I just had the incredible privilege of delivering our ART International Level 1 Authentic Relating course to a dozen inmates at the Boulder County Jail recently. I can't even begin to describe the depths of vulnerability, the courage and honesty, the heartfelt love and soulful beauty of these men that I got to experience... so I'm letting them speak here in their own words. I want to give these men a voice, and a place to be heard and felt, so I had them all write down their experiences of the weekend and I got their permission to share them. These are their unedited reflections.
"This workshop on authentic relating has changed my entire view of my identity in a matter of two days. All the masks I used to wear have been stripped away and I have found myself for what feels like the first time. My heart feels so open to accept everyone in my life without judgment. I have found brothers and sisters who see me for who I am. I never thought I could feel so connected, so free, so alive while being locked away in jail. My life has completely changed. Thank you for this opportunity." - Nick
"At first I was really dreading this workshop but within 10 minutes I'd changed my mind. I didn't want it to end! The way it was facilitated was beyond anything I have ever experienced, miraculous to say the least. The workshop has changed the way I look at people and at life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart." - Ricardo
"This class has been the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I mean this from my heart. It has been life changing, and I mean life changing. I know in my heart that my whole outlook and actions in relationships will not ever be the same, for the better. I know what I've learned will be a part of my everyday life. Thank you so much!" - Bobby
"I learned ways of relating at a more intimate level. Keeping an open mind and participating helped me learn new ways of relating and communicating with others. I gained wisdom, patience, and a lot of new skills. Keep doing this, you will help a lot of people. Thank you so much for providing this." - Juan
"I can truly say this has been the most - if not the most - helpful experiences of my life. I feel more alive, more at peace, and more connected. I was shown how to be happy with who I truly am, and how to let go of ill feelings about people. I hope others get the chance to truly feel what it is to be loved, cared for, and a part of an emotional safe space." - Frank
"I will use the things I learned from this workshop for the rest of my life. I now know I have to get uncomfortable to grab the pieces of myself that will make me the person I know I can be and want to be. This weekend was the first time in my life I've ever felt comfortable being myself. I'm grateful for everyone who made this possible and hope I can do it again." - Zach
"I had no idea of the profound impact this workshop would have on my life. In just two days I have grown a lifetime. The first exercise of simple eye contact shattered my every defense mechanism. I learned that I can choose which game I want to play, and that life is my choice. In the end I discovered profound love and compassion for myself through the act of simply authentically relating with others." - Dustin
These guys have grown up in conditions that most of us can't even comprehend, victims of unbelievable violence, neglect, and abuse. They've seen dark times that make my hardest moments seem like a trip to Disneyland. Many of them have spent most of their adult lives behind bars, sucked into a downward spiral of drugs, gangs, and crime, surrounded by pain and suffering in all directions. They've had to build up their defenses, their walls and masks, to cope with life and just to survive. Many of them had evaded terrible fates to even make it to this weekend.
But in those two days, they dropped all the masks, and melted away all the defenses, and underneath it all they emerged as profoundly heartfelt, thoughtful, open, curious, sweet, gentle human beings, and the density of love in the space, surrounded by several layers of thick concrete walls, was beyond anything I've ever experienced in a workshop environment.
We're completely committed to making this the first of many more authentic relating courses inside correctional facilities in this country, and making even the smallest dent in bringing light to one of America's darkest shadows. All these men and women want and need are the basics - love, attention, trust, connection. Many of them face unbelievable obstacles in climbing out of the tugging despair of their past, and even the simplest, smallest acts of love and attention help.
Big thanks to my mentees this last year and a half for absolutely shattering any conditioned impression I had of convicts and criminals, and for being the first guys to show me such big hearts behind those jail uniforms. I love these guys like true brothers.
I've found that by turning toward the collective shadow that lives in the world behind bars, I've had more courage to turn toward my own personal shadow, and see how much healing and integration is possible there. I've learned so much from these guys, and it's brought so much of my life into real perspective. I'm incredibly grateful that life led me to this work, these connections, and these opportunities to offer and receive such big impact. It's the best, most fulfilling, most life-affirming work I've ever done.
Heal the shadow! Much love yall, from me and from my bros on the inside.