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Trapped by Shame: Finding Mental Freedom after Prison

Trapped by Shame: Finding Mental Freedom after Prison

“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” ~Brené Brown

I spent two years in prison.

One mental. One mental.

Otisville Federal Prison is the actual version.

Self-sabotage was a massive fraud, as I was out of touch with my true self and what I wanted to achieve.

Shame was my mental prison and hell. Inflicting pain on the person I love, disappointing family members, and failing myself. Ignoring my inner voice that warned me against the fraud.

I was convinced that I had destroyed love, the most precious gift of life.

I was trapped in my head and couldn’t see a way out or even a reason to try.

With every ounce of my being, I believed, “I am undeserving of love, happiness, forgiveness, and peace. I have destroyed love, and will never again be worthy. I deserve a lifetime of punishment.”

This was my jail. It was my prison. I fell deeper and further into darkness each day, with no hope of a way out.

Shame, like a deadly disease, thrives and multiplies in the dark. Shame thrives on isolation, disconnection, and separation.

Shame just wants to be left alone.

It will devour us from within if we don’t take action.

What happens to something that lives in darkness? What do we do with something that is averse to connection, but craves separation and isolation?

We bring it to light. By talking about it, we shine a spotlight on it. By being open, by having the conversations we’re afraid to have.

Shame is a dying disease when it meets vulnerability.

We are vulnerabile when we show our shame and we give permission to others to do the exact same.

We can only leave the darkness behind us when we expose our shame and are open to others.

We also realize that we’re not alone.

I couldn’t jump headfirst into vulnerability; I was too afraid. But I knew if I let shame consume me, I would never be able to free myself from its grip.

How did I come to be so vulnerable, open and willing to share?

These are the three first steps that I took.

Accepting Reality

I spent my days in prison wishing I wasn’t in prison.

I spent my days wishing I hadn’t made the choices I made that landed me in prison.

I wished that life would be different. I was fighting against a past and circumstance that couldn’t be changed.

I would never have freedom from shame if I continued to fight for what couldn’t be changed. I had no choice but to do what I was afraid to do.

I had to face the truth.

I didn’t want to. It felt like giving up; it felt passive. Fighting equals progress. But does it? What was it I was fighting? There is no Delorean time machine, as much as I would like to believe there was.

Accepting reality isn’t giving up; it isn’t passive. It was an act of courage for me to say, “I accept that I betrayed myself and chose to commit a crime. I hit the ‘enter’ button, the single keystroke that started it all. I acknowledge that I continued to do so despite the universe screaming to me to stop. I accept I am in jail. I accept that I hurt the woman I love, my family, my friends….”

When I wrote this, a weight lifted from me. I wasn’t trapped in the past. Freedom! I had never felt it before.


I lost my trust in myself. How can I possibly believe in myself when it is me who has done this to him?

There is an emptiness that is all-consuming when you don’t trust yourself.

It’s a horrible feeling.

One day, scrolling through Twitter, my friend posted, “Surest path to self-confidence I know: making and keeping commitments to ourselves.”

That touched a nerve. My friend walks the walk; this wasn’t just lip service.

In that one tweet I decided to confront my biggest fear, public speaking. After five long years, I delivered my TEDx.

The TEDx event was amazing, there’s no doubt about that, but it was also so much more. It has changed the way I live.

When you make and keep commitments, you change your inner narrative to one that’s empowering.

You can change your story by becoming a person who ACTS.

By keeping your own word, you build trust. We gain confidence in ourselves when we believe in ourselves.

We trust ourselves when we have self-confidence. We have faith in ourselves.


Forgiveness can be difficult. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done as I’ve rebuilt and reinvented my life.

I had no choice but to forgive myself. My choices led to my being arrested by the FBI, sentenced to two years of federal prison, and the loss of everything: my marriage and homes, my car, my self-worth and my identity.

I had to forgive me for thinking about killing myself.

I didn’t think I was worthy of forgiveness. I thought I was not worthy of forgiveness.

It was necessary to accept reality and develop self-confidence as the first two steps.

As I took the first two steps I realized that I could do a lot of good for myself by forgiving myself.

By forgiving ourselves, we show that we deserve love and compassion.

The act of forgiveness cultivates self-confidence.

Forgiveness frees you from a painful past. You learn to let that baggage go.

There’s great freedom when we let go.

After these three steps I was able to reach a point where I felt vulnerable and could walk away from the prison of shame.

When we own the story we own the life. When we own our story, it owns our lives.

Huge difference.

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Craig Stanland

To me, freedom is forgiveness.
Craig Stanland is a Reinvention Architect, TEDx & Keynote Speaker, and Author of “Blank Canvas, How I Reinvented My Life After Prison.” He works with clients who have chased money, status, and success in their first half of life, only to discover a hole the size of success in their lives. He helps his clients reach their full potential, connect with their calling, and create their 2nd half, with purpose, meaning and fulfillment. Click here to connect with him.

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