The Holiday Season is, for me—like for many—a time to be tempted to worry

Should I be more focused on how much money is in my bank account? My Roth IRA?

Fortunately I’ve learned that like the ancient philosopher taught: none of us, through worrying, can add a single hour to our lives

On a recent weekend, my spiritual path brought me to beautiful Susanville, California

A town as picturesque as the opening scenes of a snowy-mountain Western from my childhood black-and-white TV

With their pine-crested hilltops, vast expanses of freedom stretching towards endless horizons

As a kid, I’d drift inside my home from the summertime screened porch, at twilight, the evening stars tiny jewels beginning to awake for the night

With the taste of homemade lemonade still on my tongue

I’d watch on television, a leather-booted hero, bandana around his neck and skin white like mine, gun down a villain in the muddy main street

The town of Susanville, California, has as residents, some truly wonderful people

(I didn’t get a chance to meet many when I was there, but those I did, fell into the above category)

The town is home to High Desert State Prison

The prison appears—as one drives towards it at night over the nearby mountains—a massive, hulking facility

Artificial lights burning bright, somehow seeming like a spacecraft, touched down from furthest reaches

I spent most of Friday and Saturday in High Desert’s maximum-security yards, as a volunteer with Hustle 2.0

Hustle 2.0 is an organization that equips people who are incarcerated with transformative education and redemptive opportunities, including for employment and entrepreneurism

Mornings, corrections staff met us volunteers with warm greetings, escorted us through frosty air past hundreds of feet of the bleakest walls, through cold steel doors, along asphalt paths

At one point, above us, within a gleaming coil of razor-wire, five small sparrows alighted and perched

The loop they flew through might slice through feathers to bone, but those birds stretched their wings

The “Mavericks,” as the men of High Desert participating in Hustle 2.0’s program are called, assembled in a gym

Being greeted by a Hustle 2.0 “Maverick”

For weeks and months, they’d been applying themselves to their coursework, and as top performers earned their way into that gym

They’d been doing the very hard work of separating themselves from their pasts, forming new attitudes, and shaping new mindsets…

All in an environment seemingly less-than-conducive to personal growth and transformation

We volunteers were there to coach them, and they gave us smiles and high-fives, wearing prison blues, face tattoos, and many wearing Nikes clean as mountaintop snow

I regard the Mavericks as heroes for, among other reasons, their commitment to transforming their pasts into means to bring their best selves to the worlds around them

During one exercise a Maverick named Steven* shared his past with me

(*Not his real name, and his character is a compilation of several Mavericks I met through the course of the weekend)

At the age of seven, Steven witnessed man die on his (Steven’s) front porch…the man had been stabbed, bled to death

Steven himself was stabbed, as a young teenager, the blade just missing a paralyzing slash to the spine…he was stabbed again, his lung punctured, also as a teen

The gangs in Steven’s neighborhood lurked outside his home, waited with fists and boots, blades and bandanas…the colors they wore symbolizing affiliations the “right” or “wrong” side of which, meant differences between life and death

You either joined the gangs, or tried to survive those streets like sparrow among circling birds of prey, beaks and talons at-the-ready to rip flesh from bone

From what little I know about those streets, it’s possible to rise from them without joining the gangs

Yet from what I know about myself?…had I grown up there, I wouldn’t have had the strength not to join

As it was, I let my life slide into excessive entitlement…a belief deep-seated, that whatever I wanted, I should have

“Whatever I wanted” was mostly to get high, to escape the pain of being me

The many chances I was given for an education, I mostly wasted away

Working with a Maverick

Within the walls of High Desert State Prison in beautiful Susanville, as jet-trails crisscrossed the blue sky above, the Mavericks of Hustle 2.0 taught me more about transforming my own past

If it’s not too late for the Mavericks, many of whom serve long sentences (life, in some cases) to transform their lives

Then it’s certainly not too late for me to go back to my Child Self, who wouldn’t have had the strength to turn away from the gangs

Like he/I lived so long without the strength to turn away from the meth

In favor of growing into a person who takes those opportunities generously extended to me, to spend weekends at places like High Desert

Sure, I probably helped some Mavericks…but, they helped me more

To realize the main difference between myself and them, is, I was given opportunities they were not

I could make mistakes with consequences so low, as to be negligible (for a long time I could do this)

If Steven can do the work to transform his life, despite his past and current circumstances…guess who else can, too?

As a kid, Heaven seemed those summer days on my lemonade porch

Decades from now, when I’m considered for residency in Heaven (if there is such a Place)

God won’t ask to see my bank statements, or my IRA balance

She’ll ask, did you volunteer in High Desert Prison when given the chance?

I’m thankful to the Mavericks, and the volunteers of Hustle 2.0…and you, my readers…for giving me the answer I’ll want to have

How has others’ transformation inspired you to transform yourself?

Hustle 2.0 Mavericks and volunteers