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Redefining Success: Ethics, Consequences and Lessons from Prison

business ethics, ethics, corporate ethics

Have you ever had one of those “ah-ha” moments when you quickly gained a greater awareness than you ever had before? I must say, that as bad as I felt in this place, prison was an intense learning lab. I didn’t know that going in, but in retrospect I am glad I took notes, because the lessons and opportunities for growth were coming at me quickly. How easy it would have been to miss those lessons.

Often folks grow weary when they hear people talk of learning through adversity. All too often we prefer life to be a smooth ride with few bumps in the road. Fortunately, I’ve experienced both and while there is joy in a calm pleasant ride, more times than not my greatest learning has been during turbulent times. The next section that follows is an excerpt from my Memoirs from Prison. In each of these one can capture a learning pearl – something that can be applied in everyday life, if only we let it.

October 5, 1995.

Buck, my roommate, and I talked for a long while last night. He is a spiritual person, doing his time, the best he can. He has five children in been in federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm surprised, but I like this guy, he seems to shoot straight.

Last night, Buck asked me a question. I don't recall today what it was, but I remember his response. He looked to me with a puzzled look, and said, “word?" I didn't understand, and repeated his statement with, “word?" He said, “Yeah -- word?” I must admit I didn't have a clue what he meant. Then he looked at me and said, “You just don't understand a brother do you?" And with that he walked out of the room.

I just stood there. I had no clue what just happened. Three days in prison, and we just hit a communications stumbling block. Moments later, Buck returned to the room and said,” I'll make you an offer. I'll teach you how to communicate in the hood, if you'll teach me how to talk, so I can get a job when I get out of here.” “Deal?”

At that moment, I began to understand the term -- success -- in a whole new light. I had always defined success in terms of one's possessions. But in here, we have no possessions. Success can be defined as being safe while in prison and getting out of prison safely. Buck recognized that I am a fish out of water. This is not my environment. But he is willing to help me achieve success here, if I could help him achieve success outside of prison. What an amazing opportunity that is placed before me.

Now, it’s over ten years later and that lesson still rings clear. Success in one’s life is not really measured by the “trappings” of success. Sure a big house, nice watch, expensive car, fine jewelry all are indications of abundance of resources – money. But none of them truly define success. I was, by all accounts, successful – at least that’s what everyone thought. Yet, by making unethical choices I gained a clear understanding of true success in one of the most unexpected places – prison.

Thankfully – Success – is a journey and at times, even when we don’t like it, we’re given the opportunity to find success in small ways and odd places. This gift that was given has opened many doors for me to share with others. For information on how that can benefit you or your organization or to receive my Choices ezine contact or e-mail me at And remember you can live success – the choice is yours!
Published: 2007-01-01
Author: Chuck Gallagher

About the author or the publisher
On a crisp October day in 1995, Chuck Gallagher took 23 physical steps… opened a door… and began a new experience that was life-changing. This series of articles explores that experience and the success that followed… while involving the reader in ways that could be life-altering for them. Gallagher captures the heart of the audience in an honest way that deals with human emotion. For information on Chuck’s keynotes and workshops go to or for a free ezine on Ethical Choices contact Chuck at


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