Things That Matter

Last term changed my life. I participated in UO's "Inside-Out" program in which UO students take a class along inmates (also students) in Oregon prisons. My class took place at Oregon State Penitentiary, the only maximum security prison in the state. I'd never been in a prison before. What I found in my inside and outside classmates was companionship unlike anything I could have expected. Our relationships grew based on genuine openness and discussion, and through a fascinating sociology curriculum. The only problem is, the class ended. I'm on the outside, and half of my friends from class are on the inside, which will never feel right.

Leaving class I felt "helpless and hopeless." But in the last month I have been able to live more actively and happily despite being hit by occasional sadness thinking about all that's wrong with our world. Never in my life have I been more grateful and, as cheesy as it sounds, the important things in life are as clear to me as ever!

The following are a few simple but important practices that matter.

Honesty. Seems like a no brainer. But being sincere and open particularly about how I feel, as well as hearing the stories of others has made a big difference in my life. I'm currently taking part in a few discussion groups in order to stay tapped into honest conversation. I'm certainly no professional, and it's hard. I have to remind myself that talking isn't always communication.

Being outside. Last week on a run on the coast I was overwhelmed with the memories of the men inside. I tried to capture every glimpse of forest and sea and appreciate it. Since the start of the class, running has been therapy. But we all have our outdoor niche. Lately I've realized how wonderful life is when one day you're trekking through tidepools and the next you're digging in the garden. Whatever gets me outside, I'll do it.

Doing work that's fulfilling. For me, right now, it's learning and working on the coast at Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and educating myself on food issues and gardening at the Urban Farm. The former simply makes me feel happy and excites me. The latter lets me get my hands dirty, contribute to my community, and challenge current ideologies and practices. As I apply for jobs in the "real world" I look for a combination of these characteristics.

I'm so in love with the people in my life, and the places I get to spend my time.

But still, sometimes I feel so devastated. All I can do is honor my friends inside with every person I hug, hill I run, shovel full I dig, and story I share.

-Shannon R.

Outside Alumna, UO