I’m currently serving a life sentence in the Texas prison system and have been locked up for eighteen years this time around. There is a good possibility that I’ll never be released from prison due to the seriousness of the crimes I’ve committed.
When I first entered prison, I was a very young and ignorant person, and I cared little about anything that life had to offer. I believed that I should try to get what I wanted by whatever means possible. I found out the hard way that this isn’t a successful way to live.
Upon entering prison, I was the proud possessor of an eighth grade education. In the last several years I have studied all kinds of spiritual texts, and have also worked hard to receive my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Sam Houston State University. Becoming a college graduate makes me as proud as I’ve ever been in my life. Never did I think that I would have the opportunity and ability to achieve this. What a blessing.
I wish I could express the feelings that I experienced during the graduation ceremony in the prison chapel. There were 300 visitors there to cheer on their friends and family members. They were very loud, happy, and full of pride for their loved ones. Even though none of the visitors was there to cheer me on, I still shared in the happiness and sense of accomplishment that we all felt upon receiving our degrees.
I was fortunate in that I was seated in the second row and got to look in the eyes of each graduate as he received his degree. It touched my heart to see some of the younger men (I’ll soon be fifty eight), with a tear in his eye. These are the tough guys of society, but they weren’t too tough to be touched by what they had accomplished. The feelings were also a bit bittersweet, like each was saying to himself, “Why didn’t I stay in school when I first had the chance?” I could see that they were both proud of their accomplishment and saddened by their life situation.
I was very proud of everyone there, including myself, and I will never forget graduation day. The day was full of love for one another. We all seemed to realize, for a moment at least, that we’re all human and subject to making mistakes, and that we are still capable of creating good in the world. We were all accepted and respected, even by the prison administration, as people who had met the goals we had set.
I would like to thank the Mindfulness Bell for the opportunity to share my accomplishment with you.
This has given me the greatest sense of self-satisfaction that I have ever experienced.
Claude M. Rinehart lives in Huntsville, Texas, and has corresponded with a Sangha friend for the past four years.