I am writing this tonight as a free man. Free from the physical prison and its system. As of November the 14th I discharged my CDCR # E-85967 and once again am living as Stuart Schoonover.
Now, I said that I am writing to you as a free man….but in fact I was free long before I paroled from prison. The first step for me was making the decision to honor one of the 5 precepts even before I had any knowledge of them. That being, “Do not take Intoxicants.” For many years I had been in the prison of self that was magnified by the use of drugs and alcohol. For more than two years prior to paroling from Calipatria State prison I made the decision to honnor myself by not getting high or drinking any longer. It has been since August 10, 2005 that I have been a sober man in recovery.
The rooms of recovery in prison are very limited as is any other option or positive light to a prisoner. Even with the absence of chemicals in my body I still felt out of sync within myself and my heart. I needed to attempt something new and find more peace within the confines of the reality that was my life for so many years. When I found the linoleum floor of the D-Facility Chapel I had found what I had been seeking.
At once I felt nervous energy, a calmness and a sense of home. I remember reflecting later…” how could I have a sense of home in a place that is the antithesis of the meaning of home.” This is how….I had the good fortune of meeting Danny and Shirley Tam along with some other people with whom I have very meaningful relationships with to this day. My mind was cultivated like earth being turned over to allow for growth. I recall the first time that I saw a pulsing light in one of my early meditations and I had such a clarifying moment of peace that I almost wept. I had the recognition in that prison chapel that I would come back to those places any longer.
I really believe that if I had not sought out something in that moment, that I may well have been lost for a very long time. I grasped compassion. I saw what compassion looks like in the faces of men who like me had been to prison multiple times and for many years. I saw lights come on in the room. I saw smiles that were unforced and genuine. I saw the desire to truly want to attain something. To achieve some knowledge regarding how we ended up there and what reasons or spiritual symptoms were lacking to achieve something greater….not to just get out of prison, but to stay out and be a productive member in our own lives as well as everyone’s lives. We, after all, wake and breathe and dream just as every other sentient being.
I had found a place to allow me to see that….and this is why I jumped through the parole departments red tape and hoops to attend the Fund Raiser in San Diego on Oct 23. To show that I am a man that has had life awakening moments as a result of the I.B.S. and its host of compassionate people. I count myself lucky to have been offered a seat at the honored table at the event. Very humbling to see that I am the Prison Projects mission, rather thousands of others just like me.
These few words are a small literary bow to the wisdom, courage and compassion dedicated by the members of the I.B.S. It is tireless, selfless and layered with kindness the work that is undertaking in these prisons.
Thank you for helping me find more than one kind of freedom.
Warm thoughts to you,