We are honored to have Rev Michael Beckwith, Founder of Agape International Spiritual Center and author of Life Visioning, write an article for us as our first Kontributer. He does a lot of great work helping people to change their lives for the better. This is an article for anyone wanting to move forward. My favorite quote from his article is, ‘ By taking self-responsibility you create the space in your heart to begin forgiving yourself and others, and healing and releasing the past.’
According to a 2011 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Center, 7 million released inmates in the United States return to prison within three years. That somber number filled my heart with profound compassion. What is at the root of this tragic statistic of recidivism? How can our prison system more adequately prepare prisoners for their release, and what can newly freed men and women themselves do to skillfully transition from prison life into mainstream society?
I realized that answering these questions must be preceded by an understanding of how vital it is to humanize the prison system from one that is harsh, abusive, physically and psychologically punitive to one that institutes programs and services that prove prisoners are capable of changing, growing and transforming when there are support systems that make rehabilitation a desirable goal and its fulfillment possible. Our current prison culture is more like an industry, where inmates are a product that earns a profit. There seems to be little concern that most individuals are released without job training, psychological counseling, spiritual support, financial resources, or even a home to return to.
My experience in counseling former inmates, as well as feedback from the individuals who serve in my organization’s [Agape International Spiritual Center] Freedom Light Prison Ministry, has provided ample evidence that even the most seemingly hard-hearted of prisoners yearn, deep down inside, to transform his or her life. I am also convinced that the approach to rehabilitation must be a holistic one that addresses body, mind, and spirit. A beautiful example that demonstrates how well such an approach works is Father Gregory Boyle, Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries, whose life and work dedicated to gang members proves that just one caring heart of boundless love, compassion and patience can see these men and women as God sees them: beings already equipped with the capacity for triumph over seeming failure.
Considering that most former inmates return to both the neighborhoods and homies with whom they got into trouble in the first place, it is vital for them to have alternatives to turn to for job training and placement, relational, psychological and spiritual support. While it is not possible within the spectrum of this 771 word blog to go in depth about all that is required for a man or woman to permanently walk away from the life they once knew, I’ve identified some universal guidelines that can fortify the resolve of those who choose to begin a new and meaningful life:
1. Know that taking responsibility is about something you have done, not something you are. In other words, it’s the first step in healing the notion that you are defined for the rest of your life by what you have done in the past. By taking self-responsibility you create the space in your heart to begin forgiving yourself and others, and healing and releasing the past.
2. Heed this wise advice many former prisoners have shared: Moving back to the old neighborhood increases the possibility of falling back into old, unwanted habits. Make an exit plan based upon setting an absolute intention to begin a new life and avoid persons, environments, and conditions that contributed your former lifestyle. Environment can be stronger than will power, so make choices on your own highest behalf.
3. In addition to a firm intention to live a new life, begin to articulate a vision for yourself free from the labels and name calling associated with your former life. Visualize yourself and all the aspects of the changes you wish to see as already being in place. Then take action steps that support these changes.
4. Make the effort to research and follow up on all the resources that are available to you. There are individuals out there, including former prisoners, who know what it takes and have dedicated their lives to supporting others in succeeding.
5. Allow yourself to experience gratitude for all the lessons your experience has given you. And when you feel ready to do so, consider supporting others in changing their own lives.
6. Practice skillful self-care physically through exercise and a healthy diet; mentally through education and study; spiritually by creating a personal relationship with the God of your understanding; socially by joining a new community of friends who share your values; psychologically through counseling, continuing in a 12-step program if you began one, making amends where possible; and financially by networking and identifying job opportunities.
7. Above all, know that you are supported by invisible powers working on your behalf. Trust them. Lean into them, allow their grace to guide and direct you.
Dr. Michael Beckwith’s life is a living testament to building spiritual community. In the 1970’s he began an inward journey into the teachings of East and West, and today teaches universal truth principles found in the New Thought-Ancient Wisdom tradition of spirituality. To learn more about Rev Beckwith visit AgapeLive.com, or follow him on his Facebook page and Twitter @drmichaelbb.
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