…when I stop & really think about whatever problem is going on & think of what I can gain from it I feel happy, determined, calm & positive that I won’t let it break me.

Here is one of the letters we received from people in prison who participated in Grateful Anyhow, a project in partnership with Prisoner Express that engaged approximately 350 incarcerated men and women in an exploration of the transformative power of gratefulness. As part of the project, participants received articles, scientific studies, stories, and practices on gratefulness, along with questions for reflection from A Network for Grateful Living via Prisoner Express.

In the excerpt below, Ashley Law responds to the following questions:

1. For what kinds of things might we be grateful even in the midst of life not delivering on hopes, expectations, and most especially on fairness?
2. How do you feel about the invitation to be grateful for the challenges in your life?
3. Consider a time in the past which was hard for you. Looking at that time in retrospect, in “the rearview mirror,” what, if any, opportunity may this experience have presented to you?
4. What small reminders might help you to look for the opportunities or gifts in a moment?
5. How do you feel when you have moments or experiences of being grateful? How does it support you in life?

This letter is excerpted and unedited. We will publish additional letters over time.

Ashley Law

Questions for Reflection – Grateful Anyhow

  1. My experience of being grateful when things don’t go the way I want. A huge one is regarding my children. I don’t get to see them or talk to them, sadly, I don’t know them. I haven’t been able to be in their lives for 7 years […] I’m grateful that I know without a doubt they are healthy & taken care of. I’m grateful for my friends that will sometimes get on Facebook & send me pictures of my kids, because it’s a way for me to at least see them grow in pictures. My kids will be 13 & 14 this year.
  2. I feel that being grateful for challenges in my life is a form of gaining strength to be able to mentally & emotionally get through it without becoming bitter & angry & negative. This isn’t easy. I’ve always been quick to run from problems or feel like I’m just a failure & that won’t change. However, when I stop & really think about whatever problem is going on & think of what I can gain from it I feel happy, determined, calm & positive that I won’t let it break me.
  3. Not being able to bond out of county was real hard on me back then, but now, I’m so thankful that I wasn’t able to because I wasn’t in the right mind frame & I would of just kept messing up. Therefore, not getting out gave me an opportunity to grow & get my mind right. Let go of bad desires  & live. I’d be dead more than likely if I would of gotten out. So it gave me an opportunity to have a life & an even better one once I’m out.
  4. Small reminders for me would probably be to remember the good feelings from past experiences & when I feel myself get angry or have a negative thought about something I can tell myself to find one good thing at least.
  5. I’ve been — for a week now — writing in my daily planner 3 things I’m grateful for & it makes me think of good things, focus on the positive & it makes me feel good inside & happy. So far it’s done me good. When someone speaks to me, I actually take time to listen & respond instead of getting away & it makes me feel good to just listen to someone & give them a smile. This is going to be good for me.

I really enjoyed this packet & I’m learning to be more grateful in all situations & I need that. I need to be more positive! I’ve been telling people in my life why I’m so grateful for them also. Here are a few quotes…

“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow”

“One thing great about failure is it’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be. You think it’s going to be the end of the world & it’s really not. Failure is a signpost to turn you in another direction.”

Thank you!

Ashley Law, TX

We are immensely grateful to Ashley and other participants for sharing their experiences with us. This project sheds light on how grateful living might cultivate resiliency and wellbeing in some of the harshest environments in the U.S. Hearing personal reflections on if and how gratefulness serves those in difficult circumstances furthers our understanding and articulation of this framework as a beneficial force in the world.

Concerned about the spread — and toll — of the coronavirus in state prisons?

The Prison Policy Initiative is tracking pandemic-related criminal justice policy changes, issuing recommendations to state and local criminal justice agencies, and busting common myths about COVID-19 and the justice system.

In an article published by the New England Journal of Medicine, physicians from across the country argue that decarceration is a necessary step to mitigate the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors explain that adequate social distancing and healthcare are just not possible in correctional facilities. They outline a number of common-sense steps that the justice system needs to take: releasing as many people as possible, reducing arrests, bookings, and sentencing, isolating people who contract the virus, and hospitalizing the seriously ill. To protect public health, they argue, fewer people need to be behind bars.

We offer gratitude to Gary Fine at Prisoner Express and the good folks at the Durland Alternatives Library (which provides a home for Prisoner Express) for their partnership and important work. Learn more about their programs at prisonerexpress.org and alternativeslibrary.org. We are also grateful to the Greater Good Science Center for generously sharing their research and for their ongoing partnership in supporting happier lives and a more compassionate society.

Stories of Grateful Living