"Prison life in America is a unique and distinctive subculture. Prison has its own rules, its own social order, and its own expectations. There are about six things prisoners discuss: Crime and Time, Sex, Drugs, Legal Work, Sports, and Food. Other subjects crop up occasionally, but by and large, conversations tend to revolve around those topics. It is rare for two prisoners to sit down and have a conversation about world affairs, music, art, books, travel, or other topics pertaining to culture. It is rarer still to talk with someone about feelings and emotions. To expose yourself in this manner is not wise in a setting where hate-mongers sit in wait for a chance to capitalize upon your vulnerability. If you have a bit more education than Sandbox 101 and if you have experiences that exceed the limits of an armchair and a remote control, you could be in serious trouble while in prison. In the intellectual wasteland of prison, it's all too easy to succumb to inertia and fall into the limited conversations and gossip.

"Everyone in this environment knows longing and feels the weight of depression at times. Those who strive to excel and raise themselves from the depressive muck of normal prison life invariably understand more than the definition of the word lonely. A person can starve emotionally for a comforting word, a loving touch, an understanding ear. Since everything is so transitional in the world of the incarcerated, it is rare that prisoners dare to explore the realm of sincere friendship. Most would rather plod past the months and years of loneliness without making real human contact. The end result is a kind of slow, living death.

"When I see this waste of human resources, when I hear people mortgaging their future to pipe dreams, when I see the lack of direction prisons perpetuate, I feel an indescribable loss and deep despair. The prison system encourages recidivism instead of education. I think most prisoners reenter society worse off than when they left. Moreover, the expectation placed on them is that they will succeed in a life for which they are ill prepared.

"A small percentage of inmates, however, try to improve their lives. They make an effort to use their time wisely and become better people. They are determined to find a path away from suffering and are focused on things that matter. They do this in the face of great odds, despite many obstacles, and with little or no outside help. It is easy to recognize these people within prison walls. They are the ones who consistently, sometimes with great courage, extend kindness to others. They live compassionate lives and talk about the potential in every person. And, notably, they smile often. Many of these people are rooted in spiritual practice and meditate regularly."