In my 42 years of life, I've heard and made many (unfulfilled) New Year's resolutions. None were as profound as the ones I witnessed as a therapist at a women's prison and rehabilitation program. They were there with their children with most of them looking at their last chance for change. When they entered the prison, most of started with some resolutions and intentions -- and the new year gave them an opportunity to review them. Here are seven profound resolutions these inmates made:
1. Rise above and grow from adversity.
The majority of these women were abandoned in some way by their parents, specifically their mother. They told stories of emotional, physical, and/or mental abuse that were heart wrenching. If there was one universal resolution from the inmates, it was this: to be better than the people who hurt them, and to persevere from their pain.
2. Think of something positive when you wake up.
The day that "Negative *Nina" decided she would make a change was unforgettable. We were doing morning check in and she began to cry, which was different since she usually was quiet and put on a tough front. She said she was tired of people calling her "Negative Nina." At first she was defensive, then embarrassed, and now wanted to make a change. When New Year's came around, she reinforced her intention, making a resolution to start her day off in a healthy way by thinking of something positive before getting out of bed.
3. Take pride in your everyday "program."
At the prison, the women "worked a program." There were four phases consisting of different assignments and concepts to be completed before considered for the next level. Some really worked their program, and some just dialed it in, doing the bare minimum (sound familiar?). You may have read about *Rosa in my previous entry "Healing Vigilante: Do Something Other Than Nothing." About halfway through her yearlong stay at the prison, she decided to make a change, taking her program more seriously. She started to take pride in what she was doing and her New Year's resolution was to really work her program to completion before she left. Not only did she complete, but she also went into an after care program.
4. Focus on yourself and stop caring what people think.
*Alicia was a large inmate, but meek, with a sweet voice and a baby face. She was a follower, specifically with two bullies at the prison. At a very crucial point in her term, she squashed all of that and, in her same sweet voice, stood up and decided she would follow them no longer! Her New Year's resolution was to focus on herself, and stop caring so much what others think about her. She gained respect of many of the women along the way, including me.
5. Acknowledge your issues.
There were many inmates that were bathing in denial. They did not want to look at even one issue and would spend time just going through the motions, playing the victim, or projecting their crap onto others. One inmate in particular was *Jessica. It was her second time through the program (she did not complete the first time and was given another opportunity years later). She came in ready to acknowledge her issues, and made a resolution to be more aware, open, and willing to work on them. I always felt the other inmates were lucky to have her there, and she quickly became an advocate for the program.
6. Take care of your physical health.
*Sonya was extremely overweight. She was borderline type 2 diabetes and was told she needed to make some serious changes if she expected to live long enough to watch her daughter grow. It seemed hopeless. Sonya had a smile that burst with joy when she chose to share it and I will never forget the one we shared when I walked into the group room one day to see her attempting some Tae Bo. She was barely moving, but it was awesome. Her New Year's resolution was to focus on her physical health, making smaller resolutions along the way.
7. Spend time with your child every day.
I admit that *Jennifer was average at most things -- she did the minimum in her assignments, wasn't very friendly, grunted and groaned through her chores but, damn, when it came to a being a mother she was a role model. She was there with her toddler twins and it was like watching a different person when she was with them -- engaged, sweet, expressive, and conscious. It was important to her that she fed them healthy food, helped them with their milestones, gave them affection, and, especially, spent time with them everyday. I cannot remember if she actually made a New Year's resolution but, if she did, this would be it.
We all have different things that motivate a New Year's resolution. These women were motivated by abuse, addiction, grief, heartbreak, failure, fear and pain -- and their personal process influenced my own resolutions. They taught me that the new year isn't about starting over, or a new beginning... it's about revisiting, revamping, and/or reinforcing some of the goals and intentions we have already set over time.
*All names have been changed