Not many of you know that in 1965 I walked from behind the walls of Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary a free man! It’s not an experience I ever want to repeat.
This famous prison has incarcerated many infamous criminals. Criminals given residency privileges in the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary include: Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and Robert Stroud and the Birdman of Alcatraz. It is located in Leavenworth, Kansas. It is an all-male, medium-security facility committed to carrying out the judgments of the Federal Courts.
When you enter. . .
The clanking of the dual steel gates were deafening. Hearing each one securely shut behind you gave you a sinking feeling. Once behind the second gate, you knew that you would be incarcerated behind those walls until they let you out.
While inside Leavenworth I met all kinds of inmates with troubled pasts. The undesirable things they did were despicable. Many were former drug dealers and worse. I came face-to-face with men charged with murder, larceny and various other crimes.
The day I arrived in this maximum security prison I met a former Baptist minister, who ranked high in the churches organization who was in prison because he had embezzled money from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). As I sat on the wooden bench in his cell he talked about how he did it and I noticed a sense of pride as he gave me some of the details.
I met a 44-year-old black man who told me he was arrested for having marijuana and a pipe in his backpack at a music concert. I later found out that he had killed his wife and dumped her body in a trash bin.
People who have never been in jail, don’t know what it’s like to sit on the toilet in full view of everyone.
The prison industry at Leavenworth included a print shop, mattress factory, sign shop, license plate factory, computer recovery facility, and the headquarters for the prisoner magazine.
You can’t trust anyone in prison. That goes for guards, other prison officials, and the person in the cell next door. If someone is being nice to you, you ask yourself “What’s in it for them?”. They almost always have some hidden motive that you don’t know about. In prison, nothing is free. For example, if someone gives or loans you something, you will probably have to pay it back with a hefty rate of interest added.
The normal rules of the outside world simply don’t apply any longer. When you’re in prison, you’re living on a different planet where all that matters to you is surviving the experience with as little damage as possible.
The walls that confined me were dark and made of reinforced steel. Then there are the walls that we build around ourselves that keep us stuck.
We are all prisoners in some way, but most of us are not aware of it. The walls that imprison us are built by us. There are the walls that protect or imprison us, walls we hide behind, and walls that separate us from one another and from the truth. There are many walls in this prison that we fashion for ourselves. Some walls are higher than others, some of the walls are clear as glass, we can’t see them, but they still imprison us just the same.
You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind. – Mohandas Gandhi
We are imprisoned by false beliefs: Habits of thought can imprison us. Bad habits enslave us, and until they are replaced by good habits, we remain in bondage. Many times, we aren’t even aware of the habits, much less their sentence of imprisonment. Awareness of the habitual thoughts and false beliefs is the first step to freedom. We are imprisoned by limiting thoughts and beliefs that restrain us from moving forward and reaching our full potential in relationships or whatever else we desire.
Because the words we use either build walls and imprison us or demolish walls and free us, we need to be careful of what we speak and believe.
As hated as the Berlin Wall was, walls also have another side, as the Robert Frost poem also reminds us. “Good fences make good neighbors.” Walls can protect us from harm.
A famous wall in history, the only human artifact that can be seen from the moon, is the Great Wall of China. It was defensive and protected China from outside aggression. Walls protect us from murders and thieves. Walls protect our privacy. Borders – a less visible form of a wall – make possible institutions like private property.
Your mind is what determines how you look at any particular situation. It’s not the physical surroundings that make your prison. If you have the right frame of mind – if your mind is innocent and quiet, then what others see as a prison could actually be a refuge. Your state of mind determines whether you are going to see your current circumstances as good or bad.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~ Rumi
One of the strongest prisons we can build for ourselves consists of anger and hate. This prison is filled with darkness and overshadows the light of your soul. If you don’t break free from this prison your soul will continually suffer in darkness. The key is to chip away at the wall with forgiveness. The only way to really break free from this self-made prison is to forgive all those who have trespassed against you, unconditionally.
Prison walls are your very own invention. You are the architect of your own discomfort. You are holding the keys right now. The keys that have the power to unlock you from any self imposed prison you have held yourself captive in. Never wallow in the suffering any longer than is necessary to learn the lesson. We can also become imprisoned by our own apathy. The walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keeps out the love, joy and everything else we desire. Sometimes we build up walls – not to keep people out but to see who cares enough to knock them down.
Some people will never change. To change would force them out of their uncomfortable comfort zone. To them I would say, “One of the benefits of prison is to liberate yourself from the burden of being free!”
I hope I have pushed some of your buttons. First of all, you never want to do anything bad enough to go to jail or prison. They are nasty places.
You would no more want to live in a prison or be enslaved by anyone – so be careful of allowing your thoughts to imprison your mind, body and spirit. Your reality is – you are in charge of YOU. Everything in your life you think and do are choices you personally agreed to. All doubts quickly wither away when your awareness proves them wrong. Love yourself enough to be lovable and honor who you are! – Steven Eric Connor
While in prison, one of the most common questions is, “What are you in for?” I suppose you are wondering that about me.
In 1965 I was Public Relations Officer for the Topeka (KS) Jaycees. I was on a mission to the prison with 4 other Jaycee members. We all spent about 5 hours within the walls of Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary helping to organize the first ever Jaycee chapter in a federal penitentiary. It was an experience I will always remember. We were all featured on the cover of the prisoner magazine. The people I described above were real.
Do you have walls between you and your partner? Your parents? Your relationships with others? It’s time to begin to tear down some of the walls that are keeping you stuck. Begin with the walls that you have built around your heart. That wall can stymie love and intimacy. True love has no walls. True love demands trust. Your mate is the one person you trust to see you as you are, without walls or modification or pretense. Some walls aren’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you hide behind them and use them as an excuse to not fully participate in life and experience the world around you.
Through the power of our minds we can create prisons or palaces, wealth or poverty, joy or suffering. Choose!
Copyright © 2010 & 2014 – Larry James. This idea is adapted from Larry’s books, “How to Really Love the One You’re With: Affirmative Guidelines for a Healthy Love Relationship,” “LoveNotes for Lovers: Words That Make Music for Two Hearts Dancing” and “Red Hot LoveNotes for Lovers.” Larry James is a professional speaker, author, relationship coach and a nondenominational minister. He performs the most “Romantic” wedding ceremony you will find anywhere.
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