This weekend, I had the opportunity of speaking to the inmates of Yenagoa Prisons, Bayelsa state, Nigeria.
While, I have visited a number of Prisons around Nigeria; usually to help the inmates to keep hope alive through the gospel and medical care to the inmates, I have never spent so many hours behind the walls of any prison yard as I did yesterday – about 6 hours at a stretch.
The Prison visitation and medical outreach was organized by Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA), Bayelsa chapter. CMDA is in the business of caring for the whole man – spirit, soul and body. About a hundred and twenty prison inmates and warders received free medical care today as well as healing to their souls and spirits.
While speaking to the Prisoners at a service held in the Prison chapel, I reminded them that this stage of their lives was just a comma (,) and not a full stop (.). They could still serve their time and rejoin society to still achieve their dreams. Even for those serving life terms, there was still hope as long as they were alive. I used this opportunity to remind them of great men who had been to Prison and still came out to make an impact in the world. The Prison is actually a place where some great inventions have been made and great books authored.
From my interactions with the Prisoners, I learned a few lessons and was reminded of some which I share below;
1) Freedom is your greatest asset
Stop complaining about what you have or don’t have. As long as you have your freedom and you have life, there is hope. In my visit to the Prisons, I have on some occasions met young handsome, highly educated and very wealthy men who seem to have had it all before they landed in jail due to some errors of commission or omission – wealthy businessmen, professionals, athletes and even artistes whose dreams have been locked up. I also meet a lot of young people; undergraduates, technicians, musical talents that are yet to be announced, mechanics, pickpockets, robbers, etc. They often say they are ready to give up all they had just for the taste of sweet freedom. They wish they are able to turn back the hands of time to make adjustments. However, they are unable to do that because they don’t have the freedom. Some of them have dreams of going to college, others wish they could start a new business, a few regret that they are unable to make it up to their families or even families of their victims, some still dream of waxing their record album and there are a number who have already written volumes waiting to publish. Many regret that they are unable to move forward with their dreams because they are incarcerated.
You are able to read this line because you are a free man. You don’t know what you have till you loose it. Maximize what you have – freedom!
2) Not everyone in Jail is a criminal
I briefly watched a football match going on in the Prison yard on my way to the Infirmary where we attended to sick inmates. The players in the football match and the patients I saw at the prison do not look too different from people we see on daily basis in the society. Some of these people may actually be innocent of the crimes for which they were incarcerated. It could happen to anyone. However, that is for the justice system to determine. Yes, I have heard the saying that “Nobody is guilty in prison. We are all innocent”. Some of the stories I heard are quite touching. One patient I attended to was a Traditional bone setter who was involved in an accident while driving on the highway. Someone got killed and he got term for manslaughter. Another is the story of an auto-mechanic who was nabbed by the Police while driving a stolen car he was actually fixing for a client of his. He had no idea that the car was stolen, but he somehow got involved and is serving terms alongside the client who was later nabbed. There are stories of people who got arrested because the Police couldn’t lay hands on their friends, relatives or neighbors who actually committed the crimes. Of course, a number of the inmates actually admitted to having committed the crimes for which they are incarcerated. However, I learned that not everyone in Jail is a criminal. Have an open mind. Give other people a chance irrespective of their present location and circumstances.
3) Your mind can fly even when your body is caged
I have met Prisoners who accomplished incredible feats while in Prison. Some completed their education in Jail. A good number authored books. While a a few invented all manner of contraptions. Prison is not just a place where people train their bodies. It is also a place where inmates can develop their minds and build their spirit. Just because your body can’t move beyond the walls of the Prison doesn’t mean your mind has to be that limited. You can soar as high as you can imagine with the wings of your mind. Check out 5 people who changed their world from inside the Prison.
4) You can make lemon out of lemonade: Prisonpreneurs actually exist!
Yes! Believe it or not, there are entrepreneurs who are thriving in prison. Prisoners have needs varying from food items and toiletries to stationery. Some smart inmates actually find a way to make these commodities available to their fellow inmates who somehow have the cash to pay. The hustle continues….even behind the walls. No matter how difficult the situation maybe, you can turn it around for your good. See the opportunity in the problems.
5) Never take anything for granted
The fact that you are able to whip out your mobile phone to call your friends and family is not something you should take for granted. For the fact that you could wake up and decide to make a trip to any city in the country or any country of the world as long as you can afford it, decide what you want to have for Lunch, choose what you want to wear, observe basic personal hygiene with ease and all that are not stuff you should take for granted. Prison inmates do not have this freedom of choice. Don’t take the simple things of life for granted. Live a life of gratitude.
6) Solitary confinement often leads to Deep Soul searching and contemplation
This is self explanatory. You will be amazed at some deep philosophical insight from some prison inmates. While a good number remain as shallow as they come, some inmates take the time in Prison to reflect deeply on their past life and mistakes in order to draw lessons that will aid them to live better when they leave the walls of the Prison. It is not surprising to see some inmates who were notorious criminals; now transformed by the word of God. I have seen prisoners who seem to have developed some sage-like demeanor while behind the walls. Don’t wait to get behind bars before you take out time to ponder about your life. Take out at least one day every month for solitary confinement. Stay all by yourself to study, meditate, pray and plan. You will be a much better person and achieve more of your goals.
7) Don’t expect life to be fair to you. Make the best of the cards life deals you
Some individuals who found themselves behind bars don’t actually deserve to be there. some were framed. Some made mistakes. Conversely, some notorious criminals walk the streets because they have not been arrested or convicted. There’s no use griping and lamenting on how unfair life is. If you find yourself in a mess, get a message out of it. If life serves you lemon, make lemonade. Don’t throw in the towel. The stumbling block can still become a stepping stone through which you can launch to greater heights