by Alfred McGlory
Alfred McGlory, Jr., a Louisiana native, is serving a thirty-year sentence at the Rayburn Correctional Facility, Angie, Louisiana. Meditating and practicing mindfulness since 2014, Mr. McGlory resides in the honors section of the prison and facilitates a regular Buddhist meeting. He is a candidate to receive the precepts from the Everyday Zen sangha.
Prison was never the life I intended for myself when I was a kid. I’m willing to bet that this was not your plan either. Somewhere in our lives something went terribly wrong and whatever it was, it was sufficient to bring about a separation between ourselves and society.
I’m here to share with you all how we can free ourselves. Now the freedom I’m referring to is not just getting out of prison. That would be truly beautiful if it were all that easy. The freedom I’m referring to is freedom that lies within our own being. I’m referring to freedom from suffering, despair, anger, and our own self-centeredness. Once this is achieved, there is nothing outside of us that can hurt us.
There’s a story of an old hound dog sitting on a nail, howling in pain. Clearly he was suffering. When someone saw him suffering and asked, “Why doesn’t he just get off the nail?” The owner replied, “It doesn’t hurt enough yet.”
The point is that people usually don’t seek change until things get intolerable. We wait until life takes us to our lowest moment before we consider doing something new. Oftentimes this means that something real bad has to happen to us; something bad enough to pierce through our daily routine of ignorance. Ignorance in the sense of not seeing things the way they are.
Most of us live our lives either reminiscing in the past or fantasizing about the future. We seldom realize the present moment. The reality is that everything happens in the present moment. If we want a brighter future, we must begin our work from the present, not the past or the future. The future will become real when it becomes the present.
Everything hinges on the present moment. If we want a successful frame to work from, we must remember to keep our minds in the here and now. The present moment is also where our true freedom is. No matter who or where we are, we can be free. It doesn’t matter if we are outside of prison or locked away in the deepest dungeon in the country; we can be free.
Freedom must be cultivated and practiced everyday in the present moment. There is no special time or place. The only time that will ever exist is now; the only place we will ever be is here, while eating, sitting, walking, talking, or just enjoying a glass of water.
We have to gain control of our mind and not be distracted by what we think happened before or after the present moment. When this happens, we find that we are no longer affected by the words and actions of others. We begin to become mindful of how we speak and interact with others. We discover that even something as small as a smile has a profound effect on people.
In the midst of this, we learn to forgive others, but most importantly, we learn the ancient art of forgiving ourselves as the true way to heal ourselves. By doing this, we realize freedom as never before. We discover that we can live happy lives even inside of razor wire fences. Once our vision becomes refined, prison can no longer be prison; it becomes a place of liberation.
Prison doesn’t have to be a place of punishment. It can become a place of change and hope. Most don’t have the insight to admit that many of us would probably be dead if not for the restrictive hedge of prison slowing our lives down so that we were forced to see a little more clearly.
Our lives revolved around destructive lifestyles. We are here to reform our thinking. We hold the keys to unlocking our own futures; we just lack some basic understanding that would allow us to see things as they really are.
It becomes necessary that we first calm our minds down a bit. It takes practice but it can be achieved. Meditation is a great source of peace. Just sitting for ten minutes every morning can change your whole day. Changing your day changes your week, month, year, and life.
Try it. Sit quietly and focus your mind. Focus on Jesus, Muhammad, Jehovah, or a higher power. Meditate on a flower or a favorite color if you like. Anything that will get you centered and still your mind. The doorway to true freedom is always there, we just have to walk through it.