Finding Gratitude Within Prison Walls

cheryl-with-college-staff-graduation-nov-13-07.jpgcheryl-with-college-staff-graduation-nov-13-07.jpgCheryl Armstrong is serving a 96-year sentence in Canon City, Colorado for two counts of second degree murder. She did not kill anyone, but drove the getaway car and was accused of being the “mastermind” in a double homicide in 1995 when she was 16 years old. Cheryl is now 29.

I’ve written to Cheryl and she agreed to allow me to post her responses to questions I’ve asked about her life in prison. The following was what she told me when I asked if she found things to be grateful for.

The first thing I did when I opened my eyes this morning was simply to tell God “Thank You.” I have begun to make this a normal practice throughout my days also. It really is amazing how much it was so easy to see the negative in everything. I realize now it was only me creating all that negativity in my life. In the last few years (with plenty of bumps in the road and mistakes along the way) I have learned to recondition my mind and truly change the way I look at life. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve done on my journey – and also the most liberating.

Throughout my experience of spiritual growth, one of the hardest lessons for me to learn and incorporate into my life was gratitude for everything that comes into my life, even the hardships because they teach me so much. When I was younger, I wasn’t grateful for whatever appears in my life. People around me in prison and also those who can’t contemplate being grateful for things in my situation may wonder how I can live in a state of gratitude every day. I had to hit rock bottom mentally and emotionally before I could find my way into something different. I got SO TIRED of being unhappy, completely judgmental, and continually being offended by others. I couldn’t live that way anymore and became determined to change it.

What am I grateful for? Well, first and foremost, for my newfound appreciation for life. I always tell people that the main thing I love about the facility I’m in is the yard. I can go out there and lay in the grass and (in the spring and summer) listen to the leaves on the trees blow. That’s such a simple thing that most people would never think twice about – but I cherish it. I’m grateful for the beautiful view here. I look out past these fences and see nothing but mountains and trees. It’s a view I never get tired of (although it would be nice to see it from the other side of the fence). I go outside on weekend mornings and jog and I always like that. It gives me a sense of peace in my heart.

Obviously, I am grateful for my family and all of the other wonderful people in my life. Since my brother died in 2006, I have learned to never take for granted the people I care about and to always try to treat everyone with kindness and respect. If I know I’m going to have a hard time saying anything nice, I say nothing at all (which has taken a LOT of self-discipline in here). I’ve found the way to see the good in just about everything. I am still learning not to resist things that happen, whether good or bad. I quit arguing with people. I quit defending myself. I’m grateful that I’m allowing others to be who they are without allowing them to affect me and who I’ve become. I just keep aiming to be a better person, taking life one day at a time. I really hope that I will get the chance to get out of here and share with others all that I have learned, in hopes that I can make a difference in people’s lives.

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