Friday 19 April 2024

Excerpt of Being Free by J.H. Lyons

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the BEING FREE by J.H. Lyons Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!

About The Book:


Author: J.H. Lyons

Pub. Date: November 1, 2023

Publisher: J.H. Lyons

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

Pages: 273

Find it: Goodreads

Based in part on the author’s own spiritual journey, Being Free: On the Inside is a magical realism novel of hope and redemption.

Corey Astin is a lawyer who will spend the next six years in prison.  He knows he did wrong, and wants to make amends, but needs guidance and protection.  The nature of his crime makes him an instant target for other inmates.  As you might expect, county jail offered only a tiny preview of the harsh environment in the maximum-security state prison.  Corey arrives in shackles in the middle of the cold Maine winter, to a poorly-heated cell block, knowing only one person, Carl, from his time in jail.  Corey soon meets Dalton, a man who will become his mentor and teacher of a special way of seeing and using energy called The Choice.  Being chosen is a great honor, but Corey doesn’t know it yet.  He is just beginning to understand what kind of magical world exists within for those who can manifest it.  Told from a first-person perspective, Corey explains his experience in the prison, and his growing friendship with Dalton.  He tells the story as if you are with him, listening to his concerns, and baring his soul.  Get ready to experience the first part of a private and perilous journey into a world that few have ever known.



There was a time in my life, not too long ago, when the one thing I wanted more than anything else in the world, was to die.  I was standing in a courtroom in my best tan suit, taking off my watch, my ring, removing my lacquered pens from my coat pocket, and putting them into a little pile for my lawyer to present to my mother.  The judge gave me fifteen years in prison, of which I would serve six, with good time.  Life as I knew it ceased to exist.  I consider the experience a blessing now, because losing everything and practically everyone, cleared the detritus of my greed-inspired life.  Only after I found my slate wiped mercilessly clean, was there room to see truth; and what I saw scared the hell out of me.  One man who helped me see it changed my life forever.  His name is Dalton.

Dalton McCormack does not approve of this book.  I have told him my plans to share the story with anyone who will listen.  He just laughed.  “No matter how many times most people look in a mirror, they still don’t really see themselves.”  I found it mildly amusing given the mirrored sunglasses he always wears and what I eventually saw in those mirrors.  But appearances are deceiving.  I take what he says seriously, because I know he is one of the very few who does see.  I’m going to tell you about him but first I need to go back and fill in some details because there was a time when I didn’t believe anything he said.  I didn’t even believe my own eyes. 

The first night I spent in the maximum-security state prison scared me half to death.  Noises of grinding, rusted metal permeated my tiny cell.  By tiny I mean that you could stand in the middle and touch both side walls with your fingertips.  The walls shook constantly, reverberating every time a barred door slammed violently shut.  Small flecks of paint and dirt fell from the ceiling.  They filtered like fine silt onto everything I owned: my hair, my clothes, and my books.  I had already spent six months in the county jail, but be advised, there is virtually no comparison between the two.  If jail is boot camp, prison is war. 

The day I arrived at the prison the property officer dispensed a pile of four molting woolen blankets to me that smelled of urine.  He topped them with two stained sheets.  The sheets were too small to fit the mattress and were not fitted so they came up around the corners and ended up in a ball in the middle by daybreak.  Some guys had a way of knotting them so it wouldn’t happen, but it took me years to figure out the trick.  As I stood six-feet tall, the mattress was barely long enough.  The smoke, during most waking hours, was so thick I had to fashion a makeshift ventilator from the dirty sheets to avoid inhaling it directly.  I looked into the mirror over the sink, saw my sunken brown eyes, my copper-colored, unkempt hair, and wondered how I would survive.  It took me several days to get a decent night’s sleep.

Especially during those first few weeks, the place was downright scary.  When I’m scared I can’t even think straight.  Sometimes I pretended to read a book so I didn’t have to listen to the slurs that some of my fellow inmates delighted in delivering on the way by.  One of my first major purchases was a large pair of ear-hugging headphones that I employed frequently to squelch the insults and other feral grunts of terminally angry men.  Although it had limited utility as a muffler, being ostensibly engrossed in music convinced most people to lose interest in taunting me after a few minutes.

My first friend on the inside was not Dalton.  Carl was a well-educated man with anger management issues who I had met in county jail.  He’d arrived at the prison about a month beforehand.  I found it ironic that we became such fast friends since he pathologically hated lawyers, and I was one of them.  He visited me briefly on my second day at the prison, looking surprisingly well-acclimated.  He stuck a small, brown, wrinkled paper bag through the bars of my cell.  “Can’t talk.  Take it.  I’ll try to come by later.”  Then he was gone.  I looked inside the bag and found a package of instant soup.  I am now convinced that the ramen soup people must have some kind of kickback in place as they are so popular in prison.  I added some hot water to the noodles and made the soup in a small white bowl he had also thoughtfully provided.  My first week passed slowly.  I read the Bible, wrote some panicked letters to my remaining friends, and generally became emotionally numb.

My first job assignment at the prison was in the kitchen.  I was issued a nice blue baseball cap and a bright white uniform, at least two sizes too large, even though I carried a little extra weight.  I felt shamed having to wear them at first.  People stared because they knew the lawyer was now the pots and pans washer.  I slowly devolved into a shadow of my former arrogant self.  I knew in some way it was good for me, but I resisted nonetheless.

Permanently discarding my infallible self-image is a first step toward living life in the real world.  I think it’s important to put some of what Dalton says into words here.  He sums it up this way:  “Some people live their entire lives in the cloud.”  Perhaps I should explain what the cloud is, since it is a metaphor I use a lot.  The cloud is an imaginary place that Dalton keeps talking about with rancor in his voice.  It is a rosy world where there are no felons, no crimes; nothing at all to disturb the calming fantasy that much of America prefers to live in every day.  “You shouldn’t stop with America,” says Dalton when I start talking politics with him, “it infects the entire planet.”

Every afternoon I have rec.  I can choose to go to a number of different places.  Most of the time I go to the library.  I have also been up to the prison Chaplain’s office quite a bit.  But sometimes, like when I have to buy something at the prison store, I have to go to the yard.  The yard is the place where people congregate, talk, show off, yell, lift weights, play pool, and make general assholes of themselves.  I do not use that word lightly; there are plenty of them in prison. 

The yard is also the place where I first noticed Dalton.  He was carrying a large grocery bag of stuff back to his cell from the prison store.  As he walked past me up the hill, he said “hello” for no reason at all.  If you haven’t had the experience, saying “hello” to someone you don’t know is a big deal in prison.  It can lead to a fight, ostracism, being strong-armed, being told to mind your own business, or just being harassed.  Personal space is at a premium on the inside and hello can be expensive.  I took it as a gift, returned the favor, and kept walking.  But I didn’t even really notice him before he said hello to me.  This too is part of the gift.

He was wearing a red bandanna, blue jeans, and a black jeans jacket.  His trademark mirror glasses hid his eyes, and, as I later found out, made it difficult to tell whether he was kidding.  He walked confidently and smiled.  When I began to see him around the compound more and more, I noticed that he smiled almost all the time.  It wasn’t a stupid smile saying, “I’m in prison and I like being here,” but a gentle smile that said, “happiness is a choice.”  I decided to ask Carl about him.

“Don’t know him.  What’s he look like?”  Carl wasn’t much help.

I first heard about the meditation group over the intercom.  The prison had acquired a large number of scratchy and garbled-sounding army surplus bullhorns, but seasoned cons could decipher the metallic, unsquelched announcements with all the alacrity of an NSA code breaker.

“Mdtashn ad dis dime, mdtashn.”

“What did they say?” I asked the guy in the box next to me.  I really had no idea.

“Meditation.  They shou’ finish chewing before dey use dat microphone.”  Ed was a very cool guy who occupied the cell next to mine.  He loved to talk.  When he wasn’t playing handball down in the yard he was working on college courses.  He grew up in New Jersey and everyone knew it from the moment he opened his mouth.  He also had a very open mind.  I thought about his translation for a minute.

“Maybe I should go.”  I was thinking aloud, but in prison no one notices.

“Go.  I went, dit’n do much for me.  You migh’ like it dough.”  Ed sounded genuinely encouraging.  That was another reason I liked him.

“OK.”  It took twenty minutes to coax a guard to descend one flight of stairs from his office and unlock my door.  I didn’t know all the rules yet, but I sensed that patience would edge me closer to the room where the people were meditating faster than any other strategy.  I thanked the guard.  He looked at me as if I was being rude.  Ok, so, I still had some things to learn.

I took the small white slip of paper that was my pass and hurried to the building where the group met.  I opened the metal door and stepped into a large, brown-paneled room that also served as a sanctuary for church services.  Metal chairs were arranged in a circle.  Ten to fifteen men were already seated there.  A few chairs remained empty.  I took one.  As I calmed down and let the tiny modicum of freedom permeate my being, I looked around to see whether I recognized anyone.  Carl had come, and so had Dalton.  They both nodded to me.  I nodded back.

The only woman in the circle was a volunteer.  She was a gentle person with brown, curly hair, who brought her own tire-sized dark-purple pillow to sit on.  The other men looked like they had all been coming to this group for a very long time.  The volunteer explained that I was to clear my mind of all thoughts, noises, and distractions.  Anything that caught my attention should float away like a cloud.

“Start by focusing on your breath.”  I closed my eyes, trying to relax and listen.

“Breathe in, I know I’m breathing in, breathe out, I know I’m breathing out.”  She repeated this phrase over and over and lulled me into a very peaceful state.  At first, everything around me seemed orchestrated to disrupt the class: people yelling outside, a phone ringing in the next room, a guard taking very little care to muffle squeaky door noises as he completed his rounds.   I kept returning to my breath.  The volunteer had become silent and I decided to open my eyes.  When I did, I got a shock that to this day gives me chills.  Dalton wasn’t there.  He had been there when I closed my eyes, but now his seat was empty.  Had I gone to sleep?  It made no sense to me.  I looked all-round the room and saw nothing out of the ordinary.  I decided to close my eyes again and tried to return to my peaceful state.  After a few minutes of trying I heard him whisper.  It came from directly behind me.  He very clearly said, “Look again.”  I opened my eyes and there he was, sitting right where he was supposed to be, a very peaceful smile on his lips that was also part smirk.  I opened my mouth to speak, but then, without opening his eyes, he shook his head ever so slightly to stop me.  A wide range of emotions ran through my mind: fear, excitement, panic, curiosity.  I remained silent.  To signal the end of the first sit, the volunteer took a small mallet and tapped a long metal chime three times.  It resonated gently through the room.  The others began to open their eyes slowly and stretch a little.  I looked around to see if Carl had noticed anything peculiar.  If he had, he wasn’t giving it away.  Then Dalton winked at me and smiled.  I almost leapt right straight out of my chair.  I couldn’t concentrate very well on what the volunteer was saying.  But I was dying to ask Dalton what had happened.  As it turns out, I didn’t get a chance to right then. 

“McCormack?”  A guard in a blue uniform was at the door.  Dalton got up.


“Visit.”  Dalton picked up his jacket and followed the guard out of the room.

“This time, try to really focus on the breath.”  The volunteer was leading us all back into another twenty-minute sit, but it was nearly impossible for me to sit still.

The next day I looked everywhere for Dalton but failed to find him.  Carl and I decided to go walking in the afternoon, even though it was cold.  It was probably twenty degrees out and the clothing I had on really wasn’t warm enough.  Still, we kept up a good pace and tried to act nonchalantly despite the fact that there was an armed guard walking the wall above us with a high-caliber rifle.  He, on the other hand, looked very warm.

“Did you see anything strange yesterday at meditation?” I asked Carl after a while.

“Just you.  You looked like you’d seen a ghost.”

“I might have.”  I remembered closing my eyes and focusing on my breath.   Everything seemed normal, until it wasn’t.  “Did you get a chance to see the guy I was talking about the other day, you know, the guy they took to visits?”  My brown state-issue shoes were not insulated and my feet were getting cold.

“Oh yeah.  That’s the guy who said hello to you, right?”  Everybody was painfully aware of the hello thing.

“Right.  Did you notice anything weird about him?”  I liked Carl well enough, but I was still unclear about how open-minded he would be if I told him that one of the guys at meditation had spontaneously vanished, even if it were just for a few minutes.

“No, not really.  He struck me as pretty quiet.  Looks like he’s been in a while and has figured out how to do time.”  I wasn’t sure if he knew it, but Carl had given me another piece of the puzzle.  How to do time.  I had heard inmates talk about doing time as though it were a job: the fine art of turning something that should normally take five minutes into an hour.  The institution provided their own version of doing time by needlessly complicating things, in typical military fashion, and so most inmates found alternative ways to get the things they needed.

“Wonder what he did?”

“Probably murder,” said Carl.   “Anybody who’s been in that long must have killed somebody.”  He was right about one thing: Dalton looked as though he’d been in prison for twenty years.  There was no sense of shame about the man.  At first his serenity irritated me because it ran against the grain of what I had always been taught about criminals: that they should be ashamed for the rest of their lives.  I didn’t really believe that everyone was guilty, but I knew most were.

“What did you think was so weird about him?”  Carl asked the question before I had made up my mind.   I still debated whether to reveal what I saw.

“He winked at me.”

“Oh.   Yeah, well, there are a lot of guys like that in here.”

“No, not sexually, he just gave me a wink like he knew something I didn’t.”  Carl looked confused and decided to change the subject.

“You heard anything more from your girlfriend?”

“Nope.  I think she’s given up on me.  I don’t blame her though.  Who can wait six years for someone to get out of prison?”  Carl knew how unhappy I had been when I got my Dear John letter.  It was my own damn fault for lying to her.  I had told her I was innocent.  Technically true as a presumption, but in fact I was guilty.  There are some things that sorry just won’t cover, but I still keep saying it as if she can hear me.  I knew better than to ask Carl anything about his ex-wife.  Their divorce was epic in its devastation and had left him virtually penniless.  Small wonder he had such a deep hatred for lawyers.  We left the walking track and went back inside to warm up.

When I heard the call for meditation the following week, I was ready.  I had already secured my pass and reminded the guard that I wished to go.  He pressed the button for my door and it sprang open a hand-width.  I locked it behind me and walked quickly to the chapel, trying not to look at anyone along the way.  Even looking at someone could be as risky as hello. 

This time I was the first one there, except for the volunteer.  She introduced herself as Pam and apparently didn’t remember I had been there the previous week.  It made very little difference to me at the time since I was more concerned with talking to Dalton.  It amazed me how little contact I could have with some people in a prison that held just under five hundred men.  I didn’t know my way around well enough yet to visit someone intentionally.  That was a skill I would develop over time however, and I was doing the best I could.  Most people immediately recognized my status as a fish out of water (though perhaps a shark), and for some it was an opportunity to con me.  Others, like old Ronnie who lived on my cellblock, called me a “civilian” and gave me latitude when I failed to discern all the subtle nuances of the infamous inmate code.

Dalton came through the door and approached me as if we were old friends.  “Glad you decided to come back.”  He patted me on the back and went to take a seat in one of the metal folding chairs.  I was, once again, speechless.  I chose a chair next to his and he seemed pleased.  Carl didn’t show up, but I knew he might not since the group met during his shift in the laundry.  Attending programs was always encouraged by the institution, so he could go if he wanted to, but he still had a certain amount of work to complete; unless he found someone else with whom he could trade.

“Let’s begin.”  I tried to relax.  The volunteer struck the chime and closed her eyes.  I had been breathing rhythmically with my eyes closed for about ten minutes when I heard Dalton whisper.   “Can you hear me?”  I nodded.  “If you want to talk, then meet me at the gym tomorrow afternoon, right after lunch.”  I peeked around.  No one else seemed to have heard him.  I don’t think he had moved at all.  It was a little eerie, but I made the decision then and there that I wanted to know more, that I would go.  I whispered back to him, “Ok” and the whole group seemed to hear me.  Several men gave me sharp, disapproving glances before they resumed their meditating.  Dalton just grinned.

The next day passed very slowly for me.  I managed to get pretty much soaking wet while washing the pots and pans in the morning.  I also took much longer than any of the other inmates thought I should.  I never liked doing dishes for myself, much less for an entire prison.  But I had some help and although it became fairly cumbersome to organize the ever-growing pile of dirty pots, plastic tubs, and vats of doughy gunk, I did make it through.  When I came back to my cell, Ed nearly ran me over, hoping to ask me a legal question.

“Hey, Corey!  Can you still file an appeal after you take a plea bargain?”  I told him I couldn’t give him legal advice because I was suspended from practice, but I could tell him about my personal experience in dealing with the issue in Maine.   He seemed interested but disappointed I couldn’t give him a solid answer.  I also told him to write to his former lawyer.

“Well she’s da one who I t’ink screwed up!”  This was actually a fairly typical conversation for prison, and even more typical for me in county jail, but I did my best to ease people’s frustrations.  He saw I was getting frustrated and eased off a bit.  “So how’s dat meditation class goin’?”

“Good.  One of the guys in it wants to talk to me about it this afternoon actually.  It seems to be helping.”  I wasn’t lying either.  I had started using the time when I couldn’t sleep to meditate.  It was really doing wonders for my peace of mind and was a stark contrast to the Bible debates that seemed to preoccupy most of the otherwise gentle religious types in prison.  I had ongoing arguments with various fundamentalists who not only thought my newfound meditation un-Christian, but in some cases, satanic.  My fondness for Gregorian chant also led the resident Pentecostals to cast aspersions on my faith.  It was difficult for me to accept the lack of logic among people who were so completely rooted to literal interpretations of Bible passages.  Being an “intellectual” was a sin for them because it somehow separated you from God.  The theory is this: if you think for yourself, then how can you let God think for you?  Somewhat mind-boggling!

Ed excused himself and resumed his studies.  I changed out of my kitchen whites and got back into more comfortable clothes.  The typical uniform for that prison was blue jeans and either a t-shirt or a flannel shirt.  Most people wore sneakers and had their own clothes.  I hadn’t gotten enough clothes to be entirely comfortable yet, and so I wore state clothes on days when I ran out of clean clothes.  Carl managed to help me out with laundry though.  It was generosity on his part that I respected and admired.  There are actually a substantial number of people in prison who can manage to do something for nothing, even though it countermands the inmate code.

I got to rec and found Dalton standing outside at the end of the beige-colored, cinderblock building that served as a gym.  He was looking at the clouds.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?”  He seemed transfixed.  I looked at him and then at the clouds for a moment and wondered whether I had made a big mistake.  “Do you know that there are some prisons where you can’t even look at the sky?”  I knew what he was talking about.  During my six-month stint in county jail prior to the transfer to the Maine State Prison I had been in a cell where the sky was a tiny patch between two buildings that I could only see if I craned my neck all the way into a corner of my skinny cell window.

“I do.  It makes you appreciate it all the more.  Even grass.”

“Yes!  Grass is a luxury in here.  People take it for granted every day.  They curse it, cut it, make it grow faster, shorter, taller, wider, thicker, straighter.  There is no end to lawn care (especially for golfers), but how many people really appreciate grass?”  He certainly had a point.  Before I experienced life in prison, I had limited patience for appreciating the little things in life, and grass seemed quite insignificant.  Sure, I liked walking barefoot in the grass, but I always assumed I could do it if and when I chose.  The freedom to enjoy it was never an issue.

“I want to talk to you about meditation.”  I was trying to be as patient as possible, but the questions were nearly bursting.  “How do you do that?  I mean, what, exactly, did you do?”  I wasn’t being very clear, but I was nervous as hell.  Dalton motioned with his head for me to follow him and we walked a little way down behind the gym.  It was the area where they played handball in good weather, although now there were little patches of ice on the ground.  The sun kept the temperature bearable.

“What did you see?”  He was a man who answered a question with a question.  I stopped myself from saying something snide about being a lawyer and tried to calm myself down and listen.  There was a gracious plenty of the Socratic method in law school so it wasn’t actually unfamiliar territory.  But I was on his turf now, and I needed to learn and listen.

“You vanished.  Gone, poof, no more you.  Then when I looked again you were right where I thought you should be.”  I kept eye contact with his mirror glasses for a while until he looked away.

“I thought you might have.  You have the gift.”  He was smiling broadly, a proud, comfortable smile that belongs to someone who has traveled a long way and found what he wanted there.

“What gift?  What are you talking about?  I’m not the one who disappeared; I’m not the one who whispered in my ear without letting a whole room full of people know.  You couldn’t hear a pin drop in that place when you spoke to me.  I don’t think anyone else heard it.  What’s going on?”  I was getting riled up and trying to mask it, but my adrenaline was winning.

Dalton cleared his throat.  “Some people, when they have gone through a major loss, like you have, experience a change in perception.  It is a gift, and it brings with it a way of seeing the world in its raw form, untainted by the lies we are told and the assumptions we make about what we see.”  Deep inside, I had a fleeting feeling I knew what he was talking about.  When I was on the evening news for example, as opposed to watching it, when I heard my name, reality shifted for a moment.  The ride stopped.  I found myself at the top of the Ferris wheel, looking down, wondering if all the people below really knew how small they looked from there.  I certainly didn’t think of it as a gift though.  It kind of made me sick to my stomach.  Dalton was making me relive some of that feeling and it was uncomfortable.  I decided to sit down.  I walked over to a little retaining wall that was part of the building’s foundation and sat down on it.  I felt light-headed and flushed.  Dalton began to look concerned.

“When you begin to wake up from the dream we all live in, it is very scary.  You will begin to see things you won’t believe.  But these things are real.  They have been there all along.  When you see them for the first time, you may panic.  Your mind tries to take you back to the easy lies of the world you are comfortable in.

“Your body reacts: you sweat, you hyperventilate, you fear death.  What you saw was real.”  Dalton took his large hands and placed them on my head for a moment with his thumbs on my forehead.  I let him, as though he were my father, checking my brow for a temperature.  I experienced such an immediate calming sensation that I started to fall asleep, right there, in broad daylight, in the middle of the prison rec yard.  A black veil covered my eyes and I fell asleep.

Everyday life in a prison is far more time-consuming than you might think.  Remember, I have to live by two sets of rules: the guards’ and the inmates’.  Notice that I didn’t say the institution’s rules, because every officer decides which rules he or she will enforce.  The same is true for civilian police, but in prison the problem is in your face, every day, for every small decision you make.  Some things are Catch-22’s and there is no right answer.  You have to violate somebody’s rules.  In those circumstances, if you want to survive, you choose to live by the inmate code.

The next time I saw Dalton, he was walking into the dining room.  He had his tool bag with him.  Dalton’s job at the prison is maintenance.  He says it’s spiritual maintenance.  I believe him.  He has the air of someone who can fix anything.

“Are you allowed to be in here right now?”  I was very na├»ve for the first few years I was incarcerated.  Dalton sat down at the same stainless-steel table where I was sitting.  The table seated eight people and had the appearance of a giant metal mushroom bolted securely to the porcelain-tiled, blue-and-white floor.

“This bag is my pass to any place in the prison I want to go.  Guards don’t ask me much anymore.  They know me.”  I was eating lunch early, as was my privilege for working in the kitchen.  There were several inmates eating at other tables, but for the most part the large room was empty.

“Want something to eat?”

“Nope.  Just thought I’d come by, see how things were going.  Got my lunch right here.”  He showed me an apple.

“That’s all you eat for lunch?”  I was beginning to wonder whether Dalton was really from this planet.

“Today it is.  Got a lot to do.  I’ll be starved by supper, but that’s the way I like it.  I treat hunger like a friend.”  Hunger like a friend.  I liked that.  “So what do they have you doing now, more pots and pans?”

“Yeah.  Never ends.  Listen, Dalton, about yesterday in the yard.  I don’t remember what happened much after I fell asleep.  What happened?”

“I knew you needed some rest, so I helped you get some.  You had some real sleep, dreamless sleep, sleep that doesn’t drain you.”

“But how…?”  I couldn’t even formulate the question, but he knew what I was asking.

“All in time.  I told you; you have the gift.  But even if I told you how I gave you sleep, even if you understood what it meant to unplug your consciousness and really relax to the point where you feel free, you wouldn’t understand.  The bigger question is this: are you willing to learn?”  I was about to answer him, but he stopped me.  “I mean really learn how to change your perception in a way that will also change your life?  You’ve already had the first, the biggest, step taken for you.  You’ve lost practically everything.” He paused and took off his glasses.  “You’re Christian, right?”

“Sure.  Are you?”

“I believe in God and Christ.  But I believe there are many paths to heaven.”  He stopped for a moment and closed his eyes, breathing deeply as he did so.  He appeared to be consciously centering himself in the moment.  It looked refreshing.  “Do you remember what Christ said to us about having to lose everything?”

“Of course.  He said you have to lose everything to enter the Kingdom of God, or something like that.”

“He said that if you give up everything for him, then you will surely go to heaven.  That’s what the apostles did.  Things are not important.  People are important.  The easiest way to understand that is to lose everything.  How many people have you seen who live only to buy more things?  They accumulate massive hordes of stuff, and then have most of it thrown or given away when they die.  Nothing goes with you.  Consider that space in your head where you go when you meditate and find serenity.  Nothing goes in there with you, and yet it’s the most peaceful, calming, place you can go on earth.”

“I really do want to learn,” I said.  “What do I have to do?”

“You are in training, as of now.  You can walk away any time you like, but there may be consequences.”  I raised my eyebrows.  Was the meditation mafia going to come get me in the middle of the night or something?  Was Guido going to put me on his hit list?  Focus on the breath or I break both your legs. 

Dalton continued.  “Consider it like an operation for your soul.  If we end the operation before I’ve sewn you back up, you won’t heal and you’ll be in more pain than you can imagine.  It is very important that you go into this with the understanding that there are risks, great personal risks that you will need to take.  I’m not talking about anything illegal, but it will certainly be very scary at times, and very painful.  You have a lot of good in you Corey, and I wouldn’t have chosen you if I had any doubts whatsoever that you could do this.”  I had been feeling very serene all morning.  The sleep he had somehow induced on me the day before had given me energy I hadn’t felt in at least six months.  Now I was feeling scared again.  I didn’t know if I could do it.  Was I willing to give myself over to something as magical and amazing as what Dalton taught?  I have to admit the faith he professed had also reassured me.  I trusted God and opened myself in prayer to him for an answer.  I felt that accepting Dalton’s offer was what God had in mind for me.

“Ok.  I’m willing to do this training you’re talking about.  But how much can you tell me?  I don’t mind telling you that I’m scared.”

“I know you are.  I hope you are.  Fear is the one thing that you need to be aware of in every aspect of your life.  It can cripple you if you let it.  Just breathe with it for now.  Do not ignore it, feed it, minimize it, or try to turn it into anything else.  I will tell you nothing more today.  But tomorrow I want you to tell me what you are afraid of.”  He got up, patted me on the shoulder, and left.

What am I afraid of?  I wondered to myself.  The real question should be: what am I not afraid of?  I took my tray up and stacked it with the others waiting to be washed.  I knew there was something very strange going on, but I doubted that it was just my “perception” as Dalton called it.  He seemed so clear, so calm to me.  Sure, he looked a little rough around the edges as my mother says, but then, so do most of these guys.  What intrigued me most about him was that he was challenging me.  He aroused my competitive instinct and dared me to go further, to learn more about the secrets of life, the secrets of faith, and the contents of my soul.  An operation on my soul?  Was it really ailing so badly that it needed an operation?  I went to see the guard at the desk and got a pass to go back to my cellblock, still lost in confusion and fear.

I almost missed meditation the next week because my television arrived from the repair shop.  I had gotten it lobotomized at a local electronics store.  Prison regulations do not allow speakers in televisions or radios in order to cut down on noise pollution.  Fifteen minutes before the group was scheduled to begin, my door opened mysteriously. I knew that usually this meant I needed to come out and report for something.  The guard at the end of the corridor told me I had to go to the property room and pick up a package.  They didn’t know what it was, and looked irritated if not irate that I should even get a package. When I got there the officer made me sign a receipt and I carried my television back to my cell.  I was delighted.  News is very difficult to get in prison and current affairs are not popular topics.  The most important issues were always who ratted on whom and who committed a sex crime.  One’s reputation depended entirely on recognizing these people and ostracizing them.  It virtually guaranteed the survival of the inmate code.

After I had thrown my television on my bed and locked my cell again, I went up to the Sergeant’s office for a pass to meditation.  The trip to the property room had complicated my plans.

“Didn’t you just go somewhere?”

“Property room.”

“Now you want to go somewhere else.”

“Yes sir.”

“Medi-fucking-tation huh.  Well, if you think it’ll do you any good, go ahead.”

“Thank you.”  I left.  Not all guards were like this, just most of them.  As I later found out, the only topics that were universally entertaining to the officers were guns and pay increases.

Carl had gotten there before me and I decided to sit with him this week.

“Where’s your friend the guru?”  I had tried to tell Carl a little bit about what had happened to me and the conversations I had with him. Carl was skeptical at best.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think meditation is soothing, calming, and helps me live in this God-forsaken hell-hole.  But do I think you can levitate, have little outer-body travels, or enter an altered state of consciousness, like that movie where the guy turned into a monkey—no!”  He wasn’t angry, just very energetic when he argued about things.  He still had a big smile on his face and it always seemed to grow wider after he uttered the critical words “No, I think you’re wrong.” 

Dalton walked in at that point and put his tools under one of the literature tables that the chaplain’s office kept stocked at the back of the room.  Then he took the same seat he had the previous week and nodded to both Carl and me.  I said “hello.”  The volunteer corralled the group’s attention and began the sit, once again ringing the chime three times at the beginning, but this time she added a little prayer by Thich Nhat Hanh about inviting and listening to the sound of the bell. 

I let the words wash over me, bathe me in the sweet serenity that was so difficult to find in prison, but I consid
ered God’s greatest gift when I could find it.  I recognized that this woman’s prayer was healing to me, welcoming me back into the fold from which I had been banished.  It gave me both comfort and purpose.  I began to clear my mind of all thoughts and just remain with the feelings of acceptance the words had left in me.

About J.H. Lyons:

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, but raised in New England, J. H. Lyons now lives in rural Maine with his husband, their Mini Aussie dogs, and a cat in a "big house, little house, barn" farmhouse. He holds degrees in law, political science, computer science and French.

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Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive a finished copy of BEING FREE, US Only.

2 winners will receive audiobook codes for BEING FREE, International

Ends April 30th, midnight EST.

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Tour Schedule:

Week One:


Writer of Wrongs



Comic Book Yeti

Excerpt/Twitter Post


Two Chicks on Books

Excerpt/IG Post





Karma Zee Readz

Excerpt/IG Post


A Dream Within A Dream



Fire and Ice Reads

Excerpt/IG Post





#BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee Blog

Blog Spotlight/IG Post



IG Review

Week Two:


Lifestyle of Me

Review/IG Post


Rajiv's Reviews

Review/IG Post


The Book Critic

Review/IG Post


One More Exclamation

Review/IG Post


Books and Zebras

IG Review



IG Review



IG Review/TikTok Post


Country Mamas With Kids

IG Review/TikTok Post


Brandi Danielle Davis

IG Review


The Momma Spot


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for hosting my blog tour! I would be glad to answer any questions your readers might have. - Henry.