Dickie Oppen Jr.



Years ago, at the Monroe Correctional Complex, there was
a Captain and his name was jimmy Evens. One of the things
he used to say to me that really made a difference in changing
my life, is, “Dick, it’s okay to be disabled, but what is okay is
how you deal with it and how you think about it.”

Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but, over the past ten
years, I’ve discovered that he had been talking about a
process called “assimilation.” You see, I had assimilated
being worthless and disabled or, as I like to say today,
Differently Abled. I discovered that what Captain Evens was
doing was helping me assimilate that being disabled is okay,
and that it was something I didn’t need to be ashamed of,
but what was not okay was the way I was dealing with it.

What was not okay was my own internal self-talk about being
disabled and causing trouble, getting high, and building up
infractions. That’s what was not okay. Today, I use this
process of assimilation.

I use the words “Differently Abled.” Many people with disabilities
have fought hard for their rights. They’ve walked to the
White House, demonstrated at the Legislatures, and have
chained themselves to public buses. I can’t say this was
right or wrong, but what I believe is the way they went
About it.

To look at what they did was their way of saying, “We want
to be treated as equals.” People in prison want the same,
but most don’t know how to ask. My concept of Differently
Abled has a lot to do with the thought process.

You see, many people with disabilities have always perceived
themselves as different from everyone else. And, in a
way, that’s true. But, they also have talents, skills, and,
most often, are hyper-sensitive that others lack.

I had to learn that it was okay to be disabled and it taught
me that it doesn’t matter how I lable myself. What matters
is how I accept my disability. When we say the word “Disabled,”
we are emphasizing the “D’s” There’s a “D” at the beginning and
focuses on the differences in people. The “D” on the end signifies
denial of what people can do. But, after you help people deal
With these “D’s” what you have left “Is Able.” This now
becomes an acronym for the following message:

I Independence to interdependence
S Self-Esteem

A Attitude
B Belief
L Locus of Control
E Efficacy—particulary Self-Efficacy

Now, let me focus on what disabled means. Disabled has
nothing to do with what you can’t do, or with being less
fortunate or slow or weak. I always get a kick out of people
who use the term “slow learner.” I’ve never met someone
who’s a slow learner. People learn and develop at different
levels. And, the whole point to this is being able at any stage.


Over the last twenty years or so, there has been a trementous
push to help people with disabilities people I prefer to call
Differently Abled to become more independent. And, that’s
how the Independent Living movement was founded. Most
communities now talk about Independent Living.
Most schools focus on Independent Living.

In my search to help people become more independent,
I overlooked talking about interdendent. Think of it like
this: If I’m dependent, that means I need you or another
human being to get what I want. In becoming more
interdependent, we’ll both get more of what we,
individually, desire by working together.

I think a lot of angry people came out of the Independent
Living movement. I think there were a lot of people because
of society’s attitudes who were being treated as
“Jerry’s Kids.” And, so, in search for independence, we
have become complacent.


When I talk of self-Esteem, I’m not talking about simply
“feeling good.” When I talk to Prisoners or Staff, I tell them
anybody can feel good for an hour, a day, or a week. In my
search to help others understand, I have found that, in
many ways, we have become a feel-good society, and we
do a lot more damage than we do good.

Self-Esteem is more than just feeling good. People with
low self-esteem will not allow people with high self-esteem
to rise above their level of esteem. In other words, when my
self-esteem is low, I’m really threatened by people who
have higher self-esteem than I do. Ironic, I know…..

Self-Esteem is seeing yourself as a worthy individual and
not feeling like you’re threatened when others see
themselves as just as worlthy. I know as a father, I’m
not a good father when my self-esteem is low, or the same
can be said about people with disabilities.

There have been major studies on people with severe
disabilities who require full-time assistance to help them
with with their day to day duties of feeding, dressing, and
using the bathroom. In many cases, these assistants are
not well paid and may not have much of an educational
background. However, its interesting to look at the people
with severe issues who have kept their assistants for five
or more years.

Often, in these cases, the person with the disability will
bulid up the assistant and give compliments on how well
he/she performed.on the other hand, someone with a
disability who has low self-esteem will feel really
threatened by an assistant with high self-esteem, and

Sometimes, assistants with low self-esteem
feel like they are threatened by the people they’re helping,
even though the people they’re helping may have little
or no body movement of their own without help. This is from
a study that I read somewhere. My point is: helping prisoners
with their disabilities can and will build their self-esteem
really helps them work toward being more interdependent.


Your first twenty five words you speak in the start of your
day can define how your attitude and your beliefs are
affected. If you always do what you have always done,
then you will always get what you have always gotten.

See the essence of being human regardless of your
disability is being “Able” to direct your own life and
that starts with change. Change your attitude, change
your life. Change your belief, broaden your horizon.



Locus of Control is the idea that you really are in charge of
Your own destiny. Your locus of control is not always outside
you, but it is within you. Know that “We” are accountable for
our actions. This is what Locus of Control means.
This exercise is about admitting a time that you took charge
of,your actions and really owned,the moment.



The final concept is,”Able” is the concept of efficacy, or more
ways as the next step beyond self-esteem. I bet you know
someone who has a pretty good self-image and pretty high
self-esteem, but who lacks direction, lacks incentive to
make things happen. This is where self-efficacy comes
into play. One way to look at self-efficacy is that what we
believe, we can achieve or make happen.

Another way I look at self-efficacy is the way I was told by
Gordy Graham. When you look at a challenge, ask yourself:
“Is it bigger then you, or are you bigger than it. Whenever
we see a challenge as bigger than we are, we become
intimidated. And, it’s okay to be intimidated, but it’s never
okay to stay intimidated. This is efficacy.

Some people have a very high degree of efficacy. I would be
an example of someone with high efficacy. Whenever you
Ask me if I could do something for you my automatic
response is: “Sure, it will only take a minute.”Everything
in life will only take a minute. It’s just a matter of getting
after it and doing it.

Other people may have low efficacy. They don’t believe in
their “Ability” to cause things to happen. As you look at
people with high and low degrees of efficacy, what you’ll
see is interesting: Some people always see a way to find
new answers, even if they are in an environment of cold

Forethought Control:

Another part of efficacy is Forethought Control. Forethought
Control means that what we think of as our “Ability,” our
” Self-Efficacy,” is even more critical than our ability. This
has been proven to be important as I talk and work with
prisoners with a disability. So often, people with disabilities
get hung up on the word ” Ability.” But, what’s more critical
is the way they think about their ability.

We won’t allow ourselves to want what we don’t believe
we can cause or bring about. Remember when you were
just a young person wanting your first car? Most of us
never even thought about buying a brand-new car.

In our minds, the idea of getting a car was getting a good
used car just a set of wheels. In our efficacy, or rather in
our “forthought Control,” it’s not that we didn’t want we
thought about was finding a set of wheels when we grew
in what we could afford, then we allowed our minds to think
about a new car.

It’s the same process as trying to get out of prison. How you
go about into a situation bacomes very important as you move
into the community and the workforce. For the Differently
Abled, maybe moving into your own apartment or work
release is your first step, but it’s an important step.

We won’t allow ourselves to want what we don’t think we
can cause. So, even in how we see a situation, we won’t
act on it unless we take small steps and commit to a goal.

Along with forthought control and self-efficacy, I also need to
talk about controlling anxiety arousal. It’s not what you know,
it’s what you can use of what you know even when you’re
under pressure. What’s important as we learn and develop
and empower ourselves is that we use what we know in
every situation.

Thanks for reading my blogg, please leave a comment.

Be kind to one another.

Dickie Oppen Jr.
DOC #947545

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