We all know the importance of a healthy diet, exercise, stress management, abstaining from drugs and not excessively consuming alcohol. Although we often equate these with caring for our physical health, these factors are just as important when caring for our mental health. Self awareness is vital to help us effectively manage stress and abstain from harmful substances. Understanding our thoughts, feelings and actions can help us recognize past mistakes and make better choices for the future. In 2017, the Journal of Abnormal Psychology suggested that approximately 80 PERCENT OF ALL PEOPLE will experience a diagnosible mental health issue at some point in their life, like depression, and for most people, the condition is temporary. When your mental health is compromised, your thoughts are irrational which could lead to irrational decisions/actions... "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he." (Proverbs 23:7 KJV). We've all had thoughts or feelings that led to regretful actions; we've all made mistakes.  These essays were written by 4 incarcerated men who use writing to heighten their self awareness. The essays were chosen as the winners in an essay contest judged by their peers. Writing is powerful; it gives the writer the power to capture their thoughts in a way that is sometimes difficult to communicate verbally. "Write down the revelation and make it plain." (Habakkuk 2:2 NIV)  Writing is a tool we can all utilize on our journey of self awareness...

Fighting for forgiveness, InC.

Topic: What is Respect?

Written by: L.H. “The Traveler"
Words of encouragement from L.H.: In the beginning was the communication. Since then we have endeavored to communicate with God, each other, and ourselves. Engage, embrace, and enjoy the communication.

Music has a way of getting to our soul. It can stir us to march headlong into battle. Barry White could mood us to take care of business with our lover. Music can call us to anger at injustice, or soothe our troubled soul.

Music poses questions to us that may rarely be answered, but urges us to think. In the 1950s there was a song called "Who Wrote The Book Of Love". Sixty years later we still don't know. Reverend Al Green asked us, "How do you mend a broken heart", and Marvin Gaye pushed us to think deeply about our country when he asked us "What's going on?" Aretha Franklin challenged us to R.E.S.P.E.C.T her, but we had to find out what it meant to her.

This is such a challenge. We know how we want to be respected, but what does respect mean to my fellow man? Does he even deserve my respect?

Parts of our economy are based upon respect. When we eat in a restaurant and the food is good, and the server takes good care of me, I leave a tip and I will come back. I have been respected. Wells Fargo is suffering for disrespecting their customers by taking advantage of them, and it is costing them dearly. When we are respected and honored, our wallets and our lives tend to open up.

In show business there is a saying. "Be careful who you step on on the way to the top. These are the same people who will kick you on your way to the bottom." This is life. The highs - The lows success and failure victories and defeats. They happen to us all. No man is immune. Welcome to Earth!

Nelson Mandela recommends that we talk to a man in his language, for that is "what speaks to his heart." Perhaps by doing so, we may get what we want to begin with. Certainly there will be less turmoil and conflict.

Our world seems to be based upon the idea that exploitation equals my survival. This is an ideology of destruction and is the plot of lunatics. It is a trickle down madness that seeps into our soul and poisons us against each other.

I am an advocate of respect. I have no right to demand it, but I will strive to earn it. I may get it, or I may not. I do not contend that it is the right way, but a possible way that may still get us what we want with less warfare. Consider thee word that Julius Caesar wrote: "Let us see if by moderation we can win all hearts and secure a lasting victory since by cruelty others have been able to escape from hatred and maintain their victory for any length of time. This is a new way of conquering to strengthen ones position by kindness and generosity."

So, as I endeavor to answer these questions of mending broken hearts, or trying to figure out what's going on, or finding out what respect means to my fellow man, I still am wondering, who the hell let the dogs out!?!

SelF awareness

Worth fighting for!

Topic: What is Good Character?

Written by: Edward Cassell

Words of encouragement from Edward: "Unless a man has trained himself for his chance, his chance will only make him look ridiculous.  A great occasion is worth to a man exactly what his preparation allows him to make of it."  Napolean Hill

"At the first sight of you I'll either decide to run, scream, jump for joy, smile, feel love, hate, or plain out disgusted at your very image."

It is because of one's character that brings those imperative feelings to foster in a man's mind. Your character has the ability to be a magnet that attracts and repels people in your environment, depending on preconceived views of your reputation. Growing up as a kid in Queens, NY the reputation behind your character was all you had. In order for you to get into all the lavish parties the city had to offer, you would have to be greeted through a special invitation no less. I'm sure you would ask how one receives one of these special invites? My response would be pretty simple. Word of mouth travels like the speed of light. Your invite would only be given based on the host's perception of you. Whether you are the acting up type that might in turn destroy their party after all the money they've spent, a cool person who just wants to have fun, or a person who might bring hype to their party with a special talent.

I was typically invited to all those parties later on in high school. But prior to that, I wasn't. I was an arrogant, conceited, flamboyant, violent, and immature fool that lacked a sense of direction. I didn't have many friends, if any at all. Why? Because no one wanted to be around me because of all my character flaws. To sum it up, I was selfish and thought I had it all figured out. In turn, I ran friends off at first sight. I lived by the ancient adage that if something isn't broke, don't fix it.

Meanwhile, secluded from my peers I was torn apart and broken. In my path of destruction, I finally stopped and took time to learn humility and decided to rectify my character flaws and improve myself. In order for one to fix the world, they have to start with the most important figure. The person in the mirror. I will never be perfect - no not even me. Nor will I ever say that I am. But I WILL continue to strive for perfection. I will continue to seek advice. I will continue to have an open and objective mind, always willing to accept constructive criticism in regards to my character development.

"At the first sight of you I'll either decide to run, scream, jump for joy, smile, feel love, hate, or plain out disgusted at your very image."

I know a very beautiful girl. She's what you would consider a dime AND two nickles. Caramel Complexion. Hazel Eyes. 5'7" and 138 pounds. Curves so mean they make your heart stop. We'll call her Beauty. In contrast to Beauty, and standing next to her on the podium was the ugliest girl New York City had to offer. She stood 5'10" and 198 pounds. Dark as night. Thick, soda pop glasses. In appearance she just didn't compare. We'll call her Beast. Now Beauty was a violent, sporadic girl in all her ways. She was rude, disrespectful and thought the world revolved around her and her good looks. Natrually, people avoided her. With Beast, she was the coolest girl ever. Down to earth, smart, respectful, encouraging, humble. All those things combined, created a sexual appeal that she might not have had otherwise. In turn, people always sought out Beast. She was the most popular girl in school and voted most likely to succeed. You might think it funny, but she was actually my date for the prom.

Consider a glass that is clean on the outside but the water inside is dirty. Likewise, good character shapes a good personality. So depending on your character.....

"I'll either decide to run, scream, jump for joy, smile, feel love, hate, or plain out disgusted at your very image."

Topic: What is the difference between a man and a boy?
Written by: Ashlee Booker

Words of Encouragement from Ashlee: Life is an obstacle course that we all must complete. FAILURE is not an option.

What is the difference between a boy and a man is the question. The separation between the two is opaque to some to say the least. To some, its as easy as a walk in the park, while others find it mind boggling. Today's sociology teaches that money, cars, and clothes are the meaning o being a man. I truly beg to differ. When its all broken down and dissected, all the points lead to the psychological aspect.

A couple decades back, musical legend James Brown said, "This is a man's world". So exactly what is a man? According to the words of Webster, one possessing in high degree the qualities considered distinctive of manhood. On the other hand, a boy is one strongly influenced by another or by a state of affairs. There are distinguishing traits, qualities, and properties that separate a boy from a man. These are called characteristics. There are many of these in each individual. Life is the best teacher of such properties.

When a boy goes through the emergence of personal and behavioral characteristics through the growth process, this is called maturation. The movie, "Baby Boy", is a perfect example of this process. In the beginning, Jody was grown physically, but mentally, he was still a boy. Throughout life, we have all heard the saying, "Age ain't nothing but a number," and I tend to agree. How can someone consider himself a man when he has to rely on someone else for support? Jody constantly relied on others such as his mother when he was totally capable of fending for himself.

In life, we all have been in a situation where we were called to fulfill an obligation. Whether it was something simple, such as taking out he trash or more serious such as paying the mortgage. Jody might choose to buy the latest gold spinners for his custom Beach Cruiser rather than pay an outstanding bill. Where as a man understands priorities and responsibilities. In the movie, "Fences", Denzel had a discussion with his son about responsibilities. He asked his son, "If you had two hundred dollars, what would you do: buy a television or fix the roof?". He answered in the typical fashion of a boy, buying a t.v., totally disregarding the responsibilities of a man.

A man obtains knowledge and wisdom from a series of events called life. These events may be discombobulating to the mind of a boy. Being able to understand the difference between right and wrong and holding yourself accountable for your actions is part of being responsible. If a man is placed in a position where he is responsible for a mishap and he denies it, then that shows he is still a boy in the mind. It's not all about age, physique, or how well you perform in the bedroom. It is the mental aspect or should I say the perception. These perceptions are the barriers between boys and men.

Our lives are like a flower: We start as a seed that develops into a bulb. The bulb is our mind as a boy not knowing nor understanding life because, theoretically speaking, we have been underground all of our childhood. As we come of age, we begin to aimlessly venture out into the world. This process is called efflorescence. During this stage of the journey, our mind is in the process of developing, causing the third eye to open and spiritual sight to develop. Once we reach that point in life where we have matured and understand our potentials, striving wholeheartedly to succeed, then and only then have we fully blossomed into a man.

Topic: Change
Written by: Aaron Ray

My name is Aaron Ray.  I'm 24 years old and I am currently incarcerated.  I've been in prison for 4 years now.  Its not been fun for easy, but the poor choices I made put me here.  The idea of prison is to rehabilitate you and keep you from making the same mistakes in the future.  Since my incarceration, I have changed in many ways to ensure that I do not return to prison.  Some of these changes consist of my thought process, my education, and even the people I acquaint myself with.

The first change I made was my thought process.  I learned how to think before I act, and to evaluate every decision to its fullest.  I keep my mind alert and avoid situations where I know trouble will be.  I focus on positive things in my life now, and surround myself with positive people.  I consider myself a leader now, I'm no longer a follower of the so called "cool crowd".  I believe my positive thought process will only continue to grow and help me throughout my life once released.

Another change I made was to further my education.  Since being incarcerated, I've worked very and obtained my GED.  Before, education was just a joke to me, a waste of my time.  Now, I study all the time, and I am currently preparing for college courses.  I now have goals set for my future and my career.  When released, I plan to put forth all my effort in accomplishing those goals.  For the remainder of my incarceration I will continue to study, read, and learn as much as possible.  These activities in which I used to despise, are now hobbies that I enjoy very much.

One of the best changes I've made during these past 4 years, would be changing the so called "friends" I hang out with.  By replacing the people whom I associate myself with, I've separated myself from being around troublesome situations.  I steer clear of those who are considered the trouble makers.  When released, I will continue to stand separate from those crowds.  I can no longer be easily influenced into negative activities.  I know now, that the dogs I choose to run with, will also have the fleas I catch.

In my past, I made a lot of bad choices, none of which I am proud of, nor can I change.  On the other hand, during my incarceration, the changes I've made have been remarkable.  I now maintain a clear positive thought process that allows me to make rational choices in life.  It also enables me to identify and understand the difference between good and poor decisions.  I've also applied more effort and focus into furthering my education.  Therefore, I can jump right into starting my career, once released.  Also, i can now realize the influence my surroundings can have on the choices I make.  I know now to keep positive friends around in order to have positive outcomes in my life.  Upon my release, I will continue to progress in the chances I've made.  I can see purpose in my life now that wasn't there before.  I've set goals to be obtained and standards to be reached.  I now have big plans for my future, and coming back to prison isn't on any of my lists.