ONE LAST TALK IN PRISON
Three weeks ago, I joined Philip, Lary and Stacey at Arkansas Correctional Facility (funny enough, in Colorado) to help 10 men on their One Last Talk.
Before this, I had never been in a prison. I had no idea what to expect. I was nervous. Knowing how difficult and vulnerable giving a OLT can be, I didn’t want to let these men down. Driving the 2.5 hours down from Denver, I had a lot of time to think about it. As I got closer to the facility, my anxiety increased.
Before arriving, I pulled over to the side of the road and meditated for a while. Focusing on the good that I could do for these men. Knowing that Philip wouldn’t have asked me to come if he didn’t believe I could help. I envisioned everything being a success and released my fears of being inadequate. I was, in all honesty, making it about me.
I’m deeply grateful I took that time. It allowed me to feel calm as we went through security. To be present as we walked through the gates. To be open as we entered the room where I met these men.
They were so welcoming and yet I could also feel their fear. A fear I recognized. The same fear I felt preparing for my One Last Talk.
That’s the moment it stopped being about me and became about them.
Honestly, the next few hours are a blur. Each of the men got up and shared their story. They share what they had experienced as children. They shared what they had done that led them to being incarcerated. They shared what they had learned and why they now choose a different path. Whether or not they would ever be released, they’ve chosen redemption.
For a few, I teared up. For some, I felt incredible anger at what they had to endure. In some cases, I felt the edge of judgment beginning to rise and had to consciously release it. Knowing that their lives and choices are different from my own. And yet not so different. Knowing that if circumstances had been slightly different in my own life, I could be right there with them. There have been times that I have stole. There have been times that I have harmed others. There have been times I have felt blinding rage and wanted to take another’s life.
In learning their stories – I saw more similarities than differences. The line that divided us before I entered that prison began to fade. By the time we were done, it didn’t seem to exist.
With their incredible courage and vulnerability, we bonded deeply over a handful of hours. I vowed to return to witness their talks and to be of support.
And that’s exactly what happened. On Monday, I had the honor of attending the first One Last Talk in prison.
I am immensely proud of these men.
The audience was made up of both visitors from outside (Volunteers), like me, and other men from within the prison. All of whom had been a part of Defy’s programs and were EITs (Entrepreneurs In Training). The amount of vulnerability and courage shown by the speakers was humbling.
The receptiveness and compassion of the audience was palpable. I was also awed by the questions that the audience asked after each talk. To be honest – I often found myself at a loss for words (a rarity if you know me – ha!) and several of the EITs expressed what I was feeling better than I could.
During the time, I met Kevin, an EIT, and we had a deep conversation on the choices we make and how mindfulness and meditation can lead to personal freedom. A beautiful conversation that I hope to continue.
The short of it is – I’m still integrating and learning from this experience. It was deeply healing and transformative for everyone present.
I believe deeply in the OLT process and encourage you to learn more – by reading the book, by attending a One Last Talk. And – if you ever have the opportunity to attend one within a prison – take it. Allow yourself to be open and present. See where it leads you.