For your 21st birthday, after 20 months in solitary confinement, rather than celebrate becoming an adult you’ll be reviled as a convicted murderer and sentenced to death. You don’t want that. Not even in your most callous or suicidal imaginings. Nothing on this earth is worth the endless days of existing in this concrete coffin. Keep getting high and drunk and that’s what will happen.
There is no way to accurately describe the mind numbing horror of spending the rest of your life in prison, of never having children and a wife, watching your parents grow old before your eyes as the rest of the world passes you by. Nothing can fully convey the emptiness that will remain after your siblings disown you. You’ll not be thought of much because for those who did care it’s too painful for them to think of the life you wasted. That’s what living fast means—wasting your life and regretting it after it’s too late. The real pain of prison is that you’ll discover the potential you have. You’re smart and full of ideas. You have talent and skill. A great well of ability. People look up to you and in turn you have so much love . . but twenty years from now when you’re sitting in a hot cell it won’t matter. Your life as it relates to the world beyond the prison ended the day you began saying ‘Screw it. It doesn’t really matter’.
It matters. It really matters. This is how life works. As soon as you stop caring about what happens to you and the people around you, you’ve lost. Do you want to avoid my fate? Avoid this hell on earth?
My first piece of advice is to stay in school. It really is as simple as that. You hear it all the time for a reason. No single effort in life is more important than getting and maintaining an education. Without it you are no one. A bum who will depend on menial labor for minimum wages until an institution of one sort or another has to take care of you. I know it can be boring right now, but I promise if you try hard there will be enormous benefits as you get older. Mom and dad are not wrong in this—if you want things you need money, if you want respect, you need intelligence.
Go to college. Your education doesn’t end with high school: your responsibility for that education increases. Have several areas of interest you can pursue so you’re not left floundering. Don’t worry about which college—succeed. If you want a break from school to explore the world join the military. Any branch will do and they can teach you extraordinary skill sets—the stuff of dreams. Want to fly a jet? Launch a rocket? Captain a ship? You don’t have to tote a gun, I advise against it. There are plenty of jobs you’ll enjoy and opportunities to propel you into adulthood that would not otherwise be possible as a civilian, especially if you focus on technology. Stay in school. Go to college. Join the military. It doesn’t get any more straightforward.
The next important piece of advice is this: getting high or drunk is not okay. It impairs your judgement which, as a teenager, is already bad enough. Drugs and alcohol erode your already poor decisions to the point where, guess what? You end up crippled, dead, in jail or prison, or all of the above. Sure, partying with friends can be great fun, but is that worth your life and future? NO. Yes, pot is bad for you even in moderation. It really is a gateway drug even though legalization and synthetics make it seem okay to use—it’s every bit as dangerous as alcohol or any other mind altering substances. You are a smart and capable person with no need to consume chemicals. For any reason.
I know what you’re thinking, ‘When do I get to have fun?’. Throughout your life you’ll have fun by achieving the goals set before you. If you need a rush take up weight lifting, skiing, swimming, or some other sport. There is no high better or more far reaching than success in the challenges you set your mind and body against. Don’t wait for someone to suggest your purpose. Don’t react to life as it happens—be proactive in all you do. Be a doer not a dreamer and maintain a will to win.
This brings me to the next piece of advice. Work hard every day and in all things and eventually you can achieve anything. This is what human potential and free will allow you to do. If you want to be rich, famous, and powerful it will not be handed to you. Invest your time because it only spends once. This is why education is so important—because you have to know how and on what to use you precious time on earth. It will determine who you are and what you become.
My letter to you could easily become a book if I continued with all of the advice and warnings I have to give. Instead, I’ll leave you with one more, very important thing. If you remember to heed it with everything else you’ll know what true happiness is about.
Love your family, friends and yourself in that order. By doing this you can realize the most important element of God’s love for the world. When you find a good woman (you’ll know her by her laugh) marry her. Show these people your love because life is fleeting, easy to squander and impossible to repair. That’s it kid. Fold this up and put it in your wallet. Tack it to the wall. Take it out every now and then and read it. When do you, remember each day you wake up God gives you a choice. Spend it wisely and think of me when you’re tempted to do otherwise.
PS: It wouldn’t be personal if there wasn’t a post script. By the time you turn 18 you should have read the following:
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel
- Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
- Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
- David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Oxford History of Prison by Norval Morris and David I. Rothman
- 1984 by George Orwell
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
- The Life of Pi by Yan Martel
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee