Posts tagged featured
Compassion in Prison

Compassion in prison??? Yes people! And it was a roaring success!!!!!! Yesterday marked the end of the 30-day Compassion It Challenge that Sara and I put on at Donovan. And we celebrated in big prison style: with music performed by resident bands (they are so awesome that Hollywood producers are producing a CD of their music!), stories of compassion (wait until you hear some of these below!) and with cake (you gotta see the residents eat cake, it’s magical!). Every day in October, the Donovan men were encouraged to perform acts of compassion to their friends and family, themselves and all. And we heard two in particular that rocked our world. Story 1: A few days ago, John asked to recognize a man who performed amazing compassion. So, during yesterday’s celebration, John shared with the 80 men present: why are we so afraid of death? The greatest compassion comes when we do something others are afraid of. In prison also, people grow old and die of old age. The decline can be difficult. Over the past weeks, John has been witness to a man giving of himself selflessly to a dying man: “cleaning him, washing him, dressing him, feeding him, talking to him and treating him as though he still matters. It was compassion in its purest form, not for the attention or the recognition of doing it but pure love for humanity and compassion for another person.” When John called this man out, the fellow residents gave him a spontaneous standing ovation!!!! A small and meaningful acknowledgement for the amazing selfless commitment he’s shown to a fellow resident…


Story 2: Keith shared a marvelous story of the ripple effect of kindness. During one of our weekly compassion classes (attended by 17 residents), Ben told the class about secretly slipping soups into his cellie’s pantry when he noticed that the cellie’s pantry was low. (That cellie turned out to be Keith.) Inspired by this story, Mark one day spontaneously asked Keith what he wanted from the store. Keith was incredibly taken aback: He knew who Mark was but they had never spoken. (They are different races.) And he wondered what could be behind the offer. (It’s prison after all.) Keith refused but Mark insisted. So Keith asked for coffee. Folgers. And Mark returned from the store with Folgers and a pack of soups! Keith was so moved by these acts of kindness that he felt compelled to share them with all celebration attendees.


There were more amazing stories throughout the month and during the day, including one of a man making amends with a man he had sworn to hurt. Oh, the power of these men’s stories!!!! It literally changes and saves lives.

* All names have been changed.

Gratitude for firefighters…inmate firefighters

As the Napa and Sonoma fires become contained, we survey the destruction and count our blessings, with gratitude for the countless people who have supported us in this ordeal. Top of mind come the thousands of firefighters who risk their lives to ensure we lose minimal lives, homes and businesses.

Did you know that you have prison inmates to thank for the same thing? Yes, 14% of California’s firefighting power is prison inmates, trained in 33 Conservation Camps across the state. They cut lines. They are the line of defense. They do some of the heavy lifting of firefighting.

Inmate firefighters put in 3 million firefighting hours per year. So, as you count your blessings and express gratitude with those who helped save homes and lives, please include in your blessings the thousands of inmate firefighters who, as they are saving our homes, are also rebuilding their lives.

Learn more about them and watch the video here.

(inmate firefighters image source) 

Wisdom from a man in a cage

When a prison resident becomes a danger to themselves or others, he/she can be placed in Administrative Segregation, also called AdSeg for short or, familiarly, “the hole.” A few weeks ago, I visited, for the first time, a Donovan resident recently sent to AdSeg. And it definitely created a new experience. I walked into a familiar-looking housing unit to step into the unfamiliar world of AdSeg, which started with being given a protective vest to wear. The cement walls and metal doors made every movement in the corridor a very noisy one. I waited in a clinician’s office until Bernard (name changed) was escorted in, locked into a metal cage they call a module and then de-handcuffed. Just a few days prior, he and I had been sitting side-by-side exchanging stories and insights. Now, for the first time, I was speaking to another human locked up in a metal cage.

I looked past the metal cage to connect to this human being who has been a creative, loving, dynamic and genuine member of one of my teams. And despite the cage and the incident, the human being was still strongly present. Bernard instantly acknowledged his regret for having lost his cool. “I’m upset at myself. I know better now. It’s shown me that I still have rage I have to release.” (Like so many men inside, that rage was the response modeled to him his entire childhood.) And then, unprompted and unsolicited, Bernard moved into articulating: “And I’m ready to do the work. Being in AdSeg is a blessing. There are here the resources to help me and I’m going to use them to address this rage. This is the last time I am in AdSeg.”

Too good to be true? Only time will tell. Here’s what I know. First, many men enter AdSeg angry, rageful and with zero interest in uncovering the “causative factors” to their actions, seeing in their rage their advocate. Second, many other men speak of AdSeg as the start of their transformation towards positive change. Therefore, clearly, AdSeg can be either a blessing or a curse. And the outcome depends entirely on the men’s decision to create the blessing or the curse.

Seeing a man in a cage is not a pleasant experience. Hearing him committed to using this “punishment” as an opportunity to grow and change transforms the circumstances into beauty. It turns out, this is the only thing we can ask of each other. Growth comes with its ups and downs (as stated in this post for last spring). Can we have the patience to hold people with love during the downs so that the downs can become the bottom that creates a new up?