Two weeks from now, I will be in prison.
That’s the first thing people ask when I tell them I am going to spend my weekend with 270 maximum security women inmates. What would entice a seemingly sane person to take the considerable time, expense and effort to travel from New York to Madera, California, and voluntarily walk through gates of razor wire and armed guards into a cement block gymnasium filled with 270 maximum security women inmates? Let me explain.
Unlike most women who go there by court order, I can’t wait to get there. My side hustle is volunteering with FreedomtoChooseFoundation.org, teaching communications and relationship skills, and forgiveness as a foundational life-skill to female inmates.
Why do I do it? I do it because I see something in these women that has the power to truly heal the world, and I want to be a part of it. And, when I am part of it, I heal as well. I encourage you to view the video below so that you may better understand the mindset of these inmates and how what we do through this organization helps to not change them – but transform them.
In the 25 years that I have practiced Integrated Therapeutic Healing, I have observed that how we relate to the world around us is a direct reflection on how we relate to ourselves. This also has a direct impact on our body, mind, and emotions – what I like to call our inner ecosystem.
When our inner ecosystem is in balance, we naturally make life-affirming choices. Our natural tendency is towards life, growth and learning. Therefore, when an illness, disturbance or symptom arises from within us, it is usually a reflection of misinformation within. You might be familiar with this phenomena as the mind-body connection.
Many of us respond to seemingly negative situations in our lives by amputating a part of ourselves or by attacking it, casting blame, or seeing ourselves as “faulty”. We think that by doing this, we will starve the flame. Instead, contributes to brings about the vicious cycle of repeated actions that we did not like to begin with.
Healing oneself effectively starts with recognizing that we are already whole and that we have the means to heal ourselves. We are not “broken”. True healing involves identifying who you really are, rather than the story you have been telling yourself of who you are based on your circumstances – such as being incarcerated, having an illness, or being depressed. Too often, we give in to our stories and let them define us rather than connecting with our true selves.
We have within us the mechanisms to heal ourselves: just like our bodies can naturally heal cuts, we can heal our internal imbalances. Consider individuals like Victor Frankl and Nelson Mandela, who overcame great odds and inspire us to be more than what we think we are capable of being. Their stories are considered miracles and yet, we all have the capacity to experience that miracle for ourselves.
I have witnessed the women inmates that I work with demonstrate these same skills. Consider that these women may have indeed behaved in manners that warranted their incarceration. In fact, they may have created trauma for others as well as for themselves.
I had the opportunity to get to know these individuals on a more personal level that extends beyond their crimes. Most importantly, I was able to watch as they began to catch sight of themselves beyond their crimes.
What I find to be truly powerful isn’t the fact that we are all human and make mistakes, but that these women who have pushed the envelope and gone to the farthest extreme of “bad” behavior, are still human. These women still experience love, mercy and forgiveness. And if they can do it, so can the rest of us.
There’s a saying that the light in the dark is brighter than the light in the light and certainly this is true of prison life. And yet even there, in one of the darkest places on earth, there is undeniably light within. If this light can manifest in this place and in the hearts of these women, then it can manifest anywhere.
I shared some of my prison experience with a client when I returned home from California for the first time. She then asked me a question that sat with me for a couple of days. She wanted to know why, if these women can have such profound change in two days, what was taking her so long?
After some thought, it became very clear to me. So much of our suffering comes from conflict in response to the world around us. We believe that if something or someone out there would just change, then everything would be alright. Those of us who aren’t confined behind bars and concrete tend to believe that fixing the outside world is the answer to making ourselves feel better.
The women in this prison have learned that they can no longer change their outer ecosystem. And so, if they are going to find happiness, peace, healing or loving, their only choice is to find it within themselves. The truth of the matter is that this is where true healing begins for all of us. We are not all that unlike the women behind bars.
We are not unlike the women behind bars.