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I Completely Reinvented My Life After Prison ‒ Here Are My Top 12 Lessons

Written by: Craig Stanland, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Don't wait for the bottom to fall out before changing your life. Instead, start today to create an extraordinary tomorrow. These 12 lessons will guide you on your own personal reinvention.

My life changed forever on October 1st, 2013.

I had just walked into my new job when I received this voicemail,

"Mr. Stanland, this is Special Agent McTiernan with the FBI. We are at your residence and have a warrant for your arrest. You will need to call us and come home immediately, or we will issue an APB with the federal marshals for your arrest."

It was, without a doubt, one of the most terrifying days of my life so far.

For just under a year, I committed fraud against one of the largest tech companies in the world.

In that one moment, my life was no longer my own.

It belonged to the agents, the faceless people working behind the scenes, and the judge I had yet to meet.

I pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and was sentenced to two years of federal prison.

I watched helplessly as the life I knew grew smaller and fainter as I descended into the abyss of uncertainty.

I watched as the dark cloud of shame enveloped my life and cast everything in its shadow.

I watched the bottom fall out every single time I thought I had hit bottom.

I watched as I walked down the darkest of paths, planning how I would take my life.

And I watched what happened when I chose to step out of the burnt ashes of what was and into a new life.

Stepping out of the ashes was another terrifying moment; I was leaving the known, even if it was terrible, for the unknown.

But there was something incredible waiting for me when I did.

There's a gift when you hit rock bottom and come out the other side.

It's the wisdom and perspective that can only come from staring into the eyes of the worst version of yourself and despising what you see.

And instead of trying to kill it, you acknowledge its existence, accept its existence, and learn to love its existence.

But you don't allow its existence to define you.

It's through this often painful process that I completely reinvented my life.

I've spent the past decade transforming prison into purpose, and I've found my life's mission, and now I help others do the same.

I don't make as much as I did in the corporate world.

But I have what I was chasing for all those years, and I was too blind to see I'd never catch.




Inner Freedom

Emotional Peace

There have been many lessons learned over the years, and I'll revisit this subject often; for now, these are the top 12 lessons I've learned from reinventing my life after prison.

Acceptance is Freedom:

I spent my days in prison, wishing I wasn't in prison. I spent my days wishing I didn't make the choices I made that landed me in prison.

I wished and dreamed for life to be anything other than it was.

I was fighting against a past and circumstance that couldn't be changed.

I would never have the freedom to start over and reinvent if I continued to fight for what can't be changed.

I had to do what I was so afraid to do.

I had to accept reality.

I didn't want to.

It felt like giving up; it felt passive. Fighting equals progress. But does it? What was I fighting against? As much as I wish there were, there is no such thing as a time machine Delorean.

Accepting reality isn't giving up; it isn't passive.

It was an act of courage for me to say,

"I accept that I betrayed myself and chose to commit a crime. I hit the "enter" button, the single keystroke that started it all. I accept I made the choice to continue in the face of the universe screaming at me to stop. I accept that I am in prison. I accept that I hurt the woman I love, my family, my friends..."

A weight lifted off of me when I wrote that. I wasn't trapped in the past. Instead, I felt something I thought was impossible in prison, freedom.

It's the freedom that comes when you're no longer locked in the past.

And when you're no longer locked in the past, your future is so longer stained by the colors of the past.

Self-Trust is a Must:

My fraud required thousands of choices to keep it going. Each one of those choices was made in the face of my heart, saying,

"Stop, don't do this. This isn't the way."

I ignored my heart, violated my voice, and I paid the price.

My inner voice disappeared, and I didn't trust myself to make the easiest decisions.

What to eat, and what exercises I would do in the gym.

I was paralyzed by the torture of self-mistrust.

I had to learn to trust myself again, which was one of the most challenging tasks ever.

And it all started by making and keeping commitments to myself.

The more commitments I made and kept, the more I became the person who did what they said they would do.

I reconnected with my inner voice.

I Didn't Know Where to Begin, But That Wasn't a Reason Not to Start:

I was drawn to give meaning to my circumstance and the suffering I caused.

I knew I wanted to share my story, both written and spoken, and I knew I wanted to help others.

But I had no idea how the hell to start.

Writing a book seemed like an insurmountable goal. Conquering my fear of public speaking did too.

I could have easily remained frozen in fear, not knowing where to begin, but I knew I couldn't do that.

I lowered the barrier of entry by breaking the massive into the micro.

Writing a book begins with one word.

Conquering public speaking started with a Google search.

I journaled, wrote idea lists, and chipped away piece by piece.

I Can't Control the Outcome, Only the Effort I Put In

My entire life before prison was predicated on outcomes.

Closing a deal, buying the next shiny object, landing a new client.

And I'd feel great for a moment when the outcome was achieved.

But, quick highs fade quickly.

Then it was back to chasing another outcome.

By breaking the massive into the micro, I learned to focus on what was in front of me, nothing more.

I learned to go all in on that small step, and I learned the journey is the reward, the accomplishment of the goal?

The icing on the cake.

I Had to Shed My Skin:

I was so attached to my former life, which was nothing but a memory.

I used to be a Senior Executive Account Manager.

I used to be a VIP at some of the best restaurants in town.

I used to have a "watch guy" that was also Tom Brady's "watch guy."

I used to be many things, but I'm not anymore.

I had to practice acceptance and shed my skin.

The new would never be able to come in as long as the old stood in its way.

I spent a lot of time in limbo, without knowing who I was, but that's the only way I could connect back to who I truly am.

Execute My Fears:

Fear was a primary driver behind my choice to commit a crime.

It was easier to commit fraud and violate my inner voice than to be honest, with myself and my wife at the time.

I understood fear landed me in prison and that I could leverage fear to reinvent my life after prison.

I made a list of all my fears, and inside my prison cube, I committed to executing them one by one.

My 1 fear? Public speaking.

It took five years, but I landed on the TEDx stage.

This was when I executed that fear.

Behind this process were acceptance, self-trust, and breaking the massive into the micro.

Extreme Responsibility:

I understood if I was going to reinvent my life from scratch, I needed to seize responsibility for my life.

That meant accepting responsibility for the choices that landed me in prison.

Yes, the prosecutor made false statements at sentencing.

Yes, the FBI made mistakes and ignored evidence.

Yes, there was unfair media coverage.

None of that would have ever happened had I not knocked the 1st domino down.

I made the choice to commit the fraud—no one else.

The buck stops with me.

Everything that happened after falls directly on me and my choices.

I seized control over my life when I understood this and stopped pointing the finger at anyone other than myself.

I gave myself the gift of freedom inside prison.

Gratitude is a Superpower:

I was sitting in the prison library with nothing to my name.

I lost everything.

My marriage, my career, my money, my homes, and my cars.

I lost my identity and self-worth. And yet, one crisp early morning, the sunrise was spectacular. I put pen to paper and wrote,

"I'm grateful for this morning's sunrise."

I found something to be grateful for in my most challenging time.

I cannot express how important that truly is.

Self-Forgiveness is a Priority:

It's not a luxury; it's a necessity.

I was carrying so much shame for my actions and the damage I caused.

My hate for my choices, through the lens of shame, was actually hate for myself.

I couldn't separate my choices from myself; that's what shame does.

My choices were made in the past; the person who made those choices doesn't exist anymore, yet I was keeping him alive by not forgiving myself.

How could I ever move forward if I remained in the past?

Forgiveness is one of the most extraordinary acts of compassion and love we can extend to ourselves.

To create and live an extraordinary life, we must forgive ourselves.

Forgiveness cultivates self-worth.

Vulnerability is The Gateway to Freedom

Before prison, I believed being vulnerable was the ultimate expression of weakness.

I'm a man, and men bottle everything up.

My best friend Sean and I had a joke when too much vulnerability started to enter the conversation:

"Let's shove that down as deep inside as we can and just add it to the big black ball of cancer in our chest."

Not funny, but it's what we did.

I was consumed by shame to the point of planning how I'd take my life.

I knew that if I didn't learn to own my story, it would own me for the rest of my life.

A life consumed by shame is a life destined for regret.

It's merely existing; it's not living.

I had to do the thing I had always been afraid to do.

I had to express all the feelings I buried inside sincerely, honestly, and transparently.

All the fears I had around doing this?

Unfounded. What I found instead was freedom.

Have a Mission

I thought I had a mission before prison.

Make as much money as possible and spend it all on fancy things.

That wasn't a mission.

It was what I thought I should be doing, not what I wanted to do.

Only when I started writing my 1st book and pursuing public speaking did I understand what a mission truly is.

A mission is something I'm willing to sacrifice all the short-term shots of happiness (drinking, social media, Netflix) in pursuit of long-term purpose, meaning, and fulfillment ‒ with an unknown outcome.

A mission is something more significant than myself and serves a greater good outside myself.

My desire behind the book and the TEDx?

To help one person.

That's my mission to this day.

Stop Chasing/Start Creating

Pre-prison, I chased happiness, purpose, meaning, and fulfillment at the bottom of a bottle and the swipe of my American Express Platinum card.

I was on The Golden Treadmill, racing furiously to a finish line I'd never reach.

Purpose, meaning, and fulfillment aren't chased; they're created.

And when I take the time to focus on what really matters to me and align my actions with that, I create them.

And happiness naturally ensues as a result.

The funny thing about these lessons is this:

They're what I learned from going to prison, losing everything, and reinventing from scratch, but they're universal.

They apply to any one of us at any time.

We don't need to go to prison to implement these lessons to create the life we want to live.

Nor do I suggest you wait for the bottom to fall out before implementing them in your own lives.

Start now to create an extraordinary future.

If you're ready to invest in 1:1 support so you can connect with your Life’s Calling and create your extraordinary second half, let's talk.

My best-selling book, "Blank Canvas, How I Reinvented My Life After Prison," is available on Amazon.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info! Read more from Craig!


Craig Stanland, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Craig Stanland is a Reinvention Architect & Mindset Coach, TEDx & Keynote Speaker, and Best-Selling Author.

In 2012, Craig Stanland made a choice that would cost him everything. After exploiting the warranty policy of one of the largest tech companies in the world for almost a year, the FBI finally knocked on his door.

He was arrested and sentenced to 2 years of Federal Prison, followed by 3 years of Supervised Release, and ordered to pay $834,307 in restitution. He lost his wife, his home, his cars, his career, and even his identity. He wanted nothing more than to die.

A well-timed prison visit from his best friend of over thirty years turned his life around. Craig rebuilt and reinvented his life from rock bottom to a life of meaning and fulfillment.

As a Reinvention Architect, Craig leverages his experiences and personal reinvention to work 1:1 with clients so they can re-architect their lives with freedom, passion, purpose, fulfillment, and meaning.Craig's mission is to help people cultivate the courage to pursue their calling so they can live meaningful lives.

His book, "Blank Canvas, How I Reinvented My Life After Prison" is available on Amazon.



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