How It Feels to Be Sentenced to “Debt Prison”

debt prisonRealizing you are going to be in debt for the next 25 years is an extremely scary feeling. It’s like your whole world comes crashing down and all of your dreams are instantly shattered – all the fun in life is gone.

That’s how I felt when I found out the situation I was facing – a 25-year sentence in student loan prison. I checked and double-checked – the numbers weren’t wrong.

I felt alone. I felt scared.  Most of all – I felt like a complete idiot.

How could I have let this happen to myself? And why did I wait so long to come to this realization?!

I started thinking about how many times I had told my friends in college that I would just deal with the debt “later”, when I graduated. I’d say I just wanted to have fun now. “Money is money, what if I died tomorrow?”

They always laughed, but I could see it in their eyes that they knew this was an awful idea, and a bad way to go through life. They always had that half-smile, half-terrified look. Those faces forever burned in my mind.

Why did I never think more about why they reacted this way? I felt like there was no other way, so I just tried to joke about the crappy reality I was in. I could have done something to change it, I just didn’t.

I was so caught up in thinking that life is all about the here and now, that I completely disregarded my future self – the person I am now.

So how did I go from being that fearful college student to the person I am now? I bit the bullet, and stopped feeling sorry for myself. I realized that I could blame the government all I wanted for allowing me to take out so many student loans, and the student loan companies for siloing me into their scary student loan suffocation corner, but the fact is that I have to live this life.

I stopped blaming other people for the mistakes I had made. I took ownership of my situation and started acting like my bank account was on fire, because it is. My finances will be in a state of flux until I have all of this debt paid off. No sooner than that. But also no later.

That last part is key. There is an end to this nonsense.

Once I’ve sacrificed a few years of sending my paycheck to my loan companies, I can do whatever I want with my money. No more living paycheck to paycheck. No more stress surrounding finances, and wondering where on Earth my money is going.

I started realizing that there was a way out, and that I was going to be able to take control of the situation. I can’t even explain how freeing it was to sit down and figure out the exact date I would be able to stop stressing about my bank account. I highly recommend that you watch this!


Letting go of expectations.

When I was younger, I was always thinking about what life might be like. I’d watch movies and TV shows and feel like one day I’d have all of the things they did on television.

Life would be so easy and I would know exactly what to do, and when to do it.

But life isn’t like that. Up until recently, I continued to wonder why my life wasn’t like the ones I had seen on TV.

Yes, you may not end up driving the car of your dreams, or marrying the person you thought you would marry – but you might end up finding your passion, your true love and realizing those expectations were not what you really wanted after all. This uncertainty is also the beauty of life. If you knew what was coming next, life wouldn’t be exciting.

You are never sure what is coming next. This realization of the unknown can be terrifying, and it can be extremely hard. Are you making the right decisions? Are you doing the right things? You won’t know until you follow something through to the end.

You won’t win the lottery and Publisher’s Clearinghouse won’t show up at your door with a giant check for $1 million. I hate to break it to you.


Perfection doesn’t exist.

You may not be using the right payment plan for your situation. You might be doing something wrong with your savings account, but you’ll never know whether it was right or wrong unless you give it a try. I can tell you that doing nothing is worse.

Don’t let the fear of failure dictate your future. People fail all of the time. It’s a part of life, and what you learn from your biggest mistakes is usually what leads you down the right path to accomplish your goals.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison


Where to go from here.

Start thinking about your future, what you want out of life. Find something you really want, whether it be getting out of debt, getting a job at a specific company, or moving to another state.

The key here is not to let your peers influence what you say you want out of life. We are all unique, and there is no way that you want the exact same life as the people you hang out with. They may be similar, but there will always be differences.

Let go of everything you’ve heard your friends mention that they want and start putting your own plans together. You won’t be able to plan your entire life, there are too many unknowns. But think of the one thing you want to move towards.


Visualize it.

Think of how great it will feel once you get there. Let that be your motivation towards changing your situation. Don’t let anything get in your way. Some people will tell you there are complications with it, that you’ll never be able to do it. But the reality is that it’s your dream, not theirs. You will eventually find people who support your goals and realize that you are serious.

If you want it, you can have it. Period.

Start by writing a list of the reasons you want that goal. Why do you want to be out of debt? Why do you want to move to another state? Why would this new job make your life better?

For me, the goal I’m focusing on right now is getting out of debt. Why do I want to be out of debt? Because I want to have the freedom to start putting my money towards other things. I want the freedom to be able to choose where that money goes each month. I want to experience having an extra thousand dollars in my bank account, and having to decide where I should put it; what I should do with it.

Maybe that sounds boring to you. That’s okay. Your goals are yours, my goals are mine.

To me, having to choose where my money goes is exciting. Right now, it has to go towards my student loans. Okay, fine, it doesn’t HAVE to, but for me to get out of debt in 36 months it does. That is my priority right now.

Yes, people looked at me like I was crazy when I told them this.

“You can’t really do that, can you??”

Of course I can. If you try hard enough, anything is possible.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


Need help getting started? I would love to help you reach your goals and show you that you have it in you. 

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I am Chenell Tull and so far, I've had a pretty rough time with my student loan debt. Recently, I've figured out a more productive "get out of debt" plan and the goal is to pay off over $60k in just 36 months. If you want to learn more, subscribe to the mailing list and get FREE updates on my successes and failures on this journey out of debt. 

  • Shannon

    Great article Chenell! Your journey and insight is an inspiration to others. Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Thanks, Shannon! I appreciate that, it’s scary to post that publicly, but it’s worth it if it helps just one person. 🙂

  • Frederic Gonzalo

    Amen, Chenell. It can seem like a burden or impossible mountain to conquer, but there will always be challenges ahead. Student loan, work-life balance, house mortgage… there are many ways we can feel out-of-sync with what we wish to experience in life, and how life really is. Bottom line: have a strategy, or think of one, then take the plunge and work hard as hell. The future belongs to those who work harder and better than average, not those who think we live out of a TV show 🙂

    • Frederic, thanks for checking in. Agreed, life is never easy and student loans, if nothing else, have taught me to be more disciplined. So I try to think of the positives there 🙂

  • Adi

    I agree with Frederic there. I took out a mortgage a few years ago and so had a great big pile of debt on the books. All you can do is work hard and gradually chip away at it, which it sounds like you’re doing really well 🙂

    • Thanks, Adi! Sounds like you were able to pay off the mortgage fairly quickly – how did you do that?

      • Adi

        Oh crumbs, I wish 🙂 I’ve paid off a decent chunk of it over the last few years, but there is still around £95,000 left (I try not to write that down too often to preserve my sanity lol)

        • Oh haha oops! You’ll get there though, you obviously have a good mindset about it!

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