Below is a great blog post my great friend Neil wrote that I feel gives a good idea about our lives here in prison and how we try to help each other out despite our different backgrounds and beliefs. Hope you enjoy it.
Divergent Paths, Convergent Ends by Dr. Neil Jobalia
I am not a religious person, neither am I particularly spiritual. These components of life never struck close to my heart. I never have, however, equated religiousness or spirituality with weakness. To the contrary, in my opinion, the ability to give oneself up. in totality, to an unseen, impalpable, incomprehensible entity requires a tremendous amount of inner strength. Based on my personal observations and interactions, that inner strength provides the ability to cope with difficult life circumstances and, equally importantly, provides those who possess that strength to help others in bad situations
I feel very fortunate to have met one such person, the one responsible for this site, while here in prison. His religious convictions and devotion to God guide his actions. Through him, I’ve met others with similar conviction. The beauty of this group of people lies in their ability to openly and amicably discuss their varying interpretations of God’s word. In the end, however, they land in the same place; the strength to believe and the ability to use that strength to positively impact others, in addition to themselves. As an example, one member of the Bible study group identifies himself as a Messianic Jew, another as a Seventh Day Adventist and I, mostly atheist/agnostic, lean towards Judaism. Each of us interprets the passage in varying ways. However, we all end with the same goal; to make peoples’ lives better, not to spread the individual interpretation of the Bible. The inward desire to improve themselves manifests their outward desire to help. I’m refreshed by the open acceptance of other opinions. Their acceptance truly reveals their devotion to the end goal. After all, the negativity and hopelessness that permeates the prison environment infects all that reside here. I view being in the presence of positive, giving people as a true blessing. Yes! Non-religious people ARE allowed to feel blessed.
In my case, I put my “faith” in science. I believe inner strength also resides in the ability to say, “I don’t know” and accept that as a reasonable response. I also contain a deep desire to help others. I spent my career as a doctor with the primary goal of improving the quality of life of those who put their lives in my hands. I utilize analysis of data and application of that analysis to improve life for those around me. My analysis of the data may lead me to one conclusion and another’s analysis of the same data to a different conclusion. The methodology matters much less than the purity of the endpoints – to make others’ lives better.
Similarly, one person’s interpretation of God’s word may lead to their way of helping others, whereas another’s interpretation of those same words leads to a different path. The importance lies not in the path, but in the final outcome.
Which leads me to the purpose of my discussion. The path matters much less than the end goal. The people I’ve been fortunate to meet embody that concept. By my observation and their generosity to allow me to participate in their Bible study, I’ve noticed that their paths begin at a similar or same starting point. Then, the path’s diverge, only to return to the same destination. Through their expression of differing interpretations of God’s word, they improve their own understanding and learn more about themselves. By including my non-religious viewpoints, they simply add another path and add many paths to my personal map. But we all care.
My takeaway – cooperation, collaboration, acceptance and simplicity form the core of our tools to improve the lives of others.