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Houses of Healing Course for California Prisoners in Solitary

02/12/16 COMMENTS 0

The Houses of Healing Self-study Course for prisoners in solitary/ segregation/ SHU.  The Lionheart Foundation started receiving registrations for the course on 5/29/16 from prisoners in the three CDCR prisons where the HOH Self-Study Course is being offered as part of the Innovative Grants Program in California. To date, 436 prisoners are participating in the Self-study course.  213 in Pelican Bay State Prison.  156 in CSP-Corcoran.  67 in California Correctional Institution. Lionheart continues to receive applications from prisoners.  Lionheart’s initial proposal indicated that we would take a maximum of 150 registrations (per prison) over the grant period – with a maximum of 50 (per prison) at any one time. Registrations have far surpassed this but Lionheart has accepted all registrations so as not to turn away anyone in solitary who might be motivated to use their time constructively. Hundreds of hours of volunteer time at the Lionheart office have contributed to making the delivery of this grant possible.

We have now received more than 80 evaluations from participants who have completed the course.  Feedback has been outstanding. A full report will be issued in late Spring, 2017.  

To learn more about Houses of Healing and Lionheart’s Prison Project:  http://lionheart.org/prison/project/

jp

Exciting News for the Lionheart Foundation!!

04/11/16 COMMENTS 0

 

 

EXCITING OPPORTUNITY FOR LIONHEART!! This week a donor stepped forward with the pledge of a $40,000 MATCHING GIFT – IF Lionheart can match this amount by February 1, 2017. If matched, this $80,000 will support Lionheart’s expansion into public schools, programs for high-risk youth, and prisoners across the country. For 25 years Lionheart has made a life-changing difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people on the fringe of society. Please help Lionheart provide life-altering resources to thousands more individuals. To learn more about Lionheart please go to:  www.lionheart.org  To donate please go to: www.lionheart.org/donation/

THANK YOU for responding to this important and urgent request . Any amount is greatly appreciated. PLEASE PASS THIS APPEAL ON TO YOUR FRIENDS. Thanks again!!!

Lionheart’s Houses of Healing, Power Source, and Power Source Parenting Programs are changing lives and building futures.

JP

The Power Within (Part II)

06/05/14 COMMENTS 0

Editor’s Note: Lionheart welcomes guest bloggers to write about topics aligned with our mission. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming guest blog, please contact us at: questions@lionheart.org The following post is posted from Theinnervoice84′s Blog.
Many thanks for this insightful post. http://theinnervoice84.wordpress.com/

Prisons are full of victims. No, I don’t mean crime survivors, nor individuals who’ve suffered at the hands of injustice (although a great many of us do fit these categories). I mean that the overwhelming majority of currently incarcerated people think, thus behave, as if we’re innocent bystanders in a world that keeps shitting on us. Over the course of my bit I’ve struggled to shed a similar mentality.

I used to say the only thing that pisses me off is stupidity. I viewed frustration and anger largely as the result of others’ idiocy because I wasn’t yet able to see myself in their behavior. Not surprisingly, I was crazy vindictive. But receiving 17 years in prison kind of makes a person re-evaluate, well…..everything.

Soon after I came in I began to wake up. I started paying more attention to ideas and people who for whatever reason (ego, fear, pressure to conform to my subculture) I’d always dismissed. For ages people just like me have cut themselves free from the puppet strings of emotion and ignorance to achieve a better existence, especially on this side of the wall. (Unlike in society, where people are much more able to cover up their insecurities and lack of fortitude with wealth and status, in prison, due to the constant pain and humiliation of the circumstances, the difference between those who have and those who haven’t realized self-empowerment is stark, like comparing children to mature adults.) I chose to heed the wisdom of those success stories and in time I became determined to no longer allow myself to get upset. “There is in this world no such force as the force of a man determined to rise.” W.E.B. Dubois.

The most important lesson behind this determination is that we have only two options when facing hardship/disappointment: do something about it or get the hell over it. We can also blame others, become violent, or even deny reality – and usually we do. But these are reactions; we don’t really choose them. They’re like coming to a fork in the road and putting the car in park or turning into a ditch. They don’t move us forward, which is what life’s about. Especially for us who are incarcerated or have been released recently, everyday is about progress, about distancing ourselves from the attitudes and weaknesses that got us in trouble.

Most currently and formerly incarcerated people have had very few if any of the types of positive support and legitimate successes necessary to build a healthy self-confidence. As a result, we fail to recognize ourselves in the countless individuals throughout history who’ve transcended every degree of misfortune, every kind of disadvantage (with the obvious exception of debilitating mental disabilities). We tend to see obstacles as if looking through magnifying glasses yet see our immense human capacity to overcome them as if peeking through closed eyelids. We think and feel powerless when the truth is we are much closer to invincible. “If we all did things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” Thomas Edison.

Of course, there are many situations in life that we absolutely can’t do something about. Fortunately, however, there is virtually nothing that we can’t get the hell over.

We all have our own struggles to overcome and some of our demons and memories are immensely powerful. Yet, there comes a point in most of our lives when suffering is a choice. We’re aware of remedies, we even use and benefit from some of them, but then we stop, as if institutionalized in our own personal prisons. Essentially, through our actions we declare that peace of mind and self-control aren’t worth the effort.

I assure you they are. I know the darkness of making myself miserable and the glory of the other side. Where I am now is priceless.

The famous Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl endured one of the most oppressive, soul-crushing experiences the world has known. Yet his life’s work was preaching the power of self through numerous examples from what he saw and lived through during the concentration camps. I’ll leave you with his words. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Cut off the puppet strings. Keep boxing temptation.

Tip: I’ve benefitted mostly from various spiritual and philosophical teachings, as well as a strong belief in myself based on prior achievements and good family influences. However, it would be naïve and arrogant to act as though what worked for me is the solution to everyone’s issues – I don’t have a personality disorder nor have I ever experienced genuine depression. Some of us surely have a more difficult time with self control, thus peace of mind. Nevertheless, when we’ve finally had enough with suffering we find ways to improve. As I said above, there are always others who’ve overcome or are overcoming the same internal and external circumstances we’re facing and the Internet makes it easier than ever to find them and learn from their struggles. I do want to recommend something I’ve tried and seen help others, even those with mental health issues: biofeedback software by Wild Divine (www.wilddivine.com). It monitors the user’s heart rate and sweat level while going through various meditations, short talks and breathing exercises, such as slowly opening doors or a developing bridge that only responds as the user lowers his/her heart rate and calms down. This gives the user visual evidence of the power they have to control themselves. It might be a bit expensive, but maybe there’s a free trial period you can take advantage of.

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The Power Within (Part 1)

28/04/14 COMMENTS 0

Editor’s Note: Lionheart welcomes guest bloggers to write about topics aligned with our mission. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming guest blog, please contact us at: questions@lionheart.org The following post is posted from Theinnervoice84′s Blog. Part II to follow.
Many thanks for this insightful post. http://theinnervoice84.wordpress.com/

About two months ago a buddy of mine got out early after completing a relatively difficult six month substance abuse treatment program. He’d been to prison a few times before but he was finally serious about overcoming his alcohol addiction and insecurities, moving past his painful upbringing and making good on the potential so many people have seen in him. He couldn’t miss another day of his ten-year old son’s life, or keep dealing with the irresponsibility and manipulative games of his son’s mother. He couldn’t waste anymore time on incarceration. Whenever we spoke on the phone things seemed to be coming together more and more for him.

Today he’s sitting in county jail hoping to get under seven years for a new charge.

Reading that first letter he sent me after this latest arrest was heartbreaking. He clearly needed all my support as his self-respect was in shambles and those who’d been in his corner suddenly seemed to be in hiding. Every sentence made more vivid the picture of a man utterly lost in shame and confusion. “Am I destined to die drunk and alone, only out of prison if lucky?”, he asked. “What am I missing?….I don’t even feel human, no human would just throw away his son’s love, right?”

Generally I have a decent idea about how to respond (or not to respond) in these types of situations. But this time I felt totally useless. Outside of battling with an overwhelming sweet tooth, particularly 4-5 years ago, I have little idea what it’s like to have such a weakness for something that I’d repeatedly sacrifice my freedom, family, and self-esteem (basically, my life) for it. His demon is foreign to me – even if it does have less to do with alcohol and possibly more to do with things like a fear of trying and failing.

Those of us who return to prison, especially if more than once, surely go through a similar evaluation of who we are and what if any worth our lives have. Is it our fate to be a disappointment, a cautionary tale, at best? Will we ever be more than addicts, thieves, drug dealers, etc.? Do we even deserve anything more than society’s contempt?

I’ve never been incarcerated before this and after all the self-exploration I’ve done, all the missed opportunities I’ve mourned and all the pain I’ve seen my loved ones endure because of my crime, I’d be devastated if I returned to prison. As I try to see my friend through his internal hell I’m reminded of just how important, how essential it is that I leave no stone unturned in my preparation for release. Despite how confident I am in my development and maturity, I can’t guarantee I won’t find myself back behind bars after I’m released – even innocent people get locked up. But the least I can do is be nakedly honest with myself and confront every single potential pitfall in my character and thought process so as to reduce, as much as possible, the odds of me coming back.

Engulfed in self-pity, my friend wrote that he understood if I didn’t want to keep “such a loser” as him in my life. But I’m a die-hard believer in redemption; no matter what mistakes we make or sins we commit, the path to dignity and triumph is always open to us. We define our fates. Besides, after giving up 17 years of my life for a childish allegiance to an irrelevant street code, I would be an absolute hypocrite if I gave up on someone else for their poor decisions. I just hope his experience and expressions of guilt can help us understand the importance of anticipating and strengthening ourselves for the tests and difficulties sure to come.

Keep boxing temptation.

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It All Depends on the Side You Choose

27/03/14 COMMENTS 0

Editor’s Note: Lionheart welcomes guest bloggers to write about topics aligned with our mission. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming guest blog, please contact us at: questions@lionheart.org The following post is the second of three that will be posted from Theinnervoice84′s Blog.  Many thanks for this insightful post.   http://theinnervoice84.wordpress.com/

Because my focus is the present, and especially what’s to come, I try to refrain from talking much about my past. Other than for the sake of demonstrating the progress of my personal development, what I did and who I was seem irrelevant outside my own life. But recently I’ve discovered that my story could be useful to others. I feel though that it might also alienate readers who disagree with the belief system guiding my path to redemption. I just hope those individuals don’t let such disagreement turn them off to the mission statement of theinnervoice84 blog: communities, specifically the formerly and currently incarcerated, working together to solve their problems. For better or worse, here’s my testimony.

I grew up in inner city Milwaukee, the only child of a lower middle class mixed couple (white Mom, black Dad). I was a short, shy, pretty boy with white people hair, and more interest in soccer than basketball. Not surprisingly, I was an easy target for the jokes and macho contempt of my predominantly black friends and peers. I was also a clown, dangerously independent-minded (at group outings, for example, I routinely wandered off to do my own thing), and had a very loving family. As a result, the teasing and minor bullying didn’t crush my self-esteem.

Eventually I got taller (5’10″), fell in love with hooping and got good at ribbing people back – or oftentimes first. But I never really learned how to be an adult. Both in and outside my family I had numerous examples of the responsibility and maturity it required and the assumption was, as it usually is with kids, that I’d just imitate them. In fact, I probably would have if not for more prominent influences.

Directly through its lyrics and images and indirectly through its effect on the culture that surrounded me, the intoxicating negativity of rap music became my bible in my journey to manhood. In time I began selling drugs, collecting mostly illegal weapons and got my “luv” of firearms tatted on my chest. By about the time I was 16 the chip on my shoulder from years of having my masculinity attacked had fused with my skin and made me immune to the wise counsel of those who’d been in my shoes. I had something to prove and wisdom and reason would not hold me back.

Fast forward three years. The charge is first degree intentional homicide. A minor drug deal turned robbery became an act of fatal revenge. The details don’t matter; only the sadness and stupidity hold meaning. Within mere seconds, decades of potential was demolished leaving two separate groups of loved ones to sift through the rubble for something to ease the pain of the road ahead.

I’ve never been a violent person, at least not in the typical reactionary sense. The only two fights I’ve ever been in happened at county jail while my case was being processed and several well-respected non-family members (business owners, professors, the brother-in-law of an ex-Wisconsin governor) wrote letters to the judge about how uncharacteristic my crime was. But I was vengeful, responding to disrespect and provocation outside the heat of the moment. Honor and justice have always been extremely important to me and back then this translated into loyalty to the street code, which demanded never shall anyone punk you. For me this was rule number one and I was all too eager to enforce it in my methodical, over-the-top style. A righteous mercenary in my eyes. Realistically, just another puppet in ego’s workshop.

Initially I couldn’t get past the 17 year sentence. I kept telling myself something would shake: the state would reinstate parole, I’d be resentenced to less time, etc. Slowly I gave up on this hope and instead came to realize how lucky I was. As I’ve mentioned before, no one truly knew how close to the devil I was in my self-proclaimed noble bloodlust. Several times during that last summer of my freedom, I was literally no more than a ski mask, an unregistered vehicle, or a better firing angle away from multiple life sentences and putting my family in grave danger (all in the name of protecting the dignity of my clique). Then, had I not come to prison, there was the guarantee of future opportunities – after all, if we’re looking for it, people will always give us a reason to feel disrespected. More importantly, how does 17 years make up for taking a young life?

To anyone more than a week old it was clear that somewhere along the line I’d made a wrong turn. Prior to being sentenced I’d been concentrating more on what I’d done wrong to get caught. Not long after I got to prison, however, I began to concentrate more on what I’d done wrong as a person. The harshness of my new circumstances was quickly waking me up to reality and I needed answers.

Since middle school I’ve been unable to accept the concept of an all-knowing creator, so there was extremely little chance of theistic religion leading me out of the dark. Yet I knew I was missing something; there was more than what I’d been chasing in life. Inevitably, I gravitated towards Buddhism (though technically I’m not currently a Buddhist) and the road back to humanity started to clear up. Everything bad in my life, the growing pains of my childhood, the petty grudges and hate of my adolescence, the suffering of incarceration, it all came down to one thing: Ego. Ego was the reason for my cowardly desire to feel superior, my ignorant belief that I was more worthy of respect than others, and consequently my natural though weak impulse to take offense to, well, anything. Of course, this only meant I’d discovered the enemy. The hard part was gaining the upper hand.

In “The Wisdom of Two Wolves”, an old Cherokee tells his grandson about the battle being waged inside people. One wolf is evil, anger, greed, jealousy, envy, sorrow, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and lies. The other is serenity, joy, truth, humility, empathy, hope, love, gratitude, generosity, and compassion. “But grandpa”, the child asks, “which one wins?” “The one you feed, son.”

I had to starve the beast. My mind had already converted but I couldn’t consider the change genuine until my entire system fell in line.

I began to rebel against my ego; it said left, I went right. If I got into it with somebody I’d go apologize to them later, regardless of my innocence in the matter. If I lost big in fantasy football or had something stolen I’d give away some of my canteen to a neighbor. If correctional staff insulted me – the hardest thing for me to deal with in here – I’d laugh at and admonish my hurt pride like a teenager does his younger brother throwing a tantrum: “Grow up you little baby.” I constantly evaluated how I dealt with events in order to game plan for a better response next time. Though time after time I failed to measure up to my ambition, I was determined. Gradually, frustratingly so, I began to truly change my instincts.

In many ways I haven’t changed. I’m still a clown, and my sense of humor, if anything, has only expanded due to my peace of mind. I’m still hip-hop to my core (the non-negative type though like Rhymesayers out of Minneapolis, the movie Brown Sugar, and the choreography duo Tabatha & Napoleon). And as a human I will always struggle to match my reactions to my expectations. But these are superficial points. I look back at how hungrily I fed on naïve judgments of others and thoughts of payback that ego dangled in front of my immaturity, and in a very real way it’s as if I’ve undergone a heart transplant. It’s hard to explain. I’m the same, but I’m so different.

Maybe I’d have matured the way I have or at least broke free from the claws of my vengefulness even if I hadn’t put myself and those I love through this hell. I’ll never know. More importantly, I won’t let myself entertain such thoughts. What could have been is a picture with two sides and, like everyone, I have the choice to either focus on how things could be better or how they could be worse. A choice between illogical sadness or eternal contentment. Talk about an easy decision – although the other side does occasionally succeed in distracting me.

My future might be bright, it might be dim, it might even get cut short. I can’t fully control the outcome there. However, I’m blessed in so many ways and will continue to share my good fortune in order to build up those headed for or caught up in destruction. I just hope I can make a difference.

Keep boxing temptation. Give freedom a hug for us who can’t. [2014]

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Guest Blog: Re-Entry Programs & Recidivism: The Connection

11/02/14 COMMENTS 0

Editor’s Note: From time to time, Lionheart welcomes guest bloggers to write about topics aligned with our mission. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming guest blog, please contact us at: questions@lionheart.org

Many thanks to Bradley Schwartz and Prison Path (www.prisonpath.com) for contributing the following article.

Re-Entry Programs & Recidivism: The Connection
Nonviolent Prisoners

Every year, the pundits have complained about the high recidivism rates in the United States. A Approximately 725,000 inmates are released annually from prisons throughout the United States. A 2011 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Center on the States indicated that more than 4 in 10 will return to prison within three years. Recidivism rates vary from state to state. California is at the high end with 60 percent and South Carolina is at the low end with 32 percent. Between 2004-2007, 30 percent of individuals released from federal prisons under supervision were returned to prison. Almost half of the individuals returning to prison were re-incarcerated for technical violations and not for new crimes.

Without effective re-entry programs, recidivism will remain high. The returning citizens may have drug and alcohol addictions, 25% have mental health issues, significant numbers are not educated, and a criminal record will exponentially reduce their chances for employment. In some states, the unemployment rate for released inmates is 50 percent. Most importantly, many returning citizens need a stable–safe place to stay upon their release. If these issues are addressed appropriately, recidivism will be reduced.

For example, Michigan spends $35,000 a year to incarcerate an individual. It costs more than $35,000 a year to educate a University of Michigan student. Six years ago, the state decided to focus on the problems of reentry. Michigan now has saved more than $200 million annually by implementing aggressive job placement programs. Robert Satterfield, a 46 year old Michigan resident was imprisoned for almost six years for embezzlement. For months, he was unable to find employment. A successful reentry program, 70Times 7, gave him guidance and training. The program found a job for him with a local metalworking company. During a 16 month period, he received several raises, and was earning $13.00 an hour. The company owner stated that he has six former inmates employed and they were among his best employees.

For our fellow Americans who agonize over alleged coddling of former inmates—effective re-entry programs actually benefits society in the end. Lower recidivism rates translates into lower crime rates, less prisons, more taxpayer’s monies available for education, etc., and a more productive society.

Submitted by: Bradley Schwartz (Prison Path)

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