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Note: This piece was previously published by Willow Creek Community Church’s Inmate Survival Guide, 2019.

Prison life has beat the hell out of me, but it has also helped me learn 
not to be hard-headed when God is trying to teach me something. 
For these lessons, I am grateful. For these struggles, I am grateful. 
Trials and tribulations have made me stronger and that pain 
mysteriously turns into beauty. For that pain and beauty, I am grateful. 
When I can, I use my strengths to help others who are going through 
what I’ve survived. What good is being strong unless it can be used 
to help the weak? For these opportunities, I am grateful. Honest 
friendship, deep conversation, and a good laugh even in the midst 
of chaos–I am grateful. The opportunity to focus my energy into making 
needed changes in my thinking, that even behind these bars I can make 
a positive shift in my outlook–I am grateful. Food, water, and shelter–
for these basic necessities whom so many lack, I am grateful. 
For getting into shape and living a healthier lifestyle, I am grateful. 
For all the people who go out of their way to make things harder 
than they need to be, all the inmates who whine and complain 
about anything and everything, all the friends and family who turned 
their back on me in my darkest hour and chose hate instead of love, anger 
instead of compassion, animosity instead of understanding, and rancor 
instead of forgiveness. For all of these people, I am grateful. For all 
the frustrations that come with a life lived incarcerated, all of which drive me 
to do what I didn’t before: live my life in an honest and upstanding fashion. 
For this soul-saving intervention that has opened my eyes and heart 
to the importance of real family, loyal friends, unflinching love, and 
to the God who made it all. For all of this, I am forever grateful. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Leo Cardez is a writer and editor of the prison newspaper, Dixon Digest. Cardez volunteers as an Advisory Board Member of Prison Health News and serves on a committee for College Guild. He is incarcerated in Illinois. Leo Cardez is his pen name.