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Finding My Purpose In Prison by Eric Burnham

We’re pleased to introduce a new contributor to our blog, Eric Burnham.

My name is Eric Shawn Burnham. I was born April 21, 1979 in Las Vegas, Nevada, but I grew up in grad-speech-picOregon and California mostly. I came to prison in 2001, and I’ve been at EOCI ever since. 

When I was 21-years-old, I took another man’s life while intoxicated, and I was given a 25-to-life sentence in prison. I deeply regret the actions of my youth, and I’m ashamed of the lifestyle I was living that led to the death of another human being at my hand. But as much as I want to, I cannot change the past. I can use it to shape my future, however.

In 2003 I earned my G.E.D., and in September 2015 I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Counseling, graduating Summa Cum Laude (3.98 GPA). By mid-2017 I will have earned my Master’s degree in Counseling. In addition, I’m accumulating CEUs (Continued Education Units) in order to meet the requirements for state certification as an alcohol & drug counselor. (I’ll still need 4000 hrs. of clinically-supervised counseling after I’m released.) My education is important to me because I’m dedicated to helping young people avoid making the same mistakes I made.

I work as a tutor in the G.E.D. program here at the prison, and I love my job. It doesn’t pay well, but it gives me the opportunity to help young people and practice my skills.

Personal growth, to me, means becoming the person I was designed to be. I’m not too sure where the balance is found between nature and nurture in the formation of my spirit as a unique human being. I do know, however, that I’m just one incarcerated man trying to overcome my past mistakes and make a positive impact on this crazy world. I kind of think that’s what life is all about: taking the bad and using it for good.


Finding My Purpose in Prison by Eric Burnham

Can the prison experience be good? Inmates are crammed into small cells or overcrowded dorms like sardines, surrounded by some of the most difficult personalities on the planet, and ordered around by self-righteous, often power hungry and abusive authority figures. The cramped living quarters are physically uncomfortable. The lack of privacy is emotionally exhausting, and the empty nature of prison friendships is socially unfulfilling. The boredom is mind-numbing. The loneliness can be crushing, and the inflexible power structure imbeds anger into one’s personality. The incarcerated person is completely isolated from loved ones — few things hurt more than knowing your friends and family have moved on without you. Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow, however, is knowing this is all self-inflicted. After all, if you admit it’s your own fault, you are then responsible.

Read more…

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Martin Lockett’s Review of Houses of Healing by Robin Casarjian

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Initially when I began reading this book, I thought it was going to give me all the reasons why I needed to change my thinking (as an inmate), yet offer not much in the way of breaking down how I could do it — thankfully I was wrong! Houses of Healing is a remarkable guide on how one can truly delve deeply within themselves to peel back the many layers and discover why they are who they are and how they can begin to emerge into the person they know they can become.

This book’s author has created and taught a well-known program within prison walls for over the past two decades. Through this program, countless inmates have come to discover their true selves, inner passions, and potential by first confronting the pain and turmoil they suffered as a child and slowly but surely learning how to work through it. You might be thinking this could only happen with a therapist right there to walk you through such a tumultuous journey — I thought the same. However, Casarjian composed this book to act as a surrogate counselor, walking with you every arduous step of the way, ultimately leading you to a place of healing and self-discovery.

She uses a psychoanalytic approach (focused on tapping into one’s unconscious thoughts and influences that have, unbeknown to them, guided his/her behavior) to bring about this therapeutic breakthrough, whereby the “Inner Child” is the point of reference she asks her readers to get in touch with. The Inner Child, she suggests, resides deeply within all of us and, for prisoners in particular, this Inner Child’s unresolved conflicts that took place decades ago is often at the root of our self-destructive (i.e. substance addiction, violence, criminality, etc.) behavior. We are unable to change such embedded patterns of behavior without first getting in touch with the Inner Child that we’ve “buried” as a means to protect him or her — ourselves.

I read this book with an open mind, allowing the concepts and teachings to sink in. At times I wanted to disregard what she was saying, or dismiss what she was asserting as not applicable to me, but then I realized this was yet again a defense mechanism I was trying to use to protect my Inner Child. When I mentally let my guard down and absorbed what was being said, I noticed how stirred up inside I became and how some discovery and healing was happening as a result. When you read this book and instinctively find yourself shutting down, press on harder. There’s a reason you are having that reaction; chances are it’s because what is being said is exactly what you need to hear and apply to your own life.

Houses of Healing is a highly respected and recommended book, especially by those who have a stake in correctional rehabilitation (i.e. educators, counselors, support group facilitators), namely inmates looking to take their lives in a new direction. This may very well be your guide to truly coming to understand why your life ended up where it did and, more importantly, how you can begin to change both your long-held thoughts and harmful behavioral patterns. If there were one book I could recommend to anyone in prison who is looking to understand why they may have made a series of bad choices (without even thinking about it) that landed them in prison, are tired of living that way and wish to change, this would be that book. Give it a try: you won ‘t be sorry you did.

grad-pic-outsideIn 2013 Martin L. Lockett published his memoir, Palpable Irony: Losing my freedom to find my purpose. During his incarceration, he has earned a Certificate of Human Services  from Louisiana State University, AA from Indiana University, BS in Sociology from Colorado State University – Pueblo, and an MS in Psychology from California Coast University. He continues to tutor in the GED program at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, Oregon, and co-facilitates an impaired driver victims impact panel. He aspires to counsel adolescents who struggle with substance abuse.

We All Matter

This is an email I received from our remarkable friend “Joseph,” incarcerated in Washington’s Monroe Correctional Complex. Joseph is organizing an inmate fundraiser, to help us pay for our new website after we lost our funding.

Oddly, America, and I suppose humanity as a whole has a long history of allowing our diversity to cause divisiveness.

When the English first began settling here, they persecuted and slaughtered innumerable Native Americans. Then as more Europeans came, the divisiveness continued as the Irish, German, Italian and others were designated as less than because they were different.

The era of slavery, which many of us (myself included) imagine as ending after the civil war, took on many more sinister faces.

One startling example is the Black Codes, which were enacted by the southern states post war, and required freed “blacks” to have a written verification of employment every year, else they were arrested for vagrancy, and rented out to the highest labor contractor. Then, since they were not slaves which required food and health to be useful, they would work them to death, or beat them brutally and leave them to die.

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This provoked the Reconstruction Era, and brought about the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to our constitution.

However, the horrors persisted through the 1960’s when the civil rights movement gave a minor reprieve… Which brought about the creation of our modern prison industrial complex. Devastation to communities torn asunder by the incarceration of their (for the most part) men, fatherless children, families without providers…and then the return of men damaged beyond repair by their incarceration experience. Men who further burdened their communities by the cruelty they often had to embrace in order to survive inside.

Our diversity in here has caused divisiveness, historically. Whites v Blacks, Latino v Latino…and all of us against the guards, as well as society.

We are all human. We are all citizens of America. We all matter. We all have much more in common than we do differences.

Yes, my dear friend, you and I know this truth, but how do we get that message to the people that do not know?

When I get out, I intend to do public speaking and one of my key goals will be to raise awareness about the continued value of every man, woman, and child. Free or incarcerated.

Michael Henderson’s Review of Night by Elie Wiesel

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It’s not very often I can say that I’m sorry I missed the contemporaneous contributions to humanity by any particular human being. The recent passing of Elie Wiesel has left me feeling that loss.

The vivid portrayal of Mr. Wiesel’s Second World War atrocities were nothing less than shocking and left me with an urgent need to know more about the boy who survived some of the most inhumane conditions ever perpetrated by man, and the man who endured and grew from those conditions.

Much of the treatment meted from the German SS was, I am sure with good reason, not described in Night. Nonetheless, Elie Wiesel is an author I plan on learning more from — even posthumously.

This edition was translated by the person who knew him best — his loving wife — who lost nothing in translation. I was moved for the entire Jewish populous for their ordeal, but I felt uniquely helpless for the author who found the strength to re-live his pain in order to heal the world.

With intense, gripping narrative, I was unable to put the book down until I was overcome by the need to sleep. But sleep doesn’t come easy with the realization of what humans are capable of doing to each other, and how hard Elie Wiesel worked, through his writings, to change the world — his and ours.

Five stars and I’m looking for more.

Michael Henderson, FL

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