I Found Freedom After Prison Inside My Story

By: Craig Stanland

“Man, I’ve never seen anyone present with such raw, naked vulnerability.”

It’s only thirty seconds after delivering a talk in downtown Brooklyn, and I’m a little caught off guard and humbled. I just laid bare my past: prison, loss, suicide ideation, and the path I took back to myself.

I smile as he continues,

“You stood up there, naked and alone. Twenty years ago, I was addicted to crack, was homeless, and eating out of garbage cans.”

He’s laying his past before me, unashamed and unencumbered. I realize I’m not thinking of my reply; I’m listening and honoring his vulnerability with the respect it deserves.

“I’ve been sober over twenty years, and now I make over six figures working here. I’ve kept my story private. Your willingness to be naked and alone has inspired me to stop hiding. I’m going to share my story.”

Now I’m really humbled and, quite honestly, a bit uncomfortable; his kindness stabs at my lingering sense of inadequacy.

But it’s one of the reasons I share the way I do because most people don’t know what physical prison is like, the loss of freedom, confinement, and separation from the real world.

But to think there’s only one form of prison is to deny the complexity of freedom.

I believe we all know what shame, guilt, embarrassment, defeat, regret, rejection, shrinking in the face of our terrible choices, feeling alone, invisible, small and powerless, not good enough, and feeling unworthy feel like.

We know what it’s like when we don’t trust ourselves, when we can’t get out of our own way, when others count us out, and when we count ourselves out.

We know what it’s like to feel that light inside ourselves and desperately want to illuminate the night sky, but we’ve dimmed it all our lives.

We know what it’s like to be terrified to be who we truly are and are meant to be.

And more than maybe some care to admit, know what it feels like to wish it would all just end.

These are our mental prisons, the ones we’d rather pretend don’t exist, but we’re all too aware of when they direct our choices and, of course, our lives.

Our stories are as unique as we are.

But our emotions, our mental prisons, are universal.

Our emotions are where we connect as human beings, having a human experience.

When we’re open to it, our emotions allow us to connect beyond our differences and the judgments that flow from perceived differences.

When we stand in the light of our shared humanity, our differences no longer cast the shadow they once did.

So, when someone is brave enough to share their story with raw, naked vulnerability, we may not relate to the story’s specifics, but we connect deeply to the underlying emotions.

We see ourselves in their shame, pain, joy, and triumph.

We feel seen, heard, and understood, if only for a moment. But that moment reminds us we’re not alone, and knowing we’re not alone makes the journey out of our mental prisons a little easier.

So, when we find the courage and willingness to share them, our stories evolve into vehicles for human connection and the antidote to isolation.

I’m now friends with that gentleman who stayed true to his word. He shares his story and lays bare his mental prisons with raw, naked vulnerability.

I’ve seen him speak, and I’m blown away. He’s living his purpose and the impact he’s creating ripples beyond what he may ever know.

Our deepest fears and wounds and our triumphs in spite of those fears and wounds are the stories that must be told.

Because, right now, someone is standing where we once were, and they don’t know the way out.

Craig Stanland is a Reinvention Architect & Mindset Coach, TEDx & Keynote Speaker, and the Best-Selling Author of “Blank Canvas, How I Reinvented My Life After Prison.” He specializes in working with high-achievers who’ve chased success, money, and status in their 1st half, only to find a success-sized hole in their lives. He helps them unleash their full potential, break free from autopilot, draft a new life blueprint, and connect with their Life’s Calling so they can live extraordinary lives with purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. Craig is also a member of the Ministry’s White Collar Support Group™ that meets every Monday evening on Zoom.


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We highly recommend Brent Cassity’s podcast, Nightmare Success, in which he interviews justice-impacted people from all walks of life. He is a White Collar Support Group™ member with a mission to be of service to our community. Please check it out on Spotify or on your favorite podcast platform.

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