What’s Your Prison?: Paul Wood at TEDxAuckland


Translator: Bob Prottas
Reviewer: Ariana Bleau Lugo Where you end up in life
is often the result of a number
of seemingly innocent choices, each appearing insignificant at the time, but all leading you in a single direction. By 18, I had chosen to use drugs
to cope with my life, and chosen to associate with people who didn’t care about my well-being
or that of others. In doing so, I had chosen to put myself
into high-risk situations. (Sigh) When I was 18, my mother died. Three days later, I chose
to meet with a drug dealer. What I didn’t know,
when I chose to meet with this guy, was that he had an interest
in adolescent boys and sex acts. What he didn’t know,
when he chose to meet with me, was that I was someone
who was prepared to fight. What neither of us knew,
when we made our respective choices, is where they would lead us. Before the day was out, he would be dead, and I would be spending the first night, of what would be the next 10 years,
behind bars. By 20, I had graduated to New Zealand’s
toughest maximum-security prison. It’s here that I learned the theory
of how to hide from heat sensors and police helicopters, and the reality of how to make a weapon out of glad wrap and a toothbrush. What I didn’t realize
before I was imprisoned, was that I was already living
in a prison of my own making. The prison in my mind. There are many beliefs that imprison us, and stop us experiencing
the fullness of life. My prison was my belief
that my potential was fixed. My prison was my belief
that the measure of a man was his capacity for violence, and that men shouldn’t feel scared,
sad, vulnerable, or weak. It is ironic that I had to be
in an actual prison in order to break out of my mental prison. It is also ironic that it wasn’t
until I was released that I realized how many other people are trapped in their own personal prisons. I was able to escape my mental prison through five progressive steps
to personal change. I call these “the five steps to freedom”. The first step to freedom is to recognize that we are born free. As babies, we take
our first breaths with a clean slate. But then life kicks in, and in an attempt to cope
with our experiences and make sense of our worlds, we acquire self-defeating
and distorted beliefs. Over time, these beliefs imprison us. Yet this is not the life
we were born to live, the life where we are
truly authentic and free. It took a meeting with one of New Zealand’s
most accomplished safe crackers to challenge my idea of my freedom. It was about 2 years into my sentence, and just after I’d finished
another period in solitary confinement. Now this guy was a MENSA member. He was smart, and we used to spend
a lot of time in the yard, discussing the intricacies of his trade. The yard is like an empty swimming pool, where every end’s the deep end. I remember as I’d watch
a plane fly overhead, how I so would have given anything
to be in that plane, — (Voice cracks) — wherever it was going,
to be anywhere but here. One day the safecracker approached me with a tennis ball and a heavy ashtray. And asked me: if he was to drop these at the same time, which would hit the ground first? I couldn’t believe
the stupidity of such a question. (Simultaneous thud) Watching those two objects
hit the ground at the same time, blew my mind. I had never questioned
my understanding of the world. I had always just assumed that the world
was the way it appeared to me. Yet this demonstration made me wonder what else I thought I knew that I could be wrong about. Prior to this, I’d always seen education
as something that you did to get a job. Now I started to see education as something that could make the world
a more interesting place, and something that could increase
the accuracy of my beliefs. And I had always been
one of those insufferable people who likes to think they’re
right about everything, a tendency that had prompted
my Mum to put a note on the fridge suggesting that teenagers
should leave home while they still know everything! (Laughter) Recognizing that we are born free, and that the beliefs that imprison us can be challenged and replaced is the first step to freedom. The second step to freedom is choosing to break out of our prisons. Living in a prison is tough, but breaking out of prison is harder. The desire to break out is driven by how likely
we think we are to succeed. Many people choose not
to break out of their prisons, because they think
that change is impossible, and they see disappointment as inevitable. Breaking out also depends
on how much effort we think it will take, and how much value we place
on such change. It is much safer to be inside. We do not risk additional failure, and it requires less effort. Recidivism rates support this point. For many people,
it is easier to be in prison. You have so few adult responsibilities
on the inside. And as twisted as it sounds, many people find a sense of belonging, status and community within prison that they don’t get
in the outside world. Everyone knows their place
in the prison hierarchy, and for some people, that place
provides their only sense of worth. Breaking out requires
real emotional commitment to change. And to get that commitment, you need to focus on why
you would want to change, not why others might think
you should change, but why you would want
to change for yourself. I had never considered myself
someone who could achieve academically. I’d even been held back a year at school. Yet I enrolled in those
first two psychology papers, because I knew that understanding
what makes people tick is a useful skill to have in prison. (Laughter) Anywhere from 50 to 80%
of people in prison suffer some form of mental health issue, and being attacked due to
the mental instability of others was a real concern. I completed my first assignment
in solitary confinement. I printed it all as one paragraph,
all in capital letters. I did this because I was ignorant
of writing conventions, and I thought capitals looked neater. (Laughter) I completed my exams
in a windowless room in a punishment block. Yet I still somehow managed
to pass my papers. I was so amazed to pass these exams. It made me wonder if maybe
I wasn’t capable of more than I had previously thought possible. It made me dream. It made the think: “Imagine, imagine if I could
get out of here with a degree!” Going for a degree seemed like
such an audacious goal. And a major obstacle
to achieving this dream, was the amount of marijuana
I was smoking. (Laughing) Smoking weed allowed me
to enjoy the moment, and avoid the reality of my situation. I was young and locked up. I was frustrated,
I had no sense of direction. If I was going to start the process
of really changing my life, I needed to stop doing drugs. Passing those exams had reinforced
my desire to break out of my prison. But wanting change,
and turning that change into action, are two very different things. The third step to freedom
is to make the escape. Dreams without action remain dreams. In order to make the escape,
you need to start taking steps that reduce the distance between
where you are and where you desire to be. People that want to break out
of their prisons, but fail to do so,
often think about change as something that occurs
in some distant future. The problem with us
is that it doesn’t prompt you to act, and change can start
to feel like it’s beyond your reach. It’s tomorrow, next month, next year. To make your escape, you must get specific
about what you want to change. Specific change is not wanting
to lose weight, but wanting to lose 5 kilos. Having the general idea
that you want to write a book, will not get you to put pen to paper. Having the specific goal to write 500 words
on Thursday just might. The research shows
that having vague goals makes it hard to start
and easy to give up. Specific goals mean that you
can’t fool yourself into thinking you have done enough. Many people in prison talk about
what they will do when they are released, how they will take better
care of their kids, how they will lead better lives. But life and change,
are about what you do right now. Time is a different commodity when
you’re serving a long period of imprisonment. To survive psychologically,
you need to forget about the outside world, accept this is your new life, and to focus on the present. Focusing on the present
was key for making my escape. I didn’t worry about what I was, or wasn’t going to do
in some uncertain future. I just focused on what I could do today. On what I could do right now. Research shows
that this ability to seize the moment makes you 3 times more likely
to achieve your goals. So, I stopped smoking weed, which allowed me to complete
my undergraduate degree. It also massively reduced the amount of time
I spent in solitary confinement. (Laughter) For me, the specific and related goals, were to become drug free,
and to complete my degree. The cost of making my escape
was sacrificing being emotionally numbed. But making my escape
didn’t come without a struggle. The fourth step to freedom
is to fight for your freedom. Fighting for your freedom
requires grit and tenacity. To achieve your goals, you must
overcome any obstacles you encounter. Giving up drugs was not
a straightforward process, there were certainly relapses. And studying within prison
had its own set of obstacles, such as getting permission
to access course related materials. Yet overcoming such obstacles, is exactly what fighting
for your freedom is about. In fact, it is through
overcoming such obstacles, that we develop our capacity for change, and the will power required
to make it happen. Many people think that will power
and self-discipline are things that you either have
or you don’t have. But the research shows
that these are characteristics developed through practice
and application. By the time I completed
my undergraduate degree, I had developed enough tenacity to fight for entry into
a postgraduate program in psychology. I then fought to have
my honors research project upgraded to a Master’s Thesis. This left me with a number of papers
that needed to be completed and that required attending classes. I was still securely absent
from classes at this point. (Laughter) But I was able to complete these papers
because those teaching them allowed me to enroll
as a special distance student, in addition to their normal workloads. At various stages in my journey,
I encountered obstacles that required persistence
and commitment to overcome. Yet my dreams increased
in proportion to my successes. Once I had completed my Masters, a Doctorate seemed
like the next logical step. This time the barrier was even bigger. I was told it would be impossible
to start a Doctorate, without regular face-to-face meetings
with my supervisors. So, my supervisors traveled
hours out of their way to visit me in prison. Fighting for your freedom is crucial
to successful change and growth. Yet the fights best won
are those with allies. If I didn’t have a father
who was prepared to visit me every weekend for 10 years, if I didn’t have mentors,
such as John Barlow and Doctor Paul Englert
who were prepared to challenge me, and to encourage me to dream bigger, if I didn’t have the support of
Massey University through which I studied, if I didn’t have doctoral supervisors who were prepared to travel
for hours out of their way to visit me, if upon my release,
I hadn’t been given the chance by OPRA Consulting Group to help other people grow and develop, I wouldn’t be standing here today. I was the first person that entered
the New Zealand prison system as a High School dropout,
and to progress through undergraduate and Master’s degrees. I was the first person
to then start a doctorate. Yet none of these things
would have been possible without the support of others
who were willing to fight beside me. The fifth and final step
to freedom concerns living free. Freedom is a journey, not an event. It is a condition that requires
effort to maintain. Self-help books and programs often fail because they do not acknowledge
the reality of living free, and the ongoing commitment it requires. Real, sustained, positive change and growth is not something that you achieve, cross off your list of things to do, and then walk away from. The price of freedom is ongoing effort. To live in freedom, we must be mindful of the architecture of our personal prisons. Recognize and avoid
seemingly innocent choices, and learn ways to respond
when obstacles are encountered. Here in New Zealand,
we’re all familiar with the expression, “Keeping it real.” Well, living in freedom is what keeping it real is all about. Living free requires us to acknowledge
that sometimes we are weak. We will not always progress towards
our goals in a straightforward manner. Sometimes we will slip back into old habits. Sometimes we will fall short of our ideals. Yet such failures are
the opportunities for us to grow. They provide us with a chance to reflect
and identify the chinks in our armor. We fall so that we can learn
to pick ourselves up again. We all have this capacity to come back
from bad choices and situations. At 18, I made choices that
have negatively impacted on many people, and that I will live with
for the rest of my life. I’d then spent over 10 years
in a negative environment where all the wrong values were espoused, and all the wrong behaviors were rewarded. Yet these choices and associated experiences
are not what define me today. The man I am today is defined
by how I choose to live my life now. By how I choose to behave today. And we all have this ability
to step away from our pasts, to embrace our aspirational selves, and to rewrite the narratives of our world. To live in such freedom,
we must recognize we were born free. We must choose
to break out of our prisons. We must make the escape. We must fight for our freedom, and we must keep it real
about what living in freedom means. I am now privileged to spend my time
helping other people break out of their personal prisons, identify their sense of purpose, and experience
greater motivation, satisfaction, success, and well-being. While my story reflects
my own journey of change, the five steps to freedom
reflect the journey of change for us all. So, what’s your prison? (Applause)

About the author

Comments

  1. Very moving; also to hear how many people (incl your dear Dad!) made such an effort to help you. I'd like to see ex-prisoners who've turned their lives around go into prisons and help those who are still there. It would be the best way of paying it forward. Young men in lock-up are more likely to respect you because you've been there too.

  2. His prison was that despite his White skin and privilege, he squandered his life and fucked it up for the rest of humanity. People like me who study 20 hours a day and listen to dumb white motherfuckers blabbing on incessantly end up nowhere in life because of the color of our skin, our national origin, and our lack of opportunity. 

  3. I'm authentic and free when I kill every white person on this planet. In fact, every other non-white person will be free when that happens, just like it was before colonialism.

  4. This flies in the face of EVERY spiritual teaching in history. I'm sorry he's had such a hard time but he's still in prison. The prison of the idea that HE changed his own life. This is not his freedom that he's talking about, it's got nothing to do with him. No one can muster the commitment to change that he is talking about by themselves. Don't believe me? Just try 😉 God does it all 😉 Ask Ramana 😉 Ask any addict (we're all addicts, some just know it) who it was that changed them 😉 Who gave him this strength and not the others, THE 1000s WHO DIE ? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps IF YOU CAN. Believe in your own choice all you want, it IS a dream. ASK THE PEOPLE WHO WERE BORN WITH 'DEFECTS' AND DISEASE, INTO ADDICTED MENTALLY ILL FAMILIES, POVERTY
    . If he is able to help someone grow beyond their prison, HE IS NOT DOING IT. God does it all, ask the guy with cancer who died at 13 years of age. YOU are an illusion and nothing you do can change that. Who changes who? Good luck and God bless 😉

  5. so he killed a guy that wanted to sleep with him? and he justifies the murder by making him look like a paedophile (nevermind he was 18)? so basically deep seated homophobia trying to pass off as repentance. girl, bye!

  6. Just found out about this guy through the "Love and Radio" podcast. Had me in tears. Definitely recommend the podcast. I felt so sad for him, life can be so f***ed up sometimes people get caught up in their circumstances and its fascinating to see someon come out of their delusion and realise that they did wrong and to change themselves for the better.

  7. Very interesting. My family and I were his next door neighbours at the public housing complex we lived in. I was only 8 the night he murdered. Recently I decided to google the incident and was quite surprised to see where he had ended up… I'm now 27, boy times fly and things change. It's funny when you're a child you have no idea, I used to walk to school or home with his then girlfriends daughter… Niether of us probably knew what the adults were up to…

  8. "Education" has become a word which to me carries a negative connotation. I am all for learning, discovering, questioning, investigating, experimenting… but being educated is something that I equate with being brainwashed.

  9. Thank you for sharing this framework Mr. Wood. I've been searching a long time for some personal answers, and you've just provided them. Now I have a path.

  10. Mr.Wood never said he was an abused child – in fact he states had a supportive and caring family – so that's more than half the battle right there!

  11. I HAVE A HARD TIME GETTING PEOPLE TO WATCH AN 8-MINITE VIFEO, PEOPLE WHO THINK NOTHING OF 3 HOURS A DAY PUMPING UP THEIR FACEBOOK PAGES…
    THIS IS VIDEO WORTH WATCHING. FCK THE 350-PAGE SELF-HELP BOOKS, INVEST YOUR EARS AND MIND IN A FEW TED TALKS AND BREAK FREE FROM SOME OF THE PSYCHIC ANCHORS THAT ENSLAVE US.

  12. It always made me kind of laugh… the big lie that "prisons are correctional facilities", that they somehow repair and mend, that they reform and improve the prisoner. As we have seen, a large percentage of inmate don't get reformed. On the contrary, they learn how to not-get-caugfht, how to keep being a career criminal and keep from getting caught again. They make more connects inside prison walls than they could have made outside, they do not get "corrected" nor do they get the inspiration nor motivation to seek a better life, a life free from enslavement.
    This Ted Talk really speaks volumes. Paul says in 18 minutes what many can not say in a 350-page self-help book, nor in a costly 2-day seminar on self-realizations and self-empowerment workshop. In the big picture, if this video was a lice lecture I was watching… yes, I'd pay Paul $180 to hear him speak… that's $10 per minute? Worth it? I don;t know, maybe you should ask the people I've known who spend $10 per minute doing cocaine and running their mouth about nothing. We get what we pay for. If I payed Paul for this talk I'd feel I'd gotten a bargain!

  13. A fantastic, heartening life story.  Thanks to Paul Wood for sharing this.  I'm sure it will speak to many people!

  14. je kunt niet helpen dat je even drugs nodig hebt het is alleen jammer dat het zo mega veel kost waardoor ze zelfs dingen vlikken waarmee het te prijsig wordt dat jij even lekker gevoel hebt en ik denk zo van oke laat gaat en leef zolang je goed kunt voelen maar laat het niet een goudklomp kosten oke

  15. Thank u for finally admitting to my point & what I've always struggled with! Yes u can do break from your prison of mind, however u definitely need the support of people who actually cares! U need to have an environment of at least somewhat loving & caring & someone or something to look forward to! I don't think u can survive in an environment that everywhere u look is hatred!

  16. Now this is someone who has overcome adversity. Someone who knows what they're talking about.

  17. So because your mother died when you were 18, and because you believe that the drug dealer had an interest in adolescent boys, which at 18 you were not an adolescent boy.
    There is no justification to murder anyone and not to batter someone to death with a baseball bat. Why is that not mentioned in your presentation?

  18. I think our mental prisons are cute compared to yours. Made me crack too when you said about the plane. Anyways bless you for being extraordinary you deserved mr. Wood. just keeping it real.

  19. This speaker made me come face to face with my excuses for not living up to my highest potential. All my crazy behavior and reasons for not accomplishing and here I find Paul … There was every reason … Real reasons to give up. Bless you for sharing such profound personal information. Drugs, murder, prison and still turn your life around.. !!

  20. Dr. Wood, thank you for sharing your remarkable journey and achievements. A specifically poignant point you made was that 'ironically, you were literally in your prison in a prison'.
    This gave a platform for making your powerful —and inspirational— message.

    As a result of the devastating loss of your mother, and the angry, fearful, and insecure state in which this must have left you in, makes my heart ache. I feel sadness for your residual pain, in which you've obviously compartmentalised.

    At the time of this unfortunate incident, where your actions in the process of protecting yourself —from indecent behaviour of a mentally ill male— led you to prison, did not (in my opinion) warrant a 10 year prison sentence. A decade is an eternity for a child/young adult.

    You were a devastated, broken hearted, lost, confused, extremely vulnerable, testosterone pumped teenager, with such disappointment and anger; if this incident didn't tip you over the edge, something similar may have occurred anyway.

    I have much admiration for your accomplishments. You inspire me (as a mature age student) to do the best that I can in my Psychology undergraduate degree, so that I may have the chance to make a difference in peoples' lives too.

    I dearly hope that you're surrounded by lots of love, freedom, and happiness in your life, since you have escaped your prison, and the prison.

    All the best.

  21. this introspective self pity cuz life dealt you a shit hand, thank ya lucky stars your not a starving African, prison, yeah I've done it mate, three meals a day, a bed, books, jobs, people to talk to, prison! fuckin doddle.

  22. Thank you for your priceless insight Paul!! Loved hearing your perspective. This was a huge boost in my evening. I have been struggling with some goal-setting lately and been feeling down. Your Ted title intrigued me and story even more so. Thank you very much for the encouragement.

  23. Finally someone who has something to say because of a real life story. He's also someone who acknowledges the positive effect of mentors, unlike all the self-proclaimed heroes on ted.

  24. This had me in tears. I could see and feel his conviction and passion. I could sense he was still struggling a bit as he spoke of his past, which is understandable. I hope that, one day, he can let go of the shame he feels for it. But I'm so glad he overcame so much to become such an inspiration to millions. I'm glad he's choosing to live in the now and share his experiences in order to help others. Our purpose in life is to help others, which can entail many different careers and aspects. Our freedom lies in our ability to go with the flow of life, accept ourselves with love and respect, and let go of what we can't change. Paul had to encounter a number of very difficult obstacles to figure out his life's mission, but he got there, and so can everyone else. We all have the potential to be so much more. You were born with the ability to love. Share it with yourself and others.

  25. What a champion! Thanks Dr Paul, what a story to finish a doctorate and drastically change his life. Very inspirational.

  26. Amazing Paul, Thank you! There is nothing better than using your own story to help others like me! We can feel the sincerity in your words and body language. Truly inspirational! You have made my day!

  27. Thankyou Paul thankyou for having the courage to figure your shit out. for to do this I KNOW aint easy.
    real emotional change requires on going arduous work. probably WHY so many CHOOSE to just remain blaming life…& never
    ever looking….within.

  28. "….i had chosen to associate with people who didn't CARE ABOUT 'my well being'."
    Get that? ——-> Its all about who you hang with and who you associate with. Stay away from Negative Energy….

  29. Thank you so much for inspiring me to question the beliefs that hold me captive. Brave inspirational man indeed! Best wishes for a wonderful future!

  30. I KNOW WHAT YOU SAY TO BE TRUE "I HAVE WALKED IN YOUR SHOES" MY FRIEND, AND I NOT ONLY UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU SAY "BUT FEEL IT TOO." GOOD LUCK AND " STAY STRONG " !!!!..REGARDS GARY WALES LIVERPOOL ENGLAND.

  31. I've learned actual technics's and steps towards achieving positive change. Makes you really think twice about what you can actually accomplish. His life's journey is a sad and tragic one. To achieve such greatness and inspire others is simply short of amazing!
    God bless you!

  32. Before buying on gearbest, know that it's thieves.
    They do not repay,
    on google search for "Thieves Gearbest".

  33. I have a problem which the opposite extreme. I keep trying to overturn situations and problems, that I evidently find that I cannot overcome. This occurs, until potential death by exhaustion or severe illness; as I have found on many occasions. People say that I do not know my limitations. I am not sure what God expects of me, but I do know that I become incredibly intelligent and I mean incredibly incredibly intelligent; and yet it is still inadequate to overcome my problems adequately enough to be able to live my life without being in danger.
    It would therefore not surprise you, that this mentality that this man has; I find it is entirely incomprehensible. After all, he never even tried to deal with his problems in the beginning; so what is he basing his conclusions on, that he cannot deal with his problems? I don't get it; he already admitted it was a mistake to think that way, and yet maybe did it beforehand as if there was a good reason. I have heard a lot of people saying that they have this mentality, but despite trying to understand it, I really really don't get it. It is like a mirror world logic to me (the reverse logic to my mindset and the way I think), and I really want someone to explain to me how a person can conclude something from apparently nothing (i.e. concluding that he is unable to do something, without empirical evidence to base it on; such as experience from really trying hard and never succeeding)? Any one know? To me, it is like he is saying that all food is bad for you; because… ??? …therefore I will not eat. What he says he came to realize, to me is obvious. I DON'T GET IT. DID I MISS SOMETHING?

  34. I went to school with Paul.
    He always came across very smart, Even though he was always in trouble and seemed to have many Demons.

  35. I wish the ASL Interpreter would have been visible for the entire speech. But GREAT SPEECH! While I have not studied the offense committed and it crossed my mind why a person only served 10 years for murder, the arguments offered in this speech hold merit, generally. People have a right to change. I would have had more to say if the life of the man killed been illuminated. Knowing an entire story is useful.

  36. Dear Dr Wood: thank you for your hard-earned lessons so humbly shared. I have a loved-one in a prison of his own making and I have spent every day of the last several years with a sorrow that has derailed me often. Today, after listening to you, I realized that I too had built my own prison. There must be thousands of people like me that you might never meet but whose lives you have touched. I will share this with him. Thank you, Sir. Thank you, and thank you.

  37. This is what you'll hear from pretty much every motivational speaker and personal development buff out there. So cool to learn that the same principles apply whatever level you're at, or whatever circumstance you're in.

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