Compassion in Prison

Compassion in prison??? Yes people! And it was a roaring success!!!!!! Yesterday marked the end of the 30-day Compassion It Challenge that Sara and I put on at Donovan. And we celebrated in big prison style: with music performed by resident bands (they are so awesome that Hollywood producers are producing a CD of their music!), stories of compassion (wait until you hear some of these below!) and with cake (you gotta see the residents eat cake, it’s magical!). Every day in October, the Donovan men were encouraged to perform acts of compassion to their friends and family, themselves and all. And we heard two in particular that rocked our world.

Story 1: A few days ago, John asked to recognize a man who performed amazing compassion. So, during yesterday’s celebration, John shared with the 80 men present: why are we so afraid of death? The greatest compassion comes when we do something others are afraid of. In prison also, people grow old and die of old age. The decline can be difficult. Over the past weeks, John has been witness to a man giving of himself selflessly to a dying man: “cleaning him, washing him, dressing him, feeding him, talking to him and treating him as though he still matters. It was compassion in its purest form, not for the attention or the recognition of doing it but pure love for humanity and compassion for another person.” When John called this man out, the fellow residents gave him a spontaneous standing ovation!!!! A small and meaningful acknowledgement for the amazing selfless commitment he’s shown to a fellow resident…

Story 2: Keith shared a marvelous story of the ripple effect of kindness. During one of our weekly compassion classes (attended by 17 residents), Ben told the class about secretly slipping soups into his cellie’s pantry when he noticed that the cellie’s pantry was low. (That cellie turned out to be Keith.) Inspired by this story, Mark one day spontaneously asked Keith what he wanted from the store. Keith was incredibly taken aback: He knew who Mark was but they had never spoken. (They are different races.) And he wondered what could be behind the offer. (It’s prison after all.) Keith refused but Mark insisted. So Keith asked for coffee. Folgers. And Mark returned from the store with Folgers and a pack of soups! Keith was so moved by these acts of kindness that he felt compelled to share them with all celebration attendees.

There were more amazing stories throughout the month and during the day, including one of a man making amends with a man he had sworn to hurt. Oh, the power of these men’s stories!!!! It literally changes and saves lives.

* All names have been changed.

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