Prison is a State of Mind…

Posts tagged ‘Prison’



Relief is my consuming emotional experience at the dawn of this New Year, a relief that instantly settles my entire body, my mind, and my heretofore ever-restless spirit.  One decade ago, the GOGI journey was embarked upon as a desperate attempt to feel a little better about being alive.  I wasn’t caring much for the whole “life experience” thing and was desperately and frantically seeking something, anything that might change my mind about getting my departure ticket off these school grounds as quickly as possible.

            GOGI was born of my desperation, but also of my unwavering willingness to listen to those whose physical situations were deemed by others to be less desirable than my own.  While I had physical freedom, the people I was serving with my volunteerism were in prison.  Logic would say I had something to tell them and sound advice to offer. After all, I had earned two Masters degrees and a Ph.D. and was an ordained minister among a dozen of other certifications and accomplishments.  Surely my book smarts would aid them in their struggle to play by the rules, the logic went.  But the opposite was the reality; the more I listened to the prisoners of our nation the more my questions were answered and the more meaning was found within the spaces between my frantic paddling.  Slowly but surely a change occurred within me, an incremental alteration of the accumulation of tendencies leading to an alternative life experience, one of internal freedom.


Ten years and 100,000 bits of knowledge later, GOGI, has reached its own tipping point, or that place where it is bigger than my desperation, bigger than my hopeless situation, and bigger than any one person’s life experience.  As a byproduct of my journey, GOGI is officially an alternative culture for the 2.3 million men, women and children in our nation who, through their poor decision making skills and poor choice of peers, have found their home address to be a governmentally-funded gated community. 

            Relief.  Relief is what I feel.  I do not need to check off this planet because it is a sucky place to live.  It’s a sucky place for anyone who does not have the tools with which to make positive decisions.  Armed with the positive decision making tools I learned while listening to our nation’s prisoners, I have come to realize this is a pretty cool planet on which we live and there are constant creative choices that can be made by me. I now know I am the boss; it’s my life experience and I can be proactive and positive in my thoughts, my words and my actions and this will alter my entire life experience.   I can be free if I continue to use my positive decision making tools I learned while Getting Out by Going In. So, best I can, I continue to share the extent of what I have learned up until now in the hopes of lightening the load of someone right behind me on this path.  Maybe by sharing the steps on my journey, I might speed up their internal processes toward internal freedom and they will be inclined to do the same.


A decade of practice and application of the GOGI Tools for positive decision-making has made way for a capacity within me to BE the very essence of GOGI, Getting Out of my own prison by Going Inward for the answers.  Life has become a daily automatic execution of the tools beyond much exertion of energy.  The pattern of positive decision-making has become the very essence of who I am, and, therefore, being on the planet is a pretty cool experience.  I can paint any picture for my life with my choices and perceptions.  What a relief not to leave this planet thinking it is a failed experiment. And this relief comes from the GOGI tool of LET GO, whereby I can LET GO now of all effort to cling on to the old.  I now experience the illusive freedom that I endeavored to find for so long. 


At the sharing of my life’s milestone, my daughter said, “Finally.  Now I won’t have to listen to 24/7 GOGI.”  The relief in her voice is palpable.  We are both relieved.  I am sure my friends will be relieved to get the new and improved version of me back into a more social environment. When I was talking GOGI, it irritated family and drove friends to find other companions.  Now I no longer need to talk about GOGI but I simply “am” GOGI and the world is unfolding with harmony and kindness at the foundation.


Note to GOGI students:  Don’t stop talking GOGI until you truly become GOGI in your every thought, your ever word and your every action.  The repetition of learning and teaching and learning and teaching is at the core of your success.  At that time, at that critical 100,000 bits of learning and tenth year of your dedicated study, your “being” GOGI and consistency of living The GOGI Way will resonate so loudly you won’t need to say a word.  Ultimate freedom is there, between the words and between the seconds of time, if you keep Getting Out by Going In. Image


The GOGI Way

After answering a barrage of questions at recent prison workshops, I decided to add an introduction chapter to the next GOGI book I am writing.  The contents below make up the contents of that chapter….

Getting Out by Going In (GOGI) is the name for a nonprofit, volunteer-driven group of citizens who believe that humans can, and do, make positive decisions when their desire for change is combined with positive decision making tools. But Getting Out by Going In is not just an organization. Getting Out by Going In is also something you can do; turning inward for your answers and getting out of your old prisons.

The Unlimited Power of the Human Mind

At its very core, when Getting Out by Going In (GOGI) is in action, it acknowledges and supports the unlimited power of the human mind to change, to grow, and to create opportunities as well as create obstacles. GOGI, as an organization, is dedicated and committed to teaching simple tools that help a majority of individuals to make better decisions. That is what GOGI does; helping anyone, anywhere make better decisions through use of the Twelve Tools of GOGI.

As much as GOGI is a set of twelve simple tools for positive decision making, GOGI is also a perspective and very much a way to look at your life. The GOGI Way is one which has the ability to empower you to Getting Out of old behavior by Going In for the solutions. GOGI believes that if you take your focus off the problems around you and focus you efforts to fixing the problems within you, you will magically realize there are fewer external problems. By turning your focus inward, you will also identify simple solutions to those seemingly out-of-control problems which once kept you up at night or caused worry during the day.

The GOGI Way empowers you; it creates an opportunity for you to experience freedom, regardless of where you awake each morning. The GOGI perspective is about seeing the world with the knowledge that you can always make a positive decision, even in the most negative of circumstances.

What IS The GOGI Way?

This idea of “The GOGI Way” has people confused. They question if GOGI is a “program” or a “religion” or a twelve step or a club of some sort. GOGI is none of those things. Rather, GOGI is a way of seeing the world in which you live. Just like there can be negative people who go to your church, there can be positive people who go to your church. GOGI helps negative people be more positive, irrespective of their church affiliation. Just like there can be people who succeed in programs and others who fail programs again and again, people who learn the GOGI tools seem to do a better job in their programs. Just like there can be anxious people and relaxed people, GOGI is helpful in getting people to relax.

GOGI is a way of looking at life which helps anyone be better at anything they choose to do. GOGI is similar to, and is consistent with, core human values which are at the foundation of all religions and efforts aiding in the improvement of the human condition. The simple tools taught by GOGI are intended to permit you to do your religion more fully, excel more completely in your programs, and positively unite members of your clubs or organization with a simple language to promote increased levels of positive decision making. GOGI is for anyone, anytime, anyplace, at any age.

WHAT IF The GOGI Way was taught to kids?

If taught to our school children, we are certain there would be more relaxed, positive, and productive citizens as these simple tools are the foundation of positively functioning in society. If each and every child was taught LET GO, FORGIVE, CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY, there would be less dropouts and childhood drug use. If each child was taught BOSS OF MY BRAIN, BELLY BREATHING and FIVE SECOND LIGHTSWITCH, we would have an increased number of children smiling as they sat in overcrowded classrooms. If each child was taught POSITIVE THOUGHTS, POSITIVE WORDS and POSITIVE ACTIONS we would have less bullying of our school children. If we empowered our youngsters with WHAT IF, REALITY CHECK and ULTIMATE FREEDOM, it is likely we would be turning our prisons into colleges and universities because we would be reducing our inmate population so drastically.

It is our belief at GOGI that simple tools for positive decision making are not to be withheld from anyone for any reason. All humans could have the ability to learn simple tools for positive decision making. That is what the organization Getting Out by Going In has set out to do; provide every living human being with the Twelve Tools of GOGI to increase their ability to make positive decisions. We began our work with the incarcerated men, women and children in the United States of America and we are expanding to include every man, woman and child before they create the prison which limits their life experience.

It is said that people who follow The GOGI Way seem to look happier, seem to have a glow about them and that they exude a happiness which comes from within. That is true. Happiness on the inside eventually finds its way outward. GOGI helps people be better people and the internal happiness this creates is inescapable. GOGI is not about polishing the outside, but, rather, empowering the individual to do a reconstruction project from the inside out. This internal happiness is true and right, and is not limited to a select group of individuals. You, too, can include GOGI into your daily life and being to reap the benefits of living your life The GOGI Way.

Can Something So Simple Really Work?

It’s curious to me that something as simple as a set of positive decision making tools can make such a profound difference in the lives of millions of individuals, but that is the fact. The GOGI Way is value added to your life, a way which values life and living and understands that much of your life experience is created within your mind. Through your use of the Twelve Tools of GOGI, you may find the ability to change your world, from the inside out. The best part of all of it is that The GOGI Way is just the way you need it to be to fortify you to become more than you could possibly imagine.

Will I Be Missed?

Earlier today photographer Amir Ali took pictures of me for materials needed to promote Getting Out by Going In as the emerging leader in providing self-corrective education for our nation’s incarcerated men, women and children. As I sat at my computer reviewing hundreds of headshots, I took a long look at the image of the woman on the screen. Rather than focus on which hair was out of place, or the telltale signs of aging around the corners of my eyes, I tried to put myself in a place one hundred years from now, as a distant relative who might stumble across my picture while researching their family lineage. I wondered what they would think about the image they saw. Would the photograph be so outdated that the viewer couldn’t see the depth of my soul or the clothing I spent so much time choosing? One hundred years from now, will the fashion be as drastically different then as it is from what my ancestors wore in 1911?

When I look at photographs, even those from twenty years ago, I spend less time looking at the individual’s face and more time musing on how goofy and awkward they appear. Their hair always looks awful and their clothing looks uncomfortable. Is that the reaction my image might conjure up in the mind of a viewer twenty years from now? Is that what will happen with your own photograph; the picture of yourself you hope will reveal the best image of you?

Each of us hopes to be remembered when it is our time to leave this earth, as if being remembered provides a link for us to linger on earth just a moment or two longer. In the big scheme of things, however, most of us get forgotten within a generation. Your grandchildren, if you have them, are likely to know very little about you and their children may know even less. Ask yourself, what do you know about your great grandfather? Which ancestor was the first to travel to America? Before that, who were your people and from where did they come? Do you know anything significant about their lives? Do you even recall the details of their struggles? Does anyone remember anything more than the general historical brush strokes defining the five or six decades they walked the earth?

The image on the computer screen before me is one of a woman in the year 2011. I see an image of a woman who has faced struggles beyond her ability and yet, somehow, she has overcome them. Will the viewer see that in my eyes? Will they know of my frustrations, my struggles, and the injustices I faced? Will they even wonder what my life was like, what I chose to do on a Saturday morning, or how great my heartbreaks have been along the way? Will they understand the poverty from which I suffered? The education I struggled so hard to obtain? The school loans which will weigh me down for another 25 years? Will anyone see that in the image?

It is inevitable that we all die. It is also inevitable that future generations believe they are so much more advanced than those previous. It is inevitable that our photographs become nothing more than something to laugh at and clothing to criticize. As we become erased from the world’s awareness within 50 years of our passing, what, then, is the importance of our life? Will it matter what car we drive? What home we call ours? The clothes we wear? Will it even matter where we awoke each morning? Will our affiliations and homeboys and neighborhood truly miss us? Who will mourn our absence? Will anyone visit our gravesite year after year?

WHAT IF the finest life we can live is when we focus all our attention on being of service to our immediate environment? WHAT IF our every day efforts were turned toward making wherever we are just a little more peaceful? A little more tidy? A little more friendly? WHAT IF our every day was spent in a little more prayer? Just one more minute of meditation? WHAT IF we sat up straight and walked tall with the knowledge that our life is occurring this very second, not tomorrow and not when we gain our “freedom.”
When I watched my father’s body shrink to the cancer consuming his healthy cells, I was a 24/7 witness to the slipping away of the  unimportant. The ability to drive his car, for example. When that became impossible, he reluctantly LET GO. When moving about hi s home with freedom and autonomy became impossible, he reluctantly LET GO. When sitting up in the bed became a multi-person task, he struggled but then LET GO. And toward the end, when mint chocolate chip ice-cream spoon-fed to him no longer tasted good, he LET GO of that, too. At the very end, it was only those seated by his side that mattered and, of that he had no choice but to LET GO. One by one he LET GO of all the things he had held so tightly. In those final moments I believe he came to understand that all he would be taking with him was what he created inside his head and his heart. Everything to which he had a tight grip for so many years was being left behind.

A realization we eventually face is that life goes on and memories of loved ones fade until they disappear with future generations.

Yesterday a family member asked, “When was this picture of Dad taken?”

“2008,” I replied, in full knowledge that in fifty short years no one will even know that the image to which he referred was that of my father.

Will I be missed when it is my turn to LET GO? We are all so busy with “things” we cannot take with us that it appears as if the only thing which is missing is the choice to be present in living each moment to the fullest. We are so busy trying to make our mark, gain our freedom, change the system, impress our families, reunite with loved ones, do good in the neighborhood, seek revenge, get an education, get a good job, and be the boss. We are so busy that we miss the point.

WHAT IF all these things are a distraction from the truth; that none of it matters more than how we respect and embrace this very moment of our life? WHAT IF we will not be remembered in fifty years and that is the just way it is supposed to be? WHAT IF it is not about our legacy as much as it is our willingness to be present with our current environment?

WHAT IF we stop the chatter in our brain just long enough to see the peace we can create in this exact moment? WHAT IF our mind was still enough to hear the sounds which make up our surroundings? Would we hear the laughter coming from someone in joy? Could we hear the cry of another in need? WHAT IF all the trappings of leaving a grand legacy or grabbing the most out of life or fighting for our “freedom” for twenty years is exactly what robs us of our opportunity for inner peace?

Sometimes we are so busy planning for the future that we miss the point of the entire exercise of being human. To experience life with the absence of struggle, we must slow down and find the inner peace which only comes through contributing positively to the life of the individual right next to us. When we place our attention to being an example of integrity, peace, calm demeanor, helpfulness, as well as understanding and support, then we are helping to guide the way of those with whom we come into contact.

Will you be missed when you are gone? The better question is who misses the best of us when we are not present? And, what might happen if we really paid attention to the life unfolding right under our noses? Whose life can we make just a little bit easier today through our POSITIVE THOUGHTS? Whose life can we impact with a POSITIVE WORD? What POSITIVE ACTION can we choose which might serve as an example for others to follow?

I suspect it is not so important to concern ourselves with thinking about family going out of their way to visit, or society making it easy for someone to get back on their feet. Those are thought- consuming distractions to the single most important aspect of life; when you are not being of service then the best part of you is being missed. When you are blinded by the illusion of importance of certificates or groups or politics or legal paperwork it is then that you miss the point. Ask yourself, of the people right next to you, how many lives have you made better by a simple gesture, an act of kindness? With whom did you share something without requesting something in return? Was the best part of you missed today?

In one hundred years I will be forgotten. You, too, will be forgotten. And all your friends will be forgotten. I promise you one thing; you will be missed about as much as you miss your great grandmother. But, you do not need to be missed in your life right now. When you choose to be present, the very best part of your life will not be missed by anyone.

No matter how impossible it may appear at the moment, each one of us can choose to be present in the lives of every living thing with which we come into contact. If we are not making that choice, then we are missing our finest opportunity.

As I close the computer file with the images of a woman I recognize as myself, I am reminded that with every moment I am not focusing on the present, I am missed. The fact is; images fade and lives end. The world continues to turn with an entirely new crop of humans who, with each and every generation, struggle to make their mark, all the while missing the point.

Being missed is what happens when we do not pay attention to the subtle details of our everyday life. What matters most in all our lives is not the great works we do, or the great wealth or power we accumulate, or the physical freedom for which we strive. What matters most is how keen our eye is focused on identifying and assisting those in need; those who suffer right next to us.

We are missed when we are not making our immediate surroundings more peaceful, pleasant, supportive and positive for those who find themselves in our presence. When we practice being present to those things within five feet of our reach, it is only then that our legacy is experienced in real time. Rather than ask, “will I be missed?” we can ask ourselves, “what part of life am I missing?”


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.

GOGI The Hawk: A Story of Getting Strong

A Story of Getting Strong
By Coach Mara Leigh Taylor
Getting Out By Going In (GOGI)

One advantage of the aging process is that, if you are mindful and pay attention, a purposeful life comes more clearly into focus. If your goal is wisdom and internal happiness, rather than fight against the sands of time, you begin to pay attention to the events and circumstances in your life, gently linking them to a subtle meaning of personal importance.
It is a shame this process of observing rather than reacting to life comes after a half century of trial and error living, but alas, this appears to be the process of the human existence for most of us. In hindsight, I would have benefited from listening to anyone who might have told me that the world around me was not my adversary but my greatest teacher. But, even if someone shared those words of wisdom, I was not interested in listening and probably would not remember their advice anyway. In my youth, I would not have thought much about the baby hawk which prompts me to share this story. Now, however, I can see how the hawk in this story is the story of all of us, if we are willing to look beyond the obvious and into the metaphor which unfolds in every event we witness.
This spring was particularly windy in the mountain area where my father made his home. When I relocated to his cabin to care for him during the final months of his life, I left behind one of the biggest cities and all the chatter which comes with millions of people living in a tightly packed area. Life in the mountains permits a person to really think about the importance of things and between the 300 year-old Ponderosa Pines and Quaking Aspens, there is an offer of mental space for those who wish to indulge in such organic pleasures. In the mountains you are subject to nature’s laws, not the laws of humans scurrying from one appointment to the next on over-crowded manmade freeways.
When the wind picks up in the mountain, humans close their windows and remain inside until Mother Nature’s temper tantrum is over and peace is resumed. For the critters of the forest, however, they must cling on through any adverse weather and fight for their very survival. After one terribly destructive windstorm which stirred up chaos in the mountains and ripped ancient trees from roots, a county-employed meter-reader came upon what looked like a dead bird on the side of the road. Upon further inspection, he noticed it was a newly hatched hawk, complete with baby hawk fuzzy feathers and a body that could be held in one hand. When the worker went to remove the dead carcass from the street, however, the little guy not only showed signs of life, but he struggled to get away, his instinct for survival was intact. Not knowing what to do with his new responsibility, the county worker started placing calls to find someone, anyone, who might help this prematurely nest-ejected bird with the strong will to live.
After a series of calls, the county worker was referred to the Mountain Man. Don has lived on the mountain more decades than most people have been alive. He raised hawks as a child and was sometimes referred to as “Poppa Bird.” Cutting the county worker off an unnecessarily long explanation, Don gave the county worker precise instructions on how to transport the little fella to his home. Prior to the arrival of what would be identified as a 3-4 week old infant Cooper’s hawk, Don created a “hack station”, which was a netted cage on the third floor porch of his A-frame cabin. This cage would restrict the hawk’s mobility just long enough for Don to assess his readiness to return to his community. When the hawk first arrived it had been transported in a dark and barren box. Don left it in the box for a while, alone and confined, hoping the hawk would settle into his new circumstances with little resistance. The Mountain Man needed the hawk to come to understand the opportunity it was being given to live, but the hawk need to participate in the process if success was to result from all the effort extended in his behalf. The hawk would need to remain calm and begin the process of building the muscles needed to survive on the outside world. After some time, the side of the box was opened which enabled the hawk to explore its new confined setting on the porch. For quite a while the little guy simply tilted his head left and right, assessing things and occasionally puffing up his chest to ward off anyone trying to get too close.
I took an interest in the hawk and the transformation I hoped would happen. Here was an innocent bird, thrust into a cold and unforgiving world with no skills, talents, or teachers. He was on his own; a far cry from the warm nest he probably shared with his 3-4 siblings and protective mother. But, this was his last chance. If he could not make it here, he would undoubtedly die without ever experiencing the exhilaration of flying over the tops of the trees in the cool mountain air. I looked at him and wondered how his life would unfold.
As his box was placed facing out toward the world, I glanced beyond the barrier to what the hawk might see in the world around him. There were a variety of birds in the nearby trees, flying free and doing what forest birds do when the winds have subsided. My thoughts drifted to the other birds. What if they actually noticed the hawk, wondering about the misery it must be experiencing being locked in a cage? Certainly the birds flying free could not understand the role the cage played in the life of that bird. If it were not for that cage, the hawk would have been the dinner meal of some predator. The only chance the hawk had to remain alive was to be locked away for now. But being locked away was no guarantee of survival, either. In the absence of understanding of the process or a clear explanation of the goals, the hawk would need to trust, have faith, and then do the good works which would enable his freedom.
Of course, I named the rescued hawk “GOGI”. (All rescued animals are named GOGI in my world. There has been GOGI the Squirrel, GOGI the Parakeet, GOGI the Dog. And now there was GOGI the Hawk. ) Safe under the watchful, and tough-love care of Don the Mountain Man, GOGI the Hawk was going to need to learn tools he never had the opportunity to learn. He would need to grow muscles he never knew existed. He would need to think thoughts he had never thought before. He would need to have associates to which he was unaccustomed. And, if he was going to live, he would need to remain behind bars long enough develop the muscles for survival. Then, he would need to prove to Don the Mountain Man that he could fly free and live a good hawk’s life. His success, however, was completely dependent upon how he responded to his new environment.
GOGI stood still in the corner for quite some time, instinctively assessing if he was intended as the next meal for the enemy which had trapped and locked him away. His first action was to thrust his baby-fuzz body against the netting which was restricting his freedom. His little feet hung on as he struggled for release from the web-like hold of the netting. Would he survive, I asked myself? Could he possibly understand the opportunity was being given in being plucked from certain death? Would he instinctively come to learn that he needed to build the internal muscles which would permit him to get out of his cage by going inward for the answers? Knowing a supportive environment helps in all healing and learning, I was grateful Don was the one to provide the cage, but environment is not always a controllable element. Even if GOGI were to have been caged by a less-skilled Poppa Bird, GOGI had to have the will to live which was stronger than his instincts to fight like hell for escape. GOGI’s success was entirely up to GOGI and the effort he put forth.
Days passed with GOGI inching toward a modicum of comfort. His growth seemed almost hourly. As his adolescent feathers began to come into place, all the baby fuzz drifted into the gentle breeze. During the daylight hours, probably bored into a state of self-amusement, he learned that hopping from one end of the cage to the other afforded him different views of his world. He learned his talons, his little feet, were strong and could hold his body while he navigated narrow spaces. He learned his vision was superb as he instinctively began to focus on small objects outside. He learned his cage, while not optimal, was still a place for him to grow and learn. He learned to jump. Then he learned to jump with his wings extended.
The most unfortunate aspect of Mother Nature is the “survival of the fittest” design. In the world of hawks, less than 3 percent of all youngsters live beyond one year. Most get eaten, caught in wire, or otherwise disabled and devoured. Not unlike our National recidivism rate for incarcerated men, women and children, GOGI the Hawk has only a small chance of survival unless he spends every minute of every day in keen preparation for his day of freedom. If GOGI is to earn his way into that small 3 percent of survivors and soar free in skies well into his adulthood, he is going to need to be diligent in the learning of tools he will need for his survival. Once he proved ready for the wild, the netting would be cut and he could come and go as he pleased. He would leave the safe confines of the netted porch to test his wings. He would have his opportunity at freedom where he would use his flap- flap-glide flight style as he flew freely among the tips of the trees. Would he make it out there as a free bird? He could, if his skills were developed enough. Would he live to be one of those 3-percenters who live longer than a year? He could, if he took every opportunity to learn. His youth would be his only enemy; that one thing which might cut short his opportunity for a long life. In his youth, he might overlook a detail, or believe he had a certain level of immortality. His youth was his biggest vulnerability, offset, perhaps, by a willingness to observe and learn.
There is a wisdom which comes from living a long time and learning to pay attention to the lessons available in all things in our world. For GOGI, if he paid attention to the world around him, if he absorbed each and every lesson he could learn, he just might make it in the free world. But GOGI’s success was going to entirely up to him. He would be free to make the choices which would give him a long and fruitful life or he would make choices which would mean a short life. When the time was right, the Mountain Man unzipped the cage and GOGI the Hawk was given his one shot at freedom.
In my willingness to observe all aspects of life as having meaning, observing the rescue of the little hawk reminded me that cages can be a lifesaver. Feeling trapped can be exactly what we need to build the correct muscles. Being locked away can be the biggest blessing of our existence. It is my secret hope that GOGI will live to be the oldest Cooper’s hawk on the mountain. It is also my prayer that he becomes the father of other Cooper’s hawks that are taught skills and tools of survival from their master father.
In a very real way, GOGI the Hawk has been my teacher and I know for certain there will not be a day I do not look upward, hoping to witness the beauty and elegance of GOGI the Hawk soaring strong and free against the blue sky. The reality of his fate, however, will only reside in my imagination.

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