Prison is an incredibly negative environment that perpetuates hatred, segregation and all manner of evil. It is a personal goal of mine to engage this mindset in combat at every opportunity. Only time and others can judge my success.
I gave this speech for my benefit in completing another goal as a Toastmaster while using it to recruit others to my case. I hope it inspires you as well.
Bigger than me
By Richard Roy
A grandfather and grandchild were walking the beach at low tide. Stranded starfish lay along the shore, dying in the morning sun as far as the eye could see. The little girl ran from one to another, stopping just long enough to stoop, pick it up and fling the starfish into the surf. The grandfather asked, “Child, what are you doing?” “I’m saving the pretty starfish gramps.” “You can’t possibly save them all,” he pointed out. Stooping to pick up another, she pitched it to the sea before replying, “No, but I made a difference to that one.”
Today is the day for an uprising, a revolt, the day to buck the system, today we change the very fabric of the culture of FCI Oakdale. From this day forward, those who wish to espouse a doctrine of hate are no longer acceptable. Today we make a difference.
Man is not inherently good.
This statement is contrary to what we want to believe. We are told by media, ministers, motivational speakers and mama that deep inside each of us we want to the right thing. This concept is so ingrained into our society that we assume it is common knowledge. So why are our prisons full and growing daily? If humans are inherently good, why we are so surprised, inspired even, by such a basic idea as Oprah Winfrey’s “random acts of kindness?”
I submit as evidence of man’s base instinct – the man sitting next to you. That man, when left to his own devices, took the low road. When he was unsupervised his mind wandered. When darkness fell, he used it to his advantage. When technology advanced, he perverted it. When others craved to feed an addiction, he filled it.
But, you may say, these are learned behaviors. Really? Who taught the toddler to say, “I dunno,” when mom asks, “who broke the vase?” How does the youngest of our offspring know to assign blame to anyone other than himself when confronted with overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Why is bullying rampant in our schools?
Think Bigger Than Yourself
With all this self-centeredness built into our nature, we must work at thinking bigger than ourselves. Most parents are able to encompass their children in their circle of caring without too much effort. Beyond that, though, requires work.
Deep thinkers have recognized the need for “looking out” for thousands of years. But the concept often makes us uncomfortable. Take, for instance, the “Golden Rule:” Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In the seventies we saw the bumper sticker: Do unto others, then split. Another cynical aspect is: He who has the Gold, Rules.
The following, philosophies embrace the golden rule.
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul the apostle wrote, “And do not forget to do good and share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Sacrifice? Doing good is so hard for humans that the most prolific writer in the New Testament calls it a sacrifice? And don’t forget? We have to tie a string around our finger just to remember to do something good for someone else?
In Buddhism, the Law of Karma states, “If you do good, good will return to you.”
The prophet Mohammad taught, “What I want for myself is what I want for my brother.”
The Roman statesman Seneca said, “This is the law of benefits between men; the one ought to forget at once what he has given, and the other ought never to forget what he has received.
These great thinkers believe it a basic necessity of life to think bigger than ourselves. To do any less, mankind threatens to hate itself out of existence.
The second law of thermodynamics states that order slides into disorder. The human equivalent is a teenager’s bedroom. The parent picks things up, washes clothes, organizes the closet and makes the bed. Within moments of the teen entering this ordered space, chaos descends. It is only with the application of energy – parent, teen, maid – that order is reestablished.
In our personal lives, the application of energy is required to restore harmony between people.
Accept responsibility for your own life
In the book Good to Great the author interviews the owner of a highly successful manufacturing company. The author wants to know what sets this operation apart from the competition. The owner points to the wall overlooking the manufacturing floor.
“See that glass in the wall? When things are good: Profits up, expenses down, quality exceptional, that glass is a window. The credit belongs to the people doing the work. I never forget they are the reason for our success.”
“But when a glitch occurs, that glass becomes a mirror. The problems belong to me. But guess where the solution lies – out there. The solution to the problem is in the hands of those who know the process best. It becomes my responsibility to draw the answer out; encourage input and provide resources to effect change.”
You are the CEO of your life. You own the outcome of your actions. Give credit for your successes to those who deserve it. You know how to read? Thank a teacher. You’ve written a stellar business plan? Thank Mr. Edwards. But when life happens and you find yourself in prison – look in the mirror, then give yourself the resources to change. Your best resource is your attitude.
I don’t have the courage
We all fear rejection. Humans are social animals. As such, we desire the company and approval of fellow humans. Many of my decisions in life were rooted in the desire to please others: Spouse, children, bosses, co-workers, subordinates and even total strangers.
The perception of peer pressure is a powerful force. Humans will fall in line, often against our will, because we perceive compliance is what our peers demand. But what if those around you are simply waiting for you to take the first step.
The reality of our situation is we are in a physical prison. Our bodies are incarcerated in an extremely negative environment. Many around us feel the need to enforce compliance to their negative world view. I’m going to let you in on a secret: They’re scared.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Hatred is often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate. And hatred is also a great anodyne for shame.”
Now is the time to start a revolution! A revolution against hate and fear. A revolution of courage against peer pressure.
I started attending Miracle Place Church after I was arrested. Like many of you, I sought answers to why I made the decisions I did. At one week night service I arrived early to pray. Alone, in my corner at the back, I silently pleaded for a sign that my prayers were heard.
“God you know I don’t take hints very well. So please don’t ‘suggest’ my family and I will be okay; Let me know for certain that you have heard my prayers.”
A frail 84 year old woman named Ms. Dorothy knelt at my feet as I sat in my chair at the end of the service. She put her hands on either side of my head, pulling me forward until our foreheads were touching. In a firm voice she said, “I don’t know what this means but God says he heard you the first time.
Courage to break the norm. Courage to take the first step. Courage to approach a stranger to deliver a message of encouragement. Do you have the courage of an 80 year old woman? Need more encouragement? Let’s look at the health benefits of social contact.
The Donner party is a group of men, women and children, some married, some single, some family, some strangers just along for the ride. In the early 1840’s they became stuck in the Mountains due to early snow storms and bad advice. By the time members of the party managed to reach help, more than half the party had died. The survivors had resorted to cannibalism.
Critical analysis of this tragedy reveals the following from the book “The Indifferent Stars Above.”
“Male or female, those who traveled with a large family group had a better chance of survival than those who were on their own. This is in keeping with other studies correlating survival with the size of social networks. Scientists are not sure why this effect takes place. Theories point to better sharing of critical information and scarce resources, better mutual aid in emergencies, better emotional support, and the possibility that the immune system is physically stimulated by close proximity to loved ones.”
Imagine that, being surrounded by people who like you increases your own chance of surviving hardships. If you are too timid to reach out to another person for their benefit then do it for yourself. Build your base of friends, your social network, to improve the quality of your own life and advance your own longevity.
Want more health benefits?
Doctor Caroline Leaf states in her book “The gift in you:”
“There is a massive ‘unlearning’ of negative toxic thoughts when we operate in love. The brain releases a chemical called oxytocin, which literally melts away the negative toxic thought clusters. So that rewiring of new non-toxic circuits can happen. This chemical also flows when we trust and bond and reach out to others. Love literally wipes out fear.”
“Dopamine works with oxytocin. It flows as we expect and anticipate something. It gives us a thrilling surge of energy and excitement and confidence and motivation to carry on. Then when we experience what we anticipate, endorphins and serotonin are released that make us feel great.”
Dare to be different
Whom do you admire? Michael Jordan of sports? Jack Welch of business? Steve Jobs of technology? Warren Buffet of investors? Dr. King of civil rights? Gandhi of social change? Why? Because they dare to be different.
Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you are trying to create.” You must dare to be different.
It is not enough for us to talk about the ignorance of prison mentality. To change prison thinking we must live the change. Each of the leaders I mentioned weren’t elected to their role. They dared to be different in their respective fields. They saw a better way and made the change. They led the way out of the trap of “group think.”
I once had a battalion commander shut the door to my office and plop down in front of my desk. “Roy,” he started, “when you look at 2nd Battalion, they are always at the top; physical fitness, marksmanship, unit readiness reports, always number one. Others are always shooting at them, trying to tear them down off the pedestal. On the other hand, if you are always at the bottom then people look down at you and wonder why you’re so messed up. I think it’s important that we aim for the middle. Not the top, not the bottom, but in the middle where we don’t draw any attention. Understand? I’m glad we could have this talk.”
He walked out of my office leaving me to meditate on the mysteries of mediocrity. I got his message. I had pushed my soldiers hard to be the best. I wasn’t satisfied with sloppy seconds. I wanted to be first. His philosophy was to aim for mediocrity. Once you fight your way to the top its hard work to stay there. He did not have the will to be different.
There is a fable of a weary traveler that wandered into a village one evening. There in the center of the village was a pit filled with warm sewage. Thirty or forty people were in the pit with the filth up to their chins.
Unable to believe his eyes, the traveler got too close to the edge and fell in. Immediately he clawed at the sides of the pit doing everything he could to get out. The nearest villager shouted, “Calm down, you’re making waves.”
Is that where you are today? Happy in your warm pit of filth as long as nobody makes waves. Or do you have the large pair of solid brass orbs necessary to be different.
Don’t wait for the wizard
In the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” each member of the traveling party had something they desired: The cowardly lion – courage, the Tin man – a heart, the Scarecrow – a brain. Dorothy just wanted to go home.
In the end, each member of the Oz party discovered they already possessed the desires of their heart. All they needed to do was exercise it. The Lion didn’t need the wizard for his courage. It was in him the whole time. Likewise, each of you possesses the ability to influence the life of another person on this compound. Don’t wait for the Wizard; make a difference today.
Like Dorothy, we all desire to go home. The men in this room have already taken positive steps to make that transition a success. When I leave these meetings I feel good about our futures. I know I’ll take a lot of lessons learned with me, as will you.
However, what we take with us is not nearly as important as what we leave behind. Will this compound be a better place for you having been here? Or will you have made no difference at all. Like a canoe slipping across a still pond in the early grey fog before sunrise: minutes after you’re gone there is no memory of your presence.
So set goals to make a difference. Like the little girl and the starfish, maybe you can’t make a difference in everyone’s life, you can make a difference to one.
When you walk into a restaurant you don’t say, “bring me some food.” Instead, you are very specific – you pick exactly what you want from the menu.
Right now I want you to set a goal to do one act of kindness before you get back to the unit. Introduce yourself to someone and make a concerted effort to remember their name. Then call them by name when you see them around the compound. Hold the door open for someone and let them go ahead of you. Give a legitimate complement to someone you don’t ordinarily speak to. Now set a goal for everyday this week. Every day, make the effort to be a difference maker in someone’s life.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of California – Riverside recently completed a study called “Kindness counts.” One of the things the study showed was that participants experienced significantly increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction after one month of documenting three acts of kindness per week.
But when compared to a control group, who documented three pleasant places they visited per week, those who performed and documented their acts of kindness were liked and accepted to a greater degree by their peers. On average, they gained 1.5 friends during the four week period.
Dale Carnegie is quoted as saying, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Need Help? Try one of these
– Write a friend to say that a song or movie reminded you of them.
– Shut up and listen
– Help carry the trash out
– Give someone a book that had meaning to you
– Tell someone about the qualities you admire in them
– Introduce someone to another of your friends
– Hold the door open
– Write a letter to someone you admire telling them how they touched your life
– Let someone go ahead of you in line
– Clean out your locker, give unused stuff to someone else
– Smile, make conversation
I noticed a relatively new guy to our unit had not quite integrated after a couple weeks. He sat by himself, rarely conversing with those around him. I was even witness to a tense exchange of words between him and the medical staff.
I used the incident as an opportunity to start a conversation with him. We walked to dinner together, ate together, and walked back together. At my cell we parted ways. I observed him make it about halfway through the unit, turnaround and walk back to where I was standing.
He stuck out a hand the size of a Virginia ham. As I attempted to shake it he said, “Thank you for having dinner with me.”
I looked into his eyes well over a foot above my head and could see a difference had been made in the life of one starfish.
Make today the turning point; the riot of 2013. The day the BOP will come to recognize inmates instituted positive as the norm, rejecting negativity as acceptable.
I finish with a quote from Dr. Seuss:
You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own and know what you know
And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.