What is the purpose of prison? To punish or to reform? Regardless, I’ve learned that an inmate can choose to make serving time a transformative experience.
At the beginning of my college career in 1996, I was one of the 1,630,940 people the Justice Department reports were incarcerated in the U.S. that year. One mistake-filled moment cost me four and a half years of my life. I indeed lost my physical freedom, but I never allowed prison to rob me of my mental or spiritual freedom. I found liberation in a place that was built to confine.
Inmates lose more than their freedom. “They also lose their autonomy, self-esteem, identity, friends, choices, recreational outlets, and privacy,” according to the article “The Psychological Impact of Incarceration,” written by forensic psychiatrist Diane Schetky. “Prison security trumps many activities of daily life that we take for granted and may leave inmates feeling that it overshadows their personhood.”
Inmates are given uniforms and are told what to do every waking minute. Prison strips an inmate of her uniqueness and causes many prisoners to feel that they are nothing but a number or statistic. Unless an inmate makes a conscious effort to resist it, prison can crush her spirit. But she has to give it permission. Once I gave myself permission to forgive, my incarceration became a learning and transforming experience. Prison taught me three valuable lessons about the human spirit.
1) Choose your slice of humble pie. No, it does not come a la mode.
While in prison, I was willing to tolerate my sentence, to be told what to do every day, and to follow the rules. But I was not willing to sacrifice who I was. I was a person who made a mistake; however, I was also a person who had value and who was destined for more than mediocrity. So I ate when I was told to, I slept when I was told to, and I did menial tasks when I was told to.
I understood that, because of my mistake, I had to eat my slice of humble pie. My ability to deal with this rough patch in my life and to ride out the rotten days strengthened my spirit. I knew that, if I could stick with my punishment, I would be able to handle anything else life threw my way, including the good times.
2.) Misfortune is a mindset. In prison, attitude is everything.
When I first arrived, I was filled with negativity, disappointment, and self-pity. I couldn’t believe what had happened to me. I didn’t understand how everything had gone so horribly wrong. How could such a young soul filled with potential wind up in the federal pen?
But then something happened. I looked around and saw a glimmer of hope in the form of the courtesy, curiosity, and genuine kindness shown to me by my fellow inmates.
Even the women serving life sentences knew that prison didn’t mean their lives were over. They were somehow happy.
I knew that if I changed my attitude I could lift my spirit. I knew I could create a better future for myself, one filled with fiery passion by learning from my past, trying to mend it, and living life positively.
3) Get out of your head and into your heart. Once I came to terms with my incarceration and changed my attitude, it was time to plan my future.
Time is a double-edged sword in prison. To some it’s a curse. To others it’s a blessing. I decided to use my sentence—my time—to choose my new path in life.
To step into my purpose and start on a new path, I started asking myself questions: What did I love? What inspired me? How could I help others?
But soon I realized my head wasn’t the right place to look for my passion. I would have to ask my heart these questions.
Listening to my heart flooded my soul with passion and purpose; it opened me up to my bold, fearless, happier self.
By connecting with my heart, I motivated my spirit to explore. This exploration led to my purposeful passion of encouraging and uplifting women to build businesses by learning from their experience, discovering their gifts, and owning their greatness.
Lucinda Cross (@lucindaspeaks) is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, trainer and coach who has been featured on many multimedia platforms such as ABC, NBC, Black Enterprise, NY1, NY Daily News, Essence Magazine and Black Star Web. The entrepreneur’s life goal to motivate women to build businesses from their personal experiences. Cross is the CEO of LC Associates and the author of several best-selling books. She travels the world, delivering her powerful message and giving women from every continent inspiration.
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