The Mirror

by Timm, Think Tank Member

“Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it.  But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people”    -Albert Einstein

I heard someone say, “The person I see when I look into the mirror is not the person I thought I would become!”  When you look into the mirror do you see the person you thought you would become?  Do you see a person who you would want as a friend, a spouse, a child?  Do you see a person that you could rely on in a time of need?

When we look into the mirror to see our physical appearance we do what we can to fix any imperfections; we comb our hair, wash our face, brush our teeth etc.  I am not talking about the physical; I am talking about the person that lies beneath the exterior.  We can all walk around with a mask on pretending that we have it all together, and that we don’t have any imperfections on the interior.  However, in reality, we know that there are changes we all can make.  The difficulty is that most people are actually afraid to take a close look at what lies beneath their physical appearance.  They live their superficial lives and never reach their full potential.

When I started looking at myself in the mirror I saw a lot of things that I needed to work on.  I had to come to the realization that my every action affects people in my life in either a positive or negative way.  This was very painful to think about, especially when I think about how my children’s lives have been affected by not having a father while they were growing up.  I myself grew up without a father, and I swore that I would never allow my children to go through the same thing.  When I realized this, I decided that I had to do something, even from prison, to be a positive influence for my children.

I started by writing them and encouraging them to set goals for their future, and I always tell them that I believe in them and that I love them.  I had to come to a point in my life where I knew I couldn’t change the past, but I could change my future and the effect I have on people who I come in contact with.

I would encourage everyone, including myself, to take a long hard look into the mirror and see where we can make some positive changes.  In order to make these necessary changes, we will have to be willing to step out of our comfort zone and make a personal effort.  When we do this, it will have a major impact, first noticed by ourselves, and then it will be noticed by our family and friends.  Actually it will affect our community as a whole.

The next time you look in the mirror, ask yourself “is this the person I want to be?”  If not, take the necessary steps, small as they may be, and make some changes.  Everyone you come in contact with will be thankful that you had the courage to look into the mirror!

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Goals

by Timm, Think Tank Member

When we were teenagers most of us had a goal for our lives.  Some of us wanted to be doctors, lawyers, firemen, etc. I believe that some people had actually set positive goals for their future, but something or someone made them lose sight of their goals. Then there are some people who just lived their lives for the moment, not caring about setting any kind of goal.  If we fall into one of these categories, it doesn’t mean that we have to give up on life. We can still set positive goals starting today that will help us create a successful future.

Setting goals starts with small steps leading to an ultimate goal in mind.  You can start with what some people call a goal ladder–each step of your goal ladder brings you closer to your ultimate goal in life. I believe that we are all the architects of our futures. In other words, what you do today will mold and shape what lies ahead in your future. We need to get to a point in our lives where we no longer settle for second best; we need to realize our potential and set goals accordingly. Success comes in many different ways.  It is not always monetary; it can be physical, mental, or spiritual.  However, to be successful in any of these areas of our lives, there has to be goals set in place.

While setting goals for your life, don’t set yourself up for failure. Start off with small goals for each day.  Write them down and cross them off as you accomplish that goal. At the end of each day, look back at your list and give yourself some credit. If there is a goal that you were unable to accomplish, add it to your list for the following day and keep on moving along. What you will see happening is a real sense of achievement and pride that will gain momentum. Then you can start setting some longer range goals for your future that will help you reach your highest potential in life!

Setting positive goals is a choice only you can make for your life. I believe that there are so many people out there who have yet to reach their potential in life, but whatever you do, don’t think you your life has passed you by. Start today with goals that will mold and create a positive and successful future!

The Ripple Effect

by Timm, Think Tank Member

Everything we do in our lifetime will and has had a ripple effect on our current destination and all of those involved.  When the phrase “ripple effect” is spoken of it usually has a negative connotation that goes with it.  But I have seen both positive and negative ripples in my life.  Depending on the action, a ripple may only extend for a moment, but some ripples will extend for a very long time.

When we were conceived by our parents, the ripple effect of that decision brought about us!  Then depending on how they raised us, they still have a ripple effect in our lives.  Of course as adults, we have made numerous choices as children and adolescents that we now see the effects of—and like I mentioned, some negative, and some positive.

Self-reflection is something I believe that everyone should do.  Look at how the choices we have made are affecting those in our lives.  Are they positive ripples, or negative ones?  When a person does this with complete honesty—after all, lying to yourself is insane—then he or she will be able to make some necessary changes that will send out positive ripples into the world they live in!

When I did this, my eyes and heart were opened to all of the ripple effects I have sent out to my family, friends, and the world as a whole.  I am always doing my best to make sure that my actions and choices are going to send out a positive ripple effect.  Of course I am not perfect, but my making a conscious effort to send out positive ripples has changed my life immensely.  My past is something I want to learn from, and we all have the ability to send out positive ripples to those around us; it boils down to choices!  So before you do anything, take that brief moment we all have and say to yourself: “Is this action going to have a positive or negative ripple effect?”

Born to Die in Prison

by Khan, Think Tank member

The great poet Tupac Shakur, in his song called “Dear Mama,” once asked, “Who’d think in elementary, heyyy, I’d see the penitentiary one day?”

Every time I hear that verse my mind begins to race.  I’m reminded of reading a study that says over a lifetime, about one in five black men born since 1965 will serve time in prison.  Indeed, black men are now more likely to go to prison than to graduate from college with a four year degree.

I’m reminded of a study that suggests that a child of one incarcerated parent has a greater likelihood of being incarcerated than graduating from high school, and greater still if both parents had been incarcerated at some point in the child’s life.

When I hear that verse, I’m not only reminded of those statistics.  I’m reminded of myself, as an elementary-aged child of an incarcerated father, as well as the thousands of children of incarcerated parents throughout this country—an estimated 53,000 reside in Arizona alone.

I was conceived and born in prison.  Both of my parents were incarcerated at Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution, in 1977, where they met.  It was a co-ed prison.  While men and women were housed separately, on each side of the prison, it did not deter my father from meeting my mother and ultimately impregnating her.

As an elementary-aged child, I was aware of the fact that I was conceived and born in prison.  I was aware that my mother had been incarcerated and I was well aware that my father continued to be incarcerated.  We lived in Vacaville, California, which was home to Vacaville prison.  We routinely drove by the prison and each time I would watch the men in blue on the yard and wonder if I would, one day, be one of those men.  “After all, both of my parents had been in prison!” I thought.

The few times that I remember visiting my dad in prison was behind glass.  “Was he too dangerous to be around me?” I thought. (To my knowledge, my father never had a “dangerous” crime.  He had non-dangerous crimes due to a heroin addiction that he obtained while serving in the Vietnam War).

The absence of a father plagued me daily.

Thinking of him as a dangerous criminal, who was too dangerous to touch me, worried me.  “Am I like my father?” I wondered.  Despite my mom continuously telling me, whenever I did anything that remotely reminded her of him, “You’re just like your father,” I’d ponder: “Who am I?”  Question after question filled my young mind.

As an elementary-aged child, I remember telling myself that I wasn’t going to be like my father.  I wasn’t going to be in prison.  I was going to be there for my children.
As an elementary-aged child, I remember that anger that I felt when I couldn’t do the things with my father that fathers do with their sons.  I remember that anger turning into pain once I realized that my dreams of my father coming home to be with me were just that…dreams.

“Who’d think in elementary, heyyy, I’d see the penitentiary one day?”

When I hear that verse, I think that it’s a shame that children of incarcerated parents are faced with the stress of the same questions and uncertainty that I had in elementary.

When I hear that verse, I try to recall when I stopped asking those questions.  I try to remember when the uncertainty turned into not caring.  But alas, I don’t know these answers just as I never found the answers in elementary.

I was conceived and born in prison, and, at the age of twenty-one, I was sentenced to die in prison.