First Year in Prison: Review
By PJ Braun
‘Even though I have been locked up a year, it could be so much worse.’
As I write this it’s February 8th, just nine days shy of a year since being incarcerated. For that reason, I decided to recap my year for you, guys. I am going to break it down CliffsNotes style. February 17th was probably the worst day of my life. Driving to the courthouse awaiting my fate was brutal. Leading up to that day I was focused on spending as much time with my fiancée Marissa and my family as I could. It still makes me sad at times when I think that it took coming to prison for me to realize I was living life way too fast and missing out on what really matters to me.
The last couple of months before coming to prison was a special time for me, however the upcoming sentencing was always looming in my mind and anxiety and depression were consistent feelings that consumed me. This contributed to me being lazy and sloppy with my training and nutrition. I had stopped taking growth hormone about a month before the incarceration and I noticed that I had softened up quite a bit and lost some fullness and vascularity. I stayed on testosterone all the way to the sentencing and was hoping to be able to stay on the test because of my doctor’s recommendation letter. When I was pulled out of court in handcuffs and taken to intake at the main jail in Fort Lauderdale, I found out quickly that the BOP [Federal Bureau of Prisons] does things much different than I thought.
I was told I could not be on any of my prescription meds, stripped of my clothing and tossed in a detox room for a week before being able to meet with a doctor who put me back on Paxil at a higher dose of 40 milligrams instead of my normal 30 milligrams. The reason I mention this is because one of the side effects of Paxil is weight gain, which I will get to later. I went from Main Jail to county jail for another week and then to the FDC Miami, where I spent the first 38 days in quarantine locked up 23 hours a day and barely eating. This was very hard. In the beginning of that quarantine phase was when I knew my hormones were crashing after being on testosterone for most of the last 20 years. It was very strange.
Sometimes I would get so depressed and emotional out of nowhere that I would face the wall of my cell and tears would be coming out like faucets. A year later the emotions are in check, but my energy is low.
I did have some great experiences in Miami, though. My “celly,” Francisco, got me back to God and was an excellent guide on how prison works. I learned how to move the right way. When you are in a facility with guys who have spent most of their time in high-level security, you learn a lot about the way the system works, and you develop a different level of respect that isn’t seen in most of the self-surrender guys at the camp. It is a privilege to be at a camp and many of the guys here worked their way down over many years. At the same time, I don’t think you should have to be at a “pen” to know manners and respect. I learned how to make weights with garbage bags filled with water that were tied up inside laundry bags and sheets and I started training hard.
When I left Miami, I went back to lockdown again in Atlanta for a month before I got on the bus to Montgomery. I felt like I was starting all over again but I was ready. Unfortunately, there are no weights here so I got creative with bodyweight exercises and developed a full-body routine that I was doing every day until I came to RDAP [Residential Drug Abuse Program]. At that point back in August, I started training one body part a day with a ton of volume. I am talking 30 sets or more and with supersets. Along the way, much of this has been a blur but a few moments really stick out. Cedric McMillan and Bostin Loyd, RIP. These were hard phone calls with my dad that broke my heart.
I did a lot of reflection on life outside of bodybuilding this year. I thought about my drug and diuretic use while I was competing and my desire to be the biggest and best. I was pretty conservative for the most part but also took some chances toward the end, and I wonder if those chances will catch up to me later. We are always quick to say, “The steroids did it” but we are also quick to say, “Well, he must have had a preexisting condition.” Regardless, guys are dying young and I feel there has to be more time spent getting blood work done, and working with doctors no matter what. I know guys who have died young that were the picture of health on the outside, but that doesn’t mean shit if you don’t know what’s going on inside. Then you have guys who just don’t care and want to be big at all costs and if that’s their decision, then so be it because it was their choice. I have had guys tell me they want to die young and jacked and not old and frail. Who am I to say what a person can and can’t do, when they are aware of the potential risk and ignoring it out of pure self-will? I would like to die old and mentally strong, but I want some muscle too.
The moment that sticks out as by far the best was when I finally got to see and touch Marissa for the first time after almost nine months. I have never felt that combination of nerves, anxiety and excitement at such a high level in my life. When we ran to each other in visitation and embraced with a kiss, it had to look straight out of a blockbuster Hollywood romance movie and I will never forget the way we cried together in pure jubilation with her saying, “Why is your heart beating like that?!” And me replying, “Because I am so excited to see you again.” I thank God every day for her love.
And speaking of her and her love, it’s kept me really motivated and strong. A lot of guys don’t have anyone on the outside, and that can be a struggle. I see it and live with it; guys who literally have no one. I am blessed, and I have so much gratitude for the people in my life. My dad has done awesome with Blackstone Labs™, and I never have to worry about anything with him and my partner, Jared Wheat. I am not a momma’s boy, but I sure do love the love my mom shows, day in and out.
What I am trying to say with all this is even though I have been locked up a year, it could be so much worse. I have learned to have more positive self-talks with myself and find the silver lining in everything. I have learned to trust God and his process for me, and I have learned to be present in the moment and not worry as much about things I can’t control. What I can control is myself and my actions, and I choose to get up before count every day and be first outside to train. It makes me feel great and accomplished.
I conduct myself with respect and integrity and when it comes to fitness and bodybuilding on the compound, there hasn’t been a day in a while that I haven’t been asked for help and taken the time to explain and help as much as I can because I know how positive bodybuilding and fitness can be for everyone, physically and spiritually. I have missed the bodybuilding shows but I have friends like Guy Cisternino, Billy Gagliardo and Nick Trigili, who email what is going on. I have Muscular Development magazine in my corner giving me a voice, but I also rely on the magazine to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry and get so excited when the mail comes, and my MD is there.
My training is going as good as it can be and I am a big but kind of chubby 275 pounds, but if you know me like my Blackstone Labs™ family does, then you would know that means next year’s BEAT PJ contest is going to be our biggest ever and NO ONE is going to beat me this time!
Thank you all for reading. If you have requests on what you want me to write about, submit them to the Blackstone Labs™ Instagram. I love you all, peace out, bye!