Trauma, Self-Destruction and….dreamwork for prisoners

For the past three years, I’ve been receiving dreams from men who are incarcerated in one of the largest correctional centers in Ontario, Canada. When they first send their dreams, I don’t ask what charges are held against them, nor do I ask how long they’ve been in jail, or how much longer they expect to be in jail. Instead, I just listen to what they want to tell me about their dreams. Sometimes they voluntarily share their charges, sometimes they don’t and both ways are fine. The reason I don’t ask about this directly is because I believe that True Justice is about seeing through one’s own eyes, and not through the eyes of others. I want to hear the dream and talk to the person and connect without judgement. Most times when others here of the work I do, one of their first questions to me is, “What was the guy charged with?” and my answer is usually, “I don’t know. I didn’t ask.” The work is about transformation not about assessing guilt or innocence. It’s not about focusing on the mistakes but about blowing up the positives.

One of the biggest problems in our culture today is that people tend to not want to see Truth for themselves and they tend to want others to do the work for them, such as leaving the decision to the courts. The reason this approach doesn’t always work is that there is always more to the story than what the courts can hear; moreover, the justice system as we know it today is an archaic & antiquated system which has not yet adapted to modern scientific knowledge about the brain, or new discoveries about how childhood trauma affects someone’s psychological make up in adulthood, or about how positive community environments can curb criminal-tendencies replacing them with unity-building capacities for well-being and achievement. As frustrating as the large-scale problem of the so-called “justice system” is, the solution is quite simple and easily achievable. To solve this problem, the key is to learn how to see through one’s own eyes and not through the eyes of others. The reason this is so very, very difficult at times is because it requires having the ability to recognize the Negative Truth about a situation and having the skills to know what to do with that knowledge.

What is Negative Truth? Negative Truth is what we see when we are looking at a situation and we realize something which is negative. Sometimes we so vehemently want to believe something is the way we want it to be but then we see it is not that way and in fact may even be the opposite of what we want, and in that case we must submit to the Negative Truth about a situation in order to deal with what is real, instead of engaging with an illusion. I’ll give you an example of what I mean so it is more clear.

In summer of 2013, I re-located from Fort McMurray, Alberta to London, Ontario when I accepted a teaching position at a private school. I accepted a lower-than usual salary in exchange for my daughter attending the school free of charge and this was a suitable arrangement for me. I’m breaking custom here to speak about my salary publicly but I am doing so in order to make a point. Not only did I accept a minimum salary for a teaching position, I also gave up a lot. At the time I was teaching830410_10152608938305595_760791799_o English as a Second Language at a college, plus I was publishing articles weekly in the daily newspaper, with my articles also publishing online. My career was exactly where I wanted it to be. Getting paid well to teach, getting paid well as a journalist, what could be better? The answer to that came when my daughter was offered a position at a private school and I was willing to give up my career path in order to adjust our lives to accommodate her education. I let go of my beautiful two-bedroom apartment, which I loved. I detached from a community-building initiative which I loved. I left my car. I left every item clothing and everything I owned and I accepted the teaching position and my daughter started school. Because I had given up so much for this new path in our lives, I had a lot of expectation about the good that would come out of it. I envisioned her attending this school from Grade Four to Grade 12. I envisioned teaching at the school for a decade and enjoying the benefits of working in the field I had studied and earned a degree in. I envisioned becoming an active and contributing member of our new community, sharing my talents, skills and enthusiasm with the school and nearby neighbourhoods. Little did I know that the vision I held in my mind was an illusion and it could never materialize. I thought I was re-creating the success I’d experienced in the city I’d been living before but I was wrong. 858902_10152608938905595_1160308277_o

Within months of my relocation across the country, whispers began spreading around the school that it was closing. The school closing would mean not only would I lose my job, but also that my daughter would lose the educational path her father and I had chosen for her. Before we even had time to unpack our belongings, we were already having to face the Negative Truth that moving had been a mistake and we had to find somewhere else to go. My own personal Negative Truth was that in fall of 2013, I had only been separated from my marriage for three years and had not yet rebuilt after that financial disaster. I didn’t use credit cards. Didn’t have a savings. Didn’t have a car. Didn’t own a home. And the only clothing I owned was what I had packed into a suitcase when I had left for vacation in the summer. I had packed a suitcase planning to visit friends in Ontario for a month but while I was visiting I was offered a job, which I accepted and then stayed in the city to begin settling in. That’s why when the school started to close in fall & winter of 2014 I was in such a terribly devastating position. Eventually I found new work, settled my daughter in a new school, and made the best of our new situation. But that experience taught me a very powerful life lesson about seeing the Negative Truth. Sometimes people will paint a picture with their words and give you a vision of what you can go for but then in reality that vision is unattainable and will never be achieved. I had a vision of teaching for a decade and providing my daughter with a quality private school education. But the Negative Truth is that there were hints that the school was closing even before we arrived and I had to face the fact, sooner than later, that the vision I had was just an illusion. In truth, I may have made a huge mistake when I left my teaching and journalism work in Alberta. But we can’t turn back the clock. We can’t take back something once it’s done. We have to just learn the lesson and move forward with what we’ve learned.

Even though this example of my story is not related to a “crime” per say I can still understand and have compassion for people who make choices which leads them on a path of self-destruction. I have done the same thing.

When I take calls from inmates & listen to their stories, I remember that we are all equal here on this earth. No human being is valued higher or lower than any other. We are all equal. And when I keep this in mind, I find the learning truly goes both ways & I am so grateful for this experience.

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