In today’s episode of Healing From Within, your host Sheryl Glick, author of The Living Spirit: Answers for Healing and Infinite Love welcomes John Wareham, author of How to Survive A Bullet to the Heart: Secret Lives and Uncensored Confessions of Maximum Security Prison Inmates. Wareham shares profound observations of maximum security inmates who share their emotional and intellectual journeys from the moment of their crime and other realities of incarcerated life in poetry and prose during his thirteen week course that leads them to acquire deep levels of self-understanding and social awareness.
John will explain how he became inspired to teach prisoners and created the program called “Taking Wings” which he started eighteen years. The program is aimed at keeping inmates from returning to prison. We will find out much about the emotional damage, imprisoning beliefs and self defeating behaviors and the illusion of autonomy that not only affect those incarcerated in our prison systems but when understood can help everyone to navigate their individual challenges assisting them in making better choices for daily living. John is also the author of Secrets of A Corporate Headhunter, The Anatomy of a Great Executive, and How to Break Out of Prison. Other fictional works include Chauncey on Top and The President’s Therapist.
John, who has a human resource practice which selects and develops corporate leaders created The Eagles Foundation in 1996. As an unpaid volunteer for the program, Wareham regularly presents his innovative course for rehabilitating prisoners in New York prisons. According to Wareham his programs help inmates see issues that made them prisoners and gets at the roots of what holds us behind as individuals. Students’ low recidivism rate is unrivaled.
Sheryl wonders how as a highly successful leadership consultant, he was inspired to work with maximum security prison inmates. John writes “One of my three sons got himself incarcerated as a result of a drug problem. I was asked to give a talk to a prison class and then invited back and never stopped going. I did it because I see lives change quickly and dramatically. In no other pursuit have I been able to effect radical changes..”
Sheryl says ,”So you are good at it and it is very rewarding to you…sounds like a calling or spiritual gift you were born to discover and to develop this involves being responsible and conscious of interconnecting with others and being of service for the highest good of all. I believe we all have a life plan, guidance from Universal source and destiny and following our path leads to a win -win situation for everyone…In my book The Living Spirit, I help the reader gain a clear understanding of energy as a universal connecting source for improved health relationships and prosperity. Learning to play the game of life knowing the rules of Universal energy such as the Laws of Attraction, Love Prosperity and Relationships allows us to transcend our personal challenges, change mindsets and alter past limiting patterns of belief and behavioral systems.”
John says he never felt his life was in danger while working with these men.. He says “Never in a US prison…first day in a class..any class whether corporate executives or prison inmates there’s usually someone who wants to look like a big guy by attempting to pull down the presenter. As a former debating champion I handle it diplomatically sometimes by being firm but often by being kind or amusing. They are usually very intelligent so I make it a point to win them over and most times I succeed. The audience is usually on the side of the presenter and want you to tame potential troublemakers.”
Sheryl wants to pay attention to the three words John used: firm…kind or amusing as good tools for interconnecting with any audience or in any personal interaction as we know all people want to be appreciated and loved moving past any discomfort or pain to pleasure and happiness and from fear to love.
John then says how working with female inmates are more challenging then male inmates. “Female inmates are harder to help because of hellish lives outside of prison. Most of them are single mothers and more dependent rather than independent and fall into crimes of addiction. Self-reliance is not easy for them and they tend to be needy, angry and have come from less supportive home environments. Men in prison get visits from mothers wives and lovers…Women in prison seldom get visitors at all.”
John mentions Carl Jung and attributes some of the success for the Taking Wings program to his philosophy and integration of spiritual understandings into his treatment plans. “Carl Jung says the patient only begins to get well (a) when he understands his predicament, and (b) can see a way out of it. The Eagles program brings out the hidden predicament and helps them understand the underlying forces that brought them there in the first place. We show how these self-defeating behaviors—the nature of which is hidden by the illusion of choice. The inmate thinks he made a choice to commit a crime, but in fact, since he could conceive of no other option none was available. Only when he acknowledges that he was not in charge of his own life, does the way out of the predicament become clear.
She wonders how does Taking Wings differ from other prison arts programs? John says other programs teach anger replacement therapy and focus on creating helpful skills such as cooking, carpentry computers and resume writing. They do not teach that the prisoner was himself a victim. They often have a religious bent and wag a parental finger to instill the idea that the inmate consciously chose to do this criminal and ghastly action.. The Eagles program begins with the suggestion that no matter what you did, you were not at that time responsible for your actions. We show through a structured set of readings over 13 weeks exactly why this is so and what can be done to become a productive law abiding citizen.
Sheryl reads one inmates poem that reflects this very idea:
by Richard Moore
In the moment of my arrest
I was embarrassed and ashamed,
So I tried to point the finger,
Needed someone else to blame
Had to find my true self
and an honest friend
for truth to unfold.
It’s a lonely world with no one to trust
and also very cold.
Sheryl asks John how does he approaches a class of inmates and do they take the class voluntarily? John says it is effectively a self-selecting class and they come on their day off from other responsibilities-the day they are allowed to relax and do what they want. If they don’t like the class they don’t have to stay I approach everyone as an equal. I explain that I would like to share some ideas that might be helpful and that their ideas are as important as mine. I insist on being called John and they don’t always get that and call me Professor. The class is usually more demanding than they anticipate. John distributes How To Fly, a challenging book of life changing discussion readings that he has taken from major thinkers and philosophers .
Sheryl Says she often has coincidences and common themes to share with her guests. When Sheryl reads the name of the book John uses in the class How To Fly she immediately thought of a children’s book that is mentioned in her newly released book The Living Spirit. It is the story of a little penguin who wants to fly like the birds but being a bird of the land, he is not able to accomplish this. One night, Santa’s sled lands in the middle of the lake and this little penguin is able with courage and fortitude to bring it to land…because of his intention and immediate action Santa is able to resume his journey and the penguin is rewarded by Spirit who sends 10 birds to lift him up so he could fly with them. Like the inmates who have only dreamed their dreams without knowledge of how to achieve them the bird was able to accomplish his greatest desire when he accepted the help of others.
John says participants in the class are required to deliver a poem and a speech every week and the poetry side of the equation encourages for authentic feelings no matter how politically incorrect so that the hidden and unspoken wounds can be set to healing.
Here we are talking of multidimensional healing…spirit mind and body.
When you have a prison record finding a job can be a soul destroying process: even if you succeed the wages are likely to be poor. Better to forget about finding someone to give you a job and to think instead of harnessing your own talents to create an income stream. Ex Love animals..become a dog walker etc.
Inmates encounter many problems and these problems vary according to the length of incarceration and to the extent to which fundamental credentials are in order…drivers license, Social Security Card, Medicaid, food stamps etc. Beyond that is a sense of urgency to catch up for lost time. Family members may also be unrealistically demanding at this time expecting the offender to be immediately productive and not aware of the many stresses and challenges to begin life in the outside world.
John’s thirteen week class helps prevent them from returning to prison. Those who have been released tell me what affected them most about the 13 weeks was the feeling of immersion in an intense collegial experience and that being treated as rational thinking equals and being encouraged and trusted to share academic discussions of big life altering ideas and to engage in parliamentary debates and to deliver poems of their own creation changed the ways in which they saw the world and the tone and content of private conversations they later shared. They said upon release they felt a sense of inner liberation and were imbued with a greater sense of their own worth talents and people skills.
Sheryl asks John what issues lead to sending people to prison and how do you get them to see a way out of their predicament? John says as a society, we need to value rehabilitation above punishment. We need to select first class corrections officers and then incentives for their actual effectiveness which can be tracked by the amount of taxes eventually paid by ex offenders in the 3 years following their release and then award bonus to those correctional facilities and the staff.
Sheryl says “It sounds like many of the themes expressed in my new book The Living Spirit: Answers for Healing and Infinite Love. As sensory and energetic physical beings the impressions and energy of the physical world imprint upon our hearts and minds causing us to develop many fears and limitations affecting or limiting the choices we make and our interactions with others. It is only by developing our inner personal power and spiritual awareness that we come to respect and love ourselves as both spiritual and physical beings and are then able to forgive our own mistakes and those of others to learn to allow and accept each person’s life path and destiny without judgment or blame and to see life as a miraculous journey of the soul..no matter what the challenges… our attitudes are the only means to change and adapt so we may ultimately find health prosperity and love of life.
How to Survive a Bullet to the Heart helps those who may have been wounded or disappointed by their early start in life often dealing with lack of enough resources to provide trust safety and faith that they could survive and thrive in the physical world.. It is only fear or lack of knowledge that leads many to make poor choices. It is by education and respecting each person that we may all come to forgive the pain of any past hurt to the soul and psyche and perhaps that is the reason we have chosen a physical life. For more information please go to John and Sheryl have offered a sensitive look at a problem which affects us all. If we don’t provide adequate support and love for all our citizens we will have criminal consequences. The lofty mission of the Eagles Prison Program is to help maximum security prison inmates to share their journeys from innocence to criminality, arrest to bewilderment, conviction to incarceration, despair to hope, defeat to victory, vice to virtue and lawlessness to love.
As John writes “Enlightenment is that a fuzzy idea or what Taoists say that to be enlightened is to be in harmony with the Universe. Christians say it’s about being reborn and putting away childish things. My own take is that it’s all about waking up and getting real. Too many people sleepwalk through life. They think they’re making their own choices but they are not. Psychologists call that the” Illusion of Autonomy.” From childhood onwards these sleepwalkers bumble through life mindlessly reacting to their upbringing and environment. In fact, your upbringing and environment denied you any other option. You could conceive of no other choice and so for you none existed.” No matter what happened to you along the way, and no matter your crime, the Self at the center of your being is perfect. It is the calm eye in the eye of the storm. No matter the hurricane about you the center remains calm.”
John and Sheryl would hope that as we all begin to realize the forces and influences of our modern world and the needs of our inner soul life we will remember what we knew as children in our hearts and learn again to trust ourselves and to know that often choices are made karmically or instinctively and mostly without full awareness of the consequences to ourselves or others..The hope is always in forgiving and helping to rectify and improve all conditions so we may all claim our destiny as divine souls having a physical life while beginning to draw on our personal powers for health prosperity and love… doing harm to none, and sharing the possibilities for creating miracles and hope.
Guest: John Wareham