Sunday May 21, I spent the day in prison.
I was fortunate enough to attend a Tedx event hosted at Donovan Correctional near San Diego, CA. And what I saw, heard and experienced resonated with me deeply. My own core values were reflected back to me over and over again through the stories and conversations.
Only 25 Tedx events have occurred in prisons out of the 20,000 Tedx events around the world, shared our narrator for the day. It was no easy feat to make this happen – requiring volunteers from the community, volunteers from inside Donovan and mostly, the passion, commitment and vision of the men in blue.
We all have the freedom to write our own stories.
The speakers at this event were world class – engaging, intelligent, connected, funny and honest. The stories of grief, loss, recovery and redemption brought me to tears over and over again. There were 5 men in blue like Lionel featured above and 5 outside speakers chosen by the men.
Each story mirrored my belief that we all have the freedom to write our own stories, and to rewrite them again and again.
The theme of the day was Beyond the Surface and each presenter powerfully riffed on this theme through music, poetry, and story.
Beto, one man who had been incarcerated and spoke on rebuilding his life, shared how his description of “normal” had to shift and change. How his normal as a child was not what he wanted “normal” to be for his children now. He is a man who is rewriting his story from one of gangs and violence to one of education, service and connection.
Pursue growth and learning every day.
We were treated to the beautiful music of Eric Genius. Here is a Youtube video of Eric performing his song “The Butterfly.” Many of the men in blue had never heard classical music before. What?? Most men I met had been incarcerated for decades. One gentleman had been in prison for 40 years. I loved hearing him share about his children and his grandchildren with pride and joy.
What these men have is time. They were all conscious of how they choose to spend their time – in learning, educating themselves, in mindful or spiritual reflection. John has completed 4 associates degrees during his time in prison. Another man I spoke to is a year away from his Bachelor’s agree.
Connection Matters More than Anything
And while the speakers were amazing – leaving us laughing, cheering, crying and celebrating – the best part of the day was the opportunity to connect with the 100 men in blue who were the organizers, volunteers, attendees and speakers who made this day possible. We spent several hours simply talking, sharing and connecting. It was humbling to hear their stories, their wisdom, their willingness and desire to continuously improve themselves and mentor others on their journey.
I have been to many different kinds of events in many different parts of the world but I felt welcomed into this community with kindness, with generosity and with gratitude.
At the end of the day, the 200 of us in the room formed a large circle and anyone who wished to could take the center of the circle and share their impressions of the experience. Man after man in blue humbly entered the circle to thank us for seeing them as human; for allowing them to feel human for a day.
I felt honored to be there to witness the courage of the speakers and how their courage inspired others. I heard over and over again: “Next time I want to be on that stage.”
We are all human and connection matters more than anything. And when we can truly see each other as humans who are all the same, anything is possible.
Lionel’s story, in the photo above, touched me deeply. He shared stories of loss and grief, of his Dad selling his pony – the only love he had as boy was from that pony. He shared lessons of love learned from a rabbit he found as a small boy growing up on a ranch. And he shared how he found self-love as a man in prison and rediscovered that he has a heart and that he is loveable.
I wish I had photos to share of the beautiful artwork that was shared. Two large murals were painted to add some color to the otherwise beige room. And the walls we covered in the most beautiful assortment of mandalas I have ever seen. If you know me, you know I love mandalas!! Making them, coloring them and admiring the work of others. One man Brian, shared that he had never painted before and hadn’t drawn since he was a kid. He shared much he loved the process of creating the murals and how great it felt to be able to share his creativity with all of us.
What a powerful experience to see my core values reflected back to me through the worldview of the men in blue.
Our core values are the guardrails on our highway of life – they guide us and help us to make better decisions. But they also help us to connect with others in ways we cannot imagine.
I am curious, what are your core values and where might you see them reflected back to you in a way you didn’t expect?