Thursday, May 21, 2015

Leading by Example

“Leading by Example”

"As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
-- Nelson Mandela


A friend in the free world once said to me a while ago, after losing my final appeal for a fair sentence, “well, maybe your light is just meant to shine a little longer in there.” And what she said has stuck with me. It may have been the best feedback I could’ve gotten.It has helped me since and given me purpose . And it inspires me, when things look bleak.

We can all be shining lights, of course, and it’s needed everywhere. Perhaps no more than in prison, where life is at its darkest for most people, especially those new to the System. Most especially, for those who been sentenced to a lot of time and are scared shitless. As I once was.

Everyone is worried and afraid when they first get here – – the ones who put on the “tough guy” act, I think, even more so than the others. Which is why they do it, of course. The fear of violence was my biggest worry for many years. Never been a violent person "despite my “violent” crime). I had to fight a lot, at first, with various predators, who saw me as an easy mark. Fortunately, I’m not a little guy or weak minded, so it proved to be not worth the hassle for them. But some aren’t so fortunate, and their first months and years in here can even be more of a living hell than for most. These guys need champions to stick up for them, watch their backs – – but, most importantly, to be role models.

Actually, we all need role models. (This is one of my soapbox topics.) I think positive (key word there) role models are what are lacking in many people’s lives – – not just kids. I think that those people who have their shit together, so to speak need to actively mentor others, especially the youth, not be shy about it (humble, yes; modest, maybe; but not shy ). Make the time and effort. Seek people out. Just a single day or an afternoon of mentoring to make a big difference in someone else’s life. I know this from experience on both ends of the deal.

However, having said that, it’s common knowledge that those who most need mentoring are usually the least likely to know it, ask for it, or even want it. That was certainly the case with me, at one time. (I think it’s safe to put every single alcoholic and drug addict into this group.)
So sometimes the best, or only way, to “mentor” someone else is to lead by example. Doing the best we know how, being the best person we can be – – day in, day out. Letting others see how it’s done; even how easy it can be, once certain self-made obstacles are removed. It’s possible to motivate and inspire and calm just by your presence.

In prison there is no such thing as privacy. You’re constantly being watched – – both by the guards and your fellow inmates. Everything you do or say scrutinized and judged and recorded into memory. And it establishes your place in the quote "pecking order”, so to speak, where “respect” is the ultimate measure.

The bottom line is: those who have the most respect from others,have the most respect for themselves. Which means, above all, they have no fear. Not only fear of violence (you get over that, eventually, hopefully), but of damage to their ego. They couldn’t care less how others perceive them, because they are happy (or at least at peace) with themselves.

This is the fear that causes most problems for people, I think, whether inside or outside the walls and razor wire: they worry too much about what others think of them; and everything they do – – their entire world, it seems – – revolves around this. Your self-worth is based on the opinion of others, rather than on any inner strength or inner peace or inner knowledge.

I think the best thing a mentor can do is to instill those senses of inner strength, peace, knowledge in another person. And the best thing all of us can do, once we obtain these things ourselves, is live from and practice these qualities every day, as well as we can.

I sat down to write this because I had a long walk and talk, today with the guy who does this, who embodies these things. His name is Robert Meek. He’s been in prison for over 24 years, and he’s without a doubt one of the nicest, most caring people you’d ever hope to meet. It’s been his goal, for as long as I’ve known him to make our hopeless environment in here better, more peaceful, more enlightened. Working with the chaplain’s office, he started a weekly Eastern religions service/class for anyone interested. It has really taken off and helped a lot of people. And he's one of those guys who leads by example;whose fearless in the right way.

I've been told by a few fellow prisoners over the years that I’ve been a role model for them, too, just the way I carry myself – – choosing to be positive despite everything else, despite a ridiculously excessive sentence. I’m the one a lot of guys come to for advice, I guess because I at least I give the appearance of having my act together, which – which again, above all – – means I have no fear. Of anything. I’m not afraid anymore of having to spend the rest of my life in here. I’m not afraid of anyone, nor their opinion of me. I’m certainly not afraid of dying, knowing what I know now about who and what we truly are as spiritual beings having one of many “brief” physical experiences on Earth.

However, I definitely need to work on my fear of loving my fellow man; of forgiving. As we all probably do.

There a lot of people in prison who have become fearless in this regard, over time. They’ve had nothing but time to work on themselves, improve themselves, in hope of the second chance at life someday. And, believe me, they are no danger to society no matter how much of their sentences remain. Just the opposite: these are the people who can effectively mentor – troubled youth, alcoholics and drug addicts, and anyone else in danger of coming to prison themselves someday. These are the people those people will actually listen to.

So many of us in prison have so much potential to do so much good out there. This is the message I want to impart. Prison can be a transformative experience. And just one of the many things we learn, once we get our hearts and minds right, is how important it is to lead by example and inspire others to do the same.

Thanks for listening. I hope I’m not sounding like a broken record, repeating the same things too often. I hope you enjoy these occasional insights from “inside.” A big shout out to my mom, who so diligently and lovingly puts this blog online.

Bye for now,


Living in the Bathroom


“The last of human freedom: the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”
 – – Viktor Frankl


Imagine that you live in your bathroom. Not the one with the Jacuzzi and the walk-in shower, but the smallish one – – maybe 6 x 9 – – with the tub– – it has to have a tub. After all, you need a place to sleep.

The only contact you have with the outside world are letters – – wonderful letters! – – Slipped under the door every so often along with your daily tray of food. And books – – glorious books! – – That also arrive, less frequently.

You get lonely sometimes, and depressed, after spending a few years like this on your own; but you console yourself knowing that you – – well, not you but your Soul or Higher Self – – have chosen this way of life for reason – – perhaps to learn something, grow spiritually, somehow, which is all your soul and Higher Self care about anyway (the bastards!).

You have plenty of time to meditate and exercise, plenty of time to sleep and dream, and way too much time to think about the meaning of life and your infinitesimal place in it.

But, all in all, you live the life of leisure, and countless people outside your bathroom would undoubtedly love to trade places with you (though maybe only for a while – – not more than a month or two – – a year? – – Yeah, right).

So life is grand.


Until one day the bathroom door opens and another person is shoved inside and no, unfortunately, it’s not a member of the opposite sex or anyone you might find attractive like that at all. On the contrary: just imagine the type of person you would least – – very, very, very least – – ever want to spend any time with, and this is who it is. (Apparently, your Soul  and Higher Self can read your mind, or something, because they have chosen the most perfectly repulsive and abrasive personality to clash with your own.)

Being such a nice person yourself, of course, you try to get along. You take turns sleeping in the tub and on the bathroom floor, and you do your best to flush flush flush while on the John. But eventually you argue; and you fight; and then, bloody and bruised, you’re planning the other person’s death as you, too, start sleeping with one eye open.

So much for your life of leisure

But then one day, you remember a line from one of your books (glorious books!). It goes something like, “see your enemy as your teacher” or some such crap. So you start to question, to ponder: what can this asshole actually teach me?

Patience?. . . Tolerance?. . . Like hell! Well . . . Maybe.

Understanding?. . . Compassion? . . .

Generosity?. . . Selflessness?. . .

Forgiveness?. . .

And after six months of this daily – – moment – by – moment – exercise, the anger and hatred start to fade. And after a year, you notice that your sense of self-importance, your inflated ego, begin to take a backseat to something almost like – – – loving kindness.

You learn to listen and actually care. And, after another year, it becomes a habit.

“Ha!”, you say, shaking your fist at the bathroom ceiling. “Is that all you’ve got?!”

Uh . . . nope.

So your roommates are switched, now, on a regular basis – – each one worse than the last.

“How are people like this ever created?”, you think. And why?

But although life and the bathroom is no longer the peaceful navel – gazing and introspection it once was, it’s certainly not boring. And, believe it or not, you come to realize, it’s actually more enlightening this way – – because you’re able to put all you’ve learned from your books (all your glorious, glorious books!) on psychology, philosophy and theology and such, into common practice.

It’s one thing to read about facing challenges, overcoming obstacles, dealing with various unsavory people – – it’s another to do it.

So, you’re better off for the experiences, in the end, as difficult as they were at that time. And life in the bathroom, you figure, has made you a better person overall. (From what you remember of the outside world, it wasn’t always easy out there, either)

And in the end, finally, what used to bother you before, you can now laugh at – – the ridiculousness of it all.

So what if you aren’t actually living? – – If you won’t ever love again or do all those things real people do? So what if you won’t ever pet a dog or hug a tree or hold a child’s hand? So what if you never taste pizza or cheeseburger again? Look how much you’ve grown in other ways.


Right? . . .

Life in the bathroom isn’t for the weak- hearted; it isn’t for everyone. You’ve heard that many lose their minds, or. . . worse.

But you’ll carry on. Because at some point you realize that you’re making a difference, no matter how small: all these other people sharing your bathroom, for however long, are leaving it better off – – happier, more at peace, even more loving may be. And it is because of you, you think – – your example, your talks, or the books (the glorious books) you’ve turned them on to.

And then one day you have an epiphany: perhaps there is a way to reach even more people, those outside the bathroom door, after all you have paper and a pen . . . You can write letters. Or, maybe. . . a book . . a glorious, glorious book! One of your own.

Why not?

Crazier things have happened.


Thank you all for your interest and caring.

Thanks for all the wonderful reviews online of Escaping The Wheel. Writing it has given me such purpose, and your enthusiasm for it has encouraged me to begin #2.

I appreciate it a lot.


Bye for now,