Monday, November 26, 2007


As I sit and wonder how I, and others like me, get so tangled up in a system like this. There is a long list of surface reasons that come to mind.
But after all these years, there has never been a process of trying to find out "why" we do some of the stuff we do. We sonder how most inmates constantly return to custody over and over -- and then you come to realize that no one really tries to find out WHY!
You always get the basic question: Why did he do that?
But you never get to the bottom layer peeling -- why? It's continuous, like an onion.
  1. Why did you do it?
  2. Why were you feeling that way?
  3. Why did you think you had no choices?
  4. Why are you so angry?
  5. Why won't you let people in?
  6. Why did you react so fast, etc., etc.!
I think if you get inmates to to sit still and process (really precess) these types of questions -- in a group or structured setting -- you start to get to the meat of what makes inmates tick.
I didn't decide to do any internal inventory until I had access at some structured group settings where some questions were being asked and some life stories were being told.
Then you start to connect and upen up. You become less defensive and more humble! I feel that if you are spending $40,000 a year, you can at least require and Alcoholic Anonymous-style meeting once or twice a week. You'll find that inmates act better when people listen -- and hear them.
It did wonders for me -- and made me want to do better. And that makes society better.
Isn't that what we all want?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Being Thankful from the Inside?

It gives me great pleasure to be able to express some of the things I'm thankful for -- even while I'm in a place as dark as this prison. Prison can be -- and is -- one of the most dark, lonely, scary, hopeless and miserable places on Earth.
But one of the things I'm thankful for is somehow finding the faith, hope and strength to get past all of the negatives 00 and tap into the willpower to shine a little light on some of the despair. Contrary to most beliefs, the most noticeable emotion inside jails is not anger or hostility -- it is FEAR!
It touches everyone, but no one will admit it. The new prisoners fear what lies ahead. The seasoned prisoners fear what will happen if, and when they can't tow the line. And the older prisoners start to fear the mortality of themselves and loved ones.
The guards fear what will happen if they were to lose control. And society fears what will happen ever time a prisoner walks out the gate!
I'm thankful that I have a family that has kept me close -- especially my mother -- which inspires me to be strong. I'm thankful for a second chance at life because, even though I never considered myself violently dangerous, some of the stunts I pulled could have gotten me killed.
I'm thankful that most people around me have consistently seen the good in me -- even when I was acting like a fool.
I'm thankful that I'm allowed a platform in a daily basis to interact, and sometimes help people -- specifically youngsters who seem to be going down the same tragic path I was on.
I"m also thankful that I've been able to stay fairly healthy in an unhealthy environment.
There is a long list of things I'm thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day -- especially now that I truly understand the essence and importance of being thankful.
Finally, I'm thankful that, even in this dark place, I get glimpses of humanity from people every day as I sit and watch them go home to their families. They know -- and even say, "How important it is that you come home soon because we need you out there and there's so much that yhou can be doing to help in the community."
Some may have even prayed on it at their Thanksgiving Dinner table.
As I end this holiday expression, I just want to convey how good it is to just be thought about -- and that's truly worth being thankful for!

R. Wheeler

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Giving a voice to a natural teacher

This blog belongs to Reginald Wheeler, but Don Ray is writing this first entry as an explanation as to how this came about.
I'm a journalist. In 2005 I was working for a legal newspaper. My assignment was interviewing and writing profiles of Southern California judges. One notable profile I wrote was about Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kelvin Filer. Judge Filer reaches out to young people who are at risk -- young people who weren't fortunate enough to be born into a community-minded family like his.
In the profile that I wrote about Judge Filer, I tried my best to paint a picture of that remarkable family. Here's a link to the story I wrote about Judge Filer: Judge Kelvin Filer Profile.
Reginald Wheeler found the profile of Judge Filer while he was doing legal research inside a state prison in San Diego, California. Wheeler immediately wrote to the judge to ask for any help he might be able offer -- help in his attempt to earn a parole.
Judge Filer gave me a copy of the letter and encouraged me to write to Wheeler.
I did, and I learned about a foolish, young street thug who robbed a man of his watch and a few dollars -- more than two decades ago.
Wheeler insists that he deserved to go to prison the crime. But because Wheeler forced his victim to walk to a less-visible spot along side an apartment building, the judge sentenced him to what seems like an eternity. The prosecutors played the "kidnapping" charge and put the young man behind bars for what could be a lifetime.
From everything I've learned, Wheeler has been an honor inmate for most of the time he's been behind bars. And, yes, he's hoping that publicity can help him secure a parole.
He calls me occasionally and he seems to do more listening than talking. He cares about my life and my family and he always asks about them.
This week he called and listened while I complained about how busy I was. I mentioned that my wife was showing concern that I was working too many hours and, just maybe, I was not paying enough attention to her or our son.
Reginald lectured me -- pleaded with me at times -- about not neglecting my family. Then he gave me a lesson -- from prison -- about how I should pause for 30 seconds before I decide what to do in any situation. He said that he'd be a free man today if he had thought 30 seconds before he robbed that man.
"It's almost been one year for every second I didn't stop to contemplate," he said.
Then he gave me even more advice. I'd never heard this advice before, but I knew it was important advice.
"Don Ray," he said, "when you don't know what to do, you should then start thinking about what NOT to do."
It was simple, but brilliant. I don't know if it came from within him or if he learned it from someone else. It didn't matter, however. It was brilliant.
That's when I offered to post to a blog whatever wisdom he wanted to send my way.
We both hope that you'll make the time to read what Reginald Wheeler has to say. He has no expectations of you -- he wants only to prevent others from ending up destroying their lives and the lives of others.
Please consider writing to him or posting your comments on this blog.

Don Ray