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.

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” in others’ lives when I’m given the opportunity to do so.

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.

“The System” Is Not Broken

“The System” Is Not Broken

It’s true: the American criminal justice system is not broken — it’s doing exactly what it is designed to do.

Far gone are the days when the only things that distinguished prisons from college campuses were the barbed-wired fences, gun towers, and . . . oh yeah, the fact that people couldn’t go home when class was over. But the most prominent features that make colleges what they are (classrooms full of eager, studious learners and willing instructors looking to advance the specialized knowledge of these students) were no different in prison settings across this vast country. But that was also when college tuition was available to inmates via the federal Pell Grant program — before President Clinton abolished this all-important rehabilitative mechanism with a single stroke of his presidential pen. Out went the funding for college degrees for inmates, and in came the rapid increase of mandatory minimum sentencing laws that would balloon the prison population to the staggering 2.2 million individuals that we see locked up (state, federal, and county jails) today.

Such laws came about with the introduction of the now infamous Crime Bill signed into law, incentivizing states to build new prisons by allocating billions of dollars for such projects. Logically, it then makes sense to devise laws that would sweep large numbers of bodies off the street and into jails and prisons for extended stays. Mandatory minimums made perfect sense during this era as an extremely sinister means to this egregiously inhumane ends. Moreover, the majority of those who make up the system are — wait for it — black and brown. Without attempting to litigate the veracity of the claim that there is inherent and even calculated bias and racism behind this outcome, it is fair to assert that the radical disproportionality of who is affected by this system is, at the very least, a problem that warrants being addressed.

Every year there are approximately 650,000 people released from incarceration. Within three years, two-thirds return to confinement for a host of reasons — they are unable to find gainful employment, housing, loans for higher education, etc. At every turn they are denied opportunity to fully reintegrate into their communities, whether it be through voting, participating in many volunteer programs, and/or furthering their careers. These folks succumb to the insidious notion that life is far too arduous for their withstanding, and it would be much easier to revert back to what they have always known. And like a conveyor belt that never stops moving – transporting its products from the beginning of the process to the end continuously – these people are swept back up, placed on the conveyor belt, and whisked away to the next arm of the system to be processed.

We often refer to our criminal justice system as “broken” because we are viewing it strictly from a humanitarian standpoint. We find it reprehensible that our country incarcerates its citizens at a much higher rate and for lengthier stays, on average, than any other nation on earth. We are repulsed at the fact that we funnel far more money into constructing and maintaining prisons in America than we do our schools and extra curricular activities — things that could actually deter kids from turning to crime when they are most impressionable. But the reality is, our nation is not concerned with preventing crime and offering its help to those who are most at-risk for committing such crime, but rather its focal point is rounding up as many people as it possibly can to keep an industry (yes, people actually can buy stock in private prison corporations) — a big business — thriving and ever-expanding. We endorse warehousing humans, not rehabilitating them. The latter would surely be counter-productive to this cause. The object is not to keep people out of the system by funding initiatives that have been proven to prevent crime and reduce recidivism; but rather to ensure that a large number of people stay ensnared in the criminal justice system, that they continue to take their place on the proverbial conveyor belt – over and over again. Therefore, when viewed more accurately for what it is, the system is not broken — it’s more like a well-oiled machine; fluidly carrying out its mechanical mission by doing exactly what it’s designed to do.escents who struggle with substance abuse.