by Kevin W. Bliss
Prison is often compared to as a pressure cooker, exerting powerful forces that can either make or break someone. With a stunning list of achievements, Eric Van Buren is not one of the latter. Arrested in 1999 for drugs and sentenced to life in the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Van Buren spent his incarceration developing a new dice game, and since his release he has developed an app for it to be played on mobile devices.
But that’s not all. While working on the game, called “Kokoro,” he also studied law. And he has now published a book, The Art of Winning Litigation, earning the scholar and entrepreneur – and social media influencer, too, these days – regular invitations to speak at the University of Virginia Law School.
It is not uncommon to see that the debilitating environment of prison serves as a chrysalis that makes such transformations possible. Outstanding achievement is found in many creative works of prose, poetry, music and art seen in prison art shows and contests.
After Van Buren graduated from Maryland’s Bowie High School in 1991, he learned a great deal about gambling and drug dealing, which led to his incarceration. By the time he was 29, he had been arrested and sentenced to life. That was his wake up call he said. “I decided that I was a failure,” he remembered. “I accepted that.”
Once in prison, Van Buren enrolled in self-improvement programs, immersing himself in educational material and visiting the law library. He recalled several influential people in prison: Michael Minkah Norwood, a legendary jailhouse lawyer at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, who taught from the D.C Trial Manual; former National Security Agency communications specialist and convicted Russian spy Ronald W. Pelton, who introduced Van Buren to books on the application of logic; and Imam Jamil al-Amin (a.k.a. H. Rap Brown) of the Black Panthers, who shared a great deal of wisdom. “He told me the difference with my generation and his was that people in his were willing to die for what they believed in,” stated Van Buren, “and people in mine were willing to kill for what we believed in.”
Thanks to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Van Buren had his sentence reduced to 18 years. Upon release in 2020, he immediately sought marketing assistance for the dice-game app. Kokoro was developed while Van Buren was incarcerated and reading the Book of Five Rings, by 17th-century Samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi. Van Buren said the book “connotes the mental, emotional, and spiritual states that can be used to resolve any discord within ourselves.”
Instead of being crushed by his experience, Van Buren passed through it a better and more complete individual.
Source: Washington Post
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