Pause to Connect

Two weeks ago, I asked for your help: Tell me how and why my prison stories inspire you. You, my FB followers, and my Y meditation class shared beautiful, wholehearted words. I entered prison Monday with two pages of genuine well-wishes from the “streets.” After opening meditation and group check-in, I told the guys about you and I explained what I held in my hands. I asked them to listen and let themselves receive. Slowly, sometimes through tears, I read your words to the whole circle. They were rapt. Afterward, I asked how they felt, and this is what they said:

“It was weird. All that kindness coming from strangers, yet I get nothing like that from my family. I’ve never heard that much good about myself.”

“It gave me hope. Hope that when I’m released, there will be people who treat me fairly and kindly.”

“It was bittersweet. Sweet because of the positive words. Bitter because prison is recognized as being dehumanizing. I wish it weren’t that way.”

“It was uncomfortable. At first, I listened but I didn’t really hear. I didn’t believe. Then I realized these are strangers and they have no reason to lie, so I let myself take it in. That was uncomfortable because it’s new, but it also felt really good.”

“It felt validating. In the news and in here, we’re constantly told we’re bad and worthless. To hear so much positive—that we’re actually making a difference—felt really good.”

“I feel inspired. It’s amazing how we affect each other. This makes me realize even more that my actions matter.”

The impact on the group was palpable. I could feel them redefining themselves and seeing their goodness. I could also feel how difficult it was for them to receive. Their habit is to believe they’re worthless. Each week, we try to rewire that habit: letting them see and share their wisdom, compassion, and insight

But I’m also realistic. M is worried about how people will treat him when he gets out. He’s in for a sexual offense, convicted at the age of 18, and finishing his 10-year sentence. He’s changed in radical, positive ways. Not getting a conduct report for 8 years. Practicing compassion for inmates and guards. Growing his mind and heart. He’ll be released with his name on a sex-offender list. Will he find a job? A place to live? I know him well. I trust him, he trusts me. You know him through my thoughtful written stories. But if you met him on the street (or if I met him as a stranger), what would happen?

We must trust each other to share our stories—not the heady, factual stories, but the vulnerable, real, raw, inspiring stories. And these stories unfold over time. They require not only trust but patience. And we live in a culture that’s busy, impatient, and armored. This gives yet another meaningful reminder to pause. Pause to really see people. Pause to really listen to people. Pause to connect. Because these connections are what open, change, and inspire our hearts.