Magazine article American Libraries

Birthplace of My Redemption

Magazine article American Libraries

Birthplace of My Redemption

Article excerpt

AN INMATE FINDS PEACE, A WRITING CAREER, AND--MOST IMPORTANTLY--HIMSELF IN THE PRISON LIBRARY

I was 31 years old when the judge sentenced me to life without parole on multiple homicide charges. I was sent to the maximum security Maryland State Penitentiary. My mind was a raging tsunami ready to inundate those who crossed my wake as the steel door to my six-by-nine-foot cage slammed behind me for the first time.

I quickly adapted to the harsh, violent realities of prison. Like most prisoners I gave in to my fear--that killer of judgment, which robs us of the ability to reason and solve problems nonviolently. I continued to embrace violence as a way of life.

After two years of struggling to survive this jungle of my own making, like some wild beast on the Serengeti Plain during a prolonged drought, I was forced to seek refuge at the only watering hole available--the library.

Momentarily free from the threats of confrontation, lost for a blissful hour or two in the cacophony of silence, I rediscovered my fondness for reading. The librarian immediately taught all newcomers how to order books through the Maryland Interlibrary Loan Organization, the state's system of sharing allowable resources with prisoners. Soon, the library became my home.

Voraciously I read books on philosophy, history, and the world's cultures and religions. Three in particular were most beneficial. In The Prophet by Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran I found a philosophy that could help me effect positive change in myself. Through The Analects of Confucius, translated and annotated by Arthur Waley, I learned the value of patience and of thinking before I act; these selected sayings inspired in me the self-discipline one needs in order to survive in prison. In the Mahabharata, a sacred Hindu text, I discovered that one can never flee from one's demons and fears.

Gradual changes

The messages I received from reading gradually began to change me. I discovered that prison life was similar to life on the outside, with good and bad influences. I found myself being drawn more and more to the positive aspects of prison, where if a man had an iron will he could rehabilitate himself. I possessed such will.

So I secured a job in the prison print shop and learned a useful trade. I became a practitioner of yoga and meditation, which taught me to manage the stress of incarceration while introducing me to the wonders of peacefully interacting with a multitude of diverse individuals. I took a few creative writing courses held in the library and discovered a talent. To acquire more writing skills I enrolled in two correspondence courses. Four years later I have over 70 bylines, many in national publications such as the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, Common Boundary, Writer's Digest, Natural Health, Writer, and Yoga Journal.

My change of behavior and positive attitude did not go unnoticed by prison authorities. In time, I was transferred to the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown (MCIH), a medium-security facility. This provided better living arrangements, yet I was unnerved by the transfer.

I feared the new librarian would not be so accommodating in allowing me to use the library as my writing den, or would be too busy to help address my questions and requests for specialized research material. …

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