The single most important key to success is to be a good listener.
Kelly Wearstler

The Vision

The Vision of Life Anew, Inside Out, is to provide prosocial training, life skills, and personal growth experiences to underserved populations through a variety of experiential workshops, life coaching, and related services, delivered both inside and outside the prison setting.
  • Many adults, especially those in at-risk situations, may have never received training in interpersonal communications skills to strengthen their interactions with employers, co-workers, and others. 
  • Many people in re-entry come to the work environment without appreciating the importance of normative differences between expectations in prison interactions or dysfunctional family situations, in contrast to those within typical middle-class work environments. Without sufficient awareness and practice with different patterns of behavior, they may undermine their efforts to do well in their new lives. 
  • Our programs are designed to support increased awareness and understanding, combined with many “hands on” experiences to strengthen participants’ human relations skills. 

What we offer

Life Anew provides a variety of workshops and life coaching services. Currently, these workshops are provided in prison settings. In the future, we expect to expand the option for these training opportunities within the community and “on the outside” in the community.

We offer a variety of experiential training and life coaching services to train participants in personal development and human relation skills. The program provides several workshop series, ranging from basic to more advanced areas of human relations.

Support Group Sessions

Some class series are condensed and presented as an on-going peer support group. Loosely similar in format to an AA meeting, this would be intended to provide on-going emotional and practical support.

Participants have the opportunity to attend weekly support group sessions in which they reinforce learning and practice their interpersonal relations and coaching skills with each other.  Participants will also learn relaxation techniques and mindfulness meditation.  (In the prison, these sessions occur in 1.5 to 2-hour time frames on Fridays, and in separate all-day Saturday sessions.)

Stand-alone Workshops

Short – video assisted discussion sessions
Typically delivered in 2 to 3 hour sessions, some sessions have a module 1 pre-requisite, others would be available to anyone from the general population of the prison or other groups.

  •  Excerpts from the PBS series – This Emotional Life
  • DVD – Emotional Intelligence
  • YouTube presentation of Amy Cuddy on Presence
  • YouTube presentation of Brene Brown on Shame
  • YouTube presentations of Daniel Seigel’s work in interpersonal neurobiology and mindsight

Conflict Dynamics, Anger Management, and Conflict Resolution Skills
Currently, only one new stand-alone workshops series is planned. It will involve three days or approximately 18 contact hours. The workshop series will focus on anger management and the dynamics of conflict, nonviolent communication, and conflict resolution skills. Participants who have completed Module 1 workshops are eligible to attend these sessions. They may attend in lieu of or in addition to the Module 2 series. This offering is based on a college course that Marilyn Durbin taught for many years.

Facilitator Training
Advanced training for peer coaches and workshop facilitators. These workshops involve more complex helping, coaching, and group facilitation skills.

Workplace and Employment Readiness Programs and Mentoring Services
To support a successful transition from “the yard” to the job and the community, we expect to design and deliver several employment-related, experiential training workshops.

Customized Life Anew Programs
Stand-alone workshops and can be customized and delivered for participants within organizations, such as the Women’s Resource Center and Food & Shelter, Inc. in Norman. In time, customized programs could also be offered for DOC facility staff.

Life Anew Workshops

Module 1 – Fundamentals - An Introductory Three-part Workshop Series
Module 1 involves 20 contact hours, typically delivered within a three-week time frame. Some variations in the length and scheduling of sessions can also be arranged for groups outside the prison setting.

Module 2 – Moving Beyond Old Expectations

A four-part workshop series designed to expand and deepen personal awareness and growth, as well as more advanced skills in interpersonal relations, helping, and peer coaching practices (Module 1 is a required pre-requisite)

The Power of Little Things

“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” — J.R.R. Tolkein

Before you do anything — before you read further — take four slow, deep breaths. Just do it. It will make sense later.

When times are hard, when things are dark, when the entire world is about to fall on you and smash you flat, you don’t want to freakin’ pay attention to your breath. What a joke! It’s too small. You need at least a tank with an ICBM missile. You need a .357 Magnum and some titanium plating on your front door.

At least that’s what it feels like.

I know this guy. His name is not John. He’s homeless and sleeps in doorways. John never carries ID because he’s got warrants out for his arrest, most of which are related to the fact that he’s an alcoholic. He has a college degree. He got into and then dropped out of law school. He attended some classes I gave at the homeless shelter. John attended the first class because he’d been sleeping curled up on the cement floor and my talking woke him up.

At one point a couple of weeks later in the class I suggested that everyone write down three things they were grateful for and then we’d talk about them.

John sneered at me. “This is like the gratitude circles at East Main Place. It’s stupid.” He got up and walked out.

John’s problems were too big for keeping a gratitude journal. Or even just to write down three things he was grateful for. That’s too small. He had big problems, he needed gigantic solutions, not tiny little ones.

The truth is, getting a cheap little notebook and writing down three things every day that you are grateful for can have a very outsized effect. It’s easy and natural to focus on your problems. It’s stuff that needs to be dealt with and attended to, you can’t let it slide. But often focusing on the problems is all we do and stress begins to pile on top of stress until all we can see are the mountains of paperwork, the bills, the expensive repairs on your house or car, too much overtime at work and on and on. It doesn’t look like writing down three things you are grateful for first thing in the morning or last thing at night is going to be any help at all. But it is, it does, it lightens the burdens.

John has lots of things to be grateful for. He’s in good health, in fact, he’s quite fit because of all the walking he does. He has friends and resources like the homeless shelter that take care of his most basic needs. He’s intelligent and well-educated. Paying attention to the things he could be grateful for would lighten his burden a bit. It would punch holes in the great black wall of problems that surround him. Gratitude is such a little thing but it punches holes in that wall and that lets the light in.

I once had a dream — I don’t remember much of it except that I was telling someone “No matter what happens, I’ll always be okay because I’m a writer.”

And you know, I utterly believe that’s true even though I’m completely aware that it doesn’t make a bit of sense.

I mentioned a gratitude journal, but I’d like to talk about journaling in general. A journal isn’t a diary. A diary is where you just list what you did today. “Went to work, got off at the usual time, dropped by the grocery store on the way home, made chili for dinner, watched CSI and went to bed.” There’s nothing wrong with diaries. You have no idea what’s going to look strange, quaint or exotic to your decedents 70 years from now. “Oh, yeah, back in those days people drove to work. What the heck is chili? I’ll have to look it up.”

A journal is where you share your thoughts and feelings. You can vent about what happened at work. Worry about how much longer your car will last and go into some detail about why, after 5,783 episodes, CSI seems to be losing its edge.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, I mean, you’re discussing what you had for dinner and analyzing a tv show. But you are relieving stress, focusing your mind and exploring your spiritual journey.

A journal can receive your gratitude list but it’s also a way to get to know yourself and really find out what you think about stuff. You can brainstorm solutions to problems and you can find out you’re lying to yourself because the truth just popped out on the page in front of you. Five minutes writing stuff down is a little thing, but can have a huge effect on your life.

Now I have suffered from chronic depression my entire life. In spite of that, I am grateful for two specific things. One is that I have always managed to be high function in spite of it and the other is modern pharmaceuticals. Depression can be overwhelming like a gray cloud that sucks the life out of everything. It feels like you need the Battlestar Galactica to fight it. But over the years I have collected some small things are enormously helpful.

For example, if it’s daytime go out and stand in the sunshine for five minutes. I don’t mean take a walk. If you are depressed it’s unlikely you can do that. Just stand there and let the sun bake you for a few minutes. If it’s night, turn on all the lights in your house. Don’t worry about the electricity, the world can save itself without you. Turn on every light and maybe light some candles also. Whatever you’re wearing, change out of it and put on something else. Stop binge-watching “Murder She Wrote” and put on some music. Or stop listening to country music breakup songs and turn on “Murder She Wrote.” Little things.

If you are frightened, anxious, worried, embarrassed, or angry, those four breaths I had you do a little while ago, can help. Four mindful breaths. In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel.” Mindfulness meditation is another small thing that seems too tiny to be worth anything.

I mean, all you do is sit there quietly and train your mind to refocus again and again on a meditation object, usually your breath. What on earth will that do for you? First of all, they recommend 20 minutes a day and it takes weeks to see any definite benefit. Your problems need to be fixed today. And who the heck has twenty minutes in their day to devote to sitting there doing nothing?

A moment is the smallest unit of time anybody can pronounce. Our lives are nothing but a collection of billions of moments. Your entire life can change from one moment to the next. You can be driving down the road, a little late for work and then the next instant you and your car can be broken on the side of the road. Some moments are controlled by physics and chance, but most of them are up to you. Most of them are your choice, even when you don’t seem to be choosing.

When you sit down to meditate, the first time you take a mindful breath, something has changed. It might not be a tsunami. It might not be an eclipse of the sun, but something is different.

The power of small things is a major theme in Lord of the Rings, but nobody notices it. That theme certainly didn’t show up in the movies. It’s like Peter Jackson couldn’t figure out why the Hobbits were in the story. Nobody notices that the massive armies of men and elves are assembled just to distract Sauron so a three-foot, four-inch Hobbit can toss a ring into a volcano. Nobody notices that cities burn, and monsters roam the earth all because of something a half inch across. All the power in the universe can fit in the palm of your hand and when it’s destroyed, Mordor falls and the most evil thing on the planet turns into vapor and blows away on the breeze.

Before I started this essay I did some Googling to find out what other people said. I found a lot of sermons, homilies and advice columns about doing small nice things for people. A smile, an encouraging word, a small kindness, those little things are also powerful. But we kind of know all that.

Once I was in a grocery store and I was at a pretty low point in my life. I couldn’t reach something on a high shelf and was standing there trying to figure out how to make myself two inches taller. A man came up behind me, took the thing off the shelf and handed it to me without a word or even a smile, as if it were the most ordinary thing on earth, which it was. Then he just walked away. The incident was so brief I can barely remember what he looked like. But I was blown away by such automatic, casual kindness. I still think about it sometimes. It became a pebble that started a landslide months later. It became a turning point, a moment when everything changed.

And it was no big deal. There was no mighty wizard with a glowing sword, no spooky elf magic, it was just some dude.

I’ve heard people say. “I was in counseling for a while but all they did was ask questions.” Yes, they’re just simple questions, but with the right questions, magic happens. I’ve had people tell me “I did meditation for a while and didn’t get much out of it. I need more.” It’s true that meditation doesn’t seem like much, it’s just sitting there staring into space.

“I tried to keep a journal a dozen times but I just can’t seem to keep at it.” Yeah, it probably wasn’t the Diary of Anne Frank, but it was a daily phone call to yourself. You probably had a sense you were writing boring stuff for posterity. A journal isn’t that. It’s just a confidante that won’t whisper behind your back. It’s true that writing a list of things you are grateful for is one of those twinkie ideas that you get in new age workshops. Yes, but it works way better than crystal healing or chakra alignment.

And those four breaths….those four slow, deep breaths. They don’t seem like much when you are battling outer or inner monsters. They aren’t much. They are small and ordinary like Sam Gamgee, and they are as powerful.

Self Care for High Stress

Under Pressure? Stressed out? Here are some things to try.

Talk to someone

Call your mother or your favorite relative.

Sit somewhere quiet and give your cat or dog some attention

Set the timer on your phone for an hour and a half and take a nap.

Make getting enough sleep a priority

Buy one of those adult coloring books that have popped up everywhere and a box of children's crayons or colored pencils.

Do some painting, sketching, Zen Tangle, or collage.

Work in the yard.

Pick a spot, a room or an area of your house and de-clutter.

If you can afford it, go on retreat or just rent a motel room someplace a way from everything.

Take a long hot shower followed by fresh clothes and a quiet room

Ask for a long hug.

Eat chocolate

Take a long, slow walk (not for exercise!) and perhaps sit in the park for a while.

Buy a cheap notebook and write something in it.

Write a gratitude list

Write down everything that's going well in your life.

Watch a funny movie or a comedy routine (there are lots on Hulu and Netflix).

Watch a sad movie that will make you cry.

Watch a triller that will completely grab your attention away from what's bothering you.

Drive around with the music up loud

Learn to say no to people. Become a miser with your time.

Give yourself permission to have a couch day. Housework can wait

Go to a small quiet cafe and people watch over something tasty.

Try yoga, tai chi or Zumba

Clean your entire house or just your bedroom.

Tell yourself nothing lasts forever, not good times, not bad times. Everything changes.

Do you have a clear sense of who you are?

Developmentally, we wrestle with “finding ourselves” as teens and young adults. Then we often revisit these questions in middle age. It’s both normal and essential to seek self-understanding. In order to accept ourselves and establish a sense of belonging, we need to understand who we are. A strong sense of self helps us navigate life and brings meaning to our experiences. Without it, we feel “lost.”

Why do we experience a loss of identity?

  1. We put everyone else’s needs before our own. When we focus on others and neglect ourselves, we fail to recognize and value ourselves and our needs. We minimize who we are and what we need.
  2. We’re disconnected from our thoughts and feelings. We commonly keep ourselves so distracted and numb with alcohol, food, and electronics that we miss important information about who we are. How often do you reach for your phone or a snack whenever you get even slightly uncomfortable? These things keep us from knowing ourselves because we don’t allow ourselves to be curious and ask ourselves how we’re really feeling.
  3. We experience life transitions and changes in our roles. Experience like a divorce, retirement, job loss, death of a loved one, or other traumatic events can also result in losing our sense of self, especially the parts associated with our roles.
  4. We feel ashamed and unworthy, and consequently bury parts of ourselves. We were told that we’re bad, strange, ugly, stupid, or unworthy. We were criticized or teased. Maybe you loved to play chess as a kid, but were told that it’s not cool to join the chess club. So you quit. Or perhaps you were shamed for your sexual orientation and tried to deny it. We’re told we have to fit a certain mold if we’re to fit in. So, we squish our square peg selves into round holes and try to be something we’re not. After years of doing this, we lose track of who we really are.
I’ve created some questions and journaling prompts that will help you rediscover yourself.

Questions to help you know yourself better:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. What are my short-term goals? Long-term goals?
  3. Who matters most to me? Who are my support people?
  4. What am I ashamed of?
  5. What do I like to do for fun?
  6. What new activities am I interested in or willing to try?
  7. What am I worried about?
  8. What are my values? What do I believe in? (consider politics, religion, social issues)
  9. If I could have one wish, it would be ___________
  10. Where do I feel safest?
  11. What or who gives me comfort?
  12. If I wasn’t afraid, I would ___________
  13. What is my proudest accomplishment?
  14. What is my biggest failure?
  15. Am I a night owl or an early bird? How can I arrange my life to better suit this part of my nature?
  16. What do I like about my job? What do I dislike?
  17. What does my inner critic tell me?
  18. What do I do to show myself self-compassion and self-care?
  19. Am I an introvert or an extrovert? Am I energized being around others or being by myself?
  20. What am I passionate about?
  21. What is my happiest memory?
  22. What do my dreams tell me?
  23. What is my favorite book? Movie? Band? Food? Color? Animal?
  24. What am I grateful for?
  25. When I’m feeling down I like to ___________________
  26. I know I’m stressed when I ______________________
I’ve given you a lot of questions. I suggest answering only one or two per day so you can explore them in depth. Work at your own pace. Perhaps one per week is more realistic for you. There is no judgment and this isn’t a race. Rediscovering yourself is a process. It will take thinking, talking, writing, and doing.