This is the first article under our new semi-regular column, "Inside the Walls," featuring commentary and perspectives from incarcerated humanists.
Most people who enter prison with a lengthy sentence quickly find God. I, on the other hand, found humanism.
At the age of fourteen, I shed the encumbrances of religion and proudly identified as an atheist. However, when your entire family consists of staunch Catholics, and you have yet to encounter another "out" atheist, to where and to whom do you turn for moral guidance? I felt alone in my rejection of faith, and as a result I began wandering down a road of rebellion, heaping scorn upon organized religion and "traditional" values. I knew quite well what I didn't believe but, unfortunately, never took the time to reflect on what I did believe. In other words, I was too preoccupied with the negative to give any consideration to the positive. If I had discovered humanism at the same moment I lost my faith in a god, I may well have embarked on a far different road, one that didn't lead to me spending the rest of my life incarcerated at the age of eighteen.
It wasn't until the New Atheist movement began thunderously making noise that I finally recognized that there could be more to being a nonbeliever than raging against religionists and their incoherent interpretations of reality. Though I delighted in the rigorous deconstruction of religions by the "Four Horsemen" of the movement (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris), it was the periodicals of secular humanism--specifically Free Inquiry and the Humanist--that truly enlightened me. I found within their pages, nestled in the erudite words of their contributors, the indispensable guidance I had been missing for so long, the moral beacon by which I could navigate through the darkness of prison. Benevolence, fairness, compassion, and responsibility replaced anger, hatred, and a self-destructive pessimism that had bordered on nihilism. Secular humanism gave me a purpose, a reason to change from the person I had been into the person I wanted to be. And you would imagine that such a transformative worldview as humanism would be supported and granted the same accommodations as those provided to religion. But it's not, and therein lies one of the obstacles atheists and humanists face while in prison.
Over the years I have attempted to introduce and foster a healthy humanism within these walls. I spent two years struggling...