In many ways, going to prison is like being on your own death bed.
You don’t want to be there, yet you know it is inevitable under certain circumstances. You feel like you are at the end of your life, and that is so distressing because your heart is beating and your mind wants to be somewhere else.
The sun comes up and a few dreary hours later, it sets again and the darkness inside of you finally fills up the outside.
You are neither living nor dead, just hovering somewhere in between, watching life move shakily on either side of you like a scratchy black and white movie.
You have a lot of time to think about your life and how you lived it to this point.
I wish I had never made the bad decisions that led to me being in prison for five months. I offer no excuses and no justifications. I deeply regret (and I always will) my actions and those I hurt.
The only difference between death beds and prisons is that for most inmates, there is a hope that someday you can get out. You have time to think about what you will do differently once you are released.
Mostly, when all is taken away, you learn how little is really needed to make a great difference.
You learn that even when there is nothing worth having around you, life still holds out beautiful gifts. I know. I found six amazing gifts in prison and with them, I am building the foundation for my new life.
I am glad to share them with you.
My gifts are gratefulness, mindfulness, positivity, laughter, purpose and growth.
When freedom and the comforts of normal living vanish, your sense of what is to be cherished is enhanced. I learned to consider what I missed the most and resolved that I would not take them for granted. How sweet it is to be able to select what we want for breakfast, to take a soul and body warming bath, and to be free to pick the clothes I want to wear each morning. I did not think of things I needed to buy or luxurious foods or drinks. Rather, I thought of the tiny freedoms of choice that touch every hour of every day and how glorious it is that we can claim them.
Living in the present moment, without judgment of the past or fear for the future, is the essence of freedom when physical freedom vanishes. It is all you have, in or out of prison, just one fleeting second passing after another. When you give all of your attention to where you are now, you eliminate those emotional cement blocks of regret and loss, and your burden is lightened. When your mind is not frantic about what will happen as you walk through the prison doors, you are better able to think clearly and creatively. Inside or outside of locked gates, you can still be in the prison of your emotions if you cannot focus on the present.
I have often heard people say that if they want to hear a lot of complaints, all they have to do is walk to the water cooler in their workplace or hang out with their colleagues when the day is done. I thought I had heard complaining too, but it was so minor compared to the pall of negativity that hangs onto every molecule of air in prison.
Annoyances breed annoyances for infinity. Unless you want to spend your life tossing hopelessly through an atmosphere of grumpiness, you must break the cycle and find the courage to practice optimism daily. When everything else is gone, you still have the freedom to choose your attitude, so make it a good one.
There is nothing at all funny about being in prison or about the reasons you end up there. It is all just serious and sad. But every so often I received the greatest gift of all, a chance to laugh. When you let yourself go and succumb to humor and lightness, your whole life changes. When you finally stop, gasping and grinning and with tears in your eyes, you will have lost a heavy load of stress and gained a perspective.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky wrote that the mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for. The greatest gift I received in prison was the knowledge that I could find something to live for, that I could have a purpose and make an impact. Even behind bars, I discovered I could help other women learn how to read and change their lives immeasurably. Know that no matter where you are, there is some small way in which you can still make a difference.
The secret to life is not to get things. It is to grow things, and you must start that process with growing yourself. In my darkest hours, I determined that my past would not dictate my future. Even when you mess up in life, even when your trials are self-inflicted, you deserve a chance to come out into the sunlight and grow again. You must take nourishment from the little gifts of life and spread your wings to the warmth and learn to fly on your own unique journey.
I offer you these gifts I learned the hard way and hope they will enhance your life. Resolve today to cherish these treasures and grow to be all you can be.