by Mary Stockwell-White
Mary Stockwell-White is currently a volunteer letter writer for Unconditional Freedom’s Art of Soulmaking program.
I began volunteering with the Unconditional Freedom i.e., Art of Soulmaking (AOS) program as a result of my exploration in mindfulness. Over the past few years, my focus has been on mindful communication. I was exploring possibilities on how to manifest mindful communication into action (challenging my old thought patterns, my old verbal patterns, etc.). I stumbled into this program. I read through the AOS workbook and was invigorated by the contents. The Soulmaker principles in the workbook articulated concepts and ideas that had previously been only vague wisps of thought and intentions.
What does participating in this program look like, you might ask? It is my understanding that the inmates have the opportunity to do this program in person at some jails or independently. As a volunteer, I am matched with an inmate. After a match is made, we begin corresponding through letter writing. We make a connection with each other by discussing concepts within the workbook as well as sharing how we are applying these ideas to our own lives. A match may be a brief interlude or may be long term. I have been lucky enough to have had one match for over a year now.
In addition to writing to our penpals, the volunteers have the option to participate in a weekly meeting with each other. Every week we read the 13 Soulmaker Movement principles and discuss one of the lessons. I have found this to be such a supportive experience.
Learning how to see and live Truth is a challenging pathway. The workbook offers tools to see situations with a little more clarity. Having letters with our penpals and meeting with other volunteers has been valuable in supporting my own efforts of internal reflection and transmutation. We come together to create community, support, and grace for the effort that it takes to transform those aspects of ourselves that no longer serve us. It is helpful to converse with others who are also on the path of introspection and transforming their pain into something greater than themselves. Participating in the Unconditional Freedom project has given me the opportunity to make connections with folks who I might not otherwise have met. I have received a lot of wisdom that I am able to put into practice in my own daily living.
Participating in this program has solidified my opinion that true change comes through pausing and connecting with each other on a human-to-human level. Our emotions, our thoughts, and our actions are similar regardless of where we come from or where we find ourselves in our present moment. When I think about what is needed to create human flourishing in our world, the answer always points back to connection, fostering that understanding of shared humanity, and interrelated welfare. To see beyond the labels that are put upon us, and open the doors to the possibility of a new world that has space and understanding for all of our lived experiences.
There are many days that I am distraught about the state of the world I find myself living in. The increased levels of violence against each other interpersonally, nationally, and globally are overwhelming. I see my participation with this group as an opportunity to put my values into action. I do this in an effort to serve humanity. To serve love, kindness, establish understanding with some who may have had a different life experience than I have had. Having conversations that enrich my mind and my soul, I am healed as much as I hope to offer healing. I am comforted as much as I hope to comfort. Knowing that someone sees you, listens to you, and actually cares about you can have a deeply profound effect on a person’s heart. If my heart can be softened and your heart can be softened, then that makes the world that much softer for everyone else.
I think that as a whole, our society condemns folks who go to jail without really knowing or understanding the people and circumstances that put them there. Society can be too focused on punitive rather than restorative justice. When I came across this program, I felt moved to participate. I want any inmate that I am matched with to know that they are seen and cared for by someone from the outside. I want to offer dignity, respect, kindness, even Love to rehumanize each other’s experience.
Too often our society shuns those who are “others” and at a great loss. So often the perpetrators are victims themselves as a result of years of intergenerational violence and trauma. It is my opinion that the way to stop the cycle of violence and “othering” is to pause and connect with each other for conversations and to understand that when I hurt you, I am hurting myself. I hope that by having these talks we’ll develop more understanding of ourselves and each other as fellow humans and work together to put more loving energy out into the universe. I want to love as many people as I possibly can in this world. I believe we are all one. I am hopeful that sharing my experience may motivate others to participate in this uplifting work.