Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘prayer’

Strange Bodily Happenings

My Terrible Book of Happiness… Love, Anxiety and Everything
by Margaret Lesh. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51DM674eXbL._SY346_One of the things I greatly appreciate about My Terrible Book of Happiness, is that Ms. Lesh doesn’t claim to be an “expert”, or have all the answers, but simply shares what she has experienced, and what has helped her in her life, when anxiety, hopelessness, and depression are present. The very first line says, “There is no one-size-fits-all cure to sadness, but it helps when we share our life experiences – the stumbling parts, the dark places – so we know we are not alone. The end of 2016 and first half of 2017 found me mired in a trap of anxiety, worry, and depression: three things I happen to be good at.”

These essays, antidotes, stories, and trivia, includes four sections (Anxiety, Peace, Love, and Hope). One of suggestions is to take a break from social media and the news, and only take it in in small amounts. There is also a chapter with a great title “Swiss Cake Rolls, Other Strange Bodily Happenings, and Walking”, where she shares the affects that having a child and going through menopause have had on her belly and health, and the benefits of exercise to not only make one fit, but to also ease anxiety. This essay is called “Move It, Baby”. The author speaks frankly, and insightfully, about the benefits of meditation in her section called “Meditation for the Meditatively Challenged (Like Me)”.

After a number of entertaining, and enlightening stories and events, Ms. Lesh summarizes what she has learned by saying, “Unplugging, turning inward, reassessing, and refocusing on my mental and physical health were what I needed to do to pull myself out of my long slump. Walking, yoga, meditation, prayer, active gratitude, mindfulness, music, laughter, and spending time in nature are all things that helped me through the dark times.” The postscript includes a list of what has helped her the most, resources available to readers’ and numbers to call for help. My Terrible Book of Happiness isn’t sad, or depressing, but hopeful, honest, and perhaps a lifeline for someone reading the words within.

32 Recipes for Joy

51jMFwLXU2LFinding Joy Around the World by Kari Joys MS.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Join the author, and people from around the world, as they describe what joy means to them, and how they came to find it. Kari Joys, “While happiness is often defined as the experience of well-being, satisfaction or pleasure in your life, joy includes those characteristics, but it also brings with it the qualities of spirituality, higher consciousness and true delight.”

Most all of those in Finding Joy Around the World have dealt with some kind of loss, trauma, or difficult situation in their lives (death, poverty, abuse, loss, etc.), and all of them share their story. Whatever they have lived through, or had happen, did not prevent them from still finding joy in their lives. In fact, many felt that their hardships are what helped them search for joy, and try to find some kind of meaning in life. Here is what some of the thirty-two people interviewed had to say:

Santosh Sagara (Nepal) – “Joy means mindfulness and peace within.”
Gede Prama (Indonesia) – Read and meditated to find joy.
Deb Scott (USA) – Experiences joy through prayer and volunteering.
Barasa Mayari (Kenya) – “Trust in God has been the anchor.”
Sylvester Anderson (USA) – “Never give up on yourself.”
Jayne Spenceley (England) – “Feeling expansive from the inside out.”
Hanneke van den Berg (Netherlands) – “Connections with myself and others.”
Sakatar Singh (India) – “Read good books and make friends.”
Ashleigh Burnet (Canada) – Believes meditation is instrumental.
Gimba A. (Nigeria) – Gets joy when he can “care for my children.”
Eugenie Areve (France) – “Love ourselves unconditionally.”
Bill Zhang (China) – “A state of feeling ‘good enough'”.
Marcia Conduru (Brazil) – “We are more than our ego.”

Ms. Joys noticed some common threads which ran through the responses from all those she contacted (or who contacted her). They are provided in a list of ten traits at the end. Some of the conclusions are that joy is experienced in the present moment; gratitude is a big component; it grows out of compassion for others; when noticing beauty of nature; and there is often a connection to the “divine”, or something greater than ourselves.

Many of the responses in this work remind me of my book Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call, which is a compilation of interviews I did with fifteen people who had someone die, and then decided to help others in some way as a result. Some are well known, and others not so. This was written before the internet, so I did all the interviews in person across the USA and Israel.

Finding Joy Around the World is an inspiring mix of tales and observations, from a variety of people around the globe. Ms. Joys asks all the right questions, and lets the kind people who responded answer in their own words. Each person’s story begins with a quote from a famous writer, or person, which corresponds perfectly. Thus, Joseph Campbell is quoted before one of the participants shares their understanding and experience of joy. “Find a place inside where there’s joy and the joy will burn out the pain.”

What’s Up Elizabeth?

The Butterfly’s Kingdom by Gwendolyn Geer Field
Excerpt from inspirational novel.

What’s Up Elizabeth?

THE HOUSE WAS SILENT, an abandoned stage set. The occupants and all traces of the lives they lived seemed to have completely vanished. There were no pushed back chairs, no scattered partially-read newspapers, no misplaced drinking glasses, sticky with finger prints. There was only pristine emptiness draped with long flat squares of moonlight. As I passed Annie’s door, I paused and wondered if I should knock. I stood quietly, listening for a sound, but there was none — no breathing, no creaking floorboards, no whispering voice inviting me in. So I tiptoed down the hallway to my room.

As I opened the door, a sleepy voice whispered, “Elizabeth, is that you?”

I fumbled for the bedside lamp as Betsy wrestled with the sheets and sat up, rubbing her eyes. “What time is it?” she yawned.

I glanced at the clock. “It’s after midnight, sweetie,” I sank down on the bed beside her. “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you.” Her eyes blinked in the sudden brightness.

“I can see that,” I reached over and rubbed her shoulders as she sat shivering in a thin cotton nightgown. “But why are you waiting for me?”

“Because I was worried about you, I didn’t know where you’d gone.”

“I’m sorry, Bets. I did phone your mom and let her know I was okay.”

“I know,” the large brown eyes were smudged with sadness. “But mom seemed really mad, and she wouldn’t tell me what was going on, except that you were with Jackson, and that she guessed you’d come home sometime.”

I kicked off my shoes and stretched out beside her. “Yeah, she was pretty irritated with me.” I turned to look at her. “Do you have any idea why she doesn’t like him?”

Betsy wriggled backward and leaned against the headboard. “It’s just another one of those secrets we live with around here. I know something major happened a long time ago, but no one ever talked about it, not to me at least. I knew dad had a really close friend and they had some kind of fight, but I never even heard his name. When we had Jackson over the other night, I kind of put two and two together and figured he was the guy.” She stared wistfully at me. “What do you think it was?”

“Lordie, I have no idea. You’re right, something big happened, but we’ll just make ourselves crazy if we try to imagine what it was.”

She looked chagrined, and I was afraid that my choice of words had upset her. “Sorry about the word ‘crazy’. I just meant that it’s never a very good idea to try to figure out what other people are thinking. I’m always wrong, and then I just start making a bunch of bad decisions based on a faulty premise.”

“You don’t have to baby me like that and cut the word ‘crazy’ out of your vocabulary. Who knows,” she shrugged, “maybe that is what made everybody nuts around here — the secrets, the doing everybody’s thinking for them.”

I ruffled her hair and tugged her close to me. “You’re a pretty smart cookie, Bets. Lets us promise to never do either of those things to each other — have secrets or try mind reading, okay?”

She sat quietly for a moment and then laid her head on my shoulder. “So if we’re not going to have secrets, tell me what you and Jackson were doing tonight. I thought you were going out for a walk by yourself.”

“Well, I did. That was the problem. Apparently, I didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t even notice it was getting dark until I suddenly found myself down by the creek in a thicket of trees and I couldn’t see lights anywhere. I got kind of panicky, but I made myself calm down enough to think clearly, and I remembered that I couldn’t be too far away from where we were the other night. So I turned around and groped my way back to the restaurant.”

“You were scared?” she interrupted, tilting her face to look up at me.

“Yeah, pretty scared. The dark does that to me.”

“So how did you calm yourself down?”

“I said a prayer.”

“You just said a prayer and you felt better?” She sounded incredulous.

“Yes. Actually the prayer kind of said itself. It floated into my mind out of nowhere, and I grabbed hold of it and held on. I just kept saying it over and over, and it made me feel better.”

“What was it?” She stared at me suspiciously.

“‘I am safe, I am sound, all good things come to me as God’s beloved child.’”

“That’s it? That’s the prayer? You didn’t ask God to show you the way home or come rescue you or anything?”

“No, I think all that’s in the prayer already.” I saw the skepticism in her eyes. “Don’t you ever pray about things? What kinds of prayers do you say?”

“I never pray. Nobody in my family does. My dad said God was for fools — something they thought they needed, so they just made Him up.”

“Yeah, well I think I felt that way for a long time myself.”

“What changed?” She asked.

“What changed is that I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t stand being the only power I relied on, being my own God. I got to a place where I wasn’t enough.”

“And so you just made a God up because you needed one? Just like that?” she snapped her fingers.

I smiled and kissed the top of her head. “I like you so much, Bets. You’re my kind of gal. You ask all sorts of questions, and you don’t settle for half answers. When I was your age, I used to drive everybody crazy,” I flinched instinctively. It was as though the word ‘crazy’ had become radioactive. “They used to say I was way too intense because I kept asking and asking until I got an answer I could understand. It didn’t always work and not everybody liked it, but I do. So keep it up. I think it’s healthy.”

She grinned. “Okay, explain it then. How did you go from wanting a God to getting one? Why isn’t that the ‘wish fulfillment’ my dad always talked about?” She grinned impishly. “Aren’t you impressed that I know that term? I think I even know that it was something Freud said.”

“I am impressed, although I must confess to you, in the spirit of our new found honesty, that I don’t think all that much of Freud. How’s that for heresy, saying that to the daughter of a psychiatrist?” I grinned back at her. “But getting back to your question, just because you want something, need something, and then you get it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I mean on a very basic level, you want food, you need to eat, but that doesn’t make the food you get somehow unhealthy or unreal. In fact, some philosophers say that God placed the desire to know Him in us, so our wanting Him is a sign that He exists.”

“That’s interesting. But maybe I don’t like philosophers anymore than you like psychiatrists,” she jousted playfully. “What I want to know is what happened to you. I believe you, I don’t necessarily believe some old philosopher guys I’ve never met.”

“Fair enough. What happened to me, is happening to me, hasn’t been a sudden kind of thing. I spent almost an entire lifetime trying to fix myself — trying to learn enough, do enough, understand enough. Trying to be enough. I always felt I was missing some vital part of me, but I guess I thought I could make up for it if I worked really hard. So I got good grades in school, and I went on to a good university and I got a good job and built an important career. I kept thinking that the next thing I did would make me feel safe and make me happy, give my life meaning.”

“Meaning?” She looked confused.

“You know … a reason for being here on the planet, my special purpose, that kind of thing.”

She nodded.

“Well, a few years ago, I had everything I ever thought would fix me. I had an exciting job, lots of money, important friends. Everything I’d been aiming for was in place, and I still felt lost and frightened. The worst part was that I couldn’t think of one more thing to do about it.”

“What about getting married and having a family?” Betsy asked eagerly.

“That’s a whole different story. Maybe we’ll get to that another time. The point is I just ran out of things to try. It’s easier when you have some big dream and you can pretend that if you get it, then you’ll be happy, but all my dreams had come true. And when that still wasn’t the answer, I was …”

“Sad?” She suggested.

“Sad’s a good word. Yes, I was very sad. One day about a year ago, I took a walk on the Lower East Side. I was restless and I needed to get away from the office. I don’t know why I ended up where I did, but I found myself outside this old stone church. It was almost like I’d stumbled into a time warp. I found out later it was built in the 1600’s, so it really was like something from another world. Anyway, I wandered around it until I came to these massive wooden doors. When I saw that they were open, I went in and,” I paused. “Well, it was amazing. It just kind of took my breath away. There was this huge white wall up at the front, and in the middle of it, way up high, a window — a little portal actually — flooded gold light across the wall. It looked like a painting, like a gorgeous abstract portrait of light. I don’t know what it was, something about that wall just reached out to me and invited me in. So I sat down in one of the old wooden pews. I stayed there for a very long time, all by myself, and while I was sitting there that prayer, the one I just told you, floated through my head. I don’t know where I’d heard it before, or even if I had heard it before. But it penetrated me. It pierced through my despair. And I felt the presence of something other than myself that was loving me and taking care of me right in that very moment.”

I looked over at Betsy. Her intensity had given way to a kind of focused stillness. She sat motionless, as though she were transfixed. “So, did you know it was God?” she whispered softly.

“I think I did. I think I really did.”

She leaned forward, her young face both serious and sweet. “I believe you, Elizabeth. Thank you for telling me.”

I hugged her in a tight, fierce grip. “Thank you, Betsy, for letting me tell you. I’ve never told anyone else about it, ever.”

She looked so sleepy. I felt a pang of guilt at keeping her up so late. “Bets, it’s nearly two-thirty in the morning. Your mom’s going to kill both of us if she finds out what we’ve been up to.”

She slid under the covers and curled into me like a kitten. “Can I stay here with you?” She was nearly asleep before she finished her sentence.

“Of course.”

“And, Elizabeth, what was the name of that church you went into?”

“The Church of the Good Shepherd, why?”

Her voice was thick with sleep, “I just wanted to know.”

I stood up and smoothed the sheet over her shoulders.

MORE ABOUT THE BUTTERFLY’S KINGDOM

Nane Alejandrez

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

In photo: Nane holding photos of brother Tavo and Leo’s headstones.

Nane Alejandrez

One by one they died . . . from drugs . . . from violence . . . from pain, hate and revenge. Nane’s oldest brother got wiped out when he was intentionally hit from behind on his motorcycle; his younger brother died from a heroin overdose; his uncle Pancheo was stabbed to death; numerous cousins succumbed to drugs or were murdered; and his father died from an accumulation of life-long exposure to pesticides, alcoholism and a blow to the head with a baseball bat during a gang fight. That Nane survived to tell his story is a miracle in and of it’s self. He crashed and burned many times, but never gave up. His struggle continues, for his own life and that of the young men and women caught in the madness.

Mr. Alejandrez is now director of Barrios Unidos (Communities United), was instrumental in convening a national gang summit for peace and has received countless awards and recognition for his work in teaching and living non-violence. Barrios Unidos is a multi-cultural program whose mission is to prevent and curtail violence among youth, by providing alternatives such as the Cesar E. Chavez School For Social Change; outreach to youth clubs, parent groups, juvenile hall and kids on the street; and community economic development by operating a full service, custom silk screening business called BU Productions, where youth learn production, sales, marketing, design and administration skills.

NANE:

I’ve seen so many families get torn apart and so many men, especially men, go into hate and revenge and take somebody else’s life. Not thinking about what it’s going to do to the rest of the family. All the violence and anger . . . and a lot of us being brought up to not show any pain . . . to not let people know . . . so we act out, even at times when we don’t want to.

When I acted out I didn’t really want to, but I did it to show that I was looking out for the neighborhood; for the honor of my family. It felt like I wasn’t punking out. If you didn’t do nothing then someone else would think, “Oh well, kill one of those family members and nobody will do anything about it.” So the family would look at each other and say, “Who’s going to do something about it?” – That whole system of payback; trying to keep an image that causes a lot of pain. It’s easier to do that then to deal with your pain.

One thing I’ve learned throughout the years, is I wish somebody would have talked to me about pain and how to deal with it; how to not inflict pain. I learned how to numb it by using drugs and violence, which removed me from feeling it and kept my feelings busy on something else. That worked for a while, but what began to happen was the addiction started taking over. No longer was it about feelings; it was just being well. Surviving and the excitement of breaking the law and running with the home boys . . . you know . . . rebelling, not conforming. I didn’t know anybody that was dealing with it.

People would say, “It’s OK, everything’s going to be all right.” I’d say, “How do you know everything’s going to be all right, when I’m feeling like shit?! You tell me everything’s going to be all right, but that guy over there’s laughing at what he did to my family. Why shouldn’t I go do it to his family?” And then other people would just say, “Go out and take care of it.” They think, “Why isn’t he doing anything? Why doesn’t he take one of their people out?”

There’s that whole thing of not believing in a higher power. I said, “How can this God take my loved ones away? How can He allow it to happen . . . to take my heroes?” The heroes in my life were taken away in a short period of time. The heroes to me were my father, my Uncle Frank and my oldest brother.

After losing all these relatives I was still using drugs a lot of the time. When my father had his operation I was strung out and unemployed. Here I was having graduated from the university with honors and I was really down. When I went to see him in the hospital I was loaded. I went into intensive care. My aunt was there and we went into see him. There were five individuals in intensive care and you know a lot of people that go in there don’t come out. They told me he was all bandaged up and swollen and it would be hard to recognize him. I go in there and start to talk to my father and tell him how much I love him, how much I care about him, my aunts at the end of the bed rubbing his feet. I’m saying, “You’re going to be OK. I love you Dad.” Then my other aunt comes in and says, “Alejandrez is over here.” I look and say, “Wow man!” I was talking to the wrong man. (laughs) I was talking to another man two beds down from my father. My aunt let go of his feet and yelled! I could hear the rest of my family laughing, even in a situation like that, they were laughing. They were going, “Nane’s over there talking to another man.” I swear to God I felt like disappearing. If my father could talk he would have said, “I’m over here stupid!” or “Pendejo en estoy!” So I had to move from that bed to my Dad’s bed and repeat everything. That’s how fucked up I was. That’s an example of the madness. It took me about a year after my father died to really let go of that.

After all these deaths, when I really wanted to clean myself up, I was able to see a friend of mine who was clean. He’s now one of my best friends. We had used together in the past, so when I saw him clean I saw the possibility. He was looking good. I’d gotten busted and was going to court and he would show up in the courts. Every time I had a court date he’d be there supporting me.

Finally I just couldn’t do it no more. My family . . . my children . . . I wasn’t doing anymore talks. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I’d gotten so deep I couldn’t maintain. And I didn’t want to be doing stuff when I was loaded. I hid my addiction a lot. When it got to the point were I couldn’t do that anymore I asked for help. When I asked him for support he was there. Once I got clean and got the drugs out of my system I started to feel a lot of the pain.

I think I was always a spiritual person but I got side tracked. I got more involved in my traditional ways . . . my indigenous background . . . knowing that it was OK to pray. I’d go around with a lot of Native American teachers and prayer was always there. So I started to pray and go to NA (narcotics anonymous) and they always ended the meeting with a prayer. I began to feel different. My work started coming out again and I was really happy. I was seeing the faces of children and I told myself, “If I’m going to do this I need to do it right.” I need to be clean and I can’t be backsliding. I got more involved in my work and my self. It took a long time to do that again.

I’ve been gifted, you know, in certain situations where things were going to happen . . . by me being there . . . and the respect they have for me. Because I have been through a lot and they could sense it, it stopped it from happening again. People know that this is what I’ve been talking about for the last twenty years. “Stop the violence! Stop the violence!” Even through my madness I’ve stuck with it. People my age always tell me that that’s what they admire about me . . . that I’ve always stuck with it. It’s been hard. There’s been a lot of pain. People ask, “Why would you want to stay in a situation where you’re dealing with so much pain?” But at the same time there’s so much hope . . . the smiles on the kids. They’ve got this place, they’ve got a job, people that look like themselves running it. They got inspiration that maybe someday they’ll be doing it.

CONTINUED

Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Islam, Peace and Prison.

Iman Michael Salaam (photo)

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, while talking on Meet the Press about President Obama’s faith being Christian said, “He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is what if he is (Muslim)? s there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?” Mr. Powell went on to speak about a photo essay he’d seen which showed a mother at the grave of her son, who had served in Iraq and been awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. His tombstone had the crescent and star of the Islamic faith. The young man, Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, was an American who had given his life for his country. In spite of such examples of patriotism and calls for tolerance, stereotypes about the Muslim faith and those that practice it, especially those in prison, are buried deep in the American psyche.

The Gallup Poll of the Muslim World estimates there are approximately 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, which is about 22% of all people on earth. If it continues at its present rate of growth, those who identify as Muslims will bypass Christianity (holding steady at 33%) by the middle of this century. A survey by the Hartford Institute for Religious Research said that close to 2 million Muslims attend prayer in U.S. mosques. They also found that in one recent 5 year period, the number of mosques grew by 25 percent and the people worshiping in them rose by 300 percent. With one of the largest prison populations in the world, per capita, it is not surprising that people practicing or converting to Islam in America’s prisons has also risen over the last 50 years. Most people imprisoned in the U.S. are eventually released back into the community. If a large portion of them are Muslim, how they believe, act and practice their faith and our re actions to their faith, affects us all.

“I’m not a terrorist or violent. I’m Muslim,” says inmate Kalain Hadley at Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP) in Coalinga, California. “My God and the Islam I practice has nothing to do with killing innocent people or suicide. The Koran says to only fight to protect oneself. Jihad means ‘struggle’, an internal struggle with self, not something political or violent.”

The program manager for Hartford Seminary’s Islamic Chaplaincy Program, which is the only accredited program of its kind in the U.S., says she has had to deal with such prejudicial views about Islam throughout her career. Ms. Mumina Kowalski was the first contracted Islamic female chaplain in Pennsylvania. She worked at a women’s facility for 8 years and says, “We still experience a lot of prejudice. It’s tough. We use to get criticism about inmates because they were Muslim, as opposed to other inmates being criticized strictly for their behavior and not their religious beliefs.”

John E. Colbert, another inmate at PVSP, claims, “Mainstream Islam doesn’t believe in terrorism. It’s against the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. The radicals have moved away from the Koran and Muhammad’s example and drifted towards tribalism, culture and nationalism. One of the verses in the Koran says, ‘I made you as nations and tribes to learn from each other, not to fight one another.’ Islam recognizes all religious faiths, including the prophets Abraham, Jesus and Moses.”

Harry Dammer, Professor of the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department at the University of Scranton points out that, “We forget that Islamic inmates have been recruiting each other in prison for almost 50 years since Malcolm X and his colleagues brought it to the forefront as a prison religion. Only now, with the fear of terrorism, are people concerned about the abuse of the faith (Islam) after release. We also forget that looking back at prison riots over the last 40 or so years, you can see that in fact the Muslim inmates helped in numerous instances to quell the prison riots and keep the lid on escalating violence. I can say from my research that prison is just like general society. There are people in prison who are sincere in their religious faith and those that are not.”

The word “Islam” is defined as “surrender into God’s will”. “Allah” is simply another word for “God” and is close to the same words Jesus used for God in his native tongue. An “Imam” is “someone who leads others in prayer”. The 5 Pillars or “tenets” of Islam are: faith or belief in the oneness of God; daily prayer (5 times); concern for and giving assistance to the needy; purification through fasting (Ramadan); and at least 1 pilgrimage to Makkah (the hajj), for those that are able.

The former Muslim chaplain at PVSP, Imam Michael Salaam, has been in the faith since 1971. He grew up in Memphis Tennessee and had always attended New Salem Baptist Church. When he converted to Islam, he says his mother “almost went into shock”. He remembers her saying, “Are you insane?! Are you crazy?!” Her initial reactions didn’t last. “After about 5 years, she saw my life change,” he fondly recalls. “I got a steady job and was helping raise my kids. One day she came up to me and said, ‘Come here son. What is this stuff you say you’re in?’ I said, ‘It’s Islam Mom.’ She said, ‘Well . . . do you think you could get your brothers into that stuff?’ She had seen the positive effect Islam had on me through those years. I think it also helped her practice her own faith more deeply when she realized that Islam wasn’t ritualistic to me, it had become my substance; my essence. Muslim means that natu re or that soul in each of us. Once that soul or entity submits to Allah or God, he or she is Muslim.”

Five years ago the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which records prisoners’ religious preferences, said that 5.5 percent of the federal inmate population were some type of Muslim. It is believed that a much higher percentage of state and county inmates are Muslim (where religious preferences are not always recorded), due to the larger number of African-Americans in such facilities. Although those who are or have become Muslims come from all ethnic, social and economic backgrounds, the Associated Press says that 30 percent of the nation’s Muslims are black.

“Allah is everywhere,” claims inmate Kevin Wilson. “I don’t know exactly why, but it (Islam) resonates. Maybe it’s because it’s a form of rehabilitation. It’s something we are choosing to do, as opposed to being imposed. If you follow the principles and tenets of Islam you can do nothing but be rehabilitated. You have to be brutally honest with yourself and ask yourself hard questions and have that personal talk. It may hurt, but you’re going to find out who you are, what you were and where you’ll end up.”

Speaking about the incident he says changed his life, Kalain Hadley says, “I had just been in a fight and was sitting alone with a torn shirt. A guy came and sat next to me. He started talking about Allah and invited me to Friday service. I wasn’t interested in religion at all. I said I’d go just to get rid of him. I went and listened and have been showing up to listen for 4 years now. Imam Michael Salaam said what I need to hear and he is an honorable man.”

Whether these men’s change in belief and conversion to Islam will have a permanent positive effect upon their behavior and how they live their lives, is still out with the jury. Kris Rosenberg in Can People Change says, “Faith in human transformation is a phenomenon basic to our culture. We join Alcoholics Anonymous with the hope that we can become sober citizens. And sometimes it works. We can keep faith in the possibility of transformation and still be skeptical of quick-change artists with big pay-offs.”

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 600,000 prisoners are released each year and that almost 70 percent of them have alcohol and drug problems. Within three years, about two-thirds are rearrested and 50 percent return to prison. In a report by Florida State University researcher Dan Mears, which was funded in part by the National Institute of Justice, it was found that there is no hard evidence that “faith-based” or religious programs really work or cut down on recidivism rates.

Such reports do not dampen the spirits of Imam Michael Salaam. He believes there is not enough support for those released or solid communities to which they can return and there are few programs that exist within the prison gates. As a sponsor of a non-denominational and multi-faceted program for inmates at PVSP called the Impact Program (which is co-facilitated by Rev. Deborah Johnson from Inner Light Ministries, along with an inmate council of long-time residents), the Imam has seen the positive effects and transformations that can and do take place when such comprehensive modalities are employed. “They have to come to it with some sincerity though and with an open heart to learn and reform their life,” he insists. “There are many successes.”

There are some studies that confirm that change is possible. An Arizona Inmate Recidivism Study found that, “Rehabilitation program involvement was found to reduce recidivism by 25% after two years of release. A higher level of inmate program involvement correlates with a greater reduction in recidivism. High program involvement will reduce recidivism by 35 percent or more. The greatest reductions in recidivism occur for those who are involved in a program and serve ten years or more. Inmates released to supervision record significantly lower recidivism rates than do comparable inmates released without supervision.”

A number of programs for Muslim’s released from prison are scattered across the country, but very few of them combine all of the factors that have been shown to cut down recidivism and help people stay the course. “When the Nation of Islam was the dominant factor in the prisons,” says Imam Michael Salaam, “I think the success rate was better because you had one influence, one voice and when the guys came out there was a community there. It was a coordinated effort. Now, with different schools of thought there is some fragmentation. There’s no real group representing all the divisions.”

This concern with fragmentation and groups that cause conflict in prison are echoed by Ms. Kowalski. “Some people use a fronting of religion as Muslim, but it is really negative and simply a tool to rebel against the system. This type of ‘Islam’ requires no personal transformation. They use it to form an identity, which can be detrimental, because they don’t practice or look at their own issues. That is another reason why it is so important to have trained chaplains that understand these divisions.”

Once people get out of the penitentiary, they face the same lack of coordinated services that often exist inside. A report in 2004 to the Annie E. Casey Foundation by Dr. Lawrence H. Mamiya and Dr. Ihsan Bagby identified a number of programs and mosques that are trying to help formerly incarcerated Muslims. They found that, “The city of Cleveland had the best Interfaith cooperative network, called Community Reentry, for reintegrating formerly incarcerated persons”. Other programs include: ICNA Relief and United Muslim Movement Against Homelessness (NY); Crescent Social Assistance Agency (NJ); Masjid Ikhwa (NY); Muslim Women’s Help Network (NY); ILM Foundation (LA); Small Steps (LA); Husbah (CA); Muslim Community Center (SF); Free at Last (CA); Community Re-Entry (OH); Masjid al-Muminin (GA); Islamic Crisis Emergency Response System (GA); Masjid al-Haqq (MI); Muslim Family Services (MI); Mosque of Umar (IL); Masjid al-Fajr (IN); Inner City Muslim Center (IL) ; Prison Committee at Islamic Center (TX); Prison Prevention Program (TX); and Masjid Taleem Muhammad (TX).

“I saw a study once,” Imam Michael Salaam recalls, “done by a Christian. He wanted to know why Islam was growing in America. He looked at the media and other factors and discovered that most who converted did so based on them knowing another person who they respected; based on that person’s good behavior; how that person treated them; their compassion and love. The best invitation for Islam is your behavior. The Koran says, ‘God is good. All good comes from God.’ If there’s something that is going wrong in your life, check your own hands and see what you did to bring that about. That is the key, for them to see that Islam calls upon you to improve your life so it can be of service to other human beings. I believe every human being can change. Not everyone will change, but they can. Until we can put that sense of self pride, responsibility and being of value in the men in prison, there won’t be any rehabilitation. You have to hit that chord with them. If Islam can make that man conscious and aware of his family, take care of his kids, become responsible and gainfully employed making honest money, that benefits everyone in our society. That’s what Islam is about . . . awakening that human being to his God given potential.”

“Michael Salaam has a unique way of putting things,” says PVSP inmate John E. Colbert. “It reaches the core of your soul. He is someone I respect. I could hear the same thing from someone else, but until I heard it from Imam Michael, it didn’t sink in.”

When former U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell spoke about a 7-year-old Muslim-American child having the same right to dream of growing up to be president of the United States as any other kid in this country, he was presenting a vision of the potential that exists within our society, but has not yet been achieved. The reality of how American’s perceive and relate to their fellow Muslim citizens and their Islamic faith (those in prison and those without), is still embedded with stereotypes, prejudice and ignorance. Whether these negative images are changed by people such as Imam Michael Salaam, General Collin Powell or the over 2 million Muslim’s in the U.S., remains to be seen.

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