One of the ways that John Mandala has always taken strides in the name of growth, is his celebration of simple ideas. Men breaking bread is one of those ideas. In a paper he wrote on creative cooking called “A Psychological Experience”, John expresses his belief in practicing psychology anywhere. Here is an excerpt: “In County Facilities it is common for inmates to re-cook the food served, and so early on I was labeled as ‘Chef Boy-ar-Dee’. Although many men now consider me a ‘Jailhouse Gourmet’, others know me as Rev. Dr. John, having been blessed by God with the ability to prepare a healthy and hearty meal from anything edible.”
“As one of 75 men who share a stove, cooking has opened doors across diverse cultural backgrounds, while building bridges of communication. This has enabled me to learn other people’s customs as well as to engage in personal interaction.” He goes on to describe how the cooking makes him feel free and experience the “Spark of the Divine”. If a person is going to continue to be a person beyond the walls of their prison term, they must find creative ways to reach these exalted places.
Many manage to find real hope and a real work ethic in their hearts while they are in prison and are met with difficult reintegration programs when they get out, if there are any in place at all. Many of them have no family or friends left to support them. There are also judgmental or scared community members who will never let them forget that they are no longer “first-rate citizens” and laws that restrict them in many ways from becoming successful. But who is to say who a person truly is at any given moment? Many of us have had the experience of growing into a person and looking back and saying “that was not ME” because we can no longer identify with that old version of us. We should not be looking back at that any more than we must. After we take our lessons from the past, we move on. This is healthy. This is what prisoners need. They need to be allowed to transform and grow into who they truly are right now. We need to think about how we characterize people and the words we use to describe them so that we can help our friends and neighbors come to terms with the reality; prisoners reintegrating back into society need help. They need opportunities to find work and a place to be, they need to make new friends who will have a positive influence on them while they adopt new habits. They need that positive transition time. They need a chance to breathe and rest and skip a stone across the water; to just be a human in nature and reconnect with themselves is one of the ultimate goals of finding property for Breathing Space, Florida.