A white, bald, 6'3", brightly blue-eyed man in his 50's with no more than 7 teeth and "S-K-I-N H-E-A-D" tattooed in capitals across his knuckles sat earnestly before me, tears streaming down his face. Beside him sat a chaotic scene he'd drawn. I asked him to tell me about it.
He had titled it, "My Name Is Sadness" and pointed to the masses of giant tears. Within each was a stick figure representing a different family member he had hurt. Carl's sadness was so overwhelming that he simply stared at me and repeated, "I'm just sad. I'm so sad..." Eight of his fellow inmates sat quietly around the table, witnessing this intense outpouring of a "brother's" emotion.
I pointed to another section of the page and asked, "What's that?" An angry, large-headed demon with a swastika on its arm was beating on some of those tears.
"Oh, that's 'HATE'," Carl replied. "He beats on me and makes me judge and hate others. I hate it when he does that! But I can't stop!"
So began my one-on-one with an inmate at a state prison in Ohio. For three days, I was invited to take the men through the Drawing Out Process®, an emotional healing technique I created out of my own struggles with depression, fear, and self-loathing. This was my first time ever to set foot in a prison, and most of the men I was working with had committed violent crimes - many of them in there for murder, sentenced to life.
Carl's nickname, I learned, was "Fingers" because he was so expressive with his massive hands - hands that, no doubt, had committed their share of violence. He admitted that, aside from his knuckles, his chest was also covered in racist tattoos. This embarrassed him, and he wished he could have them removed.
I knew Carl wasn't ready for me to have a conversation with HATE, and I knew that talking to HATE could be a dangerous endeavor. So I asked if I could have a conversation with "Sadness" instead. Carl obliged.
Sadness and I discussed his family members, his abuse of crystal meth (the reason for the missing teeth), and how much he regretted having hurt so many people over the years. After a few minutes of exploring Sadness' side of the story, however, I knew that it would not disappear until HATE stopped the beatings. I had to talk to HATE.
I switched from my soft, compassionate voice into a more challenging one, "You know what? I wanna talk to HATE. HATE, where are you? I wanna talk to you!" Carl sat back with a terrified look in his eyes. "Oh no," he said, "I don't think I can do that." I said, "Well, look, Sadness isn't gonna go away unless I talk to HATE. So, HATE, I wanna talk to you! C'mon - talk to me!"
Carl sat back and took some deep, scared breaths, weighing whether or not to engage. Suddenly his eyes widened and he lunged forward at me in his seat, yelling, "I don't need any of this shit! This is all bullshit - all this stuff!" He flung his hands around, gesturing to me and his fellow inmates. "I ain't goin' nowhere! You're not gonna get rid of me! I'm staying right here!"
HATE was now speaking, referring to the fact that he'd seen other inmates' inner characters disappear as a result of having just gone through the Process. HATE refused to suffer the same fate.
I said, "That's fine, HATE. I don't wanna make you go away - I wanna talk to you!" My tone was much more confrontational than I normally use with a person's inner character, but I knew that's what it would take to get HATE to respond.
Meanwhile, I heard whisperings behind me. I later learned that Derek, my escort at the prison, a Drawing Out Process client, and the man responsible for bringing me in to help these guys, was telling the other inmates around us, "Keep your eyes on Carl. If he goes after her, stop him." Derek was concerned that HATE (through Carl) would lash out at me for challenging his worldview. Though my heart was pounding a bit harder now, I wasn't too concerned for my safety. Nevertheless, I was grateful to learn they all had my back... just in case.
I asked HATE when he first showed up, and he explained that, in 1985, Carl's grandmother had been beaten and killed by two black men. Soon after, his niece had been violated as well. Since then, he had harbored a rage so violent that it caused him to be viciously prejudiced toward blacks, become addicted to and manufacture crystal meth, and landed him in jail. He admitted that, for 30 years, he had never even touched a black man. Meanwhile, two of his fellow black inmates were sitting across the table from us, witnessing this exchange.
HATE told me how sad and angry he was when his grandmother and niece were hurt and killed. I empathized with him, saying, "Hey, I don't blame you, HATE. I'd be angry, too, if someone did that to my family!" HATE seemed rather confused that I agreed with him but appreciated feeling understood.
I asked HATE what he thought of Carl. He told me he was angry at Carl. "I wish he'd quit being so sad and be a man! Be strong! I hate it when he's sad!" I replied, "Yeah, it hurts to feel sad, doesn't it? Sadness feels weak, but anger feels strong, right?" HATE continued, "Yeah! I'm angry because I'm sad!"
With that, HATE's eyes suddenly widened in a powerful epiphany, and he repeated what he had just said: "Yeah. I'm angry... because I'm sad!" HATE repeated this a few more times, allowing it to sink in even further. He had unwittingly landed on the root of all those years of rage. "I'm angry because I'm sad..."
I asked HATE how it felt to carry all of that anger for so many years. "Exhausting!" HATE proclaimed. "I'm tired!" I knew I was on track to help HATE fully let go of his long-standing beliefs and emotions. I could now take him through the final steps of the Drawing Out Process®.
After going through those final steps, I asked HATE, "So, HATE, you understand now that Carl doesn't want you to do any of that stuff any more, right?" Calmly and almost sweetly, HATE looked at me with clarity and determination and said, "Yes. I'm done. I'm not gonna hate anybody or do any of that stuff anymore. I promise."
With that, Carl broke into the biggest, most exuberant smile - his bright blue eyes sparkling with light! I said, "What are you seeing right now, Carl?" And he said, "HATE is waving goodbye!" We smiled at each other and at the wonderful transformation he'd just experienced - 37 years of rage and prejudice dissolved in only 20 minutes.
Carl then added, "Emily, I want you to know that I missed getting my pills just to go through this with you... and you know what? This is better than a pill!"
With that, all of the other inmates fell into laughter! They clapped and congratulated Carl for the emotional journey he had just taken - out of the darkness of grief and rage, back into the light of his own truth and peace.
UPDATE: I saw Carl one year later. His energy is so kind and soft, and the light that emanates from him is gorgeous! He's holding a loving space and presence for the other men going through the Horizon program and proudly told me, "Emily, I tell everyone about you! I'm your spokesperson!" Oh - and he now has teeth!