Friday, November 14, 2014

A Weekend in Jail

I spent a weekend in prison.  Actually, truth be told, it was only 16 hours of a 48 hour period and unlike most of the folks I spent my time with, I was allowed to leave.

Bit by Bit ran a two-day pilot project Trauma Awareness Skills Courses (TASC) workshop at a male prison and it was an interesting two days.  L.A. (Founder & Volunteer Coordinator of Bit by Bit/TASC) and I taught the workshop together.  After a bit of a struggle to get INTO the jail (apparently it's more difficult than one would think to get in), we were greeted by 20 men from various backgrounds serving different lengths of sentences for various reasons.  Some participants had committed very violent crimes and some were in for crimes of a less violent nature (think business fraud).  Some men had life sentences and some are returning to general society in a matter of weeks.  It was a fascinating group of men and I found the majority of them to be respectful, thoughtful, honest, funny and seemingly remorseful for the crimes they were found guilty of and for the people they harmed.

I was grateful for the honesty from the men over the two days and I feel like I learned more from them than they did from me.  They were like sponges, wanting the information and education on trauma and what it is and isn't, how it affects people differently, and helpful coping tools for their futures.

We all have choices to make in life and though I can't make a correlation between violent traumas in childhood to violent crimes committed by the trauma victim as an adult, what I can connect is how trauma impacts not just the life of the trauma victim, but everyone connected to them.  The affects of trauma can sweep through a person's being, their families, loved ones and community like wild fire.  Trauma changes the person that experiences it.  How much we let it change us is up to us - if we are given the tools and recovery opportunities to heal and rise above the traumatic event.

It's easy to sit back and judge someone's choices in life, not knowing what they went through in their childhood, what resources they had or didn't have and what healthy supports they may or may not have had in their lifetime.  It's especially easy to do this while sitting in a comfy and cozy chair on the free side of the gates and barbed-wire fence.

We all have choices in life and our life experiences can impact the choices that we see available to us.  Trauma has impacted my life and has impacted the choices and decisions that I have made in the past, make in the present and will likely do so to some degree in the future.  That said, I know that I can use my experiences to sit on the sidelines of life and use them as an excuse to not make the best choices or make the choice to work hard to develop healthy habits and coping tools to live in a way that my traumas will not steal my future.  That’s what I have been doing.

And, it won’t.  I will not let trauma define how I live, think and feel.  I won’t let my past dictate the success of my future...because that’s what trauma can do.

The men that we spent the weekend with wake up every morning reminded immediately of the terrible choices they made in life.  I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t be there – all choices have consequences that we each must be responsible for.  My time with them made me acutely aware of the need for trauma education.  We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge or understand.

One man in particular said to me, that had he been equipped with the knowledge that he learned over the weekend and had the tools in his hands to cope with life and the traumatic experiences he went through in a healthier way, he might not be serving a life sentence today.  That was profound and made me consider how trauma can sentence you to life ‘in prison’ even on the outside...if you’re not equipped with resources and support to overcome.

I’m so thankful for my time in jail.  I’m thankful for my own life journey and I’m grateful that there has been a purpose to my pain and that it took me somewhere I never thought I would ever go.  Jail.  

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