It was my first time going behind bars. The prison I would be entering into was in the little, dusty town of Cleveland, Texas, about an hour outside of Houston. Thank God I would be going behind bars as an invited guest who could walk right back out those same doors at any time I chose. Knowing that didn’t make me any less nervous though. I simply had no idea what to expect.
After crossing into the inside of the prison, the first thing I heard was the loud roar of dozens of voices echoing from a distance down the solid brick and concrete hallways. In response, my first thought was that a prison riot was going on. I took a moment to glance over in the direction of the guards who were accompanying us through the prison. Surely, if indeed a riot was transpiring they would be on full alert, but each seemed as calm as a country Sundaymorning in the South. My next thought was that maybe I was just hearing things.
My purpose for being at the prison was to participate in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program with a group of other business executives who donate their time on a regular basis to help with the rehabilitation of inmates through assisting these men with the start of a legitimate business on the “outside” after their release. So effective had the program been that only 7% of PEP graduates ended up being convicted of a future crime and returning to prison.
I had been invited by PEP to be there that Saturday to get a feel for the program to see if it would be a way for the healing provided through writing a book could be merged with what they already offer. After a twenty-minute presentation staged for us guests of PEP, we were all instructed to follow the guards out of the meeting room that appeared in the direction of the potential riot erupting that I thought I had heard when entering the prison. I was the last one to enter the meeting room, so I was also the first to leave. As I lead the procession of about fifty volunteers toward the noise that morning, I was still far from knowing what to expect.
Then all of sudden I found myself standing point blank in front of the door where the riot appeared to be originating. The noise was deafening. My sponsor for the day, Mike Kilmer, stood behind me with a huge grin on his face and asked me, “Do you want to be the first to go in?”
I stepped aside and let him go first but falling in behind Mike was not any less intimidating. For inside of that gymnasium-sized room waited for us over one hundred screaming, yelling, smiling inmates, positioned two abreast, with the pop song Tonight’s Going to be a Good Night blaring in the background, waiting for us to walk down their reception line high-fiving each one of us.
I have been party to many an outrageous celebration, including being part of a World Series-winning team at the age of twenty-two, but never had I ever experienced such unbridled joy and appreciation before. These men, these inmates, all of whom were from abused situations and who has been incarcerated for an average of eight years, were just so overjoyed by the fact that me and the other volunteers for that day, would take time away from their weekend to be with them – and they were not afraid to express it.
An open heart spurns the opening of other hearts and my open-hearted gesture was being returned to me a hundred fold, right in front of my face that very day in Cleveland, Texas. As I spent my day in prison, I wondered about whether my authors understood that the open-hearted nature that their books nudged them to share could potentially instill this same effect on their readers, as well as others in their lives. I wondered about the topic of rebirth and if my authors realized that taking the necessary steps toward living their writing dreams could unleash a spontaneous, contagious outpouring of joy, nationwide and potentially worldwide in themselves and others like that which I experienced in Cleveland, Texas.
I wondered if the sharing of my story from my time behind bars would encourage them to potentially free themselves and others from the bondage of their fears associated with past abuses or whatever excuses and to share the stories burning to be released from deep inside themselves. Most of all, I wondered if they knew how much of a difference an open-hearted gesture can make in a person’s life and if they understood that the writing and the sharing of a book, and their experiences, as a result, may just be the vehicle that the Almighty has provided them with to rebirth not only themselves, but a certain viewpoint, disposition, or attitude of the world.
From this experience, I find it even more important for me to encourage you to Write. Publish. Be You. Share You. Doing so will not only make a huge difference most directly in your own life, but in every life that you can touch.