About a year ago we embarked on a research project with Pacific University and the DOC in order to measure the effectiveness of our program with people in prison and after they get out. This means we have a ‘pre-class’ before our 10 week program actually starts. This is where we get every man or woman who signed up for our program to fill out the pre-evaluation packets. This last session at the women’s medium security prison, of the 44 people who signed up, 22 got randomly selected to take the program and the other 22 are part of the randomized control group.*

In this pre-class one woman, SA, came up to me in tears saying how much she hopes she will make it into the program. She told me her young son died 3 months prior and she’s not coping well and worried what she might do. Luckily, she was randomly chosen to be in the program.

We’re now 6 weeks into this 10 week program. Last week SA said – “I know your flyer says we’re not broken and we don’t need fixing but I came here secretly hoping you could fix me as I believed I was broken. But your flyer was right. I’m not broken after all. I always thought something was wrong with me. Now I see that’s not true”.

SA has been in prison for 3 years. She had many hard knocks in her life. She was an addict and struggling with life on the streets, getting into bad relationships and getting into trouble. From SA’s stories, she is prone to trouble in prison too and often found herself in solitary.

Not anymore. Her mind is quieting down and she realizes she’s been looking in the wrong direction for her wellbeing. She sees that her wellbeing doesn’t come from drugs, winning fights or arguing with the world. She has started to see that when she doesn’t take all the negative thinking and feeling as more than a passing storm, her wellbeing naturally bubbles to the surface.

What she has eyes for she sees more of. SA is seeing beyond her labels – criminal, addict, fuck up – to who she really is. A strong resilient, kind and insightful human who in the past had been merely stuck in the prison of her own thinking.

Imagining people in prison you might think they are beyond repair, irredeemable, broken. I know without a shadow of a doubt that’s not true.

SA told me she didn’t sleep at night as her busy mind would keep her up ruminating about all the ways she’s not ok and dwelling on the death of her son. As she has spent more time realizing she is OK, she’s now sleeping through the night, not getting into trouble and discovering some peace inside that she never knew was there.