Recently, Freedom Ticket talked with Tommy Watson, principal at Palmer Lake Elementary in Brooklyn Park, about his childhood, setting motivations and how people can overcome challenges in life.
How did growing up with incarcerated family members impact you?
As a kid, I spent a lot of time living in foster homes, crisis centers, motel rooms, and living with family and friends. I arrived to play football for the University of Minnesota in 1992, after living in nearly 25 different homes while growing up with heroin-addicted parents. During this time, both my mom and dad were in prison; my younger brother was in prison; my grandmother (last legal guardian) was in a nursing home; my oldest sister was on the streets of Denver, addicted to crack cocaine; my oldest brother was on the streets of Denver, involved heavily in gangs; my second oldest sister was in foster care in Iowa, and my youngest sister was living with my aunt. Between my junior and senior year of high school, I lived in five different locations and spent the last four months of my senior year of high school homeless, sleeping on the floor of a family friend. I arrived in Minnesota with a trunk carrying everything I owned and no home address back in Denver.
Based on your childhood experience, what can an incarcerated parent do to help their children cope with their absence?
The simplest thing that an incarcerated parent can do to help their children, is to let them know that they are loved and that the incarceration of the parent is not the children’s fault. For many years, I walked around as a child holding on to the premonition that there was something that I could have done as a child to keep my family together (less fights with siblings, worked harder in school, less trouble in the community, etc.)
As someone who is strongly motivated in life, what suggestions do you have to help people set realistic expectations and then stay motivated?
The term “realistic expectations” is a bit of an oxymoron. The entire premise behind expectations is doing things that you and others thought could not have been done. Having said that, I think that it’s critical that a person has three things in place on this journey of staying motivated to accomplish great things. First, it is critical for people to start out knowing what they value and have an area of interest in. People will find that these values and interest will be connected to things that are at the core of who they are. These core values and interests will then drive a person to discover and hone their strengths. Secondly, it is important to identify people or a person doing what it is that you would like to be doing. Place a picture of the person before you each day, study the failures and successes of this person, and take words of advice from this person literally and put them into action. And lastly, believe in yourself. There is a quote that says, “The person who thinks that they can and the person who thinks that they cannot are both right.” The question we have to ask ourselves is, which one are we? Find an inspirational song to keep you going each day. Find daily quotes. Connect with people who have the same mind set.
What suggestions do you have for someone to be successful in life after they leave a corrections facility?
Know what you believe in. Have a dream of improving our world in an area that you are passionate about. Identify a person living your dream and pursue that dream, daily, with the tenacity to see it come to fruition in your life. Be patient and grateful on the journey.
It will also be critical to develop skills: reading comprehension, time management, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving and have strong people skills.
Attend Tommy’s Program in July
The Power of Education and Expectations In Overcoming Barriers
Thursday, July 14, 2011, 7 to 8 p.m.
6125 Shingle Creek Pkwy., Brooklyn Center , 55430
In this free program, participants will hear Tommy Watson’s story of overcoming obstacles and adjusting to constant change. Watson will also discuss the power of education and expectation in life’s journey. Participants also will learn and understand the three components of high expectations and how they apply in their lives. For more information, please call 612-543-8852.