And finally, to take the cake, I fish my glasses out of my backpack, and the frame is broken. You get the picture. A really BAD day.

So here’s what I do:

1) Take a deep breath and count to ten while exhaling (this really does help folks!)

2) Peruse my To Do list, grab the three easiest tasks, and knock them out immediately. This helps to focus me on doing something useful, and gets me a sense of accomplishment right away. It steers me away from the bad stuff that I have already experienced and into a Can Do, Good Day mood.

3) I grab the grungiest task from my list and dive right into it. Even if I can’t finish it, I make some significant progress, and I feel good about that.

Poof! Bad Day is gone. It works for me. What kinds of things do you do when you are experiencing a bad day, besides throwing the covers over your head and going back to sleep?

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Change – The A.W.A.R.E. Process

While reflecting back, I thought this post of mine for several years ago might be useful to some of you.

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The Daunting Task of My First LinkedIn Publish

paralysis

When I got the message from Linked In that I was invited to publish content, I quickly and eagerly clicked on the Get Started link, and then…

I hate to admit that the appearance of a blank page was quite a shock. What was I going to write about? Who would read it? Who would care? Why would anyone be interested in what I had to say? What made me think I could and should really do this?

So for the next several months, I kept coming back to the blank page, and kept having all of these negative thoughts. I allowed the fear of failure to absolutely paralyze me.

Then one day (today actually!) I came back to that blank page, and a few thoughts entered my head (maybe it was the quiet Friday afternoon in my home office).

Who cares about all of those negative things? What gives me the right to decide for others what they will read, what they will value and what they would be interested in? I don’t have that right. Its not up to me to make that judgment. My right, is to write! My obligation, to myself, is to think about the world, think about things, contemplate the reality of what is going on around and within me, and then, when you stop and think about it, offer a perspective that is really unique.

It’s MY perspective. It’s a perspective that has value, because of my skills, my experiences, and because of all of the collective qualities and characteristics that I bring to the table. Only I bring that collective to the table. Someone else would bring their collective, which includes their skills, experiences and qualities, which would make them unique, but not at all like me.

So I quit “thinking” (and internally whining) about all the reasons why I shouldn’t and what would happen if I did. And I just started typing, in this particular case, about this very topic.

My conclusion, even as I write these words, is that it is not as hard as I thought it would be (after all, I’ve written before, just not to such a potentially large audience), and also that it is much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Why? Because I am writing for the sheer joy of writing, and only to please myself. That fact, in and of itself removed all of the self-imposed pressure.

So, a few words of advice (yes, this is the self help part of today’s program) for those of you that are paralyzed and inhibiting yourself from doing something that deep down inside you really WANT to do.

1) Stop over-thinking it. Boil it down to the simplest of ideas and concepts, and just start. Cold water does not get any warmer as you stand in it knee deep. Dive in.

2) Don’t prejudge how it will be received and then have that paralyze you as well. It will be received however it will be received.Do your best and let it happen. You miss 100% of the shots you DON’T take.

3) Please yourself. Be happy with the output, the outcome, with the result. Produce it to the highest standard you can conceive of, for yourself. You are the best judge of you.

4) If it turns out it isn’t as well received as you may have desired, so be it. Learn from it, and remember that as with any other thing you have mastered in life, you get better as you go along. Early mistakes, can actually make you MUCH better down the line. Practice may not make you perfect, but it improves you a whole bunch.

That’s it. It’s as simple as that.

The Daunting Task of My First Linked In Publish is over! Thanks for reading. Tell me what you think? Was it obvious all along? Was this at all helpful?

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5 Steps to Finding Your Voice

‘I’ve got no voice. I don’t know how to write like me,’ ~ Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary

yourvoicespkr

For me, finding my voice, and learning how to write like “me”, was key to being able to blog, and to get important points across to an audience. Writing like “me”, means to be able to tell a story, to share your thoughts and ideas just as if you are having a face to face conversation with someone. All the while, you are keeping the “person” you are communicating with engaged and interested and connected to you.

So how do you find your voice? How do you write like you? Here are five ways I have found that continue to work for me.

1) Pay attention to the way you converse with people. This is your natural voice. Although you won’t exactly write the way you speak, the closer you can get to a natural conversation in your writing, the more natural it will come across to others.

2) Take your time, and focus your writing in themes and sub-themes. Then try and complete the main ideas in the themes, or sub-themes, in one sitting, if possible. For example, if your theme is your last vacation, then your sub-themes are the specific things you did during your vacation. So pretend you are sitting across from your friend at Starbucks, and in one sitting, tell your friend one of the things you did during your vacation. This helps you flow the story and keep it exciting and interesting.

3) Take frequent steps back, to look at your work, much like you would do if you were painting a wall (or a portrait!), or waxing your car, to make sure you haven’t missed any spots, and to ensure that the work accurately reflects things the way you want them to be. I use WordPress, and it has a Preview feature, so periodically, as I am going along, I preview what I have written. This helps me make sure it still sounds like “me”, that it flows, and represents the way I want my story to come across, and doesn’t sound like some other person has stepped into and taken over my writing.

4) Keep the fancy words and phrases out. Be careful with your sentences and paragraphs. Don’t let them run on, keep then relevant, short, and to the point. Write in a natural speaking tone and your listener (reader) will stick around and continue to pay attention.

5) Write about things you are passionate or feel strongly about. Stay away from “lukewarm” topics and only choose things you would feel comfortable AND excited talking to someone about.

Finding your true voice is one of the most important things you can do to engage people you want to write to. Once you find your voice, you will find yourself naturally writing like you and you will have an engaged audience!

I’d be really interested in knowing if these 5 ideas helped you to find your natural writing voice. Please let me know!

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