Once, when I was an addict and high on drugs, I committed a burglary and assaulted the owner of the apartment that I was breaking into. I was caught and now I am in jail. My whole life has been a disaster, and I cannot adjust to being locked up. Mostly I feel depressed and I want to sleep all day. What can I do to raise my spirits? I am in my early 20s and don’t want to live like this for ever. What can I do to make my life better?  

Inmate, Thimphu 

Well, the first step is to fully accept that you are in jail. At the moment it sounds like you are mentally struggling against being locked up. This is natural. However, to overcome frustration and depression, it is important that we admit our mistakes and accept that there are consequences for our action.  This is true for all of us, not only you.

In the morning say something like this to yourself: “Ok, I messed up. I caused pain for others and I accept that I am now experiencing the consequences of my action. This time will pass, but in the mean-time I will strive to make the experience a positive one.” 

This may sound difficult to implement, but you can do it in small steps. Here are some practical ideas: First of all, start by maintaining a discipline – keep yourself, your bed, and personal belongings clean and tidy. Don’t do this as a cold, military discipline, however, but out of respect for your fellow inmates. No-body wants to share a room with a sloppy guy who smells bad and has a permanently long face, right? 

Be mindful of others and be aware of their needs. If someone is depressed, for example, offer them your support. If someone lacks clothes, share yours with them. Spend some time each day to read, draw, and meditate.  

Also, become a little crazy and transform your activities into something cool and amazing. If you have to clean the toilets, for example, think something like this before you start: “May whoever use this toilet be happy.” Then, if you really want to be smart, think that you, the toilet and the action of cleaning are no more real than a rainbow or a movie – ok, this sounds complicated, but it in reality it just means that nothing exists independently, but is made of other things – a rainbow, for example is formed from a combination of light and moisture, while a movie is created from light, screen, projector etc. For your part, you are made of blood, air, consciousness etc. Basically, nothing exists as a permanent, independent object. Then, after finishing the task, send out any good feelings you have generated to all beings with the wish that their minds be cleaned of ignorance and that they be free of suffering. You can do the same if you are cooking, cleaning, or any kind of work. In this way, you can transform your entire day into something cool, positive, and a little crazy.

In reality, your time in jail will pass, but while there try to make it a positive experience that will help you develop into a mentally richer, wiser, and more compassionate person.    

Furthermore, you should make a determined effort to change and not get caught in the cycle of addiction and jail. When you get out, you will be clean but you will not know how to stay away from drugs, and so I strongly recommend that you go to rehab. There, you will learn a programme that will help you remain drug-free. In addition, you will make friendships with people who are moving forward with their lives. Without knowing a programme and without positive friendships, it will be extremely difficult to stay clean. Rehab will give you a new start.

Also, think deeply about a career. Then, after rehab, you can start looking for training opportunities. When you do this, do not let ego hold you back, but be prepared to start at the bottom. In reality, you didn’t feel shy to roam around the town high on drugs and break into other’s property, right? So, why should you feel shy to do an honest job? In this respect, whether you need to begin your career as a dish washer or a waiter in café, do it with pride and energy.  

Finally, remember that our original nature is pure and cannot be contaminated by negative thought or action. Maybe it is helpful to think of it like fresh, pure water from the mountains. Even if it gets polluted, the dirt never penetrates the molecules, and so when filtered the pure water appears again. In this respect, do not feel hopeless about your past. As I said, your original nature has not been affected by your negative action, and so there is always a possibility to restart your life. 

I’ll relate a story that might be helpful. At the time of the Buddha there was a guy called Angulimala. He was like a monster and had killed many people. Then, one day he met the Buddha and became his disciple. He was able to purify his karma and finally became enlightened. So, even though he had done many terrible things, the karma for his action never contaminated his original nature. This is why he was able to eventually leave behind his past and gain liberation. 

In this respect, society should not discriminate against people who have been in jail or rehab, but instead do their utmost to support them to regain their lives and dignity. Maybe it is helpful to think of society like a human body. If the organs co-operate and help each other to be strong, then the entire body benefits, which includes the individual organs. Likewise, if we help all members of society to be healthy and to function well, then the entire country gains, which includes each one of us.  

To recap, while in jail, introduce discipline into your daily routine. After jail, go to rehab to learn how to stay clear of drugs. Start a career, and always remember that no matter what you have done in the past, it has not contaminated your original nature, and so never feel hopeless. 

Recommended Rehabs (for treatment of addiction):

Nazhoen Pelri Rehab Centre (YDF), Tshaluna:  admission after attending hospital detox programme. 

Sahayata Rehab, Siliguri (mostly Bhutanese clients. Detox after admission): (+91) 9609996661,  nitensubba@ymail.com