Prison is a State of Mind…

FORGIVE is Freedom

Are you ready for freedom?

In my work with our nation’s 2.3 million men, women and children locked away in prisons and jails, I have witnessed the transformation of lives to such a degree that I might have considered them miracles, had I not also participated in the individuals’ ability and then choice to apply simple positive decision-making tools to their lives which led to the miraculous change. When tools for positive decision-making are learned and then applied, miracles seem to emerge on their own and quite naturally, like a single wild flower in a barren desert landscape.

This type of miracle, the transformation of an entire life, is not so much divine intervention resulting from hours of solitary prayer in some jail cell but, rather, a natural result of making consistent choices. Somehow, when applying simple tools for positive decision making for a sustained period of time, increasing numbers of men, women and children experience freedom from the seemingly never-ending Loop of Harm which has plagued their lives and perpetuated additional injury to themselves and others.

I have witnessed these life-changing “miracles,” these little wild flowers blooming in the desert, in my role as founder and executive director of Getting Out By Going In (GOGI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the teaching and sharing of tools for positive decision making we call the Twelve Tools of GOGI. My life is spent in the barren environments of our nation’s prisons and jails. My life’s calling is to share twelve simple tools for positive decision making which are designed to help anyone, anywhere, get out of their own mental prison by going inward for the answers.

My work with GOGI has consumed a decade of my attention and dedication. And, as a result of meeting with tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals, and after listening, strategizing, and then teaching and empowering, I can say with great certainty that positive change is neither as difficult as we perceive to obtain nor is it challenging for us to maintain. What keeps us tethered to pain in our lives is the Loop of Harm, reliving the thoughts, words or actions which have failed to get us better results. This Loop of Harm, which feels so real, which causes so much pain, is actually nothing more than an illusion, a cloud of disempowerment which obscures our view of the vast levels of freedom available to any living being, incarcerated or not. The Loop of Harm can be eliminated with one simple tool: FORGIVE.

The Incarcerated Understand the Loop of Harm

No other group of humans has caused more harm or had more harm thrust upon them than the incarcerated. In our nation we have 2.3 million men, women and children who sit in tiny cells in prisons and jails scattered in every corner of the country. I have listened to their histories, their childhoods, their crimes, their addictions, their excuses, their reasons, their regrets, their sorrows and their resolve to make things right. With a majority of our incarcerated emerging from neglect, poor parenting, poor education, lack of supervision, abuse, abandonment, mental health challenges, and self-medicating addiction, our nation’s incarcerated have taught me a thing or two about FORGIVE.

In working with those who have the most to FORGIVE, or the most to be forgiven for, I have had the opportunity to look more closely at the components of the process of FORGIVE, as those who seek forgiveness and those who forgive are oftentimes the first individuals to break the cycle of the Loop of Harm. I have observed the lives of individuals who live in the Loop of Harm perpetuated by the cloud of self-injury called guilt, remorse, blame, shame, insecurity and hopelessness. These individuals re-live the harm over and over again, at the expense of creating an environment for healing. This does not mean it is appropriate to avoid feelings of guilt or remorse; what it means is that at a certain point, the Loop of Harm must come to an end and the feelings and actions of the individual must move beyond the harm to a more positive and productive state. Even in experiencing or causing the most unforgivable act, FORGIVE will put an end to the perpetuation of additional injury to self and others.

Forgiveness is not FORGIVE

Here is what I now understand through conversations with convicted criminals (which make up the most prevalent conversations I have held over the past 10 years): There is a difference between “forgiveness” and the GOGI tool FORGIVE. Forgiveness is a concept which is oftentimes hard to grasp while the GOGI tool FORGIVE provides specific actions which lead to forgiveness. Until we have the tools to move beyond the harm, until we can move into action with forgiveness, we are caught in the Loop of Harm, perpetuating injury to self and others long after the initial injury. Putting an end to the Loop of Harm is what happens when FORGIVE becomes a set of actions.

Here actions related to the GOGI tool FORGIVE:

1) FORGIVE REQUIRES PROTECTION – Getting distance from the injury.
2) FORGIVE IS ABOUT TIMING – Obtaining an adequate level of experience and learning beyond the injury.
3) FORGIVE STOPS THE HARM – Achieving a disconnection from injury.
3) FORGIVE IS FREEDOM – Creating decreased likelihood of similar injury and increased levels of service to others.
Let’s look at each of these four actions steps individually:


FORGIVE cannot occur while one remains close to the possibility or experience of harm. Here are a few examples: A mother wants to help her son who has a meth addition, but every time the son comes home, the contents of her purse somehow end up missing. The mother tries to follow her religious belief and be a woman of forgiveness, knowing forgiveness is something she believes is important. She tries over and over again, but she keeps getting hurt, financially and emotionally. He promises he will stop and he does for a week or two, but he then vanishes in the middle of the night for a few weeks with her money, a piece of jewelry and one more chunk of her heart. This illustrates the critical key to FORGIVE. FORGIVE cannot happen for as long as the harm is still occurring. In fact, the mother is actually perpetuating and participating in the creation of new harm by attempting to FORGIVE without first securing adequate protection. The mother must have adequate protection from additional harm before FORGIVE should be undertaken.

Here are a couple more examples: A young girl cannot FORGIVE an abusive neighbor for as long as the neighbor has the potential to continue the abuse. And a boy cannot FORGIVE a bully at school for as long as the bully is perpetuating the harm. FORGIVE requires protection—protection from immediate injury to self or others.

But FORGIVE is not just about being out of harm’s way.


Age is often the determining factor in the timing aspect of FORGIVE. This is because during the years of our youth we experience many things for which we have no protection or from which we cannot protect ourselves. The beauty of aging is that there comes a time when we are no longer automatically the victim because of our size or dependency on adults. Even if we have caused the harm, age permits us the time and the ability to choose to strengthen ourselves beyond our injurious behaviors. Timing allows us to use learned and naturally occurring competencies and coping skills to FORGIVE.

Here are some examples. Rilen is spending the rest of his life in prison for committing a murder. In working with him to help him make better decisions in his life, he revealed that his father locked him in a dog cage outside of the house for many years of his youth. The treatment and abuse which were wielded upon this young child are truly unspeakable. When working on the GOGI tool FORGIVE he stated that until he was able to LET GO and FORGIVE, he continued to live in that cage. Only when he could FORGIVE was he set free from the cage of his abuse. FORGIVE freed him from the cage in his mind which could have existed long after he was released.

Another prisoner who I will call “Sally” was placed in a deep freezer by a stepfather who had burned her body with the ends of his cigarettes while forcing unthinkable sexual acts upon her. Her inability to FORGIVE kept her locked in to that abuse, causing sleepless nights, a lack of trust in all men and overuse of drugs to self-medicate. She could not feel “safe enough” to permit FORGIVE to free her. She remained trapped in the Loop of Harm and her entire life played out as if she remained in the deep freezer.


The most challenging aspect of harm is reconciling the fact that the person causing the harm seems to move beyond the harm with no problem. They leave you in the Loop of Harm and simply move on, creating other loops for other victims. The injured person may even sustain more injury as a result of the person’s callous ability to simply move on. The Loop of Harm is exacerbated when the person causing harm smiles, threatens, or pretends nothing happened.

Here is a real-life example: For his entire childhood, a man suffered at the hands of his father. Beatings, drunken rages and verbal abuse were commonplace. The son eventually succumbed to the drinking he so hated in his father and lived out a couple of tortuous decades becoming the very thing he hated. On the father’s deathbed the son said, “Dad…I FORGIVE you.” This was a big step for the son who had committed himself to a life of sobriety and moving beyond the horrors of his childhood. The father, who showed a moment of lucidity for the first time in several weeks, clearly stated, “Forgive me? Forgive me for what? What did I do? I didn’t do nothin’.” The father denied, until his dying moment, that he had inflicted harm of any kind. By acting on FORGIVE, however, the son was released from the persistent harm caused by the father, even though the father left this world believing he was guilty of nothing. If the son had gotten angry that his father would not accept responsibility, the son would have been thrust right back into the Loop of Harm and may have returned to the behavior he was struggling so diligently to overcome.

Later, the son reported that FORGIVE did not need to be a two-way street, nor did his father need to correct his behavior for FORGIVE to work. FORGIVE was the only way the son could get himself out of the Loop of Harm. FORGIVE was the only way to stop additional harm, irrespective of the participation of the other person.

FORGIVE works because it automatically stops the pain and instantly removes you from the position of victim. For as long as you do not FORGIVE you agree to play the part of the victim in the Loop of Harm. When you FORGIVE, you are no longer the victim in the Loop of Harm.
FORGIVE does not mean the harm did not happen. Rather, FORGIVE means you no longer agree to be the victim of the harm.


Freedom from something provides us with freedom for something else. But, for as long as we participate as a victim, we cannot be free to be anything else. Some people might argue, “But, my entire life was ruined because of it. How can I not be a victim?” But what happened in the past is not the question. The question is, are you ready to out of the Loop of Harm which has been directing your life? The individual in the center of the Loop of Harm might reply, “But my entire life will be spent in prison because of my drug use. I can’t FORGIVE myself.” To that person, I would suggest that for as long as they wish to remain in the Loop of Harm, that is how long they will be a victim of their actions. If that is for the balance of their life, then they will exist in the Loop of Harm for the balance of their days.
Some of the most internally free individuals I have ever met will live the balance of their lives behind bars. They have made the conscious choice to not have their previous actions limit the service they can provide to others. They have decided that no matter what they have done, they want deeper and deeper levels of spirituality or religion; they long to be of service and put an end to the destruction of their community.
Even if we are the most persistent perpetrators, and even if we have wielded great harm on those we love, FORGIVE can provide a level of freedom which allows for great purpose in living: the purpose of being an example of the level of freedom which can be attained through service to others. Here is an example: At 17, a young man participated in the shooting murder of a rival gang member. He was sent to prison for the rest of his life. For as long as he behaves, thinks, and acts like a murderous gang member, he is not only perpetuating the harm he caused, but he is causing greater harm by perpetuating similar actions through his example. When he can FORGIVE himself, he can become an advocate for change, a teacher of the youngsters who falsely believe in and follow their gang mentality. Until he can FORGIVE, he continues to perpetrate harm on his community. When he removes himself from the Loop of Harm and no longer participates in the harm in any way, he then becomes part of the solution.

Putting FORGIVE into action items places the responsibility where it should be: with you. Forgiveness is a nice concept, but until it is broken down into do-able steps, it is a concept which often eludes us, causing us to sometimes feel inadequate or weak. FORGIVE, however, when used as a cognitive tool for healing, gives us four critical actions we can take to prepare ourselves for the freedom we can achieve from any atrocity we have inflicted or which has been inflicted upon us. In fact, most incarcerated individuals have a Loop of Harm filled with abuses they experienced before they became the abuser or the person causing harm. Regardless of how big or powerful your Loop of Harm may be, to act on FORGIVE and get out of the Loop of Harm is an option. Remaining in the Loop of Harm is a choice we can make, but it is not the only choice. And FORGIVE is the GOGI tool you can use to unlock the prison of your mind.

According to the GOGI Calendar, 2012 is the Year of FORGIVE, a year of focusing on the great power inherent in the freedom which comes from no longer participating in the Loop of Harm.

Is FORGIVE a tool you are prepared to use as you create the experience of this New Year? Here is the test. Just ask yourself the following four questions:

Am I in harm’s way, or is there a chance I may still cause harm if I attempt to FORGIVE?
Do I have enough information and am I strong enough to FORGIVE?
If I am no longer the victim, what am I? What might I become, if I am no longer a victim?
Am I prepared for the responsibility freedom provides or is it easier to remain in the Loop of Harm?
When you have the answers to these questions, you will know what must be done to free yourself. This new year is yours to create. FORGIVE can provide you with a ticket off the Loop of Harm, a freedom which will permit this year to be the best year yet. Are you ready?

For individuals interested in FORGIVE, here are some questions for you to consider and actions for you to take:
1) FORGIVE REQUIRES PROTECTION – Getting distance from the injury. IS FORGIVE RIGHT FOR YOU? When considering if you can FORGIVE or not, ask these questions: “Am I in harm’s way, or is there a chance I may still cause harm if I attempt to FORGIVE? Is there protection from future harm?” These are the most critical questions to ask when embarking on FORGIVE. If you can honestly say that you are not in immediate danger, then FORGIVE will work for you. If you do not have protection, it is your opportunity to seek and secure protection so you can begin to FORGIVE.
2) FORGIVE IS ABOUT TIMING – Obtaining an adequate level of experience and learning beyond the injury. IS FORGIVE RIGHT FOR YOU? If you are considering FORGIVE, the question you can ask is: “Do I have enough information and am I strong enough to FORGIVE?” If the answer is “yes” then FORGIVE will work for you. If you do not believe you have the strength or new learning which you can depend on, then FORGIVE will not work. You must first learn more and be strong enough to believe you can avoid similar harm. If you are not strong enough, do what it takes to gain strength. If you do not have enough new learning, you can do whatever it takes to increase the knowledge you have.
3) FORGIVE STOPS THE HARM – Achieving a disconnection from injury. IS FORGIVE RIGHT FOR YOU? If you are considering FORGIVE, here is a question for you to ask yourself. “If I am no longer the victim, what am I?” Sometimes remaining a victim is a subtle permission for you to be less than your potential. Does remaining the victim provide you with something to think or talk about? Does it provide you with a legitimate reason not to be successful? Or happy? More often than not I find that the Loop of Harm, or consistently ruminating over a previous abuse, is a grand excuse to remain disabled. Is that what you do to yourself? “If I am no longer the victim, what am I? What might I become, if I am no longer a victim?” These are your questions in the process of FORGIVE.
4) FORGIVE IS FREEDOM – Creating decreased likelihood of similar injury and increased levels of service to others. IS FORGIVE RIGHT FOR YOU? If you are considering FORGIVE, you can ask yourself this question. “Am I prepared for the responsibility freedom provides or is it easier to remain in the Loop of Harm?” If you can accept the responsibility inherent in freedom, then, by all means, FORGIVE yourself and others. If you are not prepared for uncomfortable levels of responsibility which are inherent with freedom, then do whatever you can to prepare yourself through study, prayer, service and practicing tools for positive decision making.


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