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One of the Best Coping Mechanisms to Survive Incarceration: How Gratitude Practice Carried Me Through Twenty-Three Years in Federal Prison


Inmates Need Coping Mechanisms Like Gratitude Practice to Survive Incarceration

Federal Prison creates tremendous stress on those enduring it, inmates and their families. To survive the experience with sanity intact, a convict needs to develop coping mechanisms. For me, meditation was the best skill I picked up while serving time, but there were others. At the top of the list was Gratitude Practice.

How Gratitude Practice Can Help an Inmate Cope With the Stress Inside a Prison

Our thoughts create our reality. We feel the way we think. If a person can keep his or her mind filled with grateful thoughts. He or she will enjoy life more, and feel less stress, than a person ruled by worried thoughts, angry ones, or those creating sadness. It takes practice, but with time, anyone can condition his or her mind to be on constant lookout for the blessings that exist.

How Do You Use Gratitude Practice as a Coping Mechanism to Survive Federal Prison?

To better explain this coping mechanism I used to survive prison, I will quote a passage from my first book: A Soul Call from Prison:

"Getting back to where we started, the most important flaw we each need to correct is negative thinking. So, how do you stop negative thoughts? You can't. Jesus said as much in a parable about light. The parable never made sense to me as a kid, but today, it does.

"Christ explained you can't force darkness from a room. To rid the darkness, you have to bring in a light. As soon as the switch flips, light instantly banishes the dark. Just like you can't force darkness from a room, you can't force negativity from your mind. So many times, I've been worrying over something--and tried to stop it--but my mind would keep reminding me why I should be worried. It rehashed similar experiences from the past, and conjured new calamities for the future. The harder I tried; the worse things got.

"Darkness can't be pushed from a room. It doesn't respond to force, but its opposite overcomes it in a millisecond. What is the opposite of a negative thought? Specifically, for our purpose here, the best positive thought to use is a grateful one. When we argue with the negativity we lose, just like I always lost when I argued with anxiety.

"Our subconscious minds are smarter than our conscious ones. When I tried to rationalize worry away, my mind reminded me of all the times my worry was justified. When I set new resolutions to trust God implicitly, my subconscious reminded me of every failed resolution and every time it seemed like God had let me down. The darkness will win every direct confrontation.

"Now, when I feel worry, I get still and spend five minutes naming the blessings in my life. I take my thoughts in another direction. Instead of trying to stop feeling worry, I determine, in that moment, to start feeling grateful. The mind can only think one thing at a time, and I make a conscious choice to feel blessed.

"To implement this in your life, I would suggest spending 5-10 minutes in the morning practicing gratitude before you get up. Get the day started in a positive direction. I feel excited by the day's prospects when I do this and happy to get out of bed. Giving thanks is also the best thing to do before sleep. It processes the day, puts the meaningful things in perspective, and helps to release any irritations you might have felt at work, in dealing with a partner, or with any other problem that might have arisen.

"It is also important to stop yourself whenever you feel a negative emotion surfacing. Stop and name twenty things you are grateful for having. Continue until you feel better. Even on a good day, you should stop at least five times to count your blessings.

"If your initial reaction is something like: You have no idea what I’m going through--you're absolutely right--but if you are unwilling to look for something to be grateful for, then you’re ungrateful for the breath allowing you to complain. I understand how hard it is to begin, how hard it is to break free from the stuck existence many of us suffer, but the Taoists say, 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.'

"I can also appreciate how ineffective making a small change like this may appear to you. When we suffer, our problems seem monumental and insurmountable. Take it from someone who has tasted his share of sorrow: This works, if you apply it with consistent effort.

"Gratitude provides an opportunity for a small achievement, that will adhere to other small achievements, until they compound into a life-altering experience. No matter how bad things seem, they could always be worse, or in the words of a great pessimist, 'Hell has no bottom.'

"When you make comparisons with others, jealously observing what is missing from your life, you will see little to be thankful for, when you give thanks for the obvious things, the subtle things begin to register. As you actively look for blessings in your life, God will reward the expectation of good things by providing more. As the mind continues to search, new discoveries always come."

I wrote that ten years into my sentence with thirteen years to serve. What I said was true then. It still is today.

Prisoner meditating in a prison cell
This book teaches many coping mechanisms to survive prison


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