A Most Unlikely Guru: A Max Security Inmate

Finding Self-Revelation, Inspiration and Light in the Darkest of Places

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Life Sentence inmate and most unlikely guru Mickey Owens

My friend Mickey was recently relocated to San Diego. For decades I have wanted to live in San Diego, but I don’t envy him. Mickey lives in one of San Diego’s least desirable gated communities; Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility– In the maximum security section– For Life.

Although I don’t envy Mickey his residence, I work hard to get into it. I am like the followers of gurus who go to great lengths and travel long distances to experience the centering, uplifting effect of being in their guru’s presence. I use precious frequent flyer miles, arrange childcare, rack-up “I owe you”s to my husband and overuse our credit card in order to visit Mickey.

On the surface, Mickey is just a 5’ 6” man in prison blues. He is fifty-seven years old, has gray in his goatee and walks with a cane. He has absolutely no swagger, no attitude except gentleness. He has been the equivalent of social wallpaper his entire life; quiet, observing, listening and doing his best to help where needed and stay out of harm’s way. He’s also got a very long rap sheet, one that includes murder.

Mickey is proof that gurus come in unexpected packages. But there’s something about Mickey that brings my inner compass back to True North. I feel it even when we talk on the phone. The very first moment I heard his voice, the voices chattering in my head organized into a unified choir. The energy bouncing around within me found its focal point and became, not only usable, but purposeful. But this is all internal. On the outside, we are simply two non-notable people visiting in a prison visiting room; one mostly talking (me), one mostly listening (him) and both of us sipping coffee and laughing frequently.

If Mickey has an extra bright aura, it’s not visible to me. There’s nothing about Mickey that stands out, no extra-special charisma or charm, yet when I connect with him, the Trinity of mind, body and Spirit join hands and do a dance that is both playful and purposeful. What I experience with Mickey is what I believe the Bible means when it says, “Where two or more are gathered in my name…”

The magic of Mickey comes from the fact that he is almost completely ego-less. His life has been a raging river, polishing away the rough rock edges of ego, revealing the polished beauty underneath. Most of us are built like geodes; looking earthy and nothing special on the outside, but all sparkling beauty within. Mickey’s outer rock has been pounded away by a life that has delivered every kind of hard knock, revealing the crystalline beauty of his soul. His soul is closer to the surface than it is for most of us, more revealed –not visually, perhaps, but we can feel it. Others feel it too. I get letter after letter from those who have read Mickey’s memoir, saying they feel like they know him, that they feel a special connection with him, that his story changed them. They ask me if they can write him. They want to turn the spiritual connection they feel with Mickey into something more tangible. So many people write Mickey that I’ve asked them to send self-addressed stamped envelopes with their letters because we couldn’t financially keep up with the postage.

We’d all like souls as beautiful and revealed as Mickey’s, but few of us would be willing to go through the life circumstances that brought him to this point. Mickey’s life has been an exercise in ever-increasing challenges of forgiveness that culminated in an epic feat of self-forgiveness.

Mickey arrived into this life with epilepsy, a genius IQ and a genetic predisposition toward psychotic breaks. He was delivered into a family thick with poverty, addiction, a mother plagued by mental illness and a father who not only spent most of Mickey’s life in prison, but who talked Mickey into robbing pharmacies when Mickey was sixteen, starting him on the path of the prison “Lifer.”

In the last hours of his teenage years, Mickey killed a man and experienced a guilt so profound that he attempted to kill himself five times before realizing that Life intended for him to stay alive. In that place of complete brokenness, a spirit that was no more than a pile of rubble, Love seeped in and began its healing work. Out of the rubble, Mickey’s Spirit emerged and he has been wearing it on the outside most of the time since then. Mickey came out of that rock-bottom experience seeing through the lenses of something higher, lenses through which he sees light in the dark places, benevolent purpose in misfortune and the brilliance that is the true essence of each of us. He sees who and what we truly are and reflects that beautiful image back to us.

Mickey is a small man with a huge rap sheet, the most unlikely of gurus, but with him we feel the very definition of Namaste: “The Divine in me recognizes the Divine in you.” He is evidence that brilliance and beauty lives within all of us.

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