A Dash Defined

A Dash Defined

As of August 2021, I have officially completed my PhD program. I have earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in Counseling and Psychology, with an emphasis on the integration of psychology and theology. I have reached the apex of academic achievement, and I have done it while serving a life sentence in prison.

I have worked so hard and overcome so much. I remember the day I was arrested. I didn’t even have a GED, and I was so self-centered and self-absorbed, my worldview so narrow. I am a completely different person today. I have come so far on the journey toward becoming the man I was designed to be. One important thing I have learned along the way is that all my hard work and perseverance has not led me to the end of a journey, but prepared me for a beginning. I am now more equipped to use my life experiences, in conjunction with my education, in service to others, which will define my dash. I have found myself, and I can give of myself from a place of authenticity, meaning, and purpose.

I read a question once that has stuck with me. It was one of those profound questions that cannot be answered completely until after one’s life is over. It asks, “What did you do with your dash?” While some are longer than others, we all get one–after our lives are over, there will be a date when we were born and a date when we died… and a dash in between. Whether a literal dash on a headstone or a figurative one etched in time, we all get one, and all of them impact the world, some for better, some for worse.

The superhero, Colossal, stated that “Over a lifetime, there are only 4 or 5 moments that make you a hero.” Well, I think that there are 4 or 5 decisions that determine your character as well. We tend to think of heroes as having superhuman qualities, able to solve immediate and impossible problems with other worldly force. However, I think real life heroes display extraordinary courage and perseverance in order to open closed minds, to impact their environment positively, and to make change in the lives of others… and to do it on purpose.

During the last 20 years that I have been incarcerated, I have come into contact with some fantastically ignorant people. The most abrasive among them are those who view a long prison term as an accomplishment. Personally, I disagree. I believe a prison term is the result of a wasted opportunity at life, the inevitable destination of the profoundly unaware. Yet, I have learned that prison doesn’t have to define you, but what you do with your prison time will… every time.

Prison time is extremely difficult and painful, but it can be the crucible of pain and struggle that makes a person stronger, whether one wants it to or not–how we respond to our mistakes and to our hurts will almost always determine the quality of our future, and the definition of our dash.

I am in prison, and I am guilty. I deserved to be sent to prison. I wasted my young life. I hurt so many people, and it haunts me. The pain of the young man I used to be and the harm I have caused threatened to overwhelm me during my first few years of prison. I was emotionally isolated and had no psychoactive substances to mask the pain. There were times when I didn’t want to keep going, times when I didn’t think I could, and times when I didn’t think it mattered. I was on autopilot for several years, lost in the consequences of my own sins, knowing I deserved them.

Sometimes in life, you come across people that bump into you, and without your awareness — and perhaps without even theirs — they change your direction like asteroids colliding in space. In the middle of my emptiness, I was given the gift of people who believed in me, even when I wasn’t sure I could believe in myself. It only took a moment for my mother to pay for my education, for the GED instructors to give me a job as a tutor, and for so many along the way to provide love, assistance, and support — and for some to cut me a break when I needed one. Those people are the heroes of my story, and I simply could not have come as far as I have without them.

I am grateful for all the support and care I have been given along the way. For a man like me, coming from where I do, having gone through all that I have, and having hurt so many people… for anyone to give me a chance to choose to be different amounts to giving me a chance to be human, to accept my own imperfections, to love and be loved, and to experience success in the midst of failure. I was one of their four or five moments, but the moments they chose to use on me have literally altered the outcome of my life, and the impact of my dash. Everyday heroes have prepared me for the next step in the journey of my life, allowing me an opportunity to knowingly make the right four or five decisions that have permanently shaped my character going forward, decisions that — were it not for them — would have, in all likelihood, been the wrong ones, and carried me further into the abyss of narcissism.

The biblical definition of ‘angel’ is messenger’ … and many times ancient prophets did not even know they were speaking the Words of the Creator. If God is love (1 John 4:8) and God’s messengers are to love like Him (1 John 4:9-11), then the people who loved me enough to give me a chance are, quite literally, angels in the truest sense, and I am eternally grateful.

I am not yet free to deploy my education, personal development, and past experiences to benefit others on a broad scale. I still have work to do if I want my life to matter. For I have learned that I matter the most to my world when others matter to me. I have never been a hero to anyone, but the impact of those who believed in me helped me to overcome my own failures, which reverberate through me to the lives of others. My dash is not yet written in stone. We all get one, and it only takes four or five moments and four or five decisions to define it. I have never been a hero, but because of my angels, I want to be one.

Recent Donations

Recent Donations

Everything we do revolves around the mail, and opening our post office box is a daily adventure. This week, we received a handful of unexpected donations in the mail – just in time for our volunteer work sessions this weekend.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to angels Laurie and Nicole, who donated items in December and January; and to Wendy, Laura, and an anonymous donor who sent items this week. Because of your gifts, hundreds of inmates will hear their name at mail call in the coming weeks.

 

#GivingTuesday is Here!

#GivingTuesday is Here!

Give us some Tax Deductible love!

Everything we do comes out of our own pockets, and we could use a little help!

We’re working hard to respond to a huge backlog of requests from inmates seeking mentorship.

Our angel volunteers are lined up to help – but to make this happen we need to cover the cost of
stamps and printing to fund our final volunteer work sessions of 2017.

Help us reach our goal of $1500


Letters From Prison: I am no longer intimidated

Letters From Prison: I am no longer intimidated

Support for people who have been convicted of a crime is not a popular cause – but only because we’re not looking at it from the proper perspective. Support does not mean providing cable tv, video games, and haute cuisine – it means humane treatment and care, mentorship, education, and outside support, so that each incarcerated person emerges whole, equipped to live a productive, crime-free life. The most common reason that people end up in prison is that they have no positive social networks. The inherent darkness and isolation of prison only exacerbates that – which in turn leads to high rates of recidivism. Ninety-five percent of incarcerated people will be released into our communities, so their success and well-being directly impacts all of us.

Suffering is the problem, not the solution.

Below is a note I received today from one of our adoptees, Josh.


My name is Josh and I have been in and out of lock up facilities since I was 12 years old. Throughout my life I have had little or no support from anyone in my family. Due to that I went in search for support from the wrong people such as drug dealers, gang bangers, and other kids like me.

At the age of seventeen I commited a robbery and was sentenced to six years in the Indiana Department Of Corrections. At seventeen! I have been locked up for over five years and during that time I have had no support from my family. No visits, no phone calls, no letters, no love. In my five years I have seen so many people go home and come back to prison because they had no one to help them adjust to society.

After being locked up for so long, people forget how to function in the real world. MOST inmates are intimidated by the thought of going home. That is so sad and wrong. I used to feel the same way. Then I was introduced to a wonderful family called the Adopt an Inmate family. They introduced me to a loving, caring, and supportive mentor. Because of the support she has given me, I am no longer intimidated by the thought of getting out — because I know there is someone who will be with me and help me.

The saying goes, ‘Two wrongs dont make a right.” How is condeming someone to life behind a wall, alone, right?


Image credit Yoann Boyer

AI Quarterly E-Newsletter: Summer 2016

AI Quarterly E-Newsletter: Summer 2016

Hot off the presses, the AI Newsletter Summer 2016.

This publication was created for you – family members, friends, and advocates of prisoners. In each issue you will find useful resources for and from inmates; artwork, stories, and recommendations from both adopters and adoptees; and news from the staff. Don’t forget to print and send a copy to your inmate loved one. We do hope you enjoy it.

Enter your email in the sidebar to the right and receive each new issue in your email. See the archive page for previous issues. Click the image below for the PDF file with clickable links.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 10.29.42 AM