March 30, 2017

I realize it's self serving for me to write about prison reform, but isn't the mere existence of a blog prima fascie evidence of my own narcissism?

In case you haven't noticed, Donald Trump is now President. This is real, not the punch line of a cruel joke. President Trump has asked every non-military federal agency to reduce its costs. We'll see how serious a request that is, but he is the first President since Ronald Reagan to openly acknowledge that the federal bureaucracy is bloated and wasteful. He also understands an Income & Expense Statement, which makes him unique in Washington, DC. 

In the meantime, the House Judiciary Committee is said to have prison reform legislation ready, awaiting some direction from the White House. There is no word on what this legislation might look like until President Trump weighs in. 

So, if the new administration is serious about saving money, I have a suggestion from right here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp. The federal government should close e...

March 25, 2017

I received a question recently as I was leaving the law library at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp. The question was about the Biblical story of Noah and whether he took with him into the ark 2 animals of every kind or just pairs of 7 clean animals, a pair of unclean animals, and pairs of 7 birds. I knew it was a trick question, but I still wanted to give a thoughtful answer.

I tried to explain that the number of animals made no difference because the Biblical story of Noah was actually 2 stories written hundreds of years apart by 2 different writers, based on different concepts of God, with different language styles, perspectives, and teaching 2 different lessons. The 2 stories were combined much later by a 3rd prophet and/or scribe. It's the same reason that we have 2 Biblical creation stories. It was my best answer, and with that, I should have left, but nooooo. Instead I had to add that I doubted that either account was literal, but were still beautiful metaphors for forgiveness and...

March 20, 2017

We have two former lawyers here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp. Most inmates don't know I'm one of them, and I certainly don't advertise it. Neither of us "practice" as jailhouse lawyers. Occasionally, I'll get a legal question, and I try to be helpful; but I make it clear that my camp career aspirations now lie in the maintenance and hair care fields of service. My advice here is free, and barely worth its cost. 

We've had a few "jailhouse lawyers" during my 19 months here. Currently, we have only one. He's never been a real lawyer, but he's quite the promoter. With the demise of the circus, maybe he's the new P.T. Barnum, who believed there was a sucker born every minute. Our "jailhouse lawyer" is serving a long sentence for mortgage fraud and learned his "lawyering" while in a low security prison before working his way to the camp. He handled his own appeal, which was denied. Even so, he's well paid, and not just the typical hustle of sausage and cheese from the commissary. He wan...

March 15, 2017

When we began this journey through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I referred to it as one the few American contributions to organized spirituality. As many times as I've pondered and worked through these steps, I've always come away more convinced of its life changing significance and with more gratitude for this now worldwide spiritual movement. I'll try to summarize what I believe it has taught me this time.

Suffering takes on many forms. It can certainly include physical hurt; but it's most often mental or emotional, as I struggle with fear based anxiety, compulsions, shame, or anger. Change can also bring suffering, as I realize the impermanence of everything and how my desire for temporary pleasures ultimately becomes dissatisfaction and pain. This suffering has often led me into unhealthy and harmful behaviors that are merely tools perfected designed to dig a deeper hole of hopelessness. 

However, when life seems most hopeless and out of control, there is more than just desp...

March 11, 2017

Compassion is not a relationship between healer and wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

--Pema Chödrön

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

A spiritual awakening is not a concept, it's a living reality. While some people can approach God through theology, the sure way to approach God is to let the Holy Spirit touch our lives from the inside out. There are many ways to achieve a spiritual awakening, but Alcoholics Anonymous  has proven over the last 82 years that "it works if you work it."

It works because it exposes with tough love our basic egocentricity. For example, in the Big Book of AA we find, "So our troubles are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves and the alcoholic is an extr...

March 7, 2017

God comes to us disguised as our life.

--Paula D'Arcy

Step 11: We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out.

If we have conscientiously worked through Steps 1-10, we will have made significant strides toward recalibrating the thinking that has caused our addictive and compulsive behavior. By surrendering and trusting God to help us change our behavior, we improve our capacity to think clearly, energizing a spiritual desire to understand God even more. This deeper understanding further impacts our behavior and our thinking, bringing this healthy circle back around, so it can happen again.

It's amazing that in Alcoholics Anonymous, the first 12 Step program, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith used the uncommon word "meditation" in the 1930's, a time when most would have considered its practice limited to Eastern religions. It's likely that they're not including h...

March 3, 2017

Fear, anxiety, greed, ambition, and our hopeless need for pleasure all distort the image of reality that is reflected in our minds. Grace does not completely correct this distortion all at once, but it gives us a means of recognizing and allowing for it. And it tells us what we must do to correct it. Sincerity must be bought with a price: The humility to recognize our innumerable errors, and the fidelity in tirelessly setting them right. --Thomas Merton

Step 10: We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

One of the benefits of 12-Step spirituality is that it provides us an opportunity to come to terms with who we are. We may start the journey "in a dark wilderness," as Dante wrote, but we can avail ourselves of a better way by surrendering our will to love, forgiveness, and mercy. We've already made in Step 4 a searching and fearless moral inventory. Step 10 is not that, but it is a realization that we are human, and we have the power to choose...

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© 2016 by Charles D. Jones