Monday, June 6, 2011

Hang in There

"The closest bonds we will ever know are bonds of grief. The deepest community one of sorrow."

– – Cormac McCarthy

With so many tragedies occurring in this country and around the world – – tornadoes, fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, war – – I haven't felt the prison life was worth discussing lately. But being sent to prison is also tragedy – – for everyone involved. Often, the prisoner loses everything he once owned, just as if a fire or flood had taken it all away. At the same time, he usually loses many or all of the people in his life. For family and friends, it can be like the person has died. Most often it is the breadwinner of the family who was now gone, and with them went the money for rent, food, clothing, school, and any dreams for the future. Being sent to prison – – whether justly or unjustly – – can be as devastating as any natural disaster.

And the prison problem is as much a national disaster as a personal one. The United States, with 2.3 million people behind bars, has the highest incarceration rate by far of any other country in the world. Include these people's families at least 10 million people are affected, most of them children. The $70 billion spent by state and federal governments on prisons each year is more than what is spent on all our natural disasters combined.

But, as they say, every dark cloud has a silver lining. For some people, their tragedy ends up being the best thing that ever happened to them. They may have lost everything materially, only to gain the world spiritually. We can talk all day about what really matters in life – – other people, love, kindness, compassion, the little things we normally take for granted – – but until we actually experience real loss, real suffering, these truths are merely platitudes. Tragedy etches them on to your soul forever.

Surviving a tragedy puts life in a whole new perspective. Struggling to overcome and helping others do the same gives a person purpose and meaning. People who are once depressed or apathetic, may now feel more alive than ever before. Some of the best feelings we can experience are helping someone else in need in of receiving help from someone, and tragedies offer plenty of opportunities to experience both. It is a paradox of sorts that even after losing your suffering so much, one can still feel so much gratitude – – for the kindness of strangers, for drink of water, for just being alive.

It's during such tragedies, it seems, when the best in people comes out, or at least has the opportunity to express itself. We are all good people who want to do what's right, even the most seemingly selfish and mean spirited among us. Given the right opportunity, everyone has something to offer and delights in doing so. With tragedies such as natural disasters affecting so many people at once, there are always many examples of courage, selflessness and heroism. More than we know go unnoticed. The "smaller", more personal tragedy of prison also offers many opportunities to be of help somehow, often taking just as much courage and selflessness.

Most people in prison – – especially the new ones – – are suffering greatly. Even the smallest act of kindness is appreciated. For the most part, inmates do their best to look out for one another. Someone is hungry and needs a Ramen noodle soup, he'll get it; if someone needs toothpaste or a pair shower sandals, folks will chip in to buy them for him; if someone needs help with legal work, someone will step up to help him out. I seen tremendous acts of generosity and hear most often from those who have the least to give. Oftentimes what's needed is simply someone to listen, someone to understand and relate. A smile and a " hello" go along way no matter where you are.

Just as experiencing a natural disaster may bring the community together, sharing the pain and suffering, and working together to overcome it all, we in prison also share a common bond. The prison experience has brought us together, for better or for worse. In prison you must meet a lot of people over the years, and for some, it may be the first time they've ever had so many friends. Regardless of our differences, we have to get through this together.

Speaking of which, tragedies can be unparalleled opportunities to expand one's horizons and grow personally. For example, in no other situation would I be able to force to deal with so many different types of people who I normally wouldn't have anything to do with, in such a close space, and have to get along. And you have to interact; there is no such thing as a moment of privacy in here. Him him In doing so, I've been forced to look at myself – – my prejudices, intolerances, pre-conceptions, attitudes, ideals, – – and how we relate to others in the world in general. I've gained a great deal of humility over the past 10 years. And I discovered a strength of character and integrity I never knew I had. As difficult as life in prison has been, I'm a much better person because of it.

Like a survivor of some natural disaster, I'm grateful for simply being alive. I'm grateful for the smallest kindness. I now truly understand and appreciate what really matters in life. I take nothing for granted. I wish to make up for the mistakes in my past to make to make the most of my future. My time in prison is actually been a blessing. The real tragedy would be not receiving a second chance at life.

"Pray hard, as if everything depended on God. Work hard as if everything depended on you."

I know there are so many thousands of people hurting right now, having experienced a tragedy of some kind. I feel for them; I can relate. But how could I help, even if I wasn't in prison? Sometimes the best thing we can do is share what we have learned from our experience. In that case, I can advise them with 100% confidence that what they are going through right now will only make them stronger and better in the end. If they hold on; if they persevere. They've got to keep on keeping on, if not for themselves than for the people who are counting on them or who may need their help someday.

We are all on Earth to learn and grow through experience. And we don't learn and grow much by doing the 9-to-5, coming home and watching TV thing. No one has ever attained enlightenment during an easy and comfortable life. Tragedy stir things up and force us to take stock of our lives and get our priorities straight. Losing everything (or just a lot) may be the most painful thing you've ever experienced, but it may have been necessary to put your focus back on what's really important in life: not material things but other people, love, compassion. I know how much it hurts, how difficult it is to cope with loss; but it really will make you a better person as you struggle to get through it all. And you will make it through, eventually, though it may take the rest of your life – – which is okay, since it's the reason we're here after all. Plus, you're likely to be happier than you ever were before, having experienced what you have.

Also, tragedy offers an opportunity to search deep within ourselves and discover what we are truly made of, which is a Divine Spirit. These are the moments when our Higher Selves – – God – – can empower us to achieve anything we put our minds to. Have faith that you do have the strength and ability to carry on and overcome. Meditate and pray. Quiet your troubled mind and listen to the voice within to find the answers and guidance. It's always there. Sometimes it takes turmoil and tragedy to make us aware of our true, Divine Nature; and that makes any suffering worth it in the end.

Well, so much for advice from a convict. I wish I could do more than offer these words of wisdom. Please read the books listed on my website, I believe they can really help everyone.

Thanks for listening and caring. Bye for now.

– – Eric