Human Kindness Foundation

a little good news                                                           Summer 1999

The Two Questions

A friend of mine got out of prison on the last day of 1997. He was thirty-seven years old and had been in prison since he was nineteen. Because he was on a 90-year sentence, he had spent his whole prison time in one old maximum-security facility in mid-Florida which has a very tough reputation.

In all those years, William (not his real name) was never encouraged to get a G.E.D. or any other education or skills training. There were precious few programs offered at his prison because all the inmates there had such long sentences, the state felt, "Why waste the money? They’re never getting out of here."

When the state did release him, they let him out the gate with a short-sleeved shirt and fifty dollars. This scenario is repeated every day all over the United States. It’s an embarrassment before God and a mockery of the idea that the state is giving folks like William a "second chance." How much of a chance does he have with fifty bucks and no skills or education?

But William had practiced meditation for many years while he was inside, and after improving his reading skills he studied many spiritual books. He developed a prayer life. He became a quiet, kind person. So he had no intention, when he was released, of giving all that up and turning back to crime. He had made the Big Change. Crime was no longer an option.

William hooked up with some good people doing nonprofit work in the community, and he found a place to live and work with them for awhile. He wasn’t making much money, but he got room and board and began learning how to cook, bake bread, do some light carpentry, and occasionally speak to community groups about his own "before & after" story, which was very well received.

Because he had done so much spiritual practice in prison, William assumed he would have no difficulty adjusting to life outside of prison. Everyone else said, "After spending your whole adult life in a tough prison, you’ll probably hit some hard challenges out here." But William would always smile and say he was just glad to be out, and nothing would be rough about life out here at all.

It was around February when the first wave of depression hit him. William had no idea what was going on. He slipped deeper and deeper into silence, shutting out the people around him just like he would have done in prison. But these people were his friends, not his jailers. They had been expecting him to hit some rough spots and they were ready to help him through them. But William did not yet know how to ask for or receive such help. He closed off and became grim. Everyone would try to talk with him, ask him questions, and he would respond in short, unfriendly grunts. And being tall and muscular and prison-hard, he could be pretty intimidating when he was feeling unfriendly.

The main thing that was going on was confusion and pride. William had no idea why he was depressed, and he was too proud to admit it. He had spent so many years fending for himself, trusting only himself, figuring everything out for himself, that he didn’t know how to handle this in any other way. Several of his friends and co-workers became angry with him, taking his rejection personally. And of course, that made matters worse.

By March of ’98, William was actually saying "Maybe I should just go back to prison." And he was also saying, "Every night when I go to sleep, I pray for God to let me die before I wake up. I have nothing to live for." Here’s a good-looking, intelligent, healthy, thirty-eight-year-old man with a whole lifetime of freedom opening up to him, and he just wanted to be back in prison or dead. Sad and amazing, but not surprising.

Please don't think this couldn't happen to you. Life out here is not really a bowl of cherries, like you may assume when you're aching to be out of prison in the "free world." The free world is not so free. It’s tough. It’s confusing. It's exhausting. People are working themselves into the grave and have very little to show for it. Everybody is incredibly busy, but few people are happy with how they spend their time. William had a lot more time in prison to pray, read, meditate and relax than he did out here. He had a lot more privacy in prison, and a lot more time to himself. I'm not suggesting prison is better, I'm just urging you not to fantasize about how easy it will be when you step through the gates.

Things got worse and worse for William, and finally I had a few talks with him when it seemed that he just wasn’t going to come out of this tailspin by himself. His co-workers and I had already given him plenty of pep-talks, all to no avail. The only thing that came to me to say to him was this:

"William, I want you to think very seriously about two simple questions. If you can truthfully answer ‘yes’ to both questions, then I know you’re going to get through this. If your answers are ‘no,’ then I don’t know what else to say to you. Here are the questions:

  1. Does God know what you’re going through?
  2. Does God care?"

Those two questions can be a self-test to see whether you are a person of faith or not. Pick out your biggest problem or obstacle in life. If you honestly believe that God knows and cares, then you are a person of faith. If you do not believe that God knows and cares, then you may have some serious problems facing you.

I know that William is truly a spiritual person, and so for him, those two questions forced an undeniable "yes" on both counts. And once he admitted to himself that he does believe God knows and cares, then he no longer felt alone and no longer felt like he was just going crazy for no purpose at all. He realized that God must be pushing him to learn something and no matter how hard it was, he felt that God would help him through it.

In William’s case, what he was being pushed to learn had to do with pride and with real friendship; being able to admit that he was scared and confused, being able to accept love from the people around him; not having to be Superman. He saw a psychiatrist once, but left there saying, "If I’m going to talk about what’s bothering me, I’d rather do it with friends."

We may never understand completely why William broke down so deeply after a couple months’ freedom. It could probably be explained in a hundred different ways. If you think you clearly understand it, you’re being foolish. It doesn’t matter to understand it, as much as to face it with honesty, faith and support from friends. I’m happy to say that’s what William finally did, and now he has been out for nearly two years, he has a good job and many friends.

Like all of us, he still occasionally has rough times. But he remembers the two questions. He remembers that his answers are "yes," and so he knows he’s never alone or unloved. And that may be all we need to get through the rough times when nothing else seems to help.

Bo Lozoff

 

PRACTICE:
Creating A New, Post-Littleton Civilization

This may sound like a tall order, or too far-fetched for a "practice page" in one little newsletter. But in truth, creating a new civilization is what we do, like it or not, every day of our lives. For the past few hundred years we have been fascinated with machines and technology, and so that is the flavor of the new civilization we have created. It is an incredible success technologically, far beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors who started down this path. New words and phrases for this new civilization have become common speech radio, television, audio, digital, airplanes, computers, the Internet, cell phones, software, interactive, virtual reality, microwave, bits and bytes, silicon chips. The list could go on for volumes.

Tragically, this new civilization has spawned other words and phrases as well: Generation gap, latchkey kids, assisted suicide, road rage, clinical depression, drive-by shootings, school shootings, super-max, post-traumatic stress disorder, prison-industrial complex, private prison, three-strikes, mandatory sentencing and many others. These are some of the new words involved with the human side rather than the technological side. As Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21). We have treasured the high-tech side of life more than the human side, and so we have created a civilization where we can phone a friend from an airplane, while our children have become the most confused, angry and violent people on the face of the Earth.

As sad as the high school shootings were in Littleton Colorado, it was equally sad and frightening, too to see our society’s response. After the first week’s ceaseless replays of interviews with survivors and victims’ families, the second week’s coverage focused on the question, "How can we prevent future Littletons?" The guest of choice was Janet Reno. Not Billy Graham. Not Mr. Rogers. Not the Dalai Lama. But Janet Reno, whose expertise consists of guns, police, courts, prisons, metal detectors. These are our children we are strategizing against, without considering that perhaps we need to bring the giant monster of high-tech civilization to a halt for a few days or weeks or months and ponder why so many of our children are going crazy.

One eighth-grade schoolteacher told me recently that one-half of his students were on psychotropic medication either Ritalin, Prozac, Lithium or something similar which children in other countries have never even heard of. This is not a minor blip on the screen. This is a problem of our civilization. A problem of how we spend our time, how we determine our priorities, how we see life’s purpose. There are many people in the world who live in humble conditions and spend half their day just getting clean water, who are happier than we are and whose children are happier and more well-balanced than ours. Something is dramatically wrong with our civilization. Every day, each one of us either helps to maintain this dysfunctional civilization, or helps to create a new one.

Our own priorities will continue to create new civilizations, so if we are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, we need to change our priorities. One of our staff members, Micheal, often says, "Just pay attention to the inches, and the miles will add up." Creating a new civilization comes from creating a new day, a new hour, even a new moment. If you are a slave to consumerism and you waste time, energy and money on escapist activities, then you are going along just fine in the civilization which the corporate powers of the world hope to maintain. If you decide to step aside from the insanity today, and to focus your time, energy and money on kindness and good works, then you are joining many others in creating a new civilization which is not so anti-life.

One of the morning invocations in our community is, "May my actions today reflect my deepest beliefs." Another is, "May our work and friendship today be of benefit to all beings." We say these things and mean them, and try to hold ourselves accountable during the day. If our humanity does not soon catch up with our technology, we will be no more than a curious footnote in world history about a civilization which reached dizzying heights of gadgetry and then went mad before destroying itself. Please recognize Littleton for the serious wake-up call it is. Today, by your example, help to create a post-Littleton civilization which is happier and healthier. Dedicate your life today to the common good. Seriously begin to dismantle selfish priorities and replace them with nobler ones. We are responsible for civilization. Where our treasures are, there will our hearts be also.

W Y Z [ \ ]

 

LETTERS

Dear Bo, Sita & HKF:

It’s been a while since I wrote, so I thought I ought to check in. I’ve now been "out" of prison for 13 months & life couldn’t be better. That’s not to say that there haven’t been struggles, because there have been. But, though I’ve run into hurdles & challenges, I know that they are part of my journey.

Don’t know if you recall Bo, but when I last corresponded, I told you that I was committed to trying to get some employment working with "ex-offenders" or in a related field.

I ran into a lot of resistance because of my felony record. Most of the jobs I applied for were with the state or with private agencies who worked with the state. For nearly a year, there were "no takers" when it came to hiring me.

When I was first released from prison my wife & I discussed how we thought I should handle employment opportunities. We agreed to go with, "telling the truth" up front, about my past, to all potential employers. We never doubted that we took the proper approach, but on more than one occasion, I was frustrated by the constant "No’s" that I was hearing from prospective employers.

Then, one day, I finally caught the break that I needed. I faxed a copy of my resume & a cover letter to an agency regarding a counselor position. Amazingly enough, as soon as they received my resume, the CEO called me and set up an interview that same evening. I went out & interviewed & was offered the position that same night. It was incredible! After diligently trying to find a job that I wanted for nearly 12 months, it all happened for me in a matter of a few hours.

So…what do I do? Well, I am a substance abuse & domestic violence counselor. And guess what else? The agency that employs me has a contract with the DOC & I work mostly with guys on parole or probation, or others who are on court order. How about that for irony!

My boss said that the reason that she hired me was my cover letter. She said it was my honesty that got her attention & impressed her. She also liked the fact that I had gained so much spirituality & sobriety while in prison. The things I teach now are lessons & wisdom I learned while incarcerated. The wisdom of the saints & sages, as related by people like you & many others are my foundation.

I wanted you to know, Bo, Sita & HKF, that I landed on my feet. And I want you to share my message with others. It works, it always has. Just persevere & be honest. I wish I would have learned that lesson years ago, but then, think of the journey I would have missed.

It’s true, you know… the journey is the reward!

Gotta close for now. Thanks for all that you’ve done to help me see my path. God bless you all.

Love to you all, F (Florida)

 

Bo,

In my last letter I told you I was having a lot of people talking shit and making comments about me, because I do my Hatha Yoga exercises on the yard every morning, well that has gotten worse. About a week ago, I was out on the yard and I was in position on the grass, with my eyes closed just listening to my mind change 100 channels a minute meditating and somebody threw a large rock at me and I had to get stitches in my face. I don’t know who or why it happened, but it came from a crowd of people, "the only crowd close enough to me," also this particular crowd are the main people who make fun of me all the time. But it hasn’t stopped me. I just do my same routine with my "eyes open" from now on. Although I don’t know for sure who did it, I’ve noticed some of the people have started to keep a distance from me, I think they thought I would roll up and leave, but instead, I stayed, and I’m not angry at anyone. I’ve never even said one word to those people, about the incident. I have a smile for everyone, and I mean no harm to no one, I’m quiet, I work, I go to school, I work out/stretch/meditate, I don’t get mad. Believe me this is hard, but I maintain!

I think because of these things, I don’t fit in here and people try to use me as a scapegoat! I’m not going to give up Bo, I feel good inside, without dope or money, I’m starting to like L for once! I would never have known how to start this road without you!

Please take care,

You & Sita & Josh and all the rest.

Your friend, L (Arizona)

 

I just wanted to say "THANK-YOU" very much for sending me another copy of We’re All Doing Time (my original copy was lost when I was transferred from another prison). Your book and your meditation techniques literally saved my life! I have been on Thorazine and Halodol and Cogentin, among various other PSYCHOTROPIC drugs for the past 7 years. I was a complete Zombie! I have spent most of the past 10 years in Mental hospitals and prison, due to drug addictions from the streets (cocaine, meth, heroin).

But "THANKS" to the love and help I received through your books, I’m well now, and have been clean, and off medication for a year now. I spent this last year in the "hole." Due to a "fight" out on the mainline that nearly cost me my life! I "dedicated" this past year in the "hole" to studying your books, and praying and meditating. And also Pranayam techniques! It really works!!!

... I’m paroling soon and I decided to write to a nonprofit agency in my hometown recently, and ask if I could "possibly" become a volunteer when I get out. I wrote and told them I would be staying at a nearby homeless shelter. I recently received their "wonderful" response! Not only did they say yes I could become a volunteer and work for them, but they also told me that I could come and live on the grounds…!!! Isn’t that great?

I’m going to be their gardener!! I am so "happy" that I can’t even express how grateful I am to you and Human Kindness Foundation!! I will simply say "THANK-YOU" by fulfilling my goal in life to become of service to my fellow human beings, as best I can. Well, my friends, I just thought I’d share some great news with you! ... I’m so proud. Not of myself but of what you guys and God have done for me! THANKS again Bo-N-Sita-N-Josh-and the entire H.K.F. staff!!! I love you all!!!

Yours Truly,

The Peace "Panther" (California)

 

a little good news
is a publication of the Human Kindness Foundation, which is non-profit and tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code. Donations and bequests are welcomed and are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. All money goes directly to support HKF’s work, helping us to continue producing and distributing free materials to prisoners and others, and sponsoring Bo Lozoff’s free lectures & workshops and the other projects of the Foundation. 1997, Human Kindness Foundation

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