Harm Reduction

Harm Reduction

Note from the staff:

We started this organization in an effort to help inmates and expose the public, one connection at a time, to the current state of our justice system. We also want adopters to have every tool to help their friends on the inside. Harm Reduction is a big part of this.

Many of our followers have enjoyed blog posts written by our dear friend Martin Lockett. We are happy to announce that Martin completed his 17 1/2 year sentence and walked into freedom in June of this year. We were able to attend his first public speaking event in Eugene, Oregon in August shortly after his release, and are looking forward to another chance to hear him speak this month in Salem, Oregon. He’s employed as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his clients. Martin is available for public speaking engagements, and you can read more about him on his website MartinLocket.com.

We’ve asked Martin to write about Harm Reduction for our readers. Specifically:

  • What is it?
  • Why is it important?
  • How can you apply it to your adoptee (or anyone)?

The term Harm Reduction is well known within the substance abuse treatment community and is one that has caused much controversy. It is not well known to many in the general public, but it should be. Allow me to explain what Harm Reduction is.

Harm reduction (HR) is a philosophy that promotes human rights and equal justice. It focuses on positive changes people make while in the throes of their addiction. It is predicated on meeting people where they are to reduce harmful consequences of their use, but doing so with compassion and dignity. Harm reduction runs counter to the often-seen model of total abstinence because HR places an emphasis on mitigating one’s harm to self through drug/alcohol use while total abstinence punishes use. Harm reduction seeks to improve the life of the person by empowering them to make safer choices in their use and leans on them for ideas of how they can best be served.

For instance, say you encounter someone who is addicted to meth, and he uses it intravenously. He often uses with other friends, and they share needles. He works a job and finds that his use makes him underperform at his duties because he doesn’t get proper sleep. He has come to a treatment program and wants to quit using but doesn’t think he can – at least at this moment. But he knows the way he uses (sharing needles) is not good and wants help with that. Many programs would require he abstain entirely to stay in their program, but a harm reduction approach is going to meet him where he is, understand that he has goals for his life and his use, and any reduction to the harm he is putting himself in is considered a success.

At this point, a treatment plan for this client could be drawn up to include getting him enrolled in a needle-exchange program, eating square meals daily, and going to bed by a certain time. It would be understood that this client would still use meth during this time, but over time, as he adjusts to using more safely, the focus could then be to revisit his initial goal of abstaining. If this is still his goal, then that would be the aim; if is it not, then that is acceptable as well. The goal is to always reduce the harm caused by using and increase the quality of life of the client. Working with this client to improve other areas of his life would be the next goal. The client would direct his treatment plan and the goals of his life. Again, a much different approach than an abstinence-based treatment program.

This approach is important because it affords people dignity and autonomy in how their lives will be lived. It empowers one to make choices that will improve their life, which, over time, will enable them to continue to make good decisions and reap the benefit of them. They may reach a point where they can see how not using substances at all would be beneficial, but again, this is not for anyone else to decide for them. Treating human beings as independent thinkers and stewards of their own lives is what we all desire. Not being subjected to others’ judgement is what we all desire – this approach affords that. When abstinence-based approaches operate from a punitive standpoint (when someone relapses while in their program), it shames the client and makes him/her feel they are a failure who is not deserving of forgiveness. After all, they have encountered this from many in their families and friend circles for years. This ostracization is only reinforced when chastised through an abstinence-based program that allows no room for error. Now, let’s look at how the HR approach can be applied to Adopt an Inmate and how it can be applied.

Many who are incarcerated have not been met with compassion, understanding, non-judgement, autonomy, and justice. These may sound like basic offerings humans offer one another, but they are not, particularly for those who have found themselves mired in a life of addiction and incarceration. These principles can be displayed by you, the adopter, through simple measures and gestures.

  • Writing letters of encouragement
  • Sending educational books/material
  • Accepting phone calls/video visits (at whatever degree you’re comfortable with)
  • Connecting inmates with resources in their community upon release
  • Exploring with inmates what they are passionate about and reaffirming their ability to
    do be successful
  • Helping find and send internet material that is conducive to meeting their goals
  • Sending holiday/birthday cards

These are examples of just a few ways to display a harm reduction approach toward your adoptee but believe me when I say they go a long way. It conveys a powerful message that someone cares and wants to support me – which is reason enough for me to begin to believe in myself and want better for my life. You can decide with your adoptee what will work best in terms of support, but you understand the goal of this approach and how you can help change someone’s life in a meaningful way. It does not focus on what got the person in prison or condemning their behavior through a program that gets them to confess every bad thing they’ve ever done; it meets them where they are and allows them to focus on becoming more responsible for their lives and how they want to live it going forward. And make no mistake, this mentorship dynamic is mutual – you will most certainly be enriched and educated along the way. Humanity is made better when we all help each other and learn from one another.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Whether you are for or against inmates being able to receive stimulus checks like rest of the country, the choice was made by a judge who cited her reasons very logically and with compassion for why she believed it was justified. ”Why should an inmate receive such a windfall, they all going to waste the money!” cry out some who see only the worst in inmates. Let’s face it, most people in prison are there by their own making and the state provides what they need to exist. Yes the state provides the bare minimum of food, shelter, and healthcare, but nothing more.

Sometimes the bare minimum just isn’t enough — or even humane. When you have to make a choice between buying over the counter medication or hygiene on your $18 a month state pay, which do you choose? As there is very little in the realm of recreation provided by the state in general, many inmates often fall back into old and abusive behaviors for their own survival. Positive and entertaining diversions other than the state-sponsored schooling and programming, designed for nothing more than to give the illusion that the state actually cares about rehabilitation, are critical to the well-being of prisoners. Doing time should entail more than eating and sleeping. Having basic needs met and positive things to do to occupy the time reduces fights, theft, and use of illegal substances — which seem to flow as freely as rain from the sky.

In this article, I will attempt to show what the money is being used for behind the chain linked fence of one Ohio prison. Some of this is no surprise — but in my observations of other inmates, I was most pleasantly surprised. I would only ask you, Reader, to try to keep a open mind.

THE UGLY: Unfortunately when the first stimulus checks started to hit random inmates’ commissary accounts, the flood of drugs was as if a mad deluge of every possible type of narcotic found its way onto the compound. This fact in and of itself is rather odd as according to staff and ODRC, all drugs in prison come from relatives and friends who slip drugs to inmates during supervised visitation. The other way drugs supposedly get in is by people running up to the fence and tossing the contraband over. What makes these claims rather odd and unlikely is that when the checks started coming in, we were in the mist of the covid pandemic and visitations had stopped months before and only a small amount of inmates were allowed out on the yard at any given time and they were quarantined to a very small area and heavily supervised. On top of that, there are a number of armed staff members patrolling outside the perimeter in vehicles. Yet, somehow we were having as many as a dozen drug overdoses a day in the block of 140 men that I was in. Before the checks hit, the same block would have one to two overdoses a week.

THE BAD: Many inmates were able to pursue their chosen vices with great vigor. One inmate, we’ll call him Mr. S., was always getting high despite the fact he didn’t have a prison job at all. Having no support from his family on the outside, he would do any odd job, steal anything, and even trade sexual favors just to get high — an attempt to escape his misery and loneliness. Once Mr. S. saw the money on his commissary account, he made sure that the block drug dealers were aware of the money on his account. Suddenly he had unlimited credit and in only one month, racked up a $800 drug debt. Then Mr. S. got himself thrown into the hole and when he got out, he was moved to another block were he once again ran up a huge debt. He was eventually moved out to another camp for his own safety.

THE GOOD: Another inmate, Mr. L., was getting out of prison in just six months when the first of his stimulus checks hit. He paid off his court cost and the money he owed ODRC. Mr. L. was very frugal with the money and only spent part of his normal state pay at commissary. Upon leaving the prison Mr. L. owed no one and went to the halfway house with nearly a thousand dollars in his pocket and a plan for success. He left prison much more confident and without the burden of having to start over in debt and with only gate pay which is about $75. I’m sure he was not the only one to use the money in such a manner.

Mr. H. is one example that truly shows what an inmate with hope can do to make a difference with his money. Mr. H. was estranged from his ex-wife and children like so many of us are in prison. His solitude, like others, comes from the embarrassment that his family felt over his trial and conviction. His wife moved on after divorcing him and his children call another man father.

Mr. H. was able to have his mother to send his children, who were both in college $300 Walmart gift cards each for Christmas and the same for their birthdays with no strings attached. Mr. H., who hadn’t had any contact in over seven years with his children, expected nothing. It was just a kind gesture by a caring parent who had previously been unable to do anything for his children. He then spent some of the remaining money on getting himself a TV, a food box and such.

Six months later and out of the blue, Mr. H. received an emotional email written from his two children. They wish to be part of his life again. They explained about their anger at him over abandoning them at such an early age. They forgave him and gave their father a second chance.

Some people over-indulged in their own vices, while others used the money for a fresh beginning. And a few mended fences and made a small part of the world a better place for those they still cared for.

What did you do with your own stimulus? Did you chase a poison or did you heal a wound?

 

Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash.

Strength of Character

Strength of Character

Being incarcerated for any length of time can be a brutal, psychologically taxing experience. As of this writing, I am 40-years-old, and I have been incarcerated for 19 years, roughly 48% of my life. And while that may be eye-popping, it is important to remember that I am not the victim here. I hurt others, and there is no getting around that truth. My own behavior, my selfishness, my violence put me in prison. I deserve to be in prison, but I don’t ever want to be a man who belongs here.

My self-centered behaviors, my “doing” flowed from my inward state of “being.” I was broken inside. Only bad people consistently harm others in physical, material, and emotional ways. I was a horrible person — no singular act of violence led to my incarceration; it was a self-centered lifestyle that allowed violence and criminal activity to be acceptable, made increasingly worse by my self-hatred, which I self-medicated with copious amounts of drugs and alcohol. I hated who I was, but I don’t hate who I am. I’m not the same person today.

During my journey, I have thought much about how a bad person can become a good person. Is it even possible? I think so. I believe people can change. I’m certainly not saying I have achieved such a monumental feat, but I have arrived at a few foundational conclusions about what having strength of character means, which is such an abstract and confusing concept that it can make my head swim. It is so difficult to define. It is also extremely difficult to find in prison.

Personally, I don’t want to hurt anyone ever again — that is a top priority in my life. And a long time ago I realized that accomplishing that involves not only putting off my old patterns of “doing,” but also putting on a new way of “being.” If I want to be a good man, then it is my responsibility to figure out what that means.

Although admittedly complex, I feel like the characteristics of a good man are fluid and flexible, while paradoxically remaining absolute and irreducible. Whether incarcerated or not, a good man exemplifies courage, honesty, responsibility, patience, tolerance, high standards, kindness, mercy, loyalty, integrity, authenticity, and honor. These are not specific acts of doing; they are traits that determine how a person will act and react. They involve being. And while this may seem an impressive list, they are merely words. What they actually mean is incredibly elusive and slippery. They may engender strong, positive feelings, but what do they look like in action? This has been a difficult question for me to consider.

For example, courage is often subjectively determined by one’s view of the situation. Yet at its core, courage is not paradigmatic; it is objectively defined, although its application or expression, perhaps, may be situational. Courage is a commitment to face a threat, rather than run from it. Yet, even threats are subjectively determined, right? I mean, I’m not really afraid to fight. Some guys are, but I am not. However, I am quite fearful of appearing weak to others. For some, a willingness to fight when afraid takes courage, but for me, a willingness to walk away takes much more courage.

Prison culture has warped values and twisted social norms. There are times when you must fight, but most often, you have a choice. Yet, to walk away often appears weak. To speak up against racism or to encourage others to find peaceful, non-violent solutions to interpersonal conflict can appear soft, a weakness to be exploited. Therein lies my dilemma — to be courageous, for me, runs against the values of my environment. Decorated U.S. Army General George S. Patton (WWII) has been credited with saying, “Courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it.”

Consequently, for me, physically fighting, using violence to appease my bruised ego, essentially failing to defend my values, is a cowardly act, a selfish act. Courage, then, involves the fortitude to keep from being shaped by prison culture while simultaneously being defined by it.

Honesty has similar elastic qualities. Honesty involves far more than simply telling the truth and not lying, right? I mean, we all know that annoying cat who constantly embellishes in order to impress others and garner affirmation, basically by force. But as a character trait, honesty requires acknowledging mistakes and taking responsibility for my actions, rather than relying on clever duplicities in an effort to avoid consequences. Honesty involves resisting the temptation to use deception as a tool in order to defraud others for personal profit. The fruit of honesty, over time, is being viewed as a trustworthy person.

In prison, I see incredible dishonesty all around me on a regular basis. Guys may be “honest” (so called) with their “homies,” but consistently dishonest with everyone outside of their immediate social circle, and even themselves, especially when caught doing something against the rules. In my opinion, honesty is not a situational ethic — it must be the standard. I don’t need to “rat” on anyone in order to be honest, but I do need to be real with myself and others about my own actions. If honesty is not the standard, I am ultimately incapable of having character free from deceit.

That leads seamlessly into the concept of responsibility. As a character trait, responsibility involves dependability, fortitude, determination, and acceptance of consequences. I would go so far as to say that responsibility is the hallmark of adulthood, the foundation of everything. A good man is responsible for not only himself, his words and actions, but also those in his care, his family, friends, and all those affected by his decisions, words and actions. A responsible man will, at times, be willing to sacrifice his own needs or desires in order to keep from negatively impacting others. He is also accountable to his own conscience and willing to answer for his behaviors, whether they are right or wrong. He readily acknowledges his mistakes and takes an active role in righting his wrongs.

I really feel like patience and tolerance go hand in hand — A man who aspires to be good will patiently seek to understand others before making judgments about people and situations. As a tutor in the Education Department, I battle my own impatience often when I teach a challenging student algebra, paragraph writing, or even the structure of the U.S. government. Most men in here are not as educated as I, and if I genuinely want to positively impact them, I must exercise tolerance. By patiently enduring their mistakes as they learn, helping them to be okay with the trial-and-error process of growing, I learn humility, and the ensuing tolerance transfers to my view of everyone who is different than I, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, or educational/socioeconomic backgrounds.

It is not easy to set aside my personal biases in order to positively impact others. It is volitional, a choice, and I think the ability to do so flows from having empathy toward them. Others may think, feel, and act differently than I; they may have different beliefs or arrive at different conclusions about faith, politics, or reality itself, and to be okay with that requires not only tolerance, but also the kind of patience that fosters personal growth, knowing these differences do not threaten my own uniqueness.

I think a good man must have high standards as well. He will not always live up to them, of course, but he will do his best to adhere to his ideals. Standards of behavior, speech, and work ethic flow from self-discipline and commitment to growth. It is not easy to be a man of high standards, but it is easy to tell those who have them from those who do not. For example, I have seen cats in here erect personal standards for the explicit purpose of being seen doing so, creating the structure of their mask. Yet, behind the meticulously designed facade, they feel entitled to exercise no true boundaries, no morals, ethics, or universal code of conduct whatsoever. They are sharks who feed on others. I believe a good man refuses to do that. The outcome of a man without standards is both predictable and inevitable.

In my opinion, mercy and kindness run together as well. You cannot have one without the other. Mercy can be defined as entering into the experience of another and by doing so, feel moved to help. Mercy is love in action. A merciful man is one who stoops to conquer not only himself, but also another’s pain and suffering if he can. In prison, this type of kindness is very difficult to witness because it doesn’t happen much — it is just too risky. Genuine kindness recognizes the need for simple things like generosity, a smile, or even holding back bitter words, but it also includes the far bigger idea of not being emotionally or physically dangerous to anyone, which, in prison, is viewed as weakness to be exploited. Therefore, one must know how to stand up to the dangerous while being kind to the harmless. Mercy, in prison, is taking the time to know the difference.

Ahh… loyalty — what an overused word. Almost everyone wants loyalty, but so few are willing to give it in return. I think a good man is willing to pay the price for remaining loyal to his loved ones as well as his own ideals. Loyalty involves allegiance, an allegiance of commitment and faithfulness. When the inevitable conflict arises between loyalty to loved ones and loyalty to personal values, I feel like a good man would have the backbone to challenge loved ones about dishonesty or immoral behavior while simultaneously supporting them, which can be arduous and painful. Ultimately, however, loyalty to loved ones means not doing things that harm them and making sure they are protected, as well as playing an active role in ensuring that loved ones feel the comfort of that loyalty. Loyalty leaves no doubt.

Integrity is yet another murky, often misunderstood attribute. Not only is it the quality of having strong moral convictions, but it involves the ability to put them all together into blended functional properties that can be consistently applied. I can believe that courage, honesty, kindness, and loyalty are valuable traits, even admirable ones, but without the capacity for practical application when tempted to do the opposite, they are merely good ideas. It has been said that integrity means doing the right thing even when nobody’s looking. The only way to do that is to know what the right thing to do is — and to make doing it habitual.

A good man, with unquestionable strength of character, is authentic. There is no circumventing this. He is not phony; indeed he cannot be. He is comfortable in his own skin. Above I mentioned the mask that some wear — being authentic means not wearing a mask. A mask hides the beauty of the soul. Authenticity allows the unique beauty of the soul to shine into the world.

The dictionary defines authenticity as denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life. I view it as harmony between my inner life and outer behaviors. It is congruency of face — an authentic man is the same regardless of those around him. In prison, I watch so many cats alter their beliefs and behaviors in order to conform to those around them. To me, that inconsistency of character displays not only profound insecurity, but a distinct lack of personal identity as well, leaving them conspicuously untrustworthy.

Perhaps the most difficult trait to define, and therefore to achieve, is honor. Again, the dictionary holds honor to mean adherence to what is right, a morally upright standard of conduct. However, the term dishonor does me no favors when it comes to understanding — it means to have lost all claim to the good opinion of one’s peers. Consequently, I’m left to infer honor is defined by adherence to a socially accepted set of values. Yet, what those standards are depends upon the moral attitude of the majority. Then context matters, and in prison an apparent binary social code exists. One code is honorable to wider society and dishonorable among those encapsulated by prison culture; the other is honorable within the prison environment but dishonorable to wider society. That is how it is usually framed, but I don’t think it has to be so.

This squeeze between cultures can be a tight spot, making the formation of good habits difficult. The overwhelming majority of guys in here will choose the immediate gratification of acceptance within their environment. Yet, I want to be honorable, a man who epitomizes all the traits of a good man I’ve listed here, so the choice is clear for me. It is simple, but it is not easy. I am far from perfect, but I know who I want to be. And I’m finding more and more that striving to be a good man, even in prison, can be done. It is even respected when done right, with pure motives.

All this seems so idealistic, so utopian, doesn’t it? However, this type of strength of character exists in the world. It is not a myth. The very fact that it seems to be is evidence of how elusive truth and goodness have become. Good men exhibit these traits everyday, albeit imperfectly, but to be imperfect while straining for excellence sort of captures the human condition, does it not? And those men who strive to live up to the ideals described here inevitably enjoy a deep sense of justice, purpose, and self-respect, which in turn, garners the respect of others. Imagine professional athletes: They never stop chasing perfection, never stop working to get better. Good men pursue truth, love, and hope with a contagious zeal that impacts everyone around them in unfathomable ways.

While not intended to be exhaustive, I hope this writing has conveyed effectively my thoughts about not only what it means to be a genuinely good man, but also how difficult it has been for me to understand just what that means. I know right from wrong, to be clear, but I’m talking about more than that. I’m talking about impact, transformation, and giving back. A man who only consumes and never gives back is most certainly a nickel out here looking for a dime. All the negative traits I observe in prison moves me to constant personal reflection in order to root out any of them I see in myself. After all, I am in prison, too, encapsulated by my environment just like everyone around me. I guess it’s true what they say: The same boiling water that hardens an egg softens a potato. It all depends on my response. And where I stand does not have to depend on where I sit.

Honoring My Victims Every Day

Honoring My Victims Every Day

We are pleased to share this Opinion Piece in The Oregonian by guest columnist and frequent AI blogger Martin Lockett.


I had been drinking all day on New Year’s Eve of 2003 and then, had gone to a party to celebrate more. Later, as I drove my twin brother home, he tried repeatedly to get me to slow down, to drive more carefully. But I ignored him.

Moments later, I sped through the intersection of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Fremont Street and crashed into a car. As I was being interviewed by a police officer, he told me that I had killed two people and another was being life-flighted to Emmanuel Hospital.

It was days later when The Oregonian newspaper was delivered to my cell that I grasped the devastation — and the irreversibility — I had caused my community. It turned out that my victims were actively working their own programs of recovery from substance use. They had turned their lives around and were helping others do the same. Now they were gone.

Employees and clients at Volunteers of America and other recovery-related organizations were in shock and disbelief as they learned about the tragic deaths of their friends, mentors and loved ones.

Nearly a year later at my sentencing, I was confronted by my victims’ family members who were just a few feet away from me as they gave their victim impact statements. They offered me forgiveness that I didn’t deserve, yet they also made it known I took something immeasurable from them that they could never get back: Any more precious memories they’d ever make with their mothers.

Then I stood up, turned around and addressed the courtroom: “My indictment says I acted with extreme indifference toward the value of human life, but I can assure everyone here that my feelings have been anything but indifferent since the day this happened. And I know it’s not much consolation, but I vow to spend the rest of my life doing all I can to ensure something like this never happens again.”

With that, I was sentenced to 17 years and six months.

For the next three years I lived with immense guilt and shame for the senseless decision to drink and drive that fateful night because it changed the course of these people’s lives forever. But once I was able to forgive myself, I was able to positively channel that energy into making a difference in the lives of others, carrying on the legacies of the people I had taken from this world.

In keeping with that solemn life vow that I made more than 14 years ago to my victims’ family and friends — and my own — I have used my time to earn an education toward a career in counseling. I knew this would give me an opportunity to help others struggling with addiction, the same addiction that led to me killing two people. In these efforts, I have earned a master’s degree in psychology and published my memoir, “Palpable Irony,” in an effort to detail and warn against the dangers of drinking and driving. Three years ago, I was given a rare opportunity to share my story and help lead panels of victims hurt by other impaired drivers here at the prison. This restorative justice program provides profound healing for many men incarcerated for fatal car collisions as well as victims who come in and tell us their heart-wrenching stories. Those in attendance are incredibly moved and grateful for having heard so many compelling stories that urge them not to drink and drive.I currently work as a certified recovery mentor in a drug and alcohol treatment program at the prison. I mentor men one on one, counsel them in group settings and assist them with recovery-related issues. This is such a unique position within the Oregon Department of Corrections, and I couldn’t be more grateful and humbled that I would be entrusted with such a responsibility. Through this effort, I have earned state certification as a recovery mentor, and I expect to receive my state certification as drug and alcohol counselor early next year. This work is my life’s passion. Not because it makes me look good, or makes a lot of money, or because it could reduce my sentence. It can’t.

Rather, I do this work because my reckless actions took two beautiful people from this world. Therefore, I will honor their precious lives and bring meaning to mine every day through using my story, education and experiences to help others not follow in my footsteps.

And, because I said I would.

— Martin L. Lockett, MS, CRM, is serving the 15th year of a 17-year sentence at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

Counting My Blessings

Counting My Blessings

It’s not too often that we take time in our day to reflect on the many good things we have: a job, healthy kids, a home in a safe neighborhood, food on the table, and the list could obviously go on for pages. After all, we are so preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of day-to-day affairs, doing everything we can to stay on top of our responsibilities; who has time to stop what they’re doing, ponder life’s blessings, and truly be grateful for them without thinking about what we need to get done the next day — or even an hour from now? But doing this is actually as critical as taking care of all the obligations we give so much of our attention to.

I have indeed found myself contemplating, more and more, the many blessings I have, even in my current circumstance which is inherently negative. But this is not entirely voluntary; allow me to explain.

I work for an addictions treatment program. Every day we start the group session with a daily reflection read from a book, and each person says why or how it resonates with him, followed by what is called a Daily Moral Inventory (DMI). When we check in for the DMI, each person says how the previous day went, what they’re grateful for, what they regret (if anything), etc. This expectation can at times seems repetitive, but I’ve learned that it’s a healthy practice to get into because if I were not “required” to do it, I likely wouldn’t “have time” to reflect on what I’m grateful for, in spite of my physical circumstance. Instead, I’d either keep my head down and stay focused on my job, my next goal, or find myself complaining about what is not going well in my life. 

It’s entirely too easy to fall into a pattern of allowing good fortune in our lives to go unacknowledged as we focus our attention on the next goal or responsibility we want and/or need to carry out. This is a harmful practice, however, because it is essential to our psychological well-being that we take time to “pat ourselves on the back” for things we’ve accomplished, appreciate the things and people that make our lives more purposeful and fulfilling, and be grateful for opportunities that others have not had in life. Doing this has allowed me to refocus my efforts, while doing my part to “pay it forward.”

I intend to keep this practice of daily reflection and gratitude going even after I release from prison because it’s shown me how to ground myself on a daily basis. Life is entirely too short not to celebrate our good fortune and acknowledge how others have enriched our lives.

I take time to acknowledge and be appreciative that I can fulfill my dream of becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. I get to work for a successful treatment program in a prison setting, and teach groups and individuals about addiction and recovery, decreasing their likelihood to recidivate after they are released. I have had the rare opportunity to earn a Master’s degree in prison that, according to statistics, gives me a 0% chance to recidivate. Moreover, it enables me to go directly into my field with a level of credibility and respect that I never imagined coming into prison 14 years ago.

These are a few of the many things I take time to appreciate as often as I can. Life has enough struggles to complain about; therefore, I owe it to myself (as do you) to cast as much sunshine on my day as possible — by counting my blessings.