The prison experience is brutal on every single member of the family. While life typically comes with its shares of ups and downs, getting churned through the justice system, combined with the parade of horribles that follow, can leave you believing the sun will never shine again. You feel cursed and beaten down to the point of surrender, ready to give up on everyone and everything. Then, just as you wonder how you can possibly survive another day, you get hit with a spark of hope.

It’s an ember you must nurture into a flame to sustain you through this terribly dark period of your life. Keeping the faith. I was looking at a potential LIFE sentence when I was captured in Nicaragua. They threw me into a 72 square foot cell shared with three other cellmates, left with nothing but the clothes on my back. We were locked down 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in unbearable conditions. Our bunks were splintered wooden planks infested with bugs and spiders, the brutal heat was stifling, and the front corner of the cell was a hole in the floor with a rubber hose overhead, serving as both our toilet and shower. Our meals were soggy rice and beans, served twice a day, eaten with our fingers and we never saw the light of day. Suffice it to say, the conditions broke me to my very core, as I considered the unthinkable, convinced that it was the best option to save my family from unimaginable pain and shame.

 Thankfully, I was driven by an emotion even more primal, faith. As visions of my children raced through my head, I came to understand that this wasn’t the end but rather a new beginning. Yes, it required sacrifice and trials by fire to get to the other side. But, if I succeeded I knew that I’d once again be reunited with my family with so much life still yet to be lived and enjoyed. I have to admit, it wasn’t easy.

“Why me? Why must my family suffer so?” are thoughts that rang through my head every day. I’m sure it echoed likewise in the minds of my wife and kids. But then, I’d stop to remember that I was far from blameless and owed my debt to society. While our justice system might be overly broad, overzealous and over-sentence, I certainly deserved something. So, I’d fall back on my faith that this was all for a higher purpose and tried my best to instill that in my family as well.

It’s that kind of faith that helped us survive throughout this ordeal. Plus, interestingly enough, I’ve seen us all grow stronger in many ways, like iron sharpening iron. And, while the trauma persists, I joke with the therapist that we at least know what our issues are because they are so obvious. Most people are screwed up in one way or another and have absolutely no idea why.

Now, when I talk about faith, please understand, it’s more than just the faith of a happy reunion. It goes deeper than that. I honestly feel it requires getting down to basics. Like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, find a Higher Power of your own understanding. Too many people dump this advice because all they can think of is the fire and brimstone guy doling out vengeance with lightning bolts from his fingers. That’s not what I’m talking about. Whether it’s karma, an all-knowing power who set things up to run on their own with various spiritual laws of the universe, or an omnipotent being who gets involved in our daily affairs. Your belief, your faith, will help get you to the other side.

Share this with your children because they too need to know that things will again be okay, that all of you will once again thrive. They are so scared and confused. They need some sort of structure to help them make sense of all this. Without faith it’s impossible to under “WHY”.

Frankly, it’s unimportant whether you decide to keep this on as your philosophy for the rest of your life. Merely having it NOW will make the time most bearable for the entire family. The meaning of life, the meaning of prison in your life. These are questions that will plague the rest of your life, if you let them. And, that, again, is where faith comes in. You can’t change your past but you also mustn’t let it define you. Being an inmate or a husband, wife or child of someone incarcerated is something that happened, not who you are. You must get past the guilt and shame in order to move forward. You have the power to change the narrative by plugging into the faith of a brighter tomorrow.