“I spent the weekend in prison” is something I never thought I would find myself saying during this lifetime, but I’m so glad I did. I recently spent the weekend volunteering in a women’s prison outside of Los Angeles. I had the opportunity to join the organization Freedom to Choose, whose mission is “transforming lives of individuals impacted by incarceration through compassionate experiential education”. There were approximately 70 volunteers who spent Saturday and Sunday inside the prison participating and facilitating a workshop with 100-150 inmates. The theme of the weekend was “Appreciating Differences”, which felt timely and appropriate given that the workshop took place the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day (no coincidences there).
The format of the workshop was such that we had multiple opportunities to share something heartfelt and then listen to other participants in our small groups do the same. While we were listening and sharing, we were concurrently teaching and practicing mindful communication and self-forgiveness.
The love and gratitude I experienced over the weekend touched me to my core. Here are the lessons that really hit home for me when I dared to move outside my comfort zone:
Lesson 1: We are so much more than our physical realities. Every woman that I met that weekend, despite the situation they are in was determined to create a new path for themselves. I heard many of the participants sharing how they are going to teach the new skills they were learning to their children and grandchildren to create a new future. Your past does not define your future. You have the freedom to choose how you will respond to your environment.
Lesson 2: Dig deep, find the courage, share your story. I was sharing with one of the inmates a time where I felt deeply betrayed by someone close to me. I was sharing the hurt, the anger, and the confusion. She didn’t know what was comin’ when she sat down and we were face-to-face, but I laid it all out on the table for her. I also shared openly about how I dealt with it, asking for help, processing my emotions in a healthy way before moving forward, etc.. After my share, she looked at me with tears streaming down her face and said, “I know how you feel, I have been in that same place”. She went on to share with me how inspired she was at how I handled the situation and was determined to learn the skills to change her own life. As she was deeply moved by my share, I was equally as inspired by many of the stories I had heard. No matter how big or small you feel your story is, share! You never know who you will inspire by sharing. You matter, your voice matters, your story matters.
Lesson 3: We are all connected in more ways than you think. Story after story I heard throughout the weekend, it became even more clear to me that we are all one. I knew this on a spiritual level, but to experience it on a physical level is a profound experience. At the basic level, we all want the same things. To love and be loved. By acknowledging our similarities, it’s easier to appreciate our differences.
These are just some of the lessons I learned when I followed the call of my heart and stepped outside my comfort zones. I’m curious to hear what ah-ha moments you’ve had when you follow that whisper and dare to move outside your comfort zone.