Research Paper By Ana Tampanna
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
In 1982, I married a handsome soldier, an army recruiter. His three young sons showed up for our wedding in play clothes, their hair shaggy and unwashed. They returned to their mother afterwards, who had also remarried. I felt relieved, thinking they were “handled.”
When each boy was 16, he was removed from the mother and her husband and placed in our home with a day’s notice. I hardly knew what to do with teenaged boys who had no goals, manners or plans for education. I was preoccupied with a toddler of my own, and soon another baby.
In 2001, a horrendous tragedy took the life of 2 people, leaving two of the stepsons imprisoned with 3 life sentences each. The third son was imprisoned a few years later for an unrelated, but deplorable crime. All three in prison.! Now what? Do we write them off? Forget they exist? People hated them.
As I entered the coaching field in 2005, I struggled with my conscience and the need to interrupt a pattern of addiction and abuse in the family I married into. At first, I decided to write them…to be someone who at least cared. Then I discovered bits of their former lives growing up. Like many incarcerated people, they had each:
- Been molested as children,
- Experienced poverty, with very little supervision,
- Had no role models for education, parenting, or healthy lifestyles,
- Were raised in a home of alcoholism and abuse.
This was difficult to understand…and my husband seemed resigned himself. Then in a counseling session, I realized that he had been raised in a similar environment, and didn’t know that it wasn’t normal! I felt a new compassion and understanding.
My communication has been limited to writing. Some prisons have video communication. Phone calls are extremely costly. There is a service where I can email my letter and it is received within 48 hours, or so I’m told. Their response is mailed by USPS and takes a long time to receive. I began sending books. Just maybe, they might read them. I expanded my own ability to forgive, as the crimes were heinous and sending money and books were a stretch for my generosity. My letters were greatly appreciated, since I was the only one writing. Two of the three responded immediately. Then, I shifted again, and decided that if there were anyway possible for them to find a purpose in prison, then that’s what I wanted to cause. Again, they responded. Inside of my own transformation, I decided to be their REAL mother….committing to their well-being, recognizing their years of neglect and hurt, and being a stand for purpose, inner peace, and forgiveness.
This has been a journey. I have searched for resources and organizations that offer programs for the incarcerated. I have sent letters with some family chitchat and a lot of straight talk and reflective questions. I sent lists of values one stepson created two lists of top values: one list before prison, and the other list inside prison. I have made their spirituality a priority, encouraging them to do yoga to relieve back pain and find inner peace at the same time. They gave me feedback: as my coaching studies increased, the tone of my letters changed. I listened better, they said. I absolutely know in my heart of hearts that incarcerated people can develop themselves, and grow mentally, spiritually, and even physically. I am actually proud of the progress of two of these stepsons. The third is deeply depressed, but still responded when I sent him the Hawaiian Forgiveness Prayer, Ho’Oponopono: I’m sorry, Please forgive me, I love you, I thank you.
In this paper, I am sharing:
- An actual letter from one of the stepsons, which demonstrates our relationship,
- Outside resources, including organizations, coaching programs as well as TED talks that specifically target the incarcerated population;
- And finally, some of the results of this long-term commitment to make
personal development possible.
I deeply believe that all people have a right to grow, discover, and expand who they are. Forgiveness and love are powerful tools. Our broken system needs coaches, not jailers.
1. Actual letter from a Texas prison after 15 years of incarceration
((I’m honored that he requested permission to call me “mom.”)
I love you. Please don’t feel bad about not sending me a Valentine’s Day card. The reason that I send you one is not so I’’ll get one back. It is because you are always there for me, and hey, it is just another reason to send you a card telling you how special you are to me.
What books that you sent were the most useful to me? The ones that inspired me were about great people. (Desmond TuTu, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, etc.) From their stories, I gleaned hope for my future and all of the possibilities awaiting me. Obviously the yoga magazines and books have been very useful to me, as I have used them to build my daily practice. I have also been able to encourage others to begin a regime of physical activity that will provide them with benefits throughout their life. Most of the self-help books and some of the spiritual material have helped me to trouble-shoot the inconsistent part of my personality and thought patterns.
(Enneagram, Loving What Is, Pema Chodron.) In fact, it was the new age bent of many of them that made me so interested in eastern religions, and that is where my deep inner examination took place.
I probably didn’t help you narrow the list down, but I don’t think I could if I tried. Believe it or not, the books that you sent always come exactly when I needed them most. You were somehow able to get a feel for what I needed through our continuing correspondence, and then sent it. I dare say that it was the letters and wishes of non-stop love and support that were about as useful and beneficial as all of the books and magazines combined. Knowing that there is a person outside of these hard, cold walls that truly loves and cares for me is priceless. You could send a person all of the books in the Library of Congress, and they wouldn’t get as much benefit from them as they would a steady diet of truth, loyalty, and love. Resources are nice, but it truly is the thought behind the gift that really counts.
…There’s one thing I know I have learned throughout the years: tell a person what you want and need from them, and stop expecting them to read your mind. Even if you don’t get your desires and requests, at least you’ll know that they clearly understood you. That is something that you and I have been doing for a while and the growth in our relationship has been exponential. I hope you feel the same.… I love you, Mom. You and the rest of the family are in my daily thoughts, and I always hope for the best where you are concerned. Love, R
To romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery, and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite. Novalis
The boys had not been raised in a church until they lived with us at age 16. I sent books that were fairly basic books on the concept of grace and a variety of Christian books, to find out what might “stick.” I also sent books on meditation, Buddhist books on finding peace, and books on yoga. It is no surprise that one of the boys chose to study Eastern Religion as there was a lot available at his prison on the topic. He also developed a disciplined practice of yoga and the Eastern Religion seemed a connection for him.
My husband sent sudoku puzzle books as well as books on Scrabble. The son who wrote the letter above is now unsurpassed as the Scrabble champion at his facility. Anything that can help with self-esteem is good, we think. All three boys have valued a subscription to the Yoga Journal. Yoga can be practiced in a cell, improves any physical condition, and becomes a tool for inner peace. One requests a subscription to the National Geographic, a great window to the world.
The books included biographies of remarkable people devoted to human rights, books on self awareness, spirituality, understanding co-dependency, listening, forgiveness. “Unlocking Your Family Patterns: Finding Freedom From a Hurtful Past” by Carder, Dave M. is a recent gift that made a real impact on the son whose letter featured in this paper. I have sent Byron Katie’s work and other great coaching resources. I will include a book list at the end of this paper.
All three sons received spiritual books, yoga, and some light reading (Robert Fulghum, whom they love.) Note: it is not uncommon for a prison to suddenly send a person to live in another dorm or transfer them to another facility. Our son was permitted to only take what could fit in a milk crate. I hope the many books I’ve sent found their way to the prison library.
3. Outside Resources
Of course it depends on where the prison is located and what is available in the area. Ever state, and every prison has different resources. One of the most important people in a prison system is the chaplain. Overwhelmed with their jobs, they are they key person on the lookout for inmates hungry to learn or develop themselves. Here are a few examples of what is out there. Similar programs might exist under a different name.
- New Leash on Life- this is a program in which dogs that need rehabilitating are matched up with inmates. The inmates are carefully chosen, and trained in how to train dogs. The gift for them is having a responsive animal who demonstrates unconditional love. This is deeply rewarding and miracles seem to happen for both the dogs and the inmates.
- Insidebooksproject.org- this group and others like it send books to prisons; they are overwhelmed with requests, however.
- TED Talks: especially Alice Goffman, Dan Pacholke, David Dow, Shaka Senghor, Ismael Nazario, and TEDx in Prison; (these are for the parent, or coach, rather than the inmate, of course.)
- People of the Second Chance- A Collection of Creativity, Art and Design
- Prisonsmart.org- Stress Management and Rehabilitation Training sponsored by International Association of Human Values
- ProjectNonViolence.org – this is real transformational coaching! It exists in only a few states, and coaches are highly trained individuals. The curriculum involves several months of coaching and projects.
- Conviction Yoga- this is a yoga practice by a lawyer named Jim Freeman. He goes into various prisons in the outlying areas of Texas. He found my stepson and gave him some private training in exchange for his help with classes.
- “Seven Habits on the Inside”- an extensive program by the FranklinCovey Foundation using Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, plus videos and a curriculum. Although it is expensive, this is a powerful program that has proved successful in reducing recidivism. I interviewed a graduate after his release and am very impressed in the thinking and behavioral patterns he chooses to commit to. He is employed, involved with his daughter, and engaged in a faith community with his wife. I support this program in the prison system where I live.
- Penpals- I did introduce a former college classmate to my stepson who loves to read and write. The friend, a psychologist, believes in non-violence. I encouraged him not to discuss “the case,” but to share his life and thoughts, giving my stepson a totally different perspective from mine, and a thoughtful man’s point of view.
4. Results and achievements in prison:
My stepson, “R,” has had outstanding achievements while incarcerated. Here are a few:
- He is THE unsurpassed Scrabble Champion
- He teaches health, Preventon of Sexual Assault, Communicable Diseases, Eastern Religion, Literacy, and GED training;
- He has a small group that practices public speaking;
- He wrote and performed a comedy skit;
- He was chosen as a mentor in a new faith-based dormitory, where he no longer sleeps in a cell, but enjoys a cubicle and a support group of 7 other “mentors.” They are “listeners” for the other inmates.
- He was chosen out of hundreds of other inmates to be one two “reporters” who writes about prison life for a prison paper.
The other stepson received job training as an electrician and heating and air in prison. He is now one of 3 maintenance men for the entire prison and keeps the prison shop running well. Also, he:
- Saved a man’s life
- He teaches “Safe Sex,”
- Was chosen as the men’s basketball coach! (His team came in second, and he was extremely proud of their good sportsmanship!)
- Has been granted a college “scholarship” in horticulture pending the availability of a seat (other inmates who will get out soon get the first seats.)
Considering that none of these men grew up with extracurricular activities, or experience in organized sports, or anything creative or social, I am really proud. I have witnessed their growth over and over. I have been acknowledged, appreciated, loved, and forgiven. It moves me to know that one of them experiences deep peace inside of his meditations on a daily basis. They are polite, self-expressed, and generous. They have made beautifully crafted gifts, and used their precious, small vitamin allowance to mail them to us. There is goodness and tenderness inside of all of them, regardless of their crime, and the missing integrity. We now have discussions on what integrity is and what happens when it is missing. I can truly say that their development has become a deeply meaningful gift in my life. I am so grateful for coaching as a tool for reaching them.
I am preparing myself to participate in the Project Non-Violence coaching program which exists in 3 or 4 states and is run by highly trained “volunteers.” In the meantime, I support a transformative program run by the county prison ministry.
I am closing with two of the scores of inspiring quotes that my stepson ferrets from some amazing source to end each of his letters:
He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. Friedrich Nietzsche
Treat a person as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat him as he could be, and he will become what he should be. Coach Jimmy Johnson
Addendum: Books sent to prison
The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times by Robert Morgan
Yoga For Dummies
Be Free Where You Are
Hanh, Thich Nhat
Unlocking Your Family Patterns: Finding Freedom From a Hurtful Past
Carder, Dave M.
The Wisdom of Listening
The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation
Hanh, Thich Nhat
Radical Self-Forgiveness: The Direct Path to True Self-Acceptance
Tipping, Colin C.
Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own
Way Carson, Rick
The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others In Your Life
Taming The Tiger Within
Hanh, Thich Nhat
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Covey, Stephen R.
Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life
True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart
Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom
Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion
Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Thich Nhat Hanh
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (Shambhala Classics)
The Upside of Fear: How One Man Broke the Cycle of Prison, Poverty, and Addiction
It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It
Your Erroneous Zones: Step-by-Step Advice for Escaping the Trap of Negative Thinking and Taking Control of Your Life
Dyer, Wayne W.
A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
King, Martin Luther
Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha)
Gandhi, M. K.
Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl, Viktor
Letters and Papers from Prison
The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr: Selected Essays and Addresses
Reinhold Niebuhr, Robert McAfee Brown
2 of Long Walk to Freedom: With Connections (HRW Library)
Barefoot on Holy Ground: Twelve Lessons in Spiritual Craftsmanship
Road to Intimacy: Beyond Codependence
The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary