When Venerable Thubten Chodron was asked to speak at Harvard about her work in prisons, she asked several of the inmates what they thought people on the outside needed to know about life on the inside. Here’s what B. T. wrote.
You asked me what things I think are important for people out there to know about inmates and life in prison. I really don’t know how to answer that. It is always easy for us on the inside to whine and complain about the system. Of course there are many problems here, and if one asks, one will hear people grumble about them. I am guilty of doing that too. In the past, and even now, if I’m not careful, I have cried about this and that just to be crying it seems. I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t deny that there are problems and there are times when we should stand up against them and work towards change. But at the same time, if I’m dwelling constantly on the injustices that I feel I’m receiving, then I am constantly bitter. I’ve always been easy to anger. I’m moody. But I don’t want to indulge in these harmful emotions any more.
If there is one thing that I think people out there should be made aware of, it is the fact that we are human. In many ways we are just like the guy next door. Some people here are sincerely trying to make a change. Not all. Maybe not even most, but some are. The politics of prison dehumanized us in the public eye. Or maybe it was our crimes themselves that did it. Whatever it is, the fact remains that it is easy for people out there to think of those of us who are incarcerated as unfeeling. They see us as incapable of love and unworthy of compassion. But that is not so. I would like to tell everybody out there that I feel remorse for my past and I accept responsibility for my actions. But I also have hope for a future. I want to be just a normal guy with a normal life. I want them to know that there really are some pretty decent people who live on this side of the fence.
There was a time that I wished for retribution or revenge. There was a time when I yearned for a bottle to drown myself in or drugs to numb the pain. There was a time that I wanted a pistol so that I could destroy the person I was. You helped to change all of that. A large part of the ability that you had to reach me was the fact that you didn’t see me as hopeless. I love you for that. Today I want to live. Not just be alive, but live. I realize just how special that is. Thank you!