Friday, November 19, 2010

10 Reasons I Am Grateful For 12 Years In Prison

Well, I finally completed my list for a short talk this Sunday at Unity San Francisco.

1. Keith. Keith Crawford was my cellmate or "cellie" at Pleasant Valley State Prison. And as a former meth addict he thought I must have been on that drug to commit my harebrained crime of trying to hijack a motorhome. We talked more after I told him I had never done drugs, and two years after my arrest I figured out why I had been acting so erratically--I was taking a nutritional product for five years, three times a day, loaded with potent ephedra, then thought to be healthy and legal. Keith jumped up and said, "Ephedra--that's what I used to make meth!" So, though unintentionally, I was doing drugs. At least I knew I wasn't crazy.

2. Karen. Karen Wilson was a beautiful friend, author and management consultant, who had insisted that I move into an apartment in her Orange County, CA home (on Pleasant Street) when I was released, and she would provide free room and board and even had some thoughts on helping me produce income, helping her teach some classes at UC-Irvine, and co-author a book she wanted to write. Tragically, she suddenly died around this time of year two years before my release. But for ten years, I had a place to go to and purpose, so I'm grateful tho sad I can never properly thank her.

3. Inner Work. When dealing with the dehumanizing, debilitating prison environment, the best weapon is the ability to ignore the physical plane and go inside yourself. I was lucky that over twenty years of presenting and attending workshops on consciousness all over the world ideally prepared me, so that I was rarely present in prison--quite often lying on a hammock in Tahiti or Bali instead.

4. Creativity. Though I didn't know at the time that it was about getting off ephedra, within a few days of my arrest, my mind seemed to clear up, and for the first time in several years, I began to write and create all sorts of future projects--a definite sanity saver.

5. Sense of Humor. An essential factor in overcoming any adversity, but especially in prison, where I was surrounded by violent, sadistic, drug addled men who thought of me as the lowest form of life--and that was just the corrections officers.

6. Writing and Reading. One of my great blessings during these twelve years was that I was able to continue, and even increase, two of my favorite activities from my former life. I read over 1000 books, and wrote up a storm. In the first few months, in the dismal county jail in Martinez, California, I actually wrote an entire mystery novel, my first, using scraps of paper and the only writing instrument available, a small wooden golf pencil I had to sharpen with my teeth. I went on to write hours of stand-up material, 15 legal pads of prison journals, several stories for Chicken Soup For The Prisoner's Soul and its two sequels (the original was my idea, which I passed on to my old friend Jack Canfield), and over 10,000 cartoon gags which I sent to several cartoonists, a number of which they drew up and sold to major publications.

7. Friends. Or as I described them in my 1974 book, FRIENDS, a "supportive interpersonal environment." This was vital to thriving in the prison setting. Some famous friends like Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Wayne Dyer, who kept me supplied with books and magazine subscriptions and words of encouragement. And some famously caring and supportive friends like Rupa and Susannah and Karen and Kalei and Rachel and Mary Ann and Gregg and Marla, Steve and Lenny, Judi, Julie, Tom, Will, Bonnie, and Andrew.

8. The Internet. Though I had no access to a computer, let alone the Internet, it did keep my name out there. Several friends let me know that many of my quotes were being circulated by MSN, Google, and Yahoo. Though I had no idea of the full extent of it until I got out there. And this got me off and running into my own online activities, including this blog, as several top Internet gurus and entrepreneurs knew of my existence and volunteered to help me get a foothold in this amazing medium.

9. Discipline and Patience. I'm not sure exactly how this happened, but during my incarceration I dramatically increased these two qualities. The big difference friends who have known me a long time have noticed since my release is my huge gains in discipline and patience and creative productivity.

10. Savoring. In prison, if you're lucky, you get to take big, big pleasure out of even the smallest treats. My favorite definition for "savoring" is: "To give one's self to the enjoyment of." I did that big time whenever anything good showed up. Like the time some Mexican inmates grew tomatoes in a secret garden. I was able to obtain these from them for several months--tomatoes and onions were almost unheard of in prison and at the top of my list of foods I felt deprived without. To this day, I savor every bite of a tomato (or onion) and usually have them at least once a day. And you'd better believe I've enjoyed the handful of homecooked meals I've had in the past two years. In fact, I savor everything with a new zest, even fast food--I loved my burger at In 'N Out last week. And this also includes every sensual delight in my life, from hugs to compliments to fun new websites to the feel of the sun on my face.
I hope your Thanksgiving will give you as much to be grateful for.

P.S. One of those people who searched me out as a result of my Internet presence during my incarceration helped me design my prosperity blog:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


This past evening I had a unique and most enjoyable experience. I spoke on the phone to my long-time good friends, Gregg and Marla Sanderson, in Clearwater Beach, Florida, where they were partaking of a meal at Bob Heilman's Beachcomber restaurant. The reason for the call was that I was paying for the meal, as a result of this month's election results. Yes, I bet that the Democrats would retain the House, and I think this is the first election bet I have lost.

As I use almost everything that happens to me and around me as material for future books, my two blogs, and my audio club programs, I tend to look at new experiences with laser vision and as much self-awareness as I can muster. And I realized, somewhat surprisingly, that I did not feel upset at the election results or at losing the bet to Gregg. I know it has become popular of late to be very pessimistic about the direction this country is taking, and it seems to me that many of the people whose candidates won are still predicting doom and gloom in the immediate future. And there is nothing more boring than an unhappy winner.

I am exceedingly optimistic that we will find a way out of our difficulties, as we always have. And to personalize it to the extreme, the Republican victory has allowed me to have the very real pleasure of taking Gregg and Marla out to dinner. This was a special treat for me as well as the two of them. The last time I had the satisfaction of buying a couple of friends dinner was before I started my 12 years of incarceration back in 1996.

And this was unusual in that it was done at a great distance--me in California, the two of them in Florida. So, I was not present, I did not get to enjoy my own meal at the Beachcomber, but I am planning to vicariously savor every bite as Gregg promises to give me a full report with photos. All I know at this point is that he started with Oysters Florentine while Marla had Vichyssoise (I have gotten some weird reactions in restaurants when asking if they could heat this cold thick soup--it just doesn't seem like soup to me unless it's hot.).

After we talked, I went online and read some reviews of the restaurant. And I already have a complaint about Gregg's choice of an appetizer (we have a long and fun history of sticking our noses in each other's business). Several of the reviews mentioned that a specialty of the house was Clams Casino, one of my own favorites, so my vicarious thrill would have been even more so if that had been their first course.

The truth is that I plan to get more out of this long distance taking of friends to dinner than if I did it in person. This is about intention. And reflection. Gregg and Marla and I have had many meals together, as Gregg and I also did with his beautiful and amazing first wife, Linda, who passed on much too soon. They were divorced for some years when that sad event occurred, but had remained really close and supportive friends.

So this meal tonight reminded me of many others we shared. At the Red Diamond, an Italian place in Miami where we would go after one of my early workshops at the Cornucopia growth center. At the Court of the Two Sisters in New Orleans, where Gregg almost took his pants off--but that's a story for another time. At some great places in San Diego and Nevada City where Gregg and Marla lived for a time. At a great lobster place Gregg introduced me to in Rosarito Beach in Baja, Mexico.

We've broken bread at many meals in many places, and always with a zest for the epicurean delights being offered and a warm conviviality nurtured in the warmth of each other's company. So I felt much of that good feeling as Gregg and Marla enjoyed dinner on me, and consider it a prelude to many more meals enjoyed together once I am off my parole period and able to freely travel.

And of course, I look forward to a rematch in 2012, when I'll be the recipient of Gregg's generosity and hospitality, assuming I get better at reading the electorate in these weird and wonderful political times.

Friday, November 12, 2010


In the aftermath of the 2010 mid-term election, there is more than enough material for a reality show. But I think we have all overdosed on politics, especially since we are probably plunging right into the 2012 Presidential campaign. After all, that election is just two years away, and you may remember the 2008 campaign got pretty much into full swing after the 2006 mid-terms.

So where are we now? Well, the Republicans have a lot of promises to deliver on. But blowing big opportunities is unfortunately not foreign to their past experiences (nor is it for the Democrats). Some academics have suggested that government as now constituted just cannot function in this modern word of the Internet and 24 hour cable news. They may have a point, but having some knowledge of how politics works, as a one time speechwriter for a U.S. Senator, and a broadcast journalist, and once even being approached to run for office by some powers-that-be, I am not optimistic that enough current politicians on either side of the political spectrum will ever forgo personal ambition for the good of the country. Time and again, I have seen idealistic candidates become disillusioned once elected and finding out how things work in the real world of governance.

As a nation, I don't think we can be proud of the recent campaigns. On either side. More uncivil, bigoted, and abusive behavior was present than ever occurred leading up to the famous 1804 duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Racism reared its ugly head on more than one occasion, aimed at both black and Latino candidates. But I think some of the most egregious example of how low we've sunk in our political discourse is the demonization of such women candidates as Christine O'Donnell and Nancy Pelosi. Whatever their respective political positions, both women are intelligent and sincere in their beliefs. Unlike some of the hypocracy present among so many candidates, they spoke out with passion and never-wavering authenticity.

In terms of Christine O'Donnell, whom I definitely disagree with on most issues, I think she is a charming media figure and absolutely a better sport than most men would be if they were subjected to the treatment she received at the hands of Karl Rove and late night comedians. You may say that Karl Rove shouldn't be grouped with Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and David Letterman--but I think that's exactly where he belongs. Her post-election appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno was a study in graciousness and honesty. I have much more respect for her than I do for the majority of pundits on Fox, she is refreshingly human and she might have made an interesting U.S. Senator. But she has the last laugh, as probably the person who has gained the most in this last election--an opportunity to capitalize on worldwide fame. I imagine she is fielding a lot more varied and interesting offers right now than almost any other candidate, winner or loser.

So it's all over, though for me I still have to take my friend Gregg to dinner as a result of the Democrats losing the House. Most pundits on both sides are predicting two years of gridlock, with little or nothing getting done in Washington. Maybe that's a good thing. I don't know, quite honestly, whether we are better or worse off for now having a split government. There are good arguments for both sides of that debate. But I do know that I will continue to be fascinated, frustrated, and amused by politics in general and certain candidates in particular. Maybe that's the American Way.


Monday, November 1, 2010


On my prosperity blog, I just did a post about the value of old wisdom.

And quoting from John 8:32, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," sometimes translated as, "and the truth shall set you free," is pretty old but potent wisdom. Understandably, people often ask me about what changes I noticed after coming back out into the world after 12 years in prison. One of the things I've noticed is how much more acceptable lying is nowadays. Even by prison standards, it's gotten pretty out of hand. We now expect our leaders to lie, and political candidates, and anyone selling anything--and all of these rarely disappoint us.

Then there are our sources of information. The so-called mainstream media often lies by omission--they don't do the research, the background checking, the vetting of sources that used to be the standard of maintaining journalistic integrity when I was a newsman in the 1970s. Remember Watergate and The Pentagon Papers, and how much work editors and reporters did to check their facts before releasing the information to the public?

And where the mainstream media lies by omission, the Internet often lies by intention. And what has diminished us as a civilization as much as anything is the fact that more people believe what they read and see on the Internet than from any other source. Including voters. I can't tell you how many ridiculous stories people have sent me from websites that they have fallen for lock, stock, and barrel. There are even a number of websites to counter this avalanche of lies and rumors, such as:

It used to be said that Americans were the best-informed people on Earth. We pioneered so many technological breakthroughs in communication, and had a commitment to truth. Remember when President Dwight Eisenhower admitted we had sent the U2 spy plane over Russia despite the damage it would do to our reputation and diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union? Now he would be considered a fool for not taking the easy path and lying about it. One of the most shocking things revealed in the documentary I talked about in my last post, The Most Dangerous Man In America, the story of my friend Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers, was that the American people have been lied to by every recent American President, going back at least to Harry Truman on the subject of Vietnam, but probably about a lot more subjects and a lot further back.

One could say that political leaders lie to us for our own good, because the truth would hurt us, demoralize us, give comfort to our enemies. But these disputable noble intentions soon get lost in the layering of lie upon lie, until veracity is seen as a liability, even a bad habit. In some Facebook posts not too long ago, I suggested that all political candidates be given lie detector tests, or be made to swear to "tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth," when they take office, or even when they run for office. More and more, I see that this might be a good idea. The truth is we can't be truly free without freeing truth from the dark cave it's now buried in.