Familiar Suffering

17 percent:
the success rate of the oldest residential drug & alcohol treatment facility in the world.
17 percent
of people stay sober for a year after they leave.
17 percent.
And it’s the highest success rate of any treatment center in the w h o l e world.
17 percent.

*Data from the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, published in 2003.

One of the most recent studies on recidivism rates – which most often refers to the rate at which a person relapses back into criminal behavior after being released from prison – showed that 67.8% of people were rearrested within 3-years of being released from prison, within 5-years that number increases to 76.6%. And of those prisoners, a little more than half were arrested by the end of the first year of being released.

I often ponder why it’s so hard to break our cycles of detrimental behaviors and habits. These are more extreme examples, of course, but the thread is the same for all of us. We all have a hard time letting go of the suffering we’ve grown strangely accustomed to. Even when we know what we’re doing is not working. Even when we’re miserable. Even when we’re crippled by shame and guilt and fear.

A common deterrent towards making positive changes that I’ve heard often from people, in a variety of contexts, involves the deeply rooted and long-held view that they’re broken, un-fixable, damaged beyond repair. My husband used to think he was one of those people. I have at least two friends and a family member I can think of that feel this way, too. And it makes sense to me that if we think we are broken then there’s little sense in trying to change course – because there’s a core belief that nothing will work.

“Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to spiritual growth.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Continue reading

Shared Humanity


This drawing was done by a friend of mine who’s currently incarcerated at a correctional facility in Shelby, MT. He sent it a few months back in one of the letters he wrote to me. I keep it in my journal as a symbolic reminder of all those who are pent up behind bars, as a reminder that I should never take my own freedom for granted, as a reminder that there’s no separation between myself and others in the grand and elaborate web of interconnection.

Today I will be going to visit another friend who’s incarcerated at Montana State Prison. We’ve been exchanging letters for over a year now but this will be my first visit. Early this morning, accompanied by thoughts of both of these friends, I wrote this in my journal by book light (I’m thinking of having it be a spoken word piece to perform):

I can’t even imagine
what it would be like
in the confines of prison
enmeshed amid concrete and steel
needing to become as hard and unforgiving
as the materials that bind you,
so as not to suffer the swift consequences
of being weak

inmates, guards, administration,
our government, us
we’re not so easily separated into the
labeled boxes or thick walled cells we seek
no one is foot lose and fancy free of responsibility
for locking someone up and throwing away the key
so they could spend the rest of eternity behind bars
all because they never had the opportunity
to be well taken care of

right now, currently, I have two friends in prison
both for different reasons
both working the system from opposite spectrums:
one who’s full of remorse, shame, and regret
the other who’s not, who’d do it all over again,
and probably will when he gets out –
shoot, he’s still doing it now on the inside –
and neither one is a bad guy,
although many would disagree,
those who believe in some kind of fairy tale version of evil,
which to me is taking the easy way out

we’re all unfolding products of a myriad of situations
a living, breathing, physical manifestation
of everything that has even happened
passed down through our cultural influences
and blood relations

now, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be jails
or that everyone should be set free
or that there aren’t certain people who are wired
a little bit differently and might always pose a threat
but I’m not ready to discard anyone from the human race just yet
by raising myself up on a pedestal and casting judgement
with cruel intent looking down through narrow eyes
while we’re all born from the same earth under the same skies

it just doesn’t make sense to me to ignore our shared humanity
by hiding in the flawed guise of justice
I think it’s important to keep in mind that under the same conditions
those we deem as criminals could just as easily be us