Prison is a State of Mind…

Archive for August, 2011


Dear Rilen,

I am writing you this letter but am also going to publish it on my blog on the internet so it can be shared with others.  I will also make copies of it to send in the mail to the men and women who write GOGI seeking help in their journey toward internal freedom. This story may eventually find its way into a GOGI book of inspirational messages, as well.  The story I am going to tell you is actually a dream I have had; a recurring dream, one which has played over and over during my sleep, as if calling me to somehow find a resolution to the desperate helplessness I experienced under the circumstances of the dream’s events.   I know you will understand the dream, as you have experienced a similar life experience to that of the girl in my dream.

It is early morning in my dream. The sun has not yet crept over the hills in the distance.  I am a little girl, no older than 8 or 9.  By the way I am dressed and the buildings, the horse-drawn carriages, and the women with the bonnets and big dresses, it seems in the early 1800’s. Maybe it is Ireland as the people are fair skinned and the landscape lends itself to images I have of the terrain of Ireland where my ancestors lived before immigrating to the United States.

The dream takes place in an active village with possibly thousands of residents; a large enough place for a child to escape being seen, if so desired.  While the buildings and people are clear in my mind, the dream starts from an isolated prison cell. It is me in the prison cell, a little girl locked away from the village she can only witness from a small window a few feet above her.

I am very aware of how I came to this place and I am not angry as much as I am desperate; powerless and anxious.  My tattered clothing and matted hair are of no consequence to me.  I care very little about the filth on my knees or the dirt under my fingernails.  I don’t see the smudges on my face, nor do I care about the remnants of sleep in the corners of my eyes.  The ripped and torn dress I am wearing is brown, not because it was made from brown fabric, but for the three years which it has been on my body, it has never been washed.  I am hungry, but I do not care. I just wish my stomach would shut up so I could think more clearly.

The fact that I am an orphan does not bring tears to my eyes, as that is the least of my concerns.  I didn’t cry the day they died and have not cried since. It is not as if I am cold, it is just that tears serve no purpose. The week will die, only the strong will live.  I will not cry about being locked in this cell, either, but a sense of anxiousness and desperation is overpowering to me and I want nothing more than to rip off the bars and jump through the window onto the street below.   I have always been able to fix problems, but here I am, locked away and trapped.  Still, I will not cry.

My little brother needs me.  He is not strong, not nearly as strong as me.  He is tender, like my mother; too tender for his own good.  He was born sickly and was only two years old when momma was killed.  It’s been up to me to care for him. I am his mother now.  He is too trusting and too vulnerable.  I have to watch him all the time or he is spotted by people who approach us wondering where our mother is. I am his only protector, the one who has kept us alive for what seems to be a lifetime. At night I soothe his tears with gentle humming, like my momma used to do.  And I hold him in my arms and gently rock him until he falls asleep.  When he sleeps, I leave our secret hiding place and I go find our food for the next day.

It is easy to find food if you know where to look. When the shops are closed and everyone has gone into their homes for the night, it is in the rubbish bins in the back where you can find the freshest and widest varieties of delicacies thrown out by the shopkeepers who must offer fresh goods to the morning’s customers.  If I get there right after the shops close and before the others come to scavenge for food, I can return home in just a few short minutes.  If I am late, or the supply is short, I must look elsewhere for our sustenance.

On this particular night, there was not a morsel of food to be found behind the shops.  I had arrived too late.  But, if I ran quickly, I could get to the back of the bakery before the carts left and take a loaf of bread, which would feed us for a couple of days, at least.

I am a fast runner, but more than fast, it is important not to be seen.  I am really good at moving unnoticed. Three years of practice has nearly perfected my skills.  Grabbing a loaf of bread was not a problem. It felt warm in my hands. I tucked it behind my back into the waist of my clothes and suddenly felt the firm grip of someone stopping me dead in my tracks. My heart started to beat wildly.  I looked up to see the red face of an angry man.

“You little thief,” he said with a tightening grip that hurt my arm. The bread dropped to the ground and I was led away.  That was how I ended up in the block building with the window overlooking the village as it came to life.

Was my brother awake, yet? Was he crying?  What was I to do?  What would happen to my little brother?

With all my power I moved one of the blocks near the solid wood door over to the wall just under the window.  If I tippy toed and used the bars to pull myself up a bit, I could see the street outside.  I would raise myself up until my arms gave out, looking onto the street to see if I could spot my brother.  Until night fell, I repeated the same effort, pulling myself up to see if my little brother was looking for me.

That was always the end of my dream.  The helplessness was a profound feeling which permeated my thoughts long after I awoke.  Over and over in my mind I thought about that dream, the hopeless circumstances for the little girl and her abandoned brother.   For years this dream bounced around my head and heart during my sleep and my waking hours. And it always created the same feeling of hopelessness and desperation.

Every time I thought about this dream there was no sense of wishing things different.  I didn’t spend time wishing the man outside the bakery didn’t catch the little girl. I didn’t wish that her parents had escaped being killed. I never even considered the possibility of the little boy being stronger.  I never wondered what life could have been like for them if only a nice lady in a pink hat would have found both of the children three years before.  The fact is, the dream was the dream and their appeared to be no option or resolution to be found.

Today, however, while I was closing my eyes and thinking, thoughts of the dream came to mind.  I played out the dream in my mind, the moving of the stone, the grasping onto the cold bars to pull myself up.  In my dream, I had always imagined that I was in solitary, locked away from the entire world.  To me, there was no one in that room but me.   As I sat and considered this in my quiet and contemplative state, I decided to expand the possibilities beyond the limits of my dream’s reality.   In my mind, I saw the little girl lowering herself from the window.

“Come on now, Dear,” the woman’s voice said.  “Your little brother is not going to be wandering the streets.”

As I turned and took a seat on the stone, I could see the other people in the room.  A warm and tender woman, who had addressed me was not the only person there.  There were some men, and even a few children about my age, some even younger.  I was not alone.  There were others, just like me, locked away for breaking a rule we had no choice but to break.

In my awaked state I wondered what would have happened to the little girl if she had the ability to use the Twelve Tools of GOGI?  WHAT IF I was her? How would I use those tools to find internal freedom? I began to LET GO of the urgency to escape.  I began to FORGIVE my mother and father for dying.  I began to CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY for remaining calm.  I began to do my BELLY BREATHING, which gave me increased level of internal power.  I acknowledged that I was BOSS OF MY BRAIN and I could control my thoughts and reactions to anything.  When I started to drift back to desperation I would acknowledge the emotion for no more than five seconds then move on to a new productive thought as I used my FIVE SECOND LIGHTSWITCH.

I chose POSITIVE THOUGHTS, POSTIVE WORDS and POSITIVE ACTIONS as I observed and began to converse with the other individuals in the holding cell with me.  I considered the WHAT IF, realizing that any one of these individuals might be able to, or might know someone who might help me save my brother.  When I felt my heart heavy and sensed water try to make itself into my eyes, I would have a REALITY CHECK and acknowledge that being in the room with others was far more advantageous than being locked away alone.  And my ULTIMATE FREEDOM came when I was able to comfort another one of the children who began to cry.

As I thought about the dream and of a possible ending, I considered a Christian Bible teaching that states that when we do something to the lowest of individuals, it is as if we are doing that very thing to God.  When the little girl turned her attention to the good she could do, not the good she wanted to do, that opened the way for more good to occur.  She could not directly impact her brother’s wellbeing from inside the wall, but she could positively impact the life of an individual seated right next to her.  If she tended to those she could assist, who is to say that the favor would not be extended to her loved one?

WHAT IF one of the individuals who were being held in the same cell was released that evening and they went to the secret place and found the young boy?  What if the young boy was fed and washed and cared for until the return of his sister?  By focusing on what she could do with the situation before her, and by being of good service to others, the girl was creating the possibility of magical outcomes.

I don’t think I will have the dream of the little girl in the prison cell anymore.  I think the message is clear.  I am to do what I can with the situation at hand.  I am not to be concerned with things outside my window, things I can not directly impact positively at this exact moment.  And while I may feel powerless in certain areas of my life, I can also create the possibility that the favor of kindness is extended to the things which matter in my life as I tend to what matters in the lives of others.

Love,  Coach Taylor


What’s Your Personal Prison?

As GOGI continues to expand and earn credibility as the cost-effective and replicable solution to the failure of our jails and prisons to “correct” the behavior of 2.3 million law-breaking citizens, I am being asked to expand the GOGI message beyond prison cells into the boardrooms of our Nation’s leaders.  This coming month, as the founder of Getting Out by Going In (GOGI), I will speak to hundreds of inmates one week and have the opportunity to address an equal number of tuxedo-clad men with their sequined-adorned counterparts the following.

Speaking to prisoners is easy and natural for me.  I have done it for a decade; choosing only to speak after sufficiently listening to their needs and combining their desire for information with my studies in psychology and spirituality.  As I prepare for the task of sharing the “GOGI phenomenon” with those gathered over a chef-prepared meal delivered by underpaid waiters, the question arose in my mind, what could these very different audiences possibly have in common?

The prisoners are individuals tucked away by the courts for not playing nicely on the playground of society.  The other audience has full advantage of all that society offers and can be found tucked away in trendy vacation spots, adorned with expensive clothes and jewelry as they temporarily get  away from their finely appointed hilltop homes. How could these two audiences have anything in common? And what could I possibly say which might touch the hearts and souls of both groups of individuals?

For the answer, I consider the obvious.  Prisoners are oftentimes poor, undereducated or inadequately raised. Each of these men, women and children behind bars seek their physical freedom, as if walking beyond the wall would eliminate every problem they had ever experienced.  On the other side of society are those individuals with their physical and financial freedom intact who seek a different kind of life experience, one which they believe comes through their careers, their increasing number of possessions or prescription drugs and a 5 o’clock drink.   As diametrically opposed as they may seem, both groups of individuals are laboring with the same prison, the external search for internal freedom.

In a very real way, each of us suffers from our own self-imposed prison.  I say self-imposed because how we respond to life’s inevitable unfairness, inequity and misfortune is the determining factor in our level of personal imprisonment.  And it is through my work with tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals over the past decade, I have come to realize that prison is very much a state of mind, rather than a place, a situation, or a condition imposed upon us by any person other than ourselves.  What’s more, the personal prisons created by physically free individuals are oftentimes as debilitating as those created by someone behind bars.

The Twelve Tools of GOGI were created over the period of a decade through listening to the incarcerated; listening to their life experiences, their excuses, their reasons and eventually their resolutions to create something better for themselves and their families.  Through many pat-downs and countless trips behind the heavy prison doors, the Twelve Tools of GOGI were developed by me and the inmates to aid any individual willing to explore a new kind of freedom; GOGI’s path toward internal freedom.

The Twelve Tools of GOGI are: LET GO, FORGIVE, CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY, BOSS OF MY BRAIN, BELLY BREATHING, FIVE SECOND LIGHTSWITCH, POSITIVE THOUGHTS, POSITIVE WORDS, POSITIVE ACTIONS, WHAT IF, REALITY CHECK and ULTIMATE FREEDOM. It is through the application of these inmate-developed tools that I have personally witnessed the lasting transformation in the lives of individuals who had given up all hope of living a “normal” life.  The freedom now experienced by Teri, a GOGI Graduate and certified GOGI Coach who once lived under a freeway in a drug-induced stupor, far exceeds the illusion of freedom of some of my most financially successful private practice clients.

As I prepare to be heard by the tuxedo-filled rooms of our Nation, I realize the message I offer to the elegantly-dressed is the same message I offer individuals wearing State-issued blues.  We all seek a freedom which is only found within.  What we wear, what we drive and where we wake up each morning is insignificant if we do not have the ability to turn within to realize our freedom.

As GOGI continues to prove that even the most difficult changes are possible, it is my prayer that this positive culture, this organic self-help virus called GOGI can spread out beyond the cells of our prisons into our Nation’s board rooms as well as our children’s classrooms, creating the possibility of internal freedom in the lives of all men, women and children… incarcerated or not.

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