More Life Moments
#MoreLifeMoments or #MLM are moments that you experience in your life, that change your life. Simple as that. They may change your perspective, your opinion, or even the way you live your life or the people in it. It could start with a spontaneous conversation, an event, or a person. Whatever that moment may be, it is imperative that we hold on to these moments to invigorate ourselves and others, to remind ourselves that life is a gift, and we should treat it as such. Ultimately, we hope these stories encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and experience More Of Life.
#MoreLifeMoment #3: Jail Isn’t for me
by: Moriah lark
Jail isn't for me, but I learned how to “jail.” “Jailing” is a very clever, acquired skilled. “Jail.” I guarantee that if you look up this example of the word in the dictionary, you won't find a proper definition, but I'll describe it for you. Hear me out for a few minutes. I have to tell you about my incredible encounter with a brave young man named Jacob.
I met Jacob in RNDC. Robert N. Davoren Complex the detention center on Rikers Island where a big population of 16 to 21-year-old detainees from across the five NYC boroughs used to be held while they would await trial and/or sentencing.
There were only two of them in the dorm house. Jacob was standing right near the bubble when we walked in, and the other guy in the house was in the day room with the door locked. The officers informed us that they couldn't be in the same room with each other--too much tension. Three of the ministers I was with went into the dayroom to talk to the other young man and tasked me with talking to Jacob. I was definitely up for it.
Jacob was standing next to the phone booths right near the bubble when I asked him if he wanted to have a seat to talk to me. He hastily replied, "I'm not allowed to sit in those chairs." There were three chairs; none of which were being occupied and the look of confusion on my face begged for an explanation because something about his response didn't sit right with me, but the officer gave a stern confirmation, "That's right. He is not permitted to sit in these chairs, but I'll allow it this one time."
Jacob came to sit down in the chair as I thanked the officer for making the exception.
With no hesitation, and as I typically do when I meet new inmates, I introduced myself and asked, "So, who is Jacob? Tell me about Jacob." The answer I got next startled me a little bit.
"I've been hyperventilating,” he replied. I had to process this about three times before I responded.
“What do you mean?" I asked.
"I haven't been able to sleep. Sometimes I start breathing really heavily in my cell when I'm alone and I can't control it."
This young man had my complete attention and I just had to know more.
"Sometimes I have to stand behind the gate."
I've seen this gate before and it's not a nice place to be.
It didn't click with me how real and raw it was to reside in jail until he shared his story with me and I started to think about how living in that environment could be. If you've ever been to a dorm house on Rikers Island, you would know that a house is typically set up with a control room located at the front of the house, or as inmates call it—the bubble. There are usually one or two officers who must be in the bubble at all times and they literally control all operating functions of the house: the front gate to the house, the door to enter the dorm house, and the sliding doors to get into each cell in the house. After the bubble, you typically walk pass the day room which is set up with a few tables with chairs connected to them. The inmates typically "socialize" in here: they play cards, watch TV and sometimes listen to or make music together. After you walk past the day room, you'll see a few chairs set up for other officers to sit with a table that contains a large notebook where they'll observe and make a record of all inmate activity and interactions. This was the same table that Jacob was not allowed to sit at. After you walk past this table, you'll start to see a hall where all of the cells are located. There are about twenty cells down the hall with ten on each side, but on average, each dorm usually only houses about eight to ten guys. Not once have I ever seen each cell in a house occupied at a given time and I've always said I'm truly grateful for that.
But then there's this back gate tainted with a very narrow space at the end of the hallway with a blurred window that gives a small glimpse to the free world outside of Rikers' walls. Rikers Island has always had a problem with controlling inmate populations because of the nature of gang violence and the inevitable operation of jail culture, and given the fact that it is now deemed unconstitutional to place these young inmates in solitary confinement, they will typically put inmates behind this gate to separate them from other inmates. There are various alternatives to housing inmates and ideally, they could have put them on lockdown in their cell, but sometimes that has been proven ineffective for various reasons, including an inmate attempting to break something in his cell like the toilet or the bed, or even worse, attempting to hang himself.
"Why did you have to go behind the gate?" I asked.
"The officers say I'm too much of a problem."
"Is this why you keep hallucinating? Because of that gate?"
"Yes, jail isn't for me. I don't like being here and I'm not cut out to be here." I've heard so many inmates say this exact phrase so many different times--"jail isn't for me." The more I kept hearing it, the more I could decipher that it was their way of signaling an actual cry for help, but it was also their way of masking their fear.
"Why did they make you stand behind the gate?" This next part broke my heart.
Jacob shared with me that when he first came to the Island, he made a new friend and through a shared struggle in jail, they built a very quick bond. They resided in the same dorm house, but some other guys in the house didn't like it and they threatened Jacob, demanding that if he didn't punch his friend, they were going to jump him. It really made me wonder what I would do or how I would act if I were put into this situation.
So, Jacob punched him, and because he punched him, he got shipped off to a different house-- hence his current location. He told me that he hasn't been able to speak and apologize to his friend since the incident, and I'm sure it didn't make him feel any better that he was placed on a bizarre punishment. Get ready to queue the start of his uncontrollable thoughts--permeated in fear, guilt, loneliness and hopelessness.
This is pretty common behavior on Rikers—both the random acts of violence, and the emotional and mental trauma that comes after it, but I'm not sure which is worse. I experienced a lot of important teaching moments about jail culture on Rikers, but through hearing about Jacob's experience, this one will always stick out the most to me. In this lesson, I learned that you must always be on guard, and if you talk to enough inmates, they’ll tell you that you really have to learn how to “jail” properly. It's obviously very common to hear about slashings, stabbings, people getting jumped, fights, and behavior of the like, but rarely do we ever stop and unpack this and think about why inmates do this. The most common type of instance is one similar to what Jacob infracted. Whenever a new inmate comes into a house, you can expect that something will happen to him. He'll get jumped or even slashed with a sharp object as soon as he walks into the dorm house, or on the contrary, he might actually be the one to commit the act. Inmates do this because it sends a strong message. The inmate who commits the act does it for protection and to let other inmates know that he is about that life. He does it so that no one will sense fear on him. He does it for protection and sometimes, he won't even know who he attacked, but he has no hesitation to let people know that he is not to be messed with. Learned behavior on the streets is also commonly practiced behavior in the jail.
Jacob’s story touched me on a deeper level than I ever imagined because I knew he was experiencing extreme levels of anxiety. The thought of getting jumped. The thought of losing a friend. The thought of being severely punished because of an innocent act of fear. The thought of being alone for hours at a time in his cell and even worse, being behind that back gate. The thought of not ever knowing when the punishment would be over. The thought of time slowly passing by. The thought of waiting for the next court day. The thought of the judge declaring your fate. The thought of never leaving incarceration. The thought of living day to day behind bars. The thought of having to "jail" every day. All of these thoughts, and no method to cope. Anxiety is literally the devil in a dark place who can take complete control of your mind and distract you from the very focus that you need to survive. I know this all too well because I’ve experienced anxiety all too much.
This is why I could thoroughly understand exactly how Jacob was feeling. I was at the height of my anxiety when I met him. I knew exactly what it felt like to be completely distracted by all the fears and negative thoughts that pollute your mind and cause you to lose focus. I thank God for meeting Jacob that day because He really let my imperfection come full circle. I had been so distracted over the past few months that I had to force myself into personal therapy, but I learned a few techniques that helped me cope with my distracted mind and I was able to pass them along to Jacob: keep a tally and embrace your anxious thoughts, take some deep breaths in and let them out, slowly watch the anxious thoughts pass away from your mind.
The Holy Spirit really moved a mountain in the jail that day and we all felt it. After I shared a few coping mechanisms with Jacob, another minister and I joined hands to pray with him. It was a really good prayer too… and after that, he exclaimed, “Wow, I never knew I could receive a good feeling like that.” That was the Holy Spirit and it was amazing.
I was extremely moved by how God allowed this experience to happen. It is still so crazy to me that I woke up so distracted and anxious that morning because I had so much clogging my mind, but I love how God used an issue that I dealt with to help minister and connect with this young man who experienced the same struggle. Jacob thanked us for praying over him and you could immediately see a change in his demeanor. It was almost as if the change in his disposition was conveying a little ounce of hope to push through.
I, unfortunately, was unable to get Jacob's contact information after we met that day and I knew he wasn't going to be at Rikers that next time I would return because he was getting released into a treatment program three days later. I never asked him what he was in Rikers for. It didn’t matter to me what his charge was. I’ve met plenty of "alleged" drug dealers, robbers, gang bangers, and murderers and each of them have their own unique story, but they all share similar experiences— façade covered by fear. When I looked at Jacob, all I saw was a young brown boy, just hurting, and the worst part was, no one was actually helping him to "correct" his situation. It always made me wonder why they call it the Department of Corrections. It still breaks my heart to think about his situation but I remain hopeful that he is okay and that he can grow tremendously from his experience.
Jacob’s story put a complete 180-degree perspective on just how real mental health is in the jail system. I know how bad my anxiety gets over little things so I can only imagine what he and other inmates go through being in jail and having to “jail” every day. Jacob's situation is the proof point as to why we have to do better about protecting and nurturing our youth, especially our young black and brown boys--even those that are incarcerated behind bars.
Jacob represented a lot of things for me. A big teaching moment. A painful experience to endure, but a great lesson to learn and overcome. An alert that needs attention and begs for a rescue. A quiet voice with a loud message. A reminder to address and tackle an important racial stigma in our society. A motivation to keep going and to remain relentless and resilient. An inspiration to do something bigger.
So Jacob, wherever you are--thank you for sharing your story with me. You have given me a completely different perspective on a different type of life. You have even helped me. You are in my thoughts and prayers every day. Forever and always.
*The real name of the individual featured in this piece has been concealed for legal and discretionary purposes.
#MoreLifeMoment #2: Reach Your Dreams…But Don’t Stop Dreaming
by: John Sims
I’m currently a middle school English teacher in Newport News, VA. If teaching inner city students isn’t hard enough, try teaching 96 students with about 60% of them who do not care to receive an education on top of working faculty members who are not invested into their jobs and reaching unobtainable expectations placed by administration. Everyday (Yes, every day), I was frustrated, stressed out, and feeling overwhelmed by my career simply because it was not going in the direction that I had envisioned it. I was ready to move on to a different career. I could no longer stay consistent because I was not seeing a reward nor a change from my commitment and consistency.
One day, one of my students saw me sitting at my desk during my planning period with my hands placed on my face. He stood in front of my desk and said to me, “Mr. Sims! I just wanted to let you know that even though our class is terrible…very terrible, that I think you’re the best teacher at this school! You may not have an effect on all of these students, but one day you will inspire students across the world. You just have to keep dreaming.”
The fact that an eleven-year-old said that to me and it made me change my entire perspective still baffles me to this day! But he taught me what the secret to staying committed and consistent; the secret is to always dream! Be a dreamer of improbable dreams! Never stop dreaming once you’ve achieved your dream. Once we stop dreaming, we get comfortable and being too comfortable can detour us from our goals. For me, I stopped envisioning the change I could make in education once I saw the change I wasn’t making out the gate.
The answers to life questions can come from all different sources. You just have to be patient enough to see where it comes from and process why it was presented to us. Remember…HE makes no mistakes.
#MOrelifemoment #1: Inspiration in Unexpected Places
By: Nikki Abraham
Living in New York City, you see a lot of homeless people. So many homeless people you become immune to the elaborate stories on the subway and blankets on the street. With the amount of individuals I see on a daily, never in my life did I think that a homeless person could actually be a source of inspiration.
Every day when I get off the subway, I see a homeless man at my station. He carries a dry erase board and has some sort of positive message written on a daily basis. I could be having the worst day in the world, but as soon as I read his board, I have no choice but to cheer up. It really makes me think if someone in this predicament has the ability to find light and provide motivation to others, what am I really stressed about?
One day, in particular, he had a board that said I was born today May 12, 1967. Reaching the age of 50 is a milestone that people celebrate but for Joe, reaching the age of 50 was a nothing short of a blessing. On this day I bought Joe some shrimp from Popeyes and spent an hour speaking with him about everything from faith to losing his son to the liver disease that he's dying from. Throughout it all, the strongest point he made is that God is real and with faith in him you can overcome any obstacle.
Joe inspires other people in ways that you couldn't even imagine. One day, in particular, he had a sign that said: "Things do not come to those that wait they come to those who orchestrate." This very sign encouraged a man that was a manager up the stairs at footlocker to quit his job and open his own business.
Sources of inspiration can come from the most unexpected places. We all go through tough times, but I hope this story inspires you to find the light in your situation. Before you start stressing and complaining about what you're going through take a second and Thank God that he brought you this far. If we had more signs like Joe, the world would be a better place.
Your life is a blessing. you are enough. never give up.
"Life isn’t how many breaths you take, but it’s the moments that take your breath away."
— Will Smith
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