As many of you know, I volunteer in prison, teaching meditation and mindfulness. My prison Mondays give me perspective, purpose, and meaning. Those days are tiring and sometimes heartbreaking, yet they’re also hopeful, inspiring, and real. Yesterday, as I drove into Oshkosh Correctional, the sun came out from behind the clouds. It illuminated the prison and surrounding farm fields. That’s how my heart felt: sunny, light, and happy. This work gives back in rich ways. I see a small sample of prisoners—people committed to inner-work and change—yet that doesn’t diminish the impact. These stories of hope need to be told.
After our opening meditation and check in, I asked the guys to reflect on the impact of mindfulness in their lives. How are they different from a year ago? How have they grown? First, I wanted them to reflect on the good within themselves. Second, I wanted them to see what’s possible.
“I used to have zero self-control. I lived by the whims of my impulses. And I was really unhappy. I hated myself. Now I have a little self-control. I know that sounds small, but it’s huge. I have some self-control.”
“I’m working to judge other people less. And as the judgment for others releases, I notice I judge myself less, too. I feel more kindness and acceptance inward, and that’s brand new for me.”
“When I leave this group, I feel calm. It lasts all day. I have more perspective and I feel good.”
“I can be myself—not pretending—and that feels freeing. I used to be so pissed off at other people, then I realized I was pissed off at myself. Once I accepted myself and allowed myself to feel emotions, my life changed. Now I’m much kinder to other people.”
“I’ve chosen to focus on the positive. I try to see the best in people. But also, I try to see the best in myself and let myself receive kindness and support.”
“I’m checking my perception. Often, I wonder, ‘If I had bigger eyes, would this be a problem?’ Most of the time not. I just need to widen my view.”
The insights I hear in prison are like nothing I hear on the outside. Going around the circle; sharing in wholehearted, honest ways; vulnerability and courage modeled each week; trust built through patient, persistent practice. We don’t have many places on “the streets” where we’re in a circle of trust, people showing up as-is week after week, practicing awareness and exploring growth, and sharing from the depths of their hearts.
When we find spaces like these, it’s vital to nurture, cultivate, and sustain the space. It could be 2 people or 20. Just as I sat in prison circle Monday, I sat in mindfulness class tonight, leading practices and encouraging curiosity. Again, such extraordinary, ordinary insights. People sharing changes that appear small yet are huge. Small steps are the path to awakening. We needn’t minimize our authenticity, growth, and healing: we should sing these stories from the rooftops.