The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

The Tipping Point

If at first you don’t succeed, do it like your mother told you.

~Author Unknown

Most of my adult life has been spent in and out of prison, and 2008 was no different. That was the year I began serving this seven-and-a-half-year sentence for charges stemming from problems I’ve had in my life with addiction. Only this incarceration would prove to be a major tipping point for my loved ones.

After endless disappointments, the last of my family and friends had finally had enough. They gave up hoping I’d realize the errors of my ways. I was entirely on my own — completely and absolutely alone.

Loneliness can do one of two things to a man. It can cause him to give up, abandoning all hope for his own self, or it can instill in him a drive to find something better, no matter how much negativity he must first overcome.

For the first year and a half I had succumbed to a very depressing, dark time. That was until I found a reason to demand better of myself thanks to the book Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul.

I had heard of the series but never read a Chicken Soup for the Soul book and had no idea how much of an impact one would have on my life. The first time I read Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul, I was in solitary confinement. If there was such a thing as rock bottom, I was certainly there. In such a cold, bleak environment, the stories I read were like a campfire, warming me deep down to my core.

One story in particular — “Success — Who Can Judge?” — influenced me the most. It was written by Tom Lagana, who also was one of the coauthors of Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul. The story was about a man named Rick who, much like myself, spent most of his life incarcerated. With so much time I still had to serve, this story helped me to see that there was real opportunity in front of me . . . an opportunity for major, positive changes. At my absolute lowest point, there I sat, greatly inspired by Rick and all he had overcome. His story was a mirror image of my own, and I began to think, “If this guy can make the changes needed in his life, why not me?” So I decided to focus on finding something I could feasibly accomplish while incarcerated.

While reading Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul, I also noticed that the cartoons included were created mostly by people who were incarcerated. Matt Matteo’s cartoons appeared frequently throughout the book. As an artist myself, I was amazed by his talent and reach. Here was a guy who was incarcerated making very valid strides toward more positive things. I realized then that I wanted to do the same thing. I wanted my life to have purpose and meaning, even while I was a prisoner. That passion became my focus.

Thanks to the contact information in the back of the book, I began corresponding with Tom Lagana and Matt Matteo. Both provided me with invaluable insight as to how to start creating my own cartoons, as well as uplifting words of encouragement and kindness. I created cartoons at a frantic pace and even began submitting my work to many different publications. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment.

Now I am more than four years into my incarceration journey, still creating cartoons, and have found direction in my life. I’ve set realistic goals I plan to achieve once released and work daily toward showing my loved ones I have the capability to be successful.

I realize now that there was another tipping point to this story . . . one I so desperately needed so that I could find reason to change my life for the better. That tipping point was Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul. Thanks to Rick’s story, cartoonist Matt Matteo, and coauthor Tom Lagana, I found hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

~Joseph P. Guerrero

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