Who knows what I would have done differently?

Introducing Allie, Words Beyond Bars’ newest facilitator: such a talented, professional and delightful addition to our team!

Allie is new to Colorado, transplanted from the East Coast where she studied Media Production at Emerson College. A devoted reader, writer, and filmmaker, she is humbled to be facilitating with WBB at the Colorado Correctional Facility and sharing the transformative power of reading. Raised as a part of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), she is passionate about living by the Quaker value of community and has been volunteering as a facilitator with non-profits for over eight years. She lives in Denver with her boyfriend and incredibly adorable Australian Shepherd puppy.

Allie’s post-

“Two weeks ago, nine of us were gathered around a table at the Colorado Correctional Center to discuss our most recent read – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. A relatively small, approachable book that reads like an old myth or fable, The Alchemist has sold over 115 million copies around the world, won over 100 international awards, and has been translated into over 80 languages. But it wasn’t its impressive accolades we discussed that night. It was something much more powerful and personal.

The men were quiet at first – this group can be particularly contemplative. And then someone broke the silence. “I can’t believe I hadn’t read this book before. Who knows what I would have done differently?” This sentiment continued in his reflection paper – “I found myself wishing I had read this book many years ago….”

Another wrote, “this book has made me realize a lot, not only about myself, but the world I live in. The blowing wind. The shining sun. The soul of the world… It has taught me that time is relative. While we are here only a short time, we exist forever.”

These statements, bold and, dare I say it, metaphoric, are reflective of a conversation among the men that was predominantly about a central theme of the book –- one’s Personal Legend. The story follows Santiago, a young shepherd, who leaves his small village life in search of buried treasure after a number of catalytic dreams and visions. His Personal Legend, the purpose of his life, becomes the search of this treasure. He soon comes to learn that everyone has their own personal legend, something the universe will conspire to help us achieve, as long as we choose to pursue it.

While this lesson is universally powerful, it is a seemingly striking proposition for these men and one that they could have easily blown off. The men at this facility are approaching the end of their sentences and their release from the prison system. This release is daunting, and rightly so. The challenges they face upon release are immense, and they’ll be the first to tell you how overwhelming the dubiety from their peers/family/potential employers is. We’ve had many conversations where the sentiment surrounding their success as free men seems governed by fear and doubt.

This conversation was different.

“This was by far one of my favorite books,” wrote one participant. “I loved that it inspired us to work at our dreams. Dreams do come true.”

Another. “I am reevaluating things, and when I reach a conclusion, if I ever do, I can say that this book has pointed me in the direction. Thank you for all the work and help you do for us. It is beautiful and appreciated… I highly recommend this book and hope it helps others listen to their heart…”

For these men, the takeaways from this book were of hope. I listened to the men encourage each other – “What are your dreams? What do you want to do? How are you going to do it?” From many, I heard how powerful their own self-reflection was when reading – “Sometimes I spend a lot of energy trying to be strong and this book allowed me to be vulnerable and true to myself.” We talked about how important it is to believe in our own abilities, to set goals, to work towards positive ambitions…

When the 25th anniversary edition of his book was published, the author was interviewed about the global impact of The Alchemist. For him, it came down to the transformative power of books: “From time to time,” he said, “there are books that changed my life. Well, it’s not that the book itself changed my life; it’s that I was already ready to change, and needed to not feel alone.” This speaks to the very root of our program. While it may be bold to say that it changed their lives, I can sincerely say that The Alchemist provided these men with a sense of encouragement, community, and purpose and, for a small time at least, they didn’t feel alone.”