Welcome to Remarkable People. We’re on a mission to make you remarkable.

In this forward-thinking episode, host Guy Kawasaki has an uplifting dialogue with artist and reform advocate Halim Flowers. Once facing a lifetime behind bars after being incarcerated as a teen, Halim discovered a profound love for literature and education while in prison. He cultivated his entrepreneurial talents to start a publishing company, authoring 11 books in the process. His poignant memoir captured in “Making of a Menace, Contrition of a Man” documents his growth into the leader he is today.

Since earning his release in 2019, Halim has been thriving through ventures like his activism foundation SATO, his speaking engagements, and his moving artwork. He and Guy have a thoughtful discussion on improving rehabilitation programs, catalyzing criminal justice reform, maintaining hope against all odds, and using entrepreneurship to drive social change.

Tune in to gain perspective on turning obstacles into opportunities, insights on uplifting marginalized communities, and how we all have the power to transform our lives if we cultivate the right mindset. Halim’s story serves as an inspiration to never give up on your potential, no matter the circumstances you face.

Please enjoy this remarkable episode, Halim Flowers: An Artistic Force for Good.

If you enjoyed this episode of the Remarkable People podcast, please leave a rating, write a review, and subscribe. Thank you!

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Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Halim Flowers: An Artistic Force for Good.

Guy Kawasaki:
I am Guy Kawasaki. Happy 2024. Welcome to Remarkable People. We're on a mission to make you remarkable. Today, we have the privilege of hosting Halim Flowers. He's a man whose life journey is nothing short of a testament to resilience and transformation. In 1997, at the age of sixteen, Halim was charged as an adult in the District of Columbia and convicted under the accomplice liability doctrine of felony murder.
He was sentenced to a staggering forty years to life imprisonment. His turbulent childhood documented in the Emmy Award-winning Thug Life in DC, exposed the harsh realities of growing up within the walls of the DC Department of Corrections during the crack era. During his incarceration, Halim discovered a profound love for literature and the arts. And he transitioned learning entrepreneurship from the streets at the age of twelve, that is, dealing drugs.
Halim channeled that ambition into self-enterprise and published eleven books across various genres. Released in 2019, after serving twenty-two years and two months, Halim has since collaborated with Kim Kardashian on the Justice Project, performed spoken word with Kanye West, and earned fellowships from the Halcyon Arts Lab and Echoing Green.
His story captured in the memoir, Making of a MENACE, CONTRITION of a Man, is a poignant narrative of transformation and offers insights into the devastating and inspiring journey that he has led. During our interview, I jokingly asked him to make a painting about my book, Think Remarkable. And lo and behold, the next day he told me he did it. A picture of Halim and the painting is in the book. Actually, there are two pictures of the painting. If you count the one on the dust jacket, which is in color, which truly shows you what it looks like. I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is, Remarkable People.
And now, here is the truly remarkable Halim Flowers. Our house has two paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat, of Jean-Michel Basquiat, not by Jean-Michel Basquiat. And I read that he was an inspiration and paved the way for you.
Halim Flowers:
For me, my life has definitely been impacted by Sean Carter, Jay-Z. And had it not been for my deep listening to Jay-Z, his music, I'm not going to say I wouldn't have never became introduced to Basquiat because he's so popular now. But when I was in prison and my access to the world was limited, it was through listening to Jay-Z that I was introduced to Basquiat. And then my habit of reading The Wall Street Journal every day introduced me to not Jean-Michel Basquiat work, just a brief description about his life.
And it encouraged me to want to see his work because he looked like me. And I never thought that the fine art world found anyone who looked like him to be remarkable and celebrated. So that was what piqued my interest. And then just seeing, having the opportunity to come out of prison to see his work in person, and learning that both of us shared backgrounds as poets who started painting.
His work always spoke to me. Not because he was popular, it was just because the words that he used and the way his imagery was just so raw and authentic, and it wasn't curated and edited as we just spoke about earlier. It was just authentic. More not his life, but his work. Because his life was a tragedy, and his life wasn't inspirational to me.
Only thing that was inspirational to me about his life was his work ethic, the pace at which he worked and him having the audacity to be in the space that normally would not include people who look like him. I am an entrepreneur, and I am the business, but I'm just confident in who I am in a humble way. Whereas I've never felt the need to be like I needed to be edited or I just want people to know me.
And I'm not afraid for people to know all of me. The parts they enjoy and love, and the parts they may not. And for me, it's just like being committed to growth and understanding that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvements. I think that's very harmful today, that we live in this Photoshop edited world.
It doesn't give people grace to make things that people interpret to be mistakes, but that are well-intentioned. We're not talking about going out and harming someone. But people can say something and people trounce on them and they don't give them grace to grow. And it just keeps people just rigid and tight. So for me, I'm thankful to be an artist, that people enjoy my art. I just show up authentic.
Guy Kawasaki:
Maybe my mind is making a connection that doesn't exist. Do you pronounce your organization SATO or SATO?
Halim Flowers:
Guy Kawasaki:
SATO. Sounds like Japanese. Is SATO, is that inspired by SAMO, S-A-M-O?
Halim Flowers:
No. SATO was actually a publishing company that I started in prison in 2005, far before I learned of Jean-Michel Basquiat and SAMO. And SATO is an acronym that stands for Struggle Against the Odds. So when I started a publishing company, I had two life sentences. I was maybe twenty-four years of age. I was incarcerated. I had so much to say and I didn't have a lot of avenues to say it. I didn't have access to social media or the internet.
But I knew that I had a story that I felt was remarkable. And that it needed to be heard outside of me just filing appellate litigation to the appeal courts in my case, to redress the legal travesty that I was experiencing as a juvenile lifer.
So for me, I knew that it would be a struggle against the odds to get noticed in the publishing world. So just me having the audacity with no experience in the literary world to start my own publishing company, and to believe that I had something to say that people would value, was a struggle against the odds. But I made it, sure.
Guy Kawasaki:
If there's a story in our 200 episodes of someone who struggled and succeeded against the odds, Halim, you are near the top, I assure you. And just one last thing about Jean-Michel, just in case you decide to paint the skull, just let me know in advance so I can buy it, okay?
Halim Flowers:
I will definitely do because I just revisited Nude Descending a Staircase, which was originally done by Marcel Duchamp. So I repurposed Francis Bacon, Head series. So I will repurpose the skull for you.
Just for you. I'll only do one, and I'll never do it again. Because I think what happens by me being socially constructed as black, people negatively critique me for honoring Basquiat. So if I repurpose a famous Picasso painting versus a famous Basquiat painting, I would be more celebrated for the Picasso than the Basquiat.
Because people, in their finite understanding, think that I'm copying him. But that's not even here nor there to me. For me, I just paint what I feel. But I'm just explaining to you what I've experienced in my three-year journey in this fine art world.
Guy Kawasaki:
You return to this theme several times about the impact of your father not really having a big presence when you were a kid. And we've interviewed several people who said the exact same thing. Can you just talk about what it means to grow up in DC without a father figure?
Halim Flowers:
For me, I definitely want to clarify that. Because my dad was married to my mom and I had my dad in my home until he got addicted to crack cocaine. And so my formidable years of one through six, I had my dad day for day. The things that make me successful and I believe in life today were things that my dad instilled in me. Exercise, education, discipline, things that he didn't have.
And now that I'm looking at him now as he's sixty-five and I'm forty-three, I realize that he saw all the weaknesses in himself, and he strengthened himself through me. But when I lost him to the addiction, he was no longer himself. And then eventually he moved away to the West Coast to try to get himself together.
He moved from DC to Las Vegas, and by the time that he had came back, I was doing life in prison, at the age of sixteen. But not having him in my life from the ages of seven to twelve, it really damaged me. Because I was able to keep up the structure that he gave me as far as the spirituality and the amateur boxing and the exercising and the schooling until I was eleven.
But once I turned twelve and went to middle school, the peer influence, it was so dominant on my psych. And I wanted to be accepted by my peers so much. And not having my dad in the home to counterbalance that. Because by him being absent, my mom had to work and go to school after work, so she can increase her ability to earn more to take care of my little brother and I.
She wasn't there, and then he wasn't there at all. I leaned more to the teenager guys in the streets. And that created a vacuum that sucked me into the human waste disposal of the school to prison pipeline, to the prison industrial complex.
Guy Kawasaki:
And what is your advice? I know you wrote a book like this. What is your advice to kids who don't have fathers or don't have father figures?
Halim Flowers:
I just spoke at a school earlier today, and I told them that if they didn't remember anything that I said, that they had value. Their life had value, their presence had value.
Because they looked at me as if I was somebody famous or something, and I told them, "I'm no different than you. That you have to find value in yourself and not in things. It's hard to understand at this time, because who wants to be different when you are a teenager? Who wants to stand out? Who doesn't want to be trendy in the age of social media, where so much is driven by filtered images and what's popular and trending at the time?
But the value is in yourself. And if you celebrate me, understand that I've only been able to be what you consider to be a success or remarkable just through leaning into my authentic self, and not editing myself and not photoshopping myself. But just speaking what I feel, painting what I feel and doing it all from a loving intention." And that's my advice I would give to any child or adult, that your genuine self, as Mr. Roger said, you’re fine just the way you are, and your genuine self has value.
And you have to understand the value of yourself before you start looking at celebrating people in this modern time, where everything is driven by net worth. Or understanding that net worth is just somebody's opinion about things that somebody created to be assets. Whether it's paintings or real estate or whatever.
But if you don't properly value yourself, you will always find yourself chasing the approval of others, and you'll be a slave to the appraisal that others give to the value of yourself. Not even your things, yourself. And I think that's the worst prison to ever be in the world, when your authentic self is incarcerated. Because you choose to suffocate it just to be approved by the opinions of your peers.
Guy Kawasaki:
Maybe we could back up a little. And listen, I know you must be sick of explaining this, just like I'm sick of explaining what it was like to work for Steve Jobs. But can you just briefly explain how it came to be that at sixteen you were sentenced to two forty-year terms for a murder. And then your friend who actually did the murder, his case was dismissed, but your case continued on. Could you just review that for us?
Halim Flowers:
Yeah. In the United States of America, we have some of the most unique laws in relation to conspiracy and accomplice liability doctrine as it's known in the legal jargon world. And in America, under the felony murder law as it stands today in the District of Columbia, thank God California recently changed their law.
If you are present during the commission of a felony that leads to a murder, whether you had the intent to harm or not, long as you committed a felony and a murder happened in furtherance of a felony, then you are just as guilty as the principal.
Whether you had an intent to harm or not. In my case, I wasn't even present when the murder happened, but the person who was charged as being the actual principal in the shooting, he couldn't have come testify about that, because they would charge him, and he was charged. And of course, he don't want to admit to something. And I told my side of the truth, but my refusal to implicate him in my story or my alibi caused the government to come down hard on me.
Because they wanted me to implicate him. And my thing in life, back then, even as a sixteen-year-old child, and as a forty-three-year-old adult today, I do not believe in weaseling out of consequences for one's decisions, just to save oneself. At the age of eleven, I took my pre-SATs, and I was taking courses at Howard University when I was eleven.
When I was twelve, I chose to sell drugs and stopped going to school. So once I made that decision through being affiliated with people who I chose to hang with, I put myself in the position to be accused of things like that. And I'm not the type of individual that when it comes time to be held accountable for your decisions, that I'm just going to implicate someone else just to get off.
So for me, I told the truth about my part and what happened in the incident. Yeah, I was a part of a robbery that happened before the shooting that I did myself. I did that myself and I left. Somebody else came back afterwards and shot the guy. I didn't tell anybody to do it, and I wasn't present when it was done. But one of the witnesses said that I wasn't there and one said that I was. And it was my word against theirs. I went to trial, and I was willing to appeal my case no matter how long it took me.
Even if I would've died in prison at the age of ninety years old, I would've stood by what I did and what I should have been held accountable for. And for my case to not even be charged with being a shooter and to have the government, after they convicted me as an aider and abettor, to just dismiss the case against the shooter, it just shows how they valued my life and how they valued my presence.
And even to this day, everyone who was released under the law that I was released under, all of them have been taken off of probation. I'm the only one that's still on probation. And the judge and the prosecutors told me that it doesn't matter that I've done art for the Queen of England and done all the community work I've done through my creativity and my presence in the community.
They said I'm still a menace to society, and that I had to complete my full five years of probation, irregardless of what has been done for everybody else that's been released, except me. I don't know what it is. I don't know why it happens that way with me. I believe in the law of attraction, and I believe that things happen for a reason.
And I don't express any bitterness or any anger. I just accept what is. And no matter what happened, whether I agree with it or not, I have to maintain a love and attention, and a positive attitude no matter what. Because anything else is just going to lead to a bitterness that's going to eat me alive as a cancer, when I don't want any toxicity in my emotional ecosystem.
Guy Kawasaki:
Well, just so the people listening to this understand what you're talking about, we're talking about a twenty-two-year-old sentence.
Halim Flowers:
Guy Kawasaki:
You were in prison for twenty-two years because you chose to take this path. So I don't know how you can't be bitter about it and all that. That's a remarkable thing too. Now, just so people understand, so you got out because there's this thing called the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act. Which basically says if you were incarcerated when you were young and you served, I don't know, fifteen years, that at the discretion of somebody, they could let you out. And is that accurate? That's how you got out?
Halim Flowers:
Yeah, a large part of the law being passed was because of me. I don't want to say it from an egotistical perspective. But I had been researching the issue for thirteen years before the law was passed, and I had been in communication with individuals within the DC city council, activists and nonprofit organizations about introducing this legislation based upon neuroscientific information about the lack of development of the prefrontal cortex in young boys.
And in some recent US Supreme Court cases in relations to that information in relation to the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment, in relation to children under the age of eighteen. I don't want people to listen to feel like the law passed, like no, this was something that I fought for over a decade, and we were able to get it passed. And this DC City Council and the local organizations that were involved in the legislative enactment, they used me as a poster child.
And I think that's why the government wants me to still be on probation. Because it's industries that profit off of people staying in prison. And it's industries that suffer when people are released in prison that were planned to be in prison for the remainder of their lives. And whatever interest those people being in prison, of course they wouldn't like somebody like me.
I understand that because I'm against their economic interest. I don't take it personal. But that was the law that was passed, and it was definitely something that I fought for personally and researched for over a decade. And then through the grace of the universe, things were able to get changed in my favor.
Guy Kawasaki:
Under that same law, apparently about sixty other people were released. Do you know if none of them went back to prison? They all turned their lives around? What has been the result of those sixty people? Not all of them became world-famous artists like you, obviously.
Halim Flowers:
A one or 2 percent recidivism rate. I know, maybe, because now the law has been expanded instead of the eighteen, it's been extended to the age of twenty-five, known as the Second Amendment Act. And we were able to get that passed once we got released.
But out of the sixty guys, I know, maybe two I know personally that went back. But now hundreds of people have been released, and it hasn't been any sensationalized crime that's been committed by someone who's released. Something where the government can take it and be like, "See, we shouldn't have let them out.”
But more, all of us are like business owners, homeowners, grassroots, activists, married, dads. We have children now. We starting to get guts, dad bods. And we got our passports and we seeing the world. And like you say, people may not be artists, but some people are doing community violence interruption work to really disrupt some of this gun violence.
I lost one of my close brothers, one of my close friends Saturday. He was shot forty-one times. He came and picked me up from the airport, dropped me off, and two hours later he was shot forty-one times. So we have problems with gun violence in America. And I don't want people just to see success as someone who's come home, and my case might be more like an outlier, where you're able to do these things.
But it's other people who just do things that don't receive media attention, but I find them to be successful. Because we have a gun violence pandemic in America that's far exceeded what it was when I was a child, when it was just relegated to people in the inner city. Now, it's cutting across all social economic stratifications.
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay. You already touched on this because the law changed from eighteen to twenty-five. And you talked about the prefrontal cortex. If you can take yourself back, you saw Bootsy and you saw Chip die. So if you see your friends die like that and your father is addicted to crack, what goes through your mind? You thought, "I'll be the exception. I can be the successful dealer. I'll never get caught. I'll never get shot." Did you even think like that? That," What the hell am I doing? My friends are getting killed."
Halim Flowers:
I think, I'm not going to say, "I think," I know. When you're born in a situation and raised in a situation where you see people just being murdered as children, you want to escape it. And for me, even at a young age, I understood my mom doesn't have the money to move. I have to do what I have to do, now. Yeah, I'm gifted and talented and I'm taking collegiate courses at eleven, but I might not make it to college.
And at that time, I didn't have friends like I do now who are venture capitalists, private equity, hedge fund people to tell me, "Look, hey, put together an idea. Put it in a pitch deck format. Come on out here to Silicon Valley, put it together, get some startup capital. Series A, Series, B, Series C." I didn't have those type of people in my community. And they don't exist in the community now.
But you're talking about a time we didn't even have the internet back then. All I saw was drug dealers. I would've sold cookies if cookies was profitable. I would've sold anything, because I can sell. And I enjoy salesmanship. And I never really wanted to work a job but if I could have worked a job at the age of twelve. If I could have worked for Steve Jobs, I would've worked for Steve Jobs, and I would've worked harder than anybody, smarter than anybody.
And I damn near probably would've ended up side by side with Steve Jobs once I had the opportunity to thrive. But I just didn't have the opportunity. So my frame of reference was limited to mothers, like my mom, who was struggling with wage labor and drug dealers who were thriving economically. And they had all the remnants of it.
And my underdeveloped brain couldn't foresee all of the negative consequences that came with selling drugs. Even though I lost my dad to it and so many other people. But that desire to make it, to get some money, to get out of that neighborhood, that level of desperation, it supersedes any reasoning or rational thinking. I'm just desperate, and I'm only working with what I have as a twelve-year-old.
Guy Kawasaki:
So how can the cycle be broken?
Halim Flowers:
I recently had an opportunity to listen to an interview by Van Jones, and he was speaking about how he went to an event in Sun Valley, Idaho. And a lady who's considered a mayor of Sun Valley introduced him to Jeff Bezos. And through that introduction, Jeff Bezos gave him 100 million dollars to invest in disrupting mass incarceration, and of the African American social economic ailments that have been perpetuated inter-generationally in our communities.
But even Van Jones admitted that all his life, he's been an employee. He knows nothing about finance, investing, entrepreneurship. And I think to break that cycle, you got to give people like me 100 million. You got to give people who know how to make something out of nothing, to be able to invest that back.
I don't need none of the money. But it's people like me who have made it. The Jay-Z's and the other people who come from nothing, who couldn't shoot a basketball and stuff like that, but could tell a story. Whether it's through their music or through their art, and then they extended to fashion and then it goes all the way up to now they're venture capitalists, and they're investing.
So I think it's people like myself who are going to need that type of investment. People getting 500,000 dollar grants. That's not going to help me to go into these communities and have the infrastructure and the resources that I need to teach these young people about financial literacy. To teach them about M1, M2, M3 before they could understand the whole comprehensive nature of the money supply. And to supplement the lack thereof in their homes and then their traditional schooling.
The only thing that's going to break that is real, radical, deep investment into people who come from those spaces who've been able to come out of those spaces and to thrive globally. And the people who have been able to do that, they have to be provided with the resources, but they can't use it for themselves. They have to really fully invest in giving that back into developing financial economic literacy and wellness, which is important too in these communities.
I was talking to the kids today, none of them knew the difference between a savings account and a checking account, a stock and a bond, debt and equity. A floating rate, and a fixed rate mortgage. These are things that every child should know as well as wellness, stillness, mindfulness, non-judgment, unconditional love, grace, empathy.
It's been a non-profit industrial complex that has been set up in our communities for people to make a living of correcting problems in our communities who don't come from our communities, don't know what it take to get out of those communities.
And I really feel like now it's just an industry for people to make money, to keep people in need of nonprofits and not for them to transcend the need of needing charity and nonprofits. And that's my thing. I'm going to do what I'm doing now.
I'm going to use all of the weapons of mass construction that I have. I do it through art, fashion, music, poetry, spoken word, books, speaking engagements, paintings, photography. And eventually I'll attract the resources that I need to start to set up infrastructure. Where people could come and learn what they need to be whole human beings and to become remarkable.
Guy Kawasaki:
Before I forget, you may find this a little odd, and I'm telling you this only because I don't want people to have even the tiniest sliver of evidence that you didn't get something, okay? So this is, I'm trying to be a good person, not be an asshole, okay? But about five minutes ago you said something about coming to Silicone Valley and it's really Silicon Valley.
So I don't want people to say, "See, he doesn't know what he's talking about. He called it Silicone" And you know what? I'll tell you a similar story. Lots of people, they come to me, and they said, "Oh, I was really close friends with Steve Jobes. And I'm thinking to myself, if you call him Steve Jobes, you weren't his close friend because it's Jobs not Jobes.
Halim Flowers:
Guy Kawasaki:
So I'm just telling you that we could record that little sentence over, or you could just say, "That's who I am."
Halim Flowers:
For me, I wanted to let it rip. Because, for me, it's like when you read, Think and Grow Rich. It was one of those book that Napoleon Hill wrote. It might've been the twenty-first century edition. But it's a story about Henry Ford was called to trial one time. I can't remember for what it was. But the prosecutor had learned that he wasn't really scholastic.
So when they called him on the stand, they started asking him to spell all of these words, and he got to the point, he was like, I don't have to know how to spell that, sir. I have people that I paid that can spell that for me.
So the thing is, because recently I've been partnering with Silicon Valley Bank. And I've been reciting this poem about there were no angel investors in the hood, rather the equity was kept private as well as the placements. So the thing is, the whole experience of people who have been socially constructed as black in America, has been a repurposing of the American dream.
Literally you had on establishments, "Whites only," or "Whites and colored." We just wasn't given access. It wasn't that we don't know how to pronounce certain things, or we don't access certain things because of ignorance in the sense of negligence. We just wasn't given opportunity to even have entrance to the door.
Generations of that, you stop even to not even transfer information about the door, because it don't matter. It's like, "Whites only, or "Coloreds enter this way." So for me, it's like my whole art, my whole life has been about taking the Silicon Valleys and making a Silicone Valley, because I wasn't given it.
So I had to take it how it sound, how it looked to me, and I had to repurpose it. But if you ask me about money, the difference between M1, M2, M3, Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations. John Maynard Keynes, Irrational Exuberance. Ben Bernanke. Like, I know what I know.
But my whole life, and my whole legacy of people who've been socially constructed as me, it's been a story of taking the little we've been given and repurposing it and making it our own. And whether it's Charlie Parker with “Bebop”. Chuck Berry with Rock, it was always us taking what we're given and making it our own.
And that's how you get two kids in the Bronx with a turntable and a microphone, and you get hip hop, which is a multi-billion dollar industry, infiltrating fashion and automobile industry, and wine and liquor and champagne and movies. And so, that's just what we do.
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay. I hope you didn't take that as an insult.
Halim Flowers:
No, and I think from this point on, I probably would say Silicon Valley. I'm from the South, so we talk different anyway. Our vernacular, we have a unique vernacular in DC because we're in between the deep south, and the prestigious north. So DC is very unique space.
Guy Kawasaki:
Your path is so remarkable. And I want to know how you got to this point where, you used the word contrition. Because that's a heavy concept. You're basically falling on your sword, if you will. So how did you make this transition to contrition?
Halim Flowers:
For me, I love to study the etymology of words. So contrite. So, con means with. And the trite or the triton part, it means to rub or abrasive rubbing, right? So how it became used in the way of penitence, is that one constantly applies that pressure of acknowledging the harmful decisions that they have made to themselves and others. And out of that acknowledgement, it's not a shame that one wears like the scarlet letter, that marks them in a way that they feel devalued.
But it's an acknowledgement of the poor decision in a way that shows through the improvement of the decisions that you make now. That not only improve the quality of your life, but how that improvement of the quality of your decisions in your life has a ripple effect to impacting others in a loving way. So for me, I realized when I was sixteen, because they told me that if I tell them that my friend did the shooting, that they would release me, right? So it was never about me being a menace to society. Because if I was the menace that they made me out to be, why would you release me back into the community. Just because I cooperated. So even at that time, I had enough integrity to accept accountability for my affiliations for something that wasn't even true.
But when I wrote the book at the age of thirty-three, thirty-four, Making of a MENACE, CONTRITION of a Man, my frame of reference had expanded. My command of the English lexicon had expanded. And I had more words to describe my experience. Who I was in the past, what I was feeling and experiencing at the present moment, and what I would become now, which is almost ten years later now in the future.
And I just felt contrite. I felt very contrite. And meaning that I understood the decisions that I made. I showed through my behavior that I was capable of making better decisions, and that I knew that in the future that I would be doing things with that contrition that not only would impact my life in a positive way, but millions of people globally.
Guy Kawasaki:
Halim, I got to tell you, we've had about 200 episodes, and that last explanation you gave is one of the most powerful passages we've ever had in four years.
Halim Flowers:
I had a lot of time to think about it. Twenty-two years is a long time to put together a remark.
Guy Kawasaki:
You want to explain how the hell you come out of twenty-two years of that with such eloquence and intelligence? And thank God for the law libraries and people along the way who saw something in you. Why you, Halim? Why are you here and you're not dead or in prison? Why you?
Halim Flowers:
I remember I was speaking to one of the children at the school earlier today, and he told me, he said, "You're extremely lucky to be home." He said, "A lot of people never get to come home and when they come home, they never get to experience what you are experiencing." And I told them, I said, "I read a book by an author named Deepak Chopra, and the book explains there's no such thing as luck or coincidence. And luck is only, or coincidence is when preparation meets opportunity."
So I let him know that when other people came to prison at my age and they received their sentences, they gave up. So they were conditioned to fighting and killing each other in the streets, and fighting and killing each other in prison. But when it came to the fight to save their own lives, they were scared to death to step in the library. Because the law library would remind them every day that they were a lifer, and what they were up against.
And for me, I had enough, even as a child with that traumatic judgment hanging over my head, I had enough love for myself and for my mom to fight for myself. My mom was the one who worked at the Library of Congress who provided me with all the literature that I needed, who helped me to get my writings copywritten when I wanted to start my publishing company, who got me the subscriptions to The Wall Street Journals, the Burns Dictionaries; the “Finance” and “Accounting” and “Real Estate”.
And I just couldn't give up on myself, and I couldn't give up on my mom because I knew my mother raised me to be something more than just a convict in prison. Why me? Because it's not luck of coincidence. I never stopped fighting for me.
Was it difficult to learn Latin, to learn the law? Yes. No one wants to sit up in a law library and in the cell and read the Black's Law Dictionary at night to understand what a writ means or habeas corpus or all these different Latin terms. But it was that love for myself, and it is something that burns inside of me. I don't know the word to describe it in the English lexicon. But it's just something in me that burns, and it won't allow me to give up.
Even to this day, I still have it. And I don't know what it is, but I understand it's an it factor that people have. And no matter whether it is somebody that you put in the concentration camp, or somebody that you put in prison during apartheid, like a Nelson Mandela or the concentration camp, when I read about Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
As you start to read these historical references, it's a theme that's a silver lining that connects Viktor Frankl and Nelson Mandela. And when you learn yourself enough, you understand that you have it. And it's just a matter of you nourishing it and learning how to use it in a loving way.
Guy Kawasaki:
Many of the people we've had on the podcast are authors. And in fact, that's often the catalyzing factor that makes them want to come on the podcast. You don't just call up Neil deGrasse Tyson and say, "Hey, you got an hour? Can we just interview you?" He had a reason. He had a book coming out. But I have never read a book from any of the people we interviewed that you cite just now. Deepak Chopra, Napoleon Hill, Viktor Frankl, Nelson Mandela.
You're like a walking Wikipedia, my goodness. As I was reading and doing research about you, an obvious conclusion would be you're an example of how the prison system is a failure. But I could also make the case that you're an example of how the prison system is a success. Because they had a library, they had a law library.
There were these various people who helped you all the time. And the story of the one person who was giving you extra food that was reserved for diabetics, and all that kind of stuff. In a sense, parts of the system did work for you. Well, what's your analysis? Is it just that you're a fricking five standard deviations outlier or that anybody can do this?
Halim Flowers:
I definitely think that because I wrote a book called Be Great Wherever You Are. And if we looked at the prison system as an industry, it would be failing because it's not producing enough of results that I'm receiving. So seven out of ten people become recidivists within one to three years of being released from prison. And we have the most people incarcerated in the world.
If it's genuinely a public safety issue, and you look at the high rates of drug overdose and gun violence and mass shootings that we have in America. And even though we have the most people in the world incarcerated, it's not enough to deter people from engaging in abusing drugs that ultimately takes their life, or resolving their internal external conflicts through gun violence.
For me, I do feel like I'm an outlier. In the sense that only because I was uniquely situated. Because when you read the book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell, you see how Steve Jobs, who wasn't even born in the West Coast, he was born to a mom in Philadelphia who was a Catholic, who had a baby by a Syrian Muslim.
But due to the shame of being out of wedlock, they put him up for adoption and then he ended up right where he needed to be to meet Bill, his guy, Wozniak, if I'm pronouncing his last name right.
When Bill Gates was in college, he was at that right space where he could access those computers for free at the time. So out of all the people that was incarcerated, I just happened to have a mom who worked at the Library of Congress. And when you talking about someone who took their pre-SATs at the age of eleven, we not talking about someone that's intellectually challenged. So if you give them access to the biggest library in the world, and nothing but time to think, right?
But now we have one who goes there and his mom is underemployed. His reading comprehension skills have been challenged. We don't have the infrastructure in place in our presence to help the non-outliers who are challenged academically. Because if you are challenged academically, you can't really articulate yourself like that.
So I'm able to meet nurses and correctional officer because I know how to articulate myself. And they could see, "Oh, he's different. Let me help him." But why she wasn't helping the others? Why was I the one getting the food? Why was I the one getting the books? And it's just not a prison problem. It's a human condition that we have.
We create hierarchies and we decide who is more deserving than others to get our resources. And for me is that I don't want to be remarkable. I don't want to be exceptional. I don't want people to make me the exceptional, remarkable person, the outlier. Not saying that I may not have gifts, but I want to live to see a day where it's normal to see people come out of our prison system and to do better than me.
It's normal, where it's expected. We don't no longer have the prejudgment that they're convicts. Like when people come out of Harvard, we automatic, "Oh, Harvard, Stanford Business School. It's a no-brainer. How could you fail?"
So I just want us to have those same infrastructures in place to catch people who have the highest probabilities in entering the prison system, or coming out of the prison system to have infrastructures in place to catch them, to prevent them from going in. Or when they go in, it's situated in a way whereas though we expect to have the most positive outcomes. And the infrastructure in place once they get out to support that expectation that we have. And that's just one of my many goals.
Guy Kawasaki:
Halim Flowers:
But we don't have that in place. I am an outlier. We don't have nothing in place for people that can't afford The Wall Street Journal. They can't call and be like, "Hey, I want the Burns Finance Dictionary. I want the Burns Real Estate Dictionary. I want the Burns Accounting Dictionary, I want Robert Kiyosaki, Think and Grow Rich.
If you don't have those type of resources, you don't get that type of information, even if it's in a law library, if you don't even know what to look for, or you don't have the ability to read and comprehend at that level.
Guy Kawasaki:
I have to say that as I was reading your book, there was a part of me that said, "The greatest flattery for you, Guy." Because Madisun and I just finished a book called Think Remarkable. As a pun on Think Different, the Apple Ad campaign.
And someday in one of your books, if you mention Think Remarkable by Guy Kawasaki and Madisun Nuismer as a book that you should read, my life will be complete, truly. To be mentioned in the same breath as Viktor Frankl and Napoleon Hill and Deepak Chopra and Malcolm Gladwell. That would be it.
Halim Flowers:
Let me share a story with you, briefly. When I was in prison, I used to read also The Entrepreneur and Fast Company magazines. And I read an article about a book that was coming out, The New Psychology of Success by Professor Carol Dweck at Stanford University.
Guy Kawasaki:
Oh, we're buddies.
Halim Flowers:
So I wrote her a letter, said, "I'm in jail. This is who I was. This is who I am now. I got a publishing company. I want to send you my books and let me know where I could purchase your book." And she wrote me back and she sent me an autographed copy of her book. And Saturday I did an interview with a lady who's doing a new addendum to the Psychology of Success.
And Professor Dweck wanted to add my story as to somebody who personally benefited from reading her great book. If I ever do write a book again, and eventually I will once I get the right relationship with the right publishers. Because I think this part of my story from ten years ago where you left off with the book you read, it's a whole new chapter that needs to be told. And when I read your book, I definitely implement it in an organic way, though.
Guy Kawasaki:
I hope it passes your test. That's a high bar. How's your mother? Everything good with her?
Halim Flowers:
Everything good. She enjoying being a grandmother. She retired from the Library of Congress. I had my daughter three years ago. My daughter looks just like my mom. I pay her mortgages now, and her car notes. And she's just enjoying being a grandmom. And I just see such joy in her when she has my daughter around her.
Guy Kawasaki:
That's great.
Halim Flowers:
And I guess I'm like a stepchild now. I don't even get a kiss anymore, but I just enjoy seeing her take the back seat. She took care of a lot of people while I was gone. And it's an honor for me to take care of my mother. It's an honor. That's the greatest joy in my life, to take care of my mom.
Guy Kawasaki:
There's something very beautiful about having a mom who worked at the Library of Congress and her son has written eleven books in prison. That is a beautiful story.
Halim Flowers:
That's a beautiful story.
Guy Kawasaki:
Yeah. Last question is, of all people, you truly understand the answer to this question, which is your best advice about how to actualize your goals?
Halim Flowers:
I think it ties into the title of the podcast, Remark. I think people hear remarkable and they understand the celebratory, but it's, re-mark. When I think about somebody that's remarkable, it's like they have left their mark on the world over and over and over. They're constantly re, right? When you set a goal, you have to revisit it every day internally and externally.
And when you speak to someone like myself, it's very rare, do you get the opportunity to encounter someone who worked on a goal for twenty-two years. Everybody, you up against the most powerful government in the world.
When you look at your indictment, it's United States of America versus Halim Flowers. And the people that work in the prison, they remind you, "you're a lifer, you're a lifer." So when they will have mock job fairs and resume writing, and job interview skills, I couldn't take the class. I'm like, "Why not?"
"You're a lifer." These classes are only for people that's eighteen months within their release day. And I'm telling them like, "Look, it's going to come a day where I'm going to get released. And I want you to remember that you denied me the opportunity to prepare. Because it's not about me.
I'm going to prepare myself. But the other people whose similarly situated like me, you were so invested in reminding them that they were lifers, that if you would've just had the dignity to prepare them, even if they never got the opportunity, would have the hope. And to feel a part of the human family and not just a lifer."
So for me, a remarkable individual is someone who has committed to a outcome. And in spite of the odds or the circumstances, they re-visit that goal every moment that they can. Even if it's not physically doing something, they're thinking about it. They're envisioning it.
Some people put up vision boards. Some people do words of affirmation. Some people do transcendental meditation. But it's just a outcome that's not yet in the three-dimensional space that I want to experience it. But just because it's not in the three-dimensional world of space and time, it doesn't mean it's not real.
And that's what Pablo Picasso said. The imagination is just as real as what you experience in the so-called real three-dimensional time-space, human experience. So for me, once you have the desired outcome, especially if you are in a desperate situation like I was, you have to daily remark yourself, your psych.
To not only, to believe that you can do it, but you have to feel worthy of it. Because if you don't feel worthy of it, when you even achieve it, you won't feel the joy in the process that it took to get it. And then you get it, and then it becomes empty because now I have it and I'm looking at my peers that come with it, and I don't feel worthy.
No, I feel worthy. I feel worthy of everything that I've achieved and that I will achieve. And I think that's the true definition of a remarkable individual, is that they have a desired outcome for themselves and others. And they have the audacity to love themselves enough to constantly remark, re-put that mark on their psych, on their heart, on their soul, on their tongue, on their limbs. To work towards something that most people can't see. That's remarkable.
Guy Kawasaki:
What you're about to hear is a recording made in a Hyundai Santa Fe SUV. As we're driving around Santa Cruz. Nate, to his credit, heard how the conversation was going and thought it was important and interesting. So he turned on his recorder on his iPhone.
I included it because I think it offers a lot of insight into Halim and what it's like to reenter society after twenty-two years of incarceration. Again, this is recorded in a car as it's rolling along, not in a studio. But I think you'll understand why I included it. Thank you Nate for recording it. That was a very good insight for you to do this.
Halim Flowers:
So much of my life was just about getting the things that I knew that I needed in life and the things that I wanted in life. Now I don't value that. I understand you got to pay your mortgage and your car notes and stuff like that. But what I value most is this. I get money to do this, to meet people in new spaces and good people and share my perspective, my story, my vision for the future. Listen to other people's to learn and to understand, and just keep doing this.
So you create tribes everywhere you go. So me looking at this, telling my wife, "Damn, okay, they got the main house, they got the barn." Because my wife want a farm, and then I want something on the water. So I'm noticing all of my collectors got the same situation. You know what I'm saying? That's how they move.
They got their house. The main house that joins by the water. And I already have it, but it's like I want to upgrade it just a little bit more. But it's not a pressing need. You know what I'm saying? But really this is what I value now. Just meeting people, expanding my tribe, my family.
And just getting to spend time with the people that I enjoy the most. That's all I can really ask for in life. To be able to spend time with people that I really enjoy and keep expanding my main home. And it's an honor. It's a blessing to travel and meet people, to love and be loved. It's a blessing.
It's a blessing, man.
Halim Flowers:
I look forward to seeing you on your journey as you develop into your craft. Not just your artistry, but your content creation, your maturity and having a family of your own. I always tell young guys like, man, always want to talk to you the day after you have your child. Or maybe a few hours. It's a different look in a person. It's a different type of relationship to life when you really have a life that's dependent on you.
You can get pep talks to be responsible. But when you literally have a life that's dependent on you, it's different than you mature to the age from kind like where I'm at now, when you have to start taking care of your grandparents and your parents.
Because your parents are retiring, your grandparents been retired. And now you're at the prime of your life at forty. And you kind of have to start taking care of your parents and your children, and if you have grandparents alive. It's a hell of a responsibility, and people looking to you for answers.
They looking for you for leadership, for answers. And you're seeing, damn my dad ain't sharp as he used to be. He ain't as strong as he used to be. He need me, even if he don't want to admit it, he need me. And being able to step up and to show your children how it's done. And then they see it, and then you bury your grandparents. And then you take care of your parents and you transition them out, and then you become the grandparent, then your kids taking care of you.
That's right.
Halim Flowers:
It's a beautiful. Man, there's nothing more beautiful than aging, man. I couldn't recognize it until I began to age. Because I'm in the middle. When you're forty, you kind of in the middle, you still had that last remnant of your youth and vigor, but you got a little gray coming in, and it's like you right in between your grandparents and your children and your parents.
And it was just so interesting. And I always just wanted to be a man. I've always just wanted to be. I wanted to buy my mom house. I wanted to take care of my family. That always was a thing with me. And then seeing how my family just forgot about me when I was in prison. It just changed my dynamic of family. Family is just not the people that I was born into through blood relations.
And that's why I said, everywhere I go, I build my family. My family is my people that share my same sentiments and core values. And it don't matter their race, their religion, their sexuality. We just know each other when we meet each other. And we know each other like we've known each other. Because we have, before we came to this three-dimensional experience that we call life. When we were just energy, we knew each other. And we know each other.
And as you mature and have your experience and travel the world, it'll be cool for me just to see you grow and do your thing. Live your life. Just grow. Because I never got a chance to see people grow. So when I went to prison when I was sixteen, my cousins that were like three, four, I wasn't out here to see them become teenagers and adults. So I've only been out here for five years now. I've only really been in society for twenty years. I'm forty-three.
Halim Flowers:
You know what I'm saying? I've been out for four years going on five, and I was out for sixteen years.
You've only been out for four years?
Halim Flowers:
Yeah, March would be the fifth year.
Wow. Damn.
Halim Flowers:
I'm actually twenty going on twenty-one in societal years.
Halim Flowers:
And so I'm getting the opportunity to see people grow in real life.
Guy Kawasaki:
So that's our show with Halim Flowers. He created a painting for me based on my book, Think Remarkable. And then one night he and Nate were working late into the evening and he created six paintings. Of the six, this series of six, four have nothing to do with my family, but two were made for my family.
One for Nate and one for Nohemi, my daughter. My daughter had been surfing at Mavericks while Halim was here. So it has a Mavericks theme. I hope you found this episode interesting and motivating and it'll help you become remarkable, like Halim. He has undergone such a transition. It is truly remarkable.
I would like to thank Amy Vernetti. Amy Vernetti introduced me to Halim. Amy Vernetti and I worked together on several companies. She is a great basketball player and a great recruiter. If you ever really want to recruit, look for Amy Vernetti.
And of course, I want to thank the Remarkable People team. That would be Jeff Sieh and Shannon Hernandez, remarkable sound engineers. And then there's Tessa Nuismer who prepares me and checks the transcripts. And Madisun Nuismer producer of this podcast and Co-author of Think Remarkable. And finally, there's Luis Magaña, Alexis Nishimura, and Fallon Yates. That's the Remarkable People team. Our goal is to make you remarkable in 2024.
Speaking of which, one of the ways that you can accelerate your quest to be remarkable is to read our book, Think Remarkable: 9 Paths to Transform Your Life and Make a Difference. It's coming out in March. If you want to learn more, go to, of course, ThinkRemarkable.com. Check it out, please. I promise you, it'll help you make a difference. Until next time, Mahalo and aloha.