How can you justify your own anger when a former death row prisoner tells you he is not angry with the people who wrongly convicted him of murder?

I recently heard Damien Echols, of the West Memphis Three, speak about his eighteen year ordeal on Death Row for a crime he did not commit. This story is not about the trial or what Damien did, or, as I believe, did not do. (Although I highly recommend you click on the links to learn more about this incredible story.)

This is about being broken and finding the strength and courage to make yourself whole again.

Damien described prison life. Prisoners on death row are allowed out of their cell for one hour a day. In the movies, that hour brings them outside to get some sunshine. In Damien’s real life prison, he was not offered the luxury of sunshine. He was moved from one cell to another for the hour. He now wears shaded glasses because of a light sensitivity.

While on death row, he was beaten so badly, he urinated blood. He was kicked and punched in the face so many times, he had nerve damage around his mouth. Being on death row, there was no medical care. Damien’s options were live with the pain or have his teeth pulled out. Damien, however, discovered a third option, reiki. He learned about it, began practicing it on himself and lived pain free.

While listening to Damien recount his experiences, I was angry for him. I hated the guards, the police, the legal system and anyone he mentioned that had a hand in this circus. I was sad for an eighteen year old boy being thrown in to the prison population. Not Damien though, he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself or his captors. In fact, he wasn’t even getting angry while he told the story. On the contrary, he was soft spoken, calmly, sharing his experiences with a slight delta accent and a very peaceful manner. In a NYC yoga studio with roughly eighty or so students, you could literally hear a pin drop. The audience was mesmerized.

In his book Life After Death, he wrote “I believe there are only two unstoppable forces in the universe. One is love, the other is intelligence. I also believe that a person’s capacity to love is directly related to their intelligence level, just as hate corresponds to a person’s level of ignorance. The only thing that makes it impossible for the system to destroy you and grind your spirit into nothing is to be more intelligent than it is.”

Damien lived the nightmare that would bring any person to their knees. Yet, he found beauty and magic in his concrete cell. He studied religion, history and psychology, he practiced zazen meditation, sometimes meditating for five or six hours at a time. He never gave up.  No matter what. Remember, the underlying meaning to every event he experienced while on death row, was that he was there for something he did not do. Yet, he never gave up.

He turned his prison cell in to a monastery. This man who went to death row for a crime he did not commit was now, in his own words, “waking up every day in a cell, with a smile on his face.” On Death Row. Do we wake up with a smile on our face every day, not on Death Row?

During the interview, Damien was asked if he feels resentful towards the people who wrongly accused and persecuted him and I asked him if he was able to feel love towards any of the guards or fellow inmates. His answer: “I found that love was something I had to have for myself first. Love is a selfish thing, you have to have it for yourself before you can share it.”

At the end of Damien’s talk, Seane Corn led us through an amazing yoga practice which ended with Damien leading us through a meditation. I have done a lot of yoga and I’ve meditated frequently, but there was something about this session that was different. Seane was able to make the mind body connection for me go deeper than ever before, to tap in to my own resentment and anger (and release it.)  Damien led a meditation that was so profoundly peaceful that for the first time, I felt connected to a higher power during mediation. I felt connected. I felt open to receive. I felt peaceful.

Throughout this talk, I kept thinking how much Damien has to offer us. Through my own struggles, I often grapple with forgiveness, resentment and love. Somewhere along the way, I decided it’s an ongoing process. Yet, after hearing Damien, I wonder; is it really an ongoing process to be grappled with, or is it a bond to a strong, deep-rooted faith in what you believe? A belief so strong, the only outcome can be peace.

Damien Echols mentioned that he doesn’t want to be remembered as a criminal. Once the world gets to know this man for who he is, I believe he will be seen as an inspiring man who rose above incredible circumstances to find his higher self. They didn’t break him. I don’t believe it was easy for him to get from the beginning to where he is now. But he did.  So why can’t we?

Maybe it’s meditation, or yoga, or prayer, or journaling. Whatever it is that resonates with you, hold on to it, use it, believe in it, respect it.

Hold on so tight that the only outcome is peace. @lockeym (Click to Tweet!)

Please take a moment to share what you are struggling with and what you believe in.  I read every comment and would love to share your inspiration.

In 2006, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Lockey Maisonneuve underwent chemotherapy, bi-lateral mastectomies with saline implant reconstruction, and radiation. During this time, she saw a real need for recovering cancer patients to exercise—not just for the physical rehabilitation, but also the mental aspect of regaining control over their bodies. After completing specialized training through the Cancer Exercise Training Institute, Lockey created MovingOn, a rehabilitative exercise program for cancer patients. Lockey and the MovingOn program have been featured on WABC, WCBS, News 12, WKTU, Overlook View, Shape, Origin, Yoga, Mantra and Health Park Place, and The Patch. For more on Lockey, visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Herr Olsen and quote made with