On Monday 24 August 2020, I’m posting the work of a new guest writer. He writes under the initials L.R., and is a retired Coloniel incarcerated in an Ohio correctional institution. He lives in the prison’s veterans housing unit where the other inmates are also vets. These housing units provide specialized needs unique to vets and play a significant role in their rehabilitation. His essay is titled “PTSD and Justice” and presents an argument toward an important veteran’s issue. I’m honored to publish his work.
Hundreds of inmates here are on quarantine, and nearly 225* have tested positive. There are so many positive cases that the entire gym has been cleared and refitted with beds to house them. To make things worse, no one is telling us anything. So we are all left to wonder and worry. The lack of communication is causing unnecessary suspicion and distrust amongst the guys here, and I’m baffled at it all. If someone would appraise all of us I think there would be understanding and collective action. There’s no containment of the virus, and some of the symptomatic cases have become life threateningly ill. By this time next week we will likely have lost lives here.
Well, it looks as if our beautiful island isn’t going to dodge the Coronavirus Death March after all. For the past several months I’ve blogged about how my Ohio facility has remained an odd oasis in a sea of pandemic. I’ve watched the world outside slowly contort and twist upon itself as the virus has slayed its way across the planet. All of us here have watched apprehensively as several Ohio prisons exploded into worse case scenarios.
This week our COVID-19 lockdown ended and we’ve returned to semi-normal operations here. Many of the departments that were closed have reopened, and guys are happy to get moving again. Of course, nothing is really back to “normal” in the sense that we remember. The ‘new normal’ (as clichéd as that phrase has become) is a world where we’re still restricted in some of our movements, and everyone still wears masks. Don’t get me wrong, I really AM thankful. After the last 8 weeks, our new normal is awesome.
When I was growing up I couldn’t remember much in school. It seemed no matter how hard I studied, I’d retain a fraction of what I learned. I suppose it will come as no surprise to hear that I dreaded tests.
When I grew older I became very absentminded. I constantly forgot where I put things. I’d forget where I put my wallet or car keys, or to do a specific task that I wanted or needed to do. One year I parked in Washington D.C. for a day of museums and sightseeing only to wander the Capitol for an hour, trying to remember where I had parked the car.
Then one day I read a book review about a book called Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. In it, the author had set out to see if it was possible for the average individual to improve memory to levels that memory champions enjoyed.
Over the course of a year, the world reigning memory champion mentored the author in techniques that today’s modern world has forgotten. Then after a year of practicing, he entered himself into the U.S. Memory Championship and won. He also set a then U.S.A. record in ‘Speed Cards’ for memorizing an entire deck in order in exactly 1 minute.
I promptly ordered Moonwalking With Einstein. I figured that if this guy could go from Average Joe to Memory Champion by learning some old memory ‘tricks,’ then I sure as hell could cure my absentmindedness.
What I didn’t realize then was that Moonwalking With Einstein was about to change my life. I was so energized after reading this book that I ordered another book, this one titled How to Remember Anything by Dean Vaughn. The book teaches techniques helping you to remember anything. If any of you reading this have a terrible memory, this book is for you.
After reading the book, I spent 2 hours a day for the next 3 months practicing and unlearning the terrible way we learned to remember things growing up.
In school, most of us learned to remember information by reading, taking notes, rereading, and taking more notes. Then we would reread our notes and maybe reread our books again. The night before tests you probably reviewed questions in your text books, and tried to remember everything by repeating it over and over again in your head. This is the “rote” method, and it’s the worst possible way to learn and retain information.
Back when the world didn’t have Google, handheld devices or even books, you had to remember everything. Everyone did. When books finally came about, only the rich and religious scholars were privy to them.
Have you ever seen a picture of a page from a very old book? We’re talking 1300’s old. There’s ornate pictures and scribblings filling the borders of pages around text. Oftentimes these images are overlaid within the text itself. What are these images for anyway? Why would someone spend so much time and energy drawing in a book?
The answer: they’re memory cues that the reader created in order to efficiently and accurately memorize the text. Through these images, you are able to visualize, hear, see, and mentally smell the information you want to remember. By doing so, you are activating several regions of the brain simultaneously, and the more senses involved when memorizing, the easier it is to recall information. It’s just the nature of how we’re wired. It’s something ancient societies understood well.
Rather than explain every memory method, and there are many, I can drive home the point by telling you a little about my memory now versus before. The difference is astounding.
I can now remember, in exact sequence, thousands of digits (before I could only memorize a handful, maybe 20 or 30 if given enough time); lists that are hundreds and hundreds of things long (before I was lucky to memorize a grocery list); entire chunks of data, like say, entire books of the Bible or other meaningful information like names, phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, etc., of everyone I know (whereas, before I was lucky to remember 7 pieces of pertinent data at any one time); and, even entire decks of cards amongst everything and anything else. Incidentally, my personal best is 14 decks memorized in one hour. Why 14? It was all the decks I owned at the time.
Before I go, I’m leaving you with 4 videos. I recorded them a couple years ago for family, but today I’ll share them with you. In the first two, I’m memorizing a deck of cards. In the last two, I’m recalling them in sequence.
Recall that in Moonwalking With Einstein, the author set a then U.S.A. record of 1 minute memorizing a deck correctly in sequence. It takes me about 53 seconds in these videos. No tricks. No gimmicks.
My personal best is 28 seconds.
The world record is mind boggling faster–google it. Not bad for a guy who once wandered Washington, D.C. wondering where he parked his car, don’t you think? And yes, I will compete in the U.S. Memory Championship the first chance I get.
*You can do anything you set your mind to. Believe in yourself. It’s that simple.