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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.

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Letters From Prison: Be On Purpose

SBahrami  be on purpose

Our friend Shawn is serving his 21st year in a Texas prison for a crime he did not commit. Shawn is one of my personal adoptees, and writes to me often. We also speak on the phone a few times a month. His letters, like the one below, always begin with several motivational quotes. Of all the people who write to us, Shawn is one of the most positive and inspiring. You can read more about Shawn on his website, FREEShawnAli.com.

September 30, 2015

“Nothing in life can take the place of knowing your purpose. If you don’t try to discover your purpose, you’re likely to spend your life doing the wrong things.” -John C. Maxwell

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life. Everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he/she cannot be replaced, nor can his/her life be repeated. Thus everyone’s task is as unique as his/her specific opportunity to implement it.” -Viktor Frankl

Good morning. It’s early. I was dreaming again, woke up wide awake and couldn’t go back to sleep. From the moment I woke up, I felt so alive and determined, I could literally feel my mind and spirit inching closer to my destiny. I woke up this morning feeling peace and liberty inside because I know my purpose, and it excites and motivates me to know I’m one day closer to fulfilling the physical manifestations of my purpose. But for now, I have to live for today, Melissa, the little things I do today to prepare and train myself matter, and count towards fulfilling the full potential of my purpose.

I couldn’t stop the tears this morning, they kept falling and flowing as if they were watering my positive mental visualizations and dreams that I reflected on as I thought about my purpose. It didn’t surprise me, when I opened up my Leadership Devotional, that today’s reading was titled “Be On Purpose,” and it’s where today’s quotes came from. More tears. Why? Because if I never got locked up on this case, if I was never wrongfully convicted, there is a good chance I could have traveled through this fast life without discovering my purpose. No God, please let me get locked up, use man’s wrongdoing and injustice to bring about greatness in my life. I can miss my physical freedom for 21 years, but I cannot miss my lifetime without discovering my purpose.

Then I read my three pages of goals and visions for my life out loud, and I could feel the universe and God moving the chess pieces of my life to align me in the best position to realize my purpose. People. Events. Circumstances. Experiences. Connections. Contacts. I can feel the unseen chess pieces moving. Then I hit my concrete floor in the push-up position, but I only did one good push-up. Why? for the psychological effect (it makes my mind stronger). Yesterday, I did 1,200 push-ups for the physical effect (which made my body stronger). More tears. I’m stronger today than I was yesterday – physically and mentally – and though I’m caged in this tiny cell, I find and feel true freedom in knowing and pursuing my purpose.

Give me a hug, Melissa, mmm-mmm! We know our purposes in life, Melissa. Yes, it took your brother getting wrongfully convicted to ‘accidentally’ discover your purpose, and it took my wrongful conviction to ‘accidentally’ discover my purpose, but bad things and tragedies happening in life are inevitable, so we are so blessed that our tragedies weren’t for nothing because our pain propelled us to discover our purposes.

I also received a new blog idea this morning for your site – Why You Should Adopt an Inmate – because there are many people out there who will find purpose in life when they visit your site and adopt an inmate. Have a good day, Melissa, and keep pursuing your purpose.

Feeling inspired,

Shawn Ali

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