Looking back over my life, I realize I was prone to despair for no good reason. Before coming to prison, I remember dreading Sundays. The rush of the week was over and the normal day to day occurrences that would distract me every other day of the week were not there, and life was quiet. Sunday is when you start to realize how much work you must do on the inside and that mental inventory you should have been noticing and taking care of becomes extremely present and overwhelming. I believe how content you are on a Sunday is a pretty good indicator of how content you are with yourself and your life. Coming to prison can be like one big Sunday if you let it be. However, it can also be the place you truly discover your inner freedom and find the contentment you have been searching for, whether you knew it or not.
If you have a loved one incarcerated, I encourage you to share these ideas with them. Here are 7 ways I prison taught me how to be content
1. Sit with yourself and do not look away.
Learn to like the sound of your own breath. Being in prison, in such proximity to so many people, I find myself losing my mind hearing all of them breathe. It freaks me out sometimes and I must quickly get alone with myself and focus only on my own breath. Sometimes the only way to experience this is with ear plugs or peaceful sounds that I download and listen to through headphones, or guided meditations …
Yes, I am talking about meditating. I felt like I should ease into this. In the past, anytime I heard the word meditation I would roll my eyes and run for my life at the first opportunity of escape. I realize now, I was terrified to hang out with myself and the thought of all that needed fixing on my insides exhausted me just thinking about it.
It is so important to sit with yourself and feel the pain, the grief, and the loneliness when you are incarcerated. Breath it in and then let it out, and then let it go. You might shut your eyes, but I encourage you to not look away. Don’t run from yourself and do not avoid what needs to be resolved within you. There can be some real magic during this mess you have made. Use your time to make caring for yourself a positive habit you can take with you on your journey back into the world. It takes time and practice and herding your thoughts and staying with yourself might just feel like herding cats! You will get better the more you practice. No one has ever said that meditation was a waste of time or a bad thing and there is a reason for that, it’s magical. It is imperative to really look at yourself, learn what makes you tick, and identify logical fallacies that so many of us fall prey to. Do not be fooled by your own tricky brain. The only way to battle this is to really spend time with yourself.
2. Set your intentions.
Where you are is point A and where you want to be is point B, now you just must figure out how to get there. Sin is an old archery term meaning to miss your mark. So, when I have set my intentions for one thing, but my actions are not lining up, well that is sin. Life is never a straight shot, and nothing great happens in an instant. It is the baby steps and those precious moments you keep collecting along your journey. When you keep each of those tiny steps in line with where you want to go, before you know it, you are on your way there.
Every morning before I go to work, I set my intentions. Sometimes I process my intentions while brushing my teeth. I continue to check in with myself throughout the day to see if what I am doing is lined up with what I am working toward. I have created this habit, and I am proud of it. Being in prison, I do not have the option to make giant leaps. However, setting my intentions and carefully crafting my tiny steps to get me there will be something I think I will be forever grateful for. Small improvements collected over time have an amazing outcome. Setting intentions and focusing on your moves to get there can be one of the most rewarding things you can do. It is not that one defining moment, but all the tiny wins along the way. When you start noticing, you start believing, which is a big deal. Paying attention will also help you from slipping into old habits that do not line up with your intended trajectory, and that is a full-time job. The more in line you are, the more content you will be.
3. Stay in your own lane at all times.
In prison, you will find a lot of people that truly enjoy outrage and others that gravitate to it like a moth to a flame. I believe outrage is an addiction for some people. These people find some of the craziest things to freak out about and the worst thing you could do is be a willing participant in one of their outrage parades. Do not worry about other people’s cases or what is happening to them. You never truly know someone’s full story and you can find yourself in an emotional train wreck if you start comparing your situation to others.
Before prison, if I heard someone freaking out, I would get involved and try to help. Now I avoid contact and walk the other way and quickly locate ear plugs or headphones. If it is not your monkeys or your circus, keep it moving. Staying away from drama is the best piece of advice I could possibly offer anyone and staying away from the drama queens is the only way to remain sane and content. I used to argue until I was blue in the face about anything and everything and no one was safe from my forked tongue. At some point, I had designated myself as sheriff of putting everyone in their place. I quit that job. There is no way to be content donating opinions on someone’s life or lane or worrying about anyone but yourself.
4. Letting go of anything negative from the outside world that does not bring you peace.
I keep my family and friends that are my cheerleaders close, but I had to let go of everything else. I see people going crazy trying to have a relationship or control something happening on the outside while incarcerated.
People cry and lose their minds because someone is not answering the phone or doing what they want them to be doing. Life goes on both inside and out and you have no control over anything, and the quicker you realize that the better off you will be. I encourage people to know their worth and stick to their values. Going to prison leaves a lot of holes in your heart. Letting go can be so scary, but it creates space for learning about yourself and the ones you love, and new talents you never knew you had. That space can help you to see what you are really made of and truly stand on your own two feet. Taking the time to reconnect and/or strengthen positive relationships with the people that have stuck by you is a much better way to spend your time.
One of the most insane things I witness on a day to day basis are the people consistently losing their minds yelling and screaming on the phone. It baffles me that some of these people can get someone on the other end to answer. I never hear them say a single nice thing. I cannot imagine ever wanting to answer any of those calls. This is never going to get you contentment.
5. You only have the power to change yourself
All the poignant speeches in the world will not make someone change. There is no point in wasting your time, energy, or breath trying to convince someone to change. You must lead by example and inspire people to want change. Then when they are ready, they might just come around. Focus on yourself and the amazing changes you can accomplish when given the opportunity.
I would have packed up and gone home a long time ago, but, well, I am in prison and the federal government says not yet. This has not been a bad thing because I was forced to stay and continue to make changes to myself that will strengthen me for the long run. Looking back over the past three years I can say I am proud of the things I have accomplished. After spending my life constantly riding highs and lows, my plane is finally flying level with only slight variations. I worked hard for that and I am so happy to notice how far I have come.
Every single day I do hard things. I have come to expect that of myself and anything less is unacceptable.
Those are the boundaries I set for myself. Physically I am more fit then I was in high school and every day I work to get better and get stronger. I consciously talk myself through things that I do not want to do.
I write every day. Some days I do not want to and some days I battle the demons telling me to quit, or that no one cares what I have to say. Writing gives me a special kind of freedom that I do not believe you can find anywhere else. I came to prison and sat down and discovered my passion and I feel so grateful for this blessing. I know you do not get better without practice, and the more you practice the more automated it becomes.
In God’s timing I will get out to live my life in the free world. Until then, this is my training ground. This is the place I learn to live outside my comfort zone because that is where the magic happens. If I can come out of here with intentionally crafted habits that guide the rest of my life, then by all means, it was worth it. This notion promotes my feelings of contentment.
5. Talk to someone, do not talk about them, and consider their intentions.
You will never get any peace or resolve speaking ill about anyone and this will never make you feel content. Gossip is a nasty habit that looks bad on the person speaking it. In prison, nothing escalates bad behavior like snide remarks, backhanded compliments, and ugly gossip. When I have a problem with someone, I pray about it, then I have a conversation with them, not about them. It is amazing how far it gets you to approach someone respectfully. Sometimes it turns out those people constantly talking loud cannot really hear. They feel like if they cannot hear themselves, no one can hear them. If you have a hearing impairment, you do not realize that everyone can hear you, but you cannot hear yourself, until someone reminds you. But in prison, a lot of people do not know this, and it creates big problems.
When someone comes to talk behind someone’s back, I find myself just walking away with a blank look on my face. I am not doing it and I do not care who I offend. Talking behind someone’s back will never bring the issue to their attention, thus it cannot be resolved. That person that just cannot help talking behind other people’s backs, is probably talking behind yours as well.
When someone says or does something to offend you, take a look at their intentions before jumping out that window and snapping out. People misspeak and some do weird things, but their intentions might just be pure. Everyone is different and we all handle things different. The way you think, or talk may be totally different then the way someone else thinks or talks. Cultures and backgrounds play huge roles in people’s actions and behaviors and that must be considered when dealing with large groups of people that have come from all.
6. Take responsibility
We are all going to make mistakes and we will all have bad days. No matter how right you act, wrong is going to come your way at some point. It might be you or it might be someone else. Temper tantrums are for children and people that do not know better. Something may not be your fault, but if it involves you, it is your responsibility to deal with it in a respectable manner and find resolve for yourself. Make things right for yourself and with others.
Complaining is like nails on a chalkboard and it accomplishes nothing. It drives me insane. The amount of pity parties and done wrong songs going on around me gets pretty ridiculous at times. It is important to search your soul and improve every aspect of your being. Sometimes when other people do things that irritate you, instead of complaining, you might look at yourself and see where you need to improve. Maybe you are seeing some of the things you are doing.
7. Stay positive
No matter what is happening or where you are, you are surrounded by blessings. You will always find what you are seeking and if you are looking for the positive, you will find it. When things are falling all around you stop focusing on the bad and pay attention to the good. This is where you can truly allow yourself to feel content.
In conclusion, coming to prison you face a fate you cannot change, but such is life. Playing the hand you have been dealt the best you can by just finding yourself and your inner peace is where the magic happens. Being content with yourself is a huge blessing and I encourage everyone to make it happen no matter where you find yourself.