Our Freedom to Choose
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor E. Frankl
Last week I spent three days in the largest women’s maximum security prison – it was one of the most extraordinary and uplifting experiences of my life.Not what most of us would expect to hear about prison. I was there as a volunteer participant sharing spiritual psychology skills as part of the University of Santa Monica’s Freedom to Choose Service Project (I highly encourage you to watch the video and have some tissue handy).
As I walked through the two security check points on my first day, I was a bit nervous – I have never actually been inside a prison.What would the women be like? Would they be receptive to me?Would I feel safe? Would I connect with them?All my nerves and questions feel aside as soon as I sat down next to the first two inmates I met that weekend.I introduced myself and was welcomed with the most gracious of smiles.And that was the tone for the entire workshop. Not only was I welcomed, I made some incredibly amazing new friends.
I had expected that a lot of the women would talk about why there were there and how they felt about it. Although some of them did share about their crime and prison life, most of what I heard were things I hear about everyday from my own clients: relationship struggles, family issues, doubts, insecurities, challenges with peers, and a lot of self-judgment. It wasn’t long before I realized that they only difference between myself and the inmates was the color of our clothing.Despite our pasts or present circumstances, we all human beings who feel anger, hurt, regret and loneliness.And we all are yearning for the same thing: love. Even though at times I found myself in upset about what I judged as wrongly accused women and prison life in general, I realized there wasn’t anything I needed to say or do for these women other than love them.And be open to the love they had to share with me.
The inmates refer to those of us outside the gates as “free world people.”But after connecting with and listening to the sharing from these inspiring, courageous women about how they were choosing to create and feel inner peace despite their circumstances, they seem more free than many of us in the “free world.”
Today I ask you: Are you holding yourself prisoner in some way because of what you are choosing to think and believe?How are you sentencing yourself with your judgments? What attitudes and perspectives keep you locked up? Freedom is a choice.And for those of us in the free world, it is often a choice we take for granted.