Funny Thing About a Life Sentence…

February 26, 2019

By Ward Allan Yont

My name is Ward Allan Yont, and I’m a “lifer”—an inmate in the Arizona Department of Corrections. Not too long ago my publisher, Ann, and I were talking in one of our weekly phone calls. In light of the upcoming publication of my memoir, …and Purpose in Life,  she felt that people might be interested in hearing from me via a blog about some real-time issues confronting readers.  Ann tasked me with sharpening my focus on some of the challenges and hardships of prison life. From the perspective of one serving a life sentence, I’ve been given so much of what we all fear we don’t have enough of: time.
Many people might say that we’re all stuck in a prison (of our own making) in one way or another and that our pursuits have been just billions of individual quests to free ourselves.
As I write this modern day epistle, I am celebrating my 25th year in prison.  There’s hardly anything celebratory about serving a life sentence for taking of another man’s life.  But anyway- yeah- 25 years.
Guys in here often ask, “Has it felt like it’s been twenty-five years??”
I’m always quick to reply, “Not at all – actually, it’s flown by as though it were only twenty-four and a half!” And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in those 25 years it’s that time itself really doesn’t mean anything, or, at least, it shouldn’t.
As “lifers,” we’ve been stripped of family, friends, home, career, and autonomy and once we no longer have them we come to realize they’re the best things in life. Their value lies only in the past, which is simply an illusory aspect of time.  If these things meant that much to us when we had them, we may not have been so inclined to commit our crimes. We lost them by chasing what we deemed to be “something better,” something of even greater value or importance – at the time.
It could be argued that lifers (or anyone entering prison for a period of time) have been given a head start an ideal opportunity to catch up, in terms of personal enlightenment. What better way to overcome time than by abandoning all regard for it? This is the cornerstone of “correction” in the truest sense of the word.
Once prisoners achieve some sense of individual identity both free of time and transcendent of prison norms (i.e., group alliances), there arises a sense of responsibility to contribute to humanity, at least in their immediate environment, in some grounded, educated manner. In fact, the prisoners’ intimate experience of being freed from time’s constraints makes us ripe for healing ourselves.
Our burden to come to terms with the true purpose and nature of our lives and the underlying needs from within.  Of course, one must be willing and ready to begin the process, and the purpose of these blog entries is to offer my insights and my support. And like those outside the walls, those of us inside must strive to become saviors in this world. Any deviation from this path leads to restlessness, helplessness and disenchantment, loss of peace, identity and happiness. In fact, any pursuit other than this leads to disillusionment and is not real.
Focusing upon outer-worldly affairs is the “problem.” A sharp diversion inward —  towards our feelings, motives, intentions and expectation,our intuitions, emotions, intellectual pursuits and creations —  should provide the solution. Many philosophers and spiritual leaders assert that one must know one’s self and that happiness is derived not from having the things we want, but by wanting the things we have.  
Most of us have also probably heard that “time is but an illusory construct of the mind” and therefore not a sustainable aspect of reality. I can certify that this is true. Not only is time illusory, but it’s inextricably tethered to the language of our outer world and derived of a thought system based on fear. This isn’t to suggest that we should find ourselves afraid of outer-world affairs (material wealth, external pretense, etc.) that seem to create inner happiness and well-being. Rather, fear comes from the thought of not having these things, not having enough.
My use of the word “fear” encompasses not only the baser levels of emotion but also its more superlative form: an absence of the all-encompassing life force we know as love – or the absence of our awareness of it. And this is detailed in the only text I’ve ever entrusted to which I’ve entrusted my life and an undying allegiance: A Course in Miracles.
Whether we realize it or not, lifers are forced into relinquishing time and leaving the illusions of the outer world behind. So, when contemplating issues of deeper spiritual and philosophical concerns, it could be argued that lifers have been given a head-start in terms of personal enlightenment. What better way to triumph over time than by abandoning all regard for it?
Let me return to my conversation with Ann. She voiced regret over the “unfortunate shame of (my) circumstance” and my having fallen victim to such a fate.  I addressed her tentatively, as I felt she misunderstood. My incarceration should not be seen as a regrettable shame, and that perhaps all of society should be prescribed a life sentence to be free of this need, this attachment,  this annoyingly deceitful addiction to the outer world and the burden of disillusionment. After all, we’re all pretty much “lifers” anyway —  imprisoned in this illusory world of time.
“Anything short of my sentence,” I argued to Ann, “and I would’ve only been biding time, awaiting the arrival of my release date so I could saunter back out into the world,  driven by ill intent, and no more committed to truth and virtue than the day I arrived…Then how much worse off would the world be? No, I’m definitely here for a reason, if not because a series of poor and ignorant choices, then by divine appointment or both —  all in the name of healing.
“No, because then,” Ann stammered. “Well…never mind” withdrawing what could’ve only been a well-meant wish. So, let me offer food for thought while making Ann’s wish for her. Let’s make this “inner-world-self-mastery” the standard for us all. Let’s scrap time — it only gets in the way, and has failed us time and time again.