By Lifer Patrick Middleton, Ph.D., #AK-3703, author, Healing Our Imprisoned Minds: A People’s Guide To Hope & Freedom; Senior Editor, SageWriters; co-director, the Global Kindness Revolution, author, Incorrigible: a memoir. 19081 He is the first prisoner in America to earn his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. while in prison, 35 years so far.  Box 215, Swarthmore, PA   info@TrustOneKindness.com

One annoying cliché repeated so often by prisoners still green behind the bars is:

“ A person doesn’t have any friends in prison. Only acquaintances.” I used to argue passionately to convert these macho fellows: “ How can you say that ? I have several friends.” To a man, it all came down to trust: “ You’re crazy if you trust anybody in prison.” I never changed a single mind. I came to pity them instead. I know that if they’re here long enough, they’ll learn the truth about another cliché – no man is an island.

            When I was a teen, my grandfather would often remind me to choose my friends carefully . I never did though. I had one real friend and he chose me. I was a delinquent, whereas he was an upstanding boy. Throughout all my skullduggeries, my friend was there for me- never embarrassed, never judging, never giving up on me. Forty years later, he’s an engineer and I’m a seasoned convict. And we’re still friends. There’s a lesson here. It has to do with loyalty.

            Prison has taught me some precious lessons about life. I’ve learned, for example, that there are two distinct worlds in which humans live—the internal and the external. Each has its boundaries of freedom. My external world now consists of the walkways and hallways, the prison yard, the chapel and the buildings, and this little room of a cell. There is much more freedom, though, in my inner world. The walkways can lead to just about anywhere, and I am free to believe. I am free to believe in a God or none at all. I can choose algebra or geometry. I can see the glass as half empty or half full. And if I wish, I can cultivate love and goodwill in the hearts and minds of others and my own.

            And then there are lessons about friendship. How life is so much better when we have a few good friends to share it with. It takes time-sometimes years-to cultivate lasting friendships. It starts with trust. We take chances, we show our vulnerabilities, and it’s a beautiful thing when its reciprocated. Along the way, we learn to listen and encourage, we share our histories, our hills and valleys, we laugh and tease and sometimes cry together, and so much more.

            Many of the friends I’ve gained over the years are fellow musicians. We worked hard together. We argued, we fussed, we created lots of good music and many special memories. We grew as musicians and as human beings. We came to depend on each other for a smile or an ear when we needed it. There was a spiritual comfort in knowing that they had my back and I had theirs.

            What do you do after you’ve shared years of your life with a friend who is suddenly transferred or goes home or dies? How do you deal with that “missing you” feeling, that homesick feeling you felt when you first went away?

            We stay strong. We wait for time to lessen the pain. We work on new friendships. And from time to time we rearrange the pictures of our friends in our photo albums; we relive the memories of them in our minds. And if that’s not enough, we talk to our old friends when we’re alone. We tell them how much we miss them.

            And then we remember that in having known them, life has been good to us.

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