Social Emotional Learning

15/09/16 0

What is Emotional Regulation? Emotional regulation refers to the processes, both automatic and controlled, that we use to manage our emotions. For many adolescents who emotional development and self-regulatory capacities have been negatively impacted by trauma, explicit and differentiated instruction in thee SEL skills are critical to their ability to stay in school, hold jobs and, for some, avoid the criminal justice system. Early adversity arising from maltreatment, exposure to violence, and profound neglect undermines the acquisition of these SEL skills through neurobiological mechanisms and social learning channels. As a result, trauma-impacted youth often experience imbalances in their physiological responses to stress, exaggerated reactions to negative emotional cues, and possess fewer internal resources for self-soothing. Lionheart’s Social Emotional Literacy program for prisoners and at risk youth, Houses of Healing and Power Source, address these issues and help youth and adults learn strategies to carve out a new way of life — helping them break cycles of negative high-risk behavior; heal shame, anger and grief; and emerge with a new sense of self and a positive future orientation.

Prisoner led Houses of Healing Programs

15/09/16 0

Research on prisoner-led programs:  There are 49,000 prisoners serving a sentence of “life without parole” in this country. There are emotionally mature lifers and long-termers in any institution who would make outstanding Houses of Healing facilitators. Recently we received 30 evaluations from a prisoner who facilitated a HOH program in a Michigan state prison. The evaluations were exceptional.  We want to get data on these prisoner-led programs in order to “legitimize” and promote them. Some states do not allow prisoners to facilitate programs and others don’t promote it even though it is allowed. Not allowing mature long-term inmates to facilitate programs is an enormous waste of a very valuable resource.  Prisoner-led programs are a way to make HOH available to thousands more prisoners at little or no cost to prisons or the public. And, it gives great meaning and purpose to the incarcerated men and women who facilitate these programs. Toward this end, in 2015, Robin Casarjian visited a number of California prisons where prisoners facilitate the HOH program to explore options for this research.   Additionally, Lionheart will initiate a study on and seek funding for prisoner-led Houses of Healing programs

The Power Source Workbook New Resource coming this Fall

14/09/16 0

New Resource: Coming later this fall.  The Power Source Workbook, based on the book,Power Source: Taking Charge of Your Life, offers a theoretically-driven, high-impact, ready-to-use resource that requires no explicit training, preparation, or planning, is evidence-informed, accepted by youth and adapted specifically to the needs of at-risk youth.  If you would like to be notified of the release of The Power Source Workbook, please

Power Source  (PS)  power source workbook.

Lionheart has developed a Power Source “classroom-based social-emotional learning curriculum” for Berkshire Farms, a residential treatment center and school for at-risk adolescents in Canaan, NY. The program originally created is geared to clinicians while the new curriculum has been geared to the classroom teacher. Beth Casarjian, Clinical Director of Lionheart’s youth projects, is in the final stages of  copy design. Lionheart then hopes to raise the funds to work with school-based curriculum specialists to bring this pilot curriculum to another level, one that can be utilized in schools nationally.

At the recent 11th Annual International Mindfulness Conference sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, results from the Power Source NIH study conducted at Riker’s Island were presented by Dr. Amishi Jha from the University of Miami, a leading researcher in the field of mindfulness and cognitive neuroscience. Her presentation, entitled, “Does Mindfulness Training Help Build Resilience?” featured the data from the Power Source research which demonstrated that participants in the Power Source groups experienced significantly less degradation in attention over time than those in the control group. Her thesis was that in stressful environments such as involuntary confinement (youth prison) and military deployment, mindfulness meditation serves as a protective factor against the cognitive impairments caused by stress.


New Power Source Resource: Fall 2016

31/08/16 0

THE POWER SOURCE WORKBOOK, by Dr. Bethany Casarjian

In 2003, the Lionheart Foundation published the book Power Source: Taking Charge of Your Life (PS) to help youth impacted by trauma harness their inner-strength, resilience, and dignity. Power Source was originally designed to be delivered as a 13-session facilitator-led program with the primary target population being youth involved in the juvenile justice system. After leading the program toward evidenced-based status through a large NIH grant conducted at Riker’s Island in conjunction with our research partners at NYU’s School of Nursing, we realized that despite results demonstrating the effectiveness of the program in buffering youth against attentional-decrements, many professionals in the field were not utilizing the program as it was designed. Mental health professionals serving this population are often stretched thin between case management and serving as mental health triage. They often lack the time and resources to utilize a manual-based intervention with fidelity. Further, communications with agencies using the program revealed that there was a much larger youth audience to be reached beyond those involved in the juvenile justice system, including thousands of students engaging in a range of health-risk behaviors. After running focus groups in several different agencies and querying individuals using the PS program, we came to understand that professionals needed a theoretically-driven, high-impact, ready-to-use resource that required no explicit training, preparation, or planning but was also accepted by youth. They also needed a program that could be adapted to the unique needs of the population they were serving. Further, such a resource needed to stem the “knowledge-vacuum” that often occurs in agencies with high staff-turnover where staff are trained in a program and then leave, taking that expertise with them. The Power Source Workbook addresses all of these issues, providing an easy-to-use, highly accepted, and flexible resource. Pilot testing over the past year in school and residential settings and used by clinicians with diverse training backgrounds suggests that the Power Source workbook equips professionals with an evidence-informed and youth-accepted resource.

Contact: if you would like to be notified of the release of the Power Source Workbook.

Lionheart Foundation Social Emotional Learning Programs SEL

08/02/16 0

The Lionheart Foundation offers social emotional learning programs for at risk youth and prisoners.

The Lionheart Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing social emotional learning programs SEL to incarcerated adults, highly at-risk youth and teen parents nationwide in order to significantly alter their life course.

Lionheart provides:
◾exceptional quality rehabilitative resources to be used directly by prisoners and at-risk adolescents;
◾resources and training for professionals who work with these populations in a prevention, rehabilitation and re-entry capacity; and
◾direct social emotional learning (SEL) programs for adults in prison; at-risk youth in juvenile institutions and public and private programs and schools; and at-risk teen parents in shelters, hospitals, social service agencies, schools and other community programs.

Lionheart also conducts public education on the need for transforming our nation’s prisons and juvenile institutions into places where nurturing emotional (re)habilitation, inspiring positive values, and imparting behavior patterns necessary for healthy functioning in our communities are primary goals.


Houses of Healing at San Quentin

14/12/15 0


Several years ago Father George Williams, the Catholic Chaplain at San Quentin, brought to San Quentin a program called Houses of Healing, written by Robin Casarjian and published by Lionheart Foundation. Father Williams was friends with Robin and originally taught the course in the Boston area. A Prisoner’s Guide to Inner Power and Freedom, the Houses of Healing book and curriculum are based on Emotional Literacy and Restorative Justice. In 2011, Father Williams gave Susan Shannon, one of his ministry students at the time, the opportunity to begin a Houses of Healing group at San Quentin. Currently over 100 men have taken the course, with more on the waiting list. Two years ago Kathleen Jackson joined Susan as a facilitator, and has helped expand the course by offering another time slot. Soon, Hassaun Jones Bey, who interned for two years with Susan, will start his own group, bringing the total Houses of Healing groups to three.

Facilitator Susan Shannon says, “The Houses of Healing book and course written by Robin Casarjian over 20 years ago are currently implemented in over 200 men and women’s prisons across the country. This course is a great class to take for seasoned programmers who would like to go deeper into some of the core teachings of other foremost San Quentin self-help groups, as well as for men new to any program at all. Some of the men who were new to programming from Susan’s first course have gone on to become master facilitators of other programs. The Houses of Healing groups are limited to 15 or less, and run approximately 7-9 months.

Chris Gallo, a recent graduate, describes it this way:

“In the scope of what is important to the rehabilitative process, Houses of Healing is a comprehensive look into the self. With discussions on self-understanding, healing relationships, and stress management, this thirty-session class instructs on being true to one’s core self. Participants learn to identify and deal with their sub-personalities, such as anger, selfishness, control, and insecurity, and low self-esteem.

When I entered into this small group I originally found more questions than answers, but it was not long into the sessions that the intimacy of the group caused it to become a safe place to open up. While being asked to represent our class with a few words is a great honor, I feel it is more powerful to share everyone’s voice:

Houses of Healing is a must for any lifer who wishes to be able to express himself better on the impact of his crime, anger, abuse and self worth. Allen

The Houses of Healing program…took me by the hand and led me to my past, which helped me understand the grief, pain, and suffering I created. Flavio

Houses of Healing has helped me to maintain an attitude of introspection. It has reinforced my emotional awareness and allowed me to develop relationships I might not have had otherwise. Ray

In Houses of Healing I learned how to forgive myself. Before I learned that knowledge I walked the Earth feeling shame, guilt, and a lot of fear. Once I learned the value of self-forgiveness and how to forgive, the sun got brighter, and the air cleared. I became whole again. Glenn

It helped me have further understanding in accepting responsibility for my actions and holding myself completely accountable for all of the choices I made that affect not only my life but so many other lives as well. Richard

Houses of Healing is really life-changing. I know it was for me. Harry

I once thought that my childhood had nothing to do with the man I became. Thanks to House of Healing I have been able to connect my childhood trauma to my criminal behavior. I’m filled with joy from what I’ve learned in this class, and now my life feels very complete. Darnell (Mo)

I know the pains that I have caused will never go away; but now I have a better understanding of where it started from as a child, and I can heal that inner child. Lee

I’ve learned forgiveness plus how to breathe, to watch the sky, and to meditate. I now think cool thoughts, not just hot ones. I’ve learned that Houses of Healing isn’t just about short time or short term fixes but a life change that I must use each day. I thank Houses of Healing for giving me more tools for my tool box of life. John

The biggest impact for me has been the acknowledgement of those sub-personalities and the realization that they are not a part of my core self. I am not broken or distorted, but pained by the echo of my past; and by following the guided steps I have been able to resist and re-write my story. Chris

These are the gentlemen I have had the privilege to share my truths with. We were blessed with a kind and dedicated facilitator, Kathleen Jackson. The graduating class of 2015 would like the population to know that this could be one of your successes as well. We bonded in circle, honesty, and respect. Now we are family.

The Power Within (Part II)

06/05/14 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: The following post is posted from Theinnervoice84′s Blog.
Many thanks for this insightful post.

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 ( 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.


The Power Within (Part 1)

28/04/14 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: The following post is posted from Theinnervoice84′s Blog. Part II to follow.
Many thanks for this insightful post.

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.


It All Depends on the Side You Choose

27/03/14 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: The following post is the second of three that will be posted from Theinnervoice84′s Blog.  Many thanks for this insightful post.

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]



10/03/14 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: The following post is the first of three that will be posted from Theinnervoice84’s Blog.  Many thanks for this insightful post.

In 2010 I was sent out of the maximum security institution where I’d spent the first six years of my bit, to a medium four hours away from home. For some time I’d been hoping to leave – initially for greener rec yards, but eventually out of disgust over the complete absence of programs, educational opportunities, sports leagues, music activities, etc. that were offered at that max. In my mind, however, nothing could be worse than coming here. Hell, I would have preferred the Supermax, which was only half as far away, plus I’d get a single cell.

For about a week after I learned that I might be coming here, and then learned that I definitely was, my body rejected my usual positivity like an immune system reacting to an incompatible donor organ. Almost everything received a biased and critical review. Even after my emotions settled and my spirit recovered I was still unhappy about being here. But that didn’t matter. The relevance of any experience does not depend on how we feel, but rather on how we perceive and respond. Of course, this depends on our attitudes/mentalities.

Despite how I felt throughout this process of being moved I was able to remain grounded. I generally try to maintain a strong attitude through a concept well-expressed by the Serenity Prayer: “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Although, I don’t always succeed.

I used to, and to some degree occasionally still do, have serious difficulty accepting the things I cannot change. In prison, as a society, luxury confines free will. Because we don’t act in line with sober judgement, but in order to preserve privilege, we constantly fail to notice the advantages of new circumstances. What do we expect when our vision forward is so heavily shaded by images of the past? “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”

Keeping our heads up breeds good fortune – not only in physical benefits but by disabling negative thoughts and emotions, which are virtually the sole source of stress and discontentment. Countless times during the literally thousands of basketball games I’ve played, I’ve seen dudes get mad and give up on a play because they didn’t get the ball when they wanted it. Then, when the ball is passed to them a second or two later it goes out-of-bounds because they are busy pouting about not getting exactly what they wanted. And countless times I’ve seen dudes (including myself) miss an easy shot, then let the rebound bounce inches away from them because they have their heads down or are looking off to the side in frustration as if the other team is going to feel sorry for them and give them another chance at the same shot. So many of us do the same thing in life; we let disappointment and misfortune blind us as great opportunities pass by well within arm’s reach.

I try to stay solution-minded by engaging in preventable measures, such as meditation, gratitude, and reviewing my daily actions, remarks, and body language. This way when “shit happens” my mind is more likely to jump over negative thoughts and emotions (anger, revenge, regret, sadness, etc.) and get right to focusing on how I can address the problem or move on.

Keep boxing temptation. Give Freedom a hug for me.

[Since June of 2010 I’ve written this blog ( primarily for formerly incarcerated people. The shock and temptations of freedom can be overwhelming, especially for  those recently released, and I try to encourage them to stay strong by sharing my hardships and experiences as a reminder of what they risk returning to otherwise. I don’t expect it to necessarily change anyone’s life, but maybe it can nudge struggling individuals away from harmful decisions just long enough for something substantial to take hold (like a job or good relationship).  [2014]



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