NO hugs allowed. That’s how far the punishment goes.
You see, I went to give him a hug because he’d just inspired me so deeply. He’d just shared his amazing life story with me, and it blew open my heart and my soul. So of course, I didn’t just want to shake his hand and thank him – I wanted to give this man a hug.
When he extended his hand to say goodbye, I pulled him in for a hug. He stiffened… but I pulled him in anyhow.
Then I heard the rules,
“NO hugging! Only handshakes.”
This was the moment I felt the deepest sorrow over just how far away we’ve thrown away these human beings.
Today, I went into a maximum security prison for the first time. I spent the afternoon with inmates, men who’ve been locked away for decades, many of which have been sentenced to life.
The man I wanted to hug, Lionel, had been in for 20 years and wasn’t getting out any time soon.
No hugs allowed.
Driving in, I wanted to cry just seeing the prison from the outside. I can assure you, we’ve locked these people as far away from sight as possible and in the most desolate of conditions. No grass. No trees. No greenery. No colors. No art.
Just concrete, cages and barbed wire.
I went as a volunteer to help coach these prisoners to tell their stories at their first TEDx-DonovanCorrectional event, coming up in May.
The prisoners chose their own theme for the TEDx – “Looking Beyond the Surface.” Having been in there with them now, I get it.
Beyond the surface of a concrete facility in the middle of bleak and unforgiving desert is place that is filled with men who arrived as kids and who – if they are ever allowed leave- will leave gray-haired, institutionalized and old.
Beyond the surface of blue uniforms marked with “CDCR PRISONER” in extra-large yellow letters, are souls who are surviving realities that stretch the human spirit to dimensions impossible for most of us to comprehend.
This cruel place with its condemned people cracked my heart open wide and in rushed love, sorrow, inspiration and compassion.
They told me their stories.
Their stories showed me beyond the prison garb, the face, the crime and into the heart, the humanity, the universality, the oneness of us all.
I saw their light. I felt my own.
I will return many times to help them be ready to stand and speak on a red TEDx carpet – on a stage inside a high security prison – and courageously use their voices to spread hard-earned truths about love, regret, forgiveness, belief, faith, hope, choices, purpose, and the human spirit.
I will be there to let these men take me Beyond the Surface, where much deeper truths are hidden.
And although there will be no hugging, I’m certain love will carry the day.
Click here now more information on TEDx DonovanCorrectional which will be held May 21:
A day of mind- and heart-expanding big ideas shared through talks by inside and outside speakers and performers, held at Donovan State Prison in San Diego