New Series Tomorrow: Epictetus in Prison

From tomorrow, we will be running a two week series of excerpts every few days, from prison counsellor Jeff Traylor’s Epictetus Club. The work is a powerful and inspirational example of how Epictetus’ philosophy has been used to help prisoners turn their lives around. Jeff wrote the book from his experiences of teaching Epictetus’ philosophy in prisons, and did so primarily to provide a recap of Epictetus’ philosophy to those who took the course, and to provide a book that could be of use in other prisons around the US.

Jeff writes: “This novel is inspired by real events and real people. It is set in the old Ohio Penitentiary, and the descriptions of the institution are factual. Some events described as having taken place at the Ohio Penitentiary actually took place at Marion Correctional Institution. The inmate characters are fictional composites, and the names of staff have been changed. Epictetus (Epic-TEE-tus) was a real person.

My primary purpose when I began this book was to provide a refresher for the men who have completed a course in cognitive skills that I teach in a community-based correctional facility. By the time the men finish the course, they have studied many of these ideas, and this book is a practical and informative way for them to review the lessons as they prepare to return to society.

As the writing progressed, a second use for the book evolved – to provide these concepts and ideas to probationers or inmates at other correctional facilities who do not have access to these kinds of groups.”

The book starts with the Epictetus Rap: 

The Epictetus Rap

My name is Epictetus, here’s what I’m puttin’ down,
If you ain’t got your cog skills, you’re nothin’ but a clown. You know I was a prisoner, you know I was a slave,
It took all of my mind to control how I behave.
But I used my brain to live, I used my brain to get through, I let go of entitlement, thinking I was due
Whatever I wanted, whatever anyone had,
I learned to focus elsewhere, then I didn’t feel so bad.
I took my better feelings and opened up my mind,
I saw I used closed thinking, I saw that I was blind
To all my choices, all my options, all my possibility
And I made a vow right then that I knew I could be free
In my mind and in my heart
And in my thoughts is where to start.

So let me tell you what to do if you truly want to live
A life you can be proud of, a life where you can give Instead of taking all the time, doing booze and drugs and crime.
Clear your head, clear your conscience,
Clear your record, clear your mind,
Ain’t no satisfaction in immediate grati-faction.

Now I know you think your circumstance Is the reason for your victimstance,
But you know it ain’t like that
You can survive like a cat.

Turn it on its ear, turn it upside down,
Instead of being crushed, ask how you can turn it ’round. Don’t just do the time, don’t be a stupid fool,
This here is a place where if you play it cool,
You’ll be stronger in your thinking, stronger in your heart,

When you come up out of here, you’ll now know where to start
To live a life of purpose, to live the life you need,
To let go of your past, your demands and your greed.

Instead of robbin’ in the hood, but sayin’ you are good, Get yourself on home, forget that Robin Hood syndrome. Don’t be makin’ no excuses, don’t be blamin’ no one else, Take responsibility and be Master of Yourself.

© 2002 by Maximum511

Look out for more from the Epictetus Club on the blog over the next two weeks.

About the Author: 

Jeff Traylor has a wealth of corrections experience, ranging from implementing the furlough program at the maximum security Ohio Penitentiary to serving as the cognitive skills instructor at a community based correctional facility. His experience also includes substance abuse counseling and program development, and he has worked in the psychological and social services departments in Ohio prisons. He is the creator of the Shoplifting Diversion Program that earned a national award from the National Council of Community Mental Health Centers and was adopted in more than 30 U.S. cities. He has served on the faculty of the Michigan Judicial Institute and has trained hundreds of professionals ranging from parole officers to social workers. He earned his graduate degree from The Ohio State University and is the author of a series of Ohio travel books called Life in the Slow Lane

With thanks to Jeff for allowing excerpts from his work to be published here.

2 thoughts on “New Series Tomorrow: Epictetus in Prison”

  1. Love the rap! Thank you. Very moving. The emphasis on purpose and responsibility would appeal to a prisoner who was also a Stoic psychiatrist and philosopher – Viktor Frankl, so from the director of the Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland I would like to say how inspiring your work is and I can’t wait to read your book.

  2. This is Great! Epictetus Club is an instant modern Stoic classic! A wonderful read! Much thanks for sharing with the Stoic community and the world!

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