04/07/2011 04:44 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2011

Ignite Your Passion and Change the World

Freedom is a gift. It is also an entitlement -- a universal right -- but mostly it is a gift.

Like any gift, one has to accept it, savor it and make it their own, or it becomes nothing but rubbish -- a meaningless ideal.

The years I spent in prison for a multitude of property crimes have taught me to look at things differently.

Sometimes a person needs to have his freedom taken away before he can fully appreciate the individual empowerment that freedom provides.

So many Americans sit at home and bemoan the state of government. They flick on the television, and do nothing to exercise the rights granted to them by the Constitution -- less than half the U.S. population even votes.

At least in this regard, I have to hand it to the American Latino community.

They understand the process by which freedom is earned and maintained.

If you recall, last summer, while the average American complained about cuts in the budget for pensions, education, Social Security, Medicare and the mounting war on terrorism, Latinos were in the streets protesting what they see as unfair immigration laws.

What is significant here is they played a proactive role in rectifying an injustice.

Why aren't the rest of us?

You are probably thinking, 'Well, what can I do? I can't change anything. I am fairly content with the way things are.'

But is that true?

Do you like big greedy corporations controlling your life, polluting our world, pandering to the rich and exploiting the poor? Do you like paying higher taxes to fund wars, international debt, corporate and political corruption? Do you like seeing your children's future being squandered away, as we destroy everything beautiful on the planet?

More importantly, ask yourself: 'Am I happy?'

If the answer is no, the reason is: you are not an active participant in life, but a victim of it.

When a person does nothing but sits in front of the television, like a bump on a log, with a bag of chips, his or her passion shrivels up.

So too, does their desire to focus on what truly matters in life.

I will let you in on a little secret. What matters in life is not wealth, not stature, and not superficial entertainment but how we contribute to the world.

And by contribute; I'm talking about taking constructive action.

Now some folks would ask, "But what can I do? I feel so powerless?"

The first thing you can do is take back your power.

If 20 years ago, someone told me, I'd be writing newspaper columns on prison reform, social reform, the environment, cultural issues, racism, homelessness, etc., right from my prison cell, I would have laughed my ass off.

I knew nothing, never read a book, and could barely spell.

But here I am now, free from the bonds of prison, a contributing member of the press, holding down two jobs, and active in politics.

So the way I see it, if Michael J. McCarthy, multi-loser crook, could contribute from a 6-by-9 cell from the middle of a high-security prison, just imagine what you can do!

For me, it all started with a spark.

A teacher friend of mine suggested, "Michael, be yourself, comfortable in your own skin, flaws and all. However, do not let your selfish traits dictate your life. Funnel your energy on what you have to offer others. And if you ask me, that's your writing and your fertile mind."

How she knew I haven't a clue. She must have known that good things grow out of manure, because I sure was a (bleep)head at the time. Regardless, her insight was enough to get me started down a better road.

A perfect road?

There is no such thing.

The amazing part is even in prison, I was free. Free in my heart, mind and soul. I couldn't have published the columns that I did otherwise.

And you can be too.

Each person has his or her own passions and talents. I can't chart yours for you. You wouldn't want that. There are, of course, certain steps we all can take.

Here are a few examples:

  • Volunteer your time.
  • Teach study groups.
  • Cut back on oil and gas consumption.
  • Downsize your home, wardrobe, everything in life.
  • Speak out whenever forums present themselves.
  • Write letters to the editor.
  • Vote for enlightened school boards, commissions, ordinances and politicians.
  • Run for office.
  • Protest against "free trade" agencies and sweatshops.
  • Drink tap water (get the water company to do a better job, if necessary).
  • Jog, meditate, get outside.
  • Expand this list.

The idea is to get out there and really live.

Shout for joy. Go fly a kite. Volunteer your time. Run in the rain. Protest something you are not fond of.

You are free and alive, wherever you are, if you make it so.

Michael J. McCarthy can be contacted at: