June 6, 2019, 12:00 pm
|I am fortunate this year to be one of the few prisoners at MTU who were given a small garden plot (7′ x 9′) in which to grow vegetables. Gardens are awarded in a lottery for those who sign up and qualify (it requires being ticket free for a period). It’s not much to work with, but it will provide some much desired fresh vegetables, which we do not get at chow, later in the year. It also provides a place of solace where I can “hang out” without crowds of loud people around me.
We’ve gotten a lot of rain over the last two weeks, and the garden soil has a lot of clay, so as the ground dries it also develops a hardened crust. In order to keep the garden aerated so the plants can grow, it takes slow and steady work to break up the hard crust on the surface. It’s tedious work, but it’s worth the benefit of stronger, healthier plants. In the end, I hope the work I put in will lead to a greater harvest.
As I was working the soil this morning, it struck me how close the parallels are between gardening in poor soil and trying to grow as a person in prison. Prison is a toxic environment with a proven track record of producing people who are worse off when they leave prison than when they were “planted” here. It’s inevitable that you’ll have those results when you put a bunch of criminally minded people together in one place. For example, non-violent people with non-violent crimes even tend to develop violent tendencies because of prison’s culture of violence.
So, how can a prisoner avoid being a statistic? How can he protect himself against the corrupting influences he encounters in prison? How can he grow and mature as a person so he leaves prison changed for the better? It takes careful and intentional cultivation. It will not just happen, and it is hard work. But here are a few keys that will increase one’s chances of leaving prison with better character:
1. Weed regularly. Be honest about your flaws. Listen to trusted people who tell you what needs to change. Be teachable, and do the work of change.
2. Remember that growth takes time–but stay moving towards your desired change.
3. Cultivate healthy relationships, inside and outside of prison. We grow best when surrounded by the type of people we want to be, so avoid hanging out with knuckleheads. That’s difficult, but possible in prison. Don’t look for perfection in others, though, just inspiration.
4. Feed yourself right. Listen to positive music, read positive books, watch positive TV (if you can find it), feed your spirit and soul (cultivate a right relationship with God), and pursue education.
5. Grow deep roots. This means developing deeply-thought-out beliefs and values, and practicing them daily. There’s a world of difference between values you aspire to and those you practice.
These are just a few of the practices that require daily intention for a prisoner to grow in character in a place where good character has little value. If one can cultivate good character in prison so that it has deep roots, and practice it in one of the most difficult situations available, it will likely bear fruit even years after prison.
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