March 3, 2021

67. Prison, Strength and Giving Men Permission to Feel with Eldra Jackson

67. Prison, Strength and Giving Men Permission to Feel with Eldra Jackson

Eldra Jackson was serving life in New Folsom prison and in and out of the prison system for almost 30 years. This is his journey of rehabilitation, extreme ownership, self work and intense growth.

Key themes of the episode:

  • The desire to be respected and feared in prison
  • How he had an image of strength as a mask to fear
  • The choices and impact that solitary confinement had on his life
  • Why men need permission to feel and explore themselves
  • The importance of rites of passage and rituals
  • The origin story of Inside Circle
  • Releasing negative energy as a source of healing
  • How men can access their deeper truths and why it takes strength
  • What the parole process looks like when getting release from prison
  • What he's doing to ensure he doesn't pass down his trauma to the next generation

This was an amazing episode and I'm so thankful to Eldra for speaking with me. Again, I am willing to pay for 10 people to watch the documentary by The Inside Circle called "The Work". You can find it on YouTube, Amazon Prime and I believe a few other options. It only costs $5 to rent but it will provide so much more depth as to the context and importance of the work that Eldra went through and facilitated in prison. Make sure to follow them on Instagram.

About Eldra: Eldra is a writer and sought after public speaker on the topics of at-risk youth advocacy, effective criminal justice rehabilitation and turning around ‘toxic’ masculinity, Eldra brings clarity of purpose, mission focus, and inspiration to his role at Inside Circle. He was an inmate at New Folsom Prison when he found Inside Circle and began the inner personal journey that eventually led to his release in 2014 and his current leadership role. A living example of successful rehabilitation and re-entry, Eldra has dedicated his free time on the outside to serving at-risk youth, and acting as a facilitator, trainer, and mentor. 

As always, feel free to follow me on Instagram @theimperfectpod or shoot me an email at luke@theimperfectpod.com

Transcript

Luke West: [00:00:00] Hello, imperfect listeners. I'm here today with Eldra Jackson the third, he is a writer, sought after public speaker on the topics of at-risk youth advocacy, effective criminal justice rehabilitation and turning around toxic masculinity. Eldra brings clarity of purpose, mission, focus, and inspiration to his role at Inside Circle.
He himself was an inmate at New Folsom Prison when he found Inside Circle and began the interpersonal journey that eventually led to his release in 2014 and his current leadership role. He is a living example of successful rehabilitation and re-entry, and Eldra has dedicated his free time on the outside to serving at-risk youth acting as a facilitator, trainer and mentor for organizations like Youth Empowerment and Goals Association, shoulder to shoulder, and the alternatives to violence project.
Inside Circle itself empowers system impacted people to lead change from within by building transformative environments, both inside, outside adult and juvenile detention centers. They heal trauma, build life skills, train mentors, facilitators, and coaches with the lived experience to effectively divert incarceration and support the justice involved in public at large and transforming their lives and the systems they function within. So Eldra, I'm very excited for you to be here tonight with me today and really excited for our conversation.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:01:16] Well, thank you, Luke. It's an honor and a privilege to be here and thank you for extending the invitation to have me.
Luke West: [00:01:22] So everyone for context, Eldra has an amazing TedTalk that I highly recommend that you watch that will give some background work to this episode as well. And also an amazing documentary called The Work. The first 10 people that DM me from listening to this episode, I will pay for you to watch The Work. It is that powerful of a documentary. On Instagram at theimperfectpod. Shoot me a message if you want it and I'll pay for you to watch this. So Eldra, I just wanted to ask you, how are you showing up today? I feel like that's a question I've heard you ask other people. And I wanted to ask that of yourself.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:01:58] How am I showing up today? I'm showing up It, I guess it's perfect that I'm on the imperfect podcast today. I'm showing up as imperfect. I'm showing up as someone who is dedicated and committed to living a life of purpose and stepping into what feels like my natural life calling.
And I'm not always perfect at it. Though I would love to be. But what I am doing and how showing up is committed to continuing to get up, dust myself off and move forward because this work is just that important to not just me, but I feel the world. 
Luke West: [00:02:33] And coming from someone who's saw the work that you're doing, it is very important. And one of the questions I always ask my guests too, is who is one person dead or alive or fictional that you would want to have over for dinner. And what would you cook for them?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:02:50] One person dead or alive that I would want to have over for dinner. And what would I cook for them? Huh? That's a good question. I hopefully this doesn't piss people off and they stick around long enough to hear what the thinking is around that. But Adolf Hitler. I'd like to have Adolf Hitler over for dinner and what I would cook for him is I'd get my grandmother's Louisiana recipe for gumbo. And I'd cook him that for dinner.
Luke West: [00:03:22] What's the logic and reasoning behind that choice.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:03:25] The logic and reasoning behind that choice is I've done some reading about that individual and his past before he became the world famous Figure historical figure that, that he did. And I recognize the pain that the little boy went through, that the child went through. And the reasoning for having him at the dinner table is to sit in circle with him and provide a space where he could just be open and honest with himself about what was truly going on within him before he became The Fuhrer when he was just little Adolf and he needed love and wanted to be accepted and did not receive that. And I recognize in myself how traumatic events in my childhood contributed to a very destructive and reckless choices that I made moving forward in life. That's where that's coming from.
 Luke West: [00:04:22] That transitions perfectly to my next question. Cause it's about the topic of childhood trauma and what I found fascinating in all of your language of all the interviews and shows and videos that I've seen you do is that you talk about this idea of being incarcerated long before you were in prison.
So can you explain a little bit about what that means and what you, your opinion on that childhood trauma that led you down the path that you got started on?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:04:53] Well, when I speak about being imprisoned long before I was ever physically in shackles, I'm talking about prison of the mind, prison of the spirit, prison of the emotions and suffering childhood trauma. Suffering abuse at the hands of babysitters that informed how I saw myself. That informed how I saw others and at the, you know, the very tender age of seven, eight, nine years old, I made decisions about who I was based on those experiences.
I made decisions about who other people were based on those experiences and from those decisions that I made and self-talk that was developed around those decisions, I imprisoned myself. I put myself into a box. At a very young age I determined based on my experiences that being open and being vulnerable were dangerous, caring and loving were things that were not safe.
And so I imprisoned myself behind beliefs that caring about others was a detriment, was something that put me in harm's way. Having compassion for others was something that was a weakness and that put me behind the bull's eyes. So, that is what informed me. And that is the prison that I built within myself, in my head, in my heart, in my spirit and move forward in life until I eventually wound up serving life in the California prison system.
Luke West: [00:06:23] And for context, what was the choice you made or part of the reasons that got you into prison in the first place? Cause I know that you were in juvenile through the ages of 14 and 18 as well. So what was kind of that build up that got you even into high, maximum security prison?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:06:46] Well, the buildup, it goes back to what I call the original sin and  starting to make the decisions and looking for what I thought was respect. Looking for what I valued as a persona to be able to hide and present to the world. And I used to be able to do that on the sports field.
I used to be a hell of a baseball player. I used to be able to do that out on the out on the sport. And people saw, you know, somebody on the pitchers mound on first base at shortstop on third out in center field. And that's who I was. And there came a time when I was 13, 14 years old and me and one of my buddies stole his mom's car and ran and we wrecked it and in doing so, it put my parents in a position to discipline me for that summer.
And a part of that discipline was there would be no sports. There would be no baseball. And the choice that I made as a result of their choices was to go out in the gutter and pick up gang bang and crack slang and a host of other things that were against the California penal code. And that started my life of crime and going out into the gutter and picking that up, picking up the persona of a gangster for me, it was a way to hide who I was, and it was a way to get respect from my peers.
Luke West: [00:08:05] In your work, you talk a lot about the idea and framework of toxic masculinity. How did you see that toxic masculinity embedded into you from that early age? Like, did you know when you were that young kind of what that image and what that those ideas of men were doing to you, or did you learn that once you went through a little bit more self work?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:08:29] No. I uh, of course I had no way of knowing what that was then. I mean, you know, just the term toxic masculinity is what, four or five years old and I'm 49. I'm kicking 50 in the ass. And that's just the way it was during those times. And in some places that's just the way it is now. And when I say just the way it was, I mean, you know, boys don't cry, men are responsible for taking care of the women.
Men are strong, men are tough, you know, you tough it out. You get injured, especially athletes playing on the field tough it out, you know, leg it out, rub some salt on that shit and keep moving. You don't show a fear. You don't show injury. You don't show weakness because if you do your opponent, your enemy, whatever your adversary will capitalize on that and they will seize the day and they will kill you. 
And these were the sorts of messages that I was taking in. I'm a child of the seventies. I grew up during the cold war era. There used to be a thing called the USSR. That was the big opponent of the us. I grew up hiding under desks for drills because, you know, we're preparing for nuclear bombs to be dropped on us and hiding under this wooden desk is going to save my ass.
You know, I grew up in those areas. I grew up watching a lot of violence and being enraptured in a lot of fear. And it was the man's role to go out and protect. It was the man's role to go out and fight. It was a man's role to be strong. My father was in the military. He served in Vietnam. He was a drill Sergeant.
He was a trainer of men and he was a trainer of soldiers. So these are the sorts of messages that I received in the household that I grew up in and informed what my beliefs were about, what it meant to be strong and what it meant to have respect what it meant to be a man
Luke West: [00:10:15] And so now you're in prison. Do you carry that mentality of wanting to be respected into prison? And if so, what did that look like to you?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:10:27] Oh yeah. Yeah. I definitely carry the desire to be respected into, in, into prison. And I take it even a step further and say, going into prison, there was a desire to be feared because those who are feared are not fucked with. Those who are feared are left alone. And I was a slight fellow. I've never been, I think I was maybe 130 pounds soaking wet when I went into prison.
And there were, you know, people in there that, that looked like they were ready to go on stage at a Mr. Olympia contest. And so it was imperative in my mind that... It was obvious I wasn't the biggest, I was never going to be the strongest, but what I can do, if I'm not the most dangerous, I'm going to be someone that when you look at you categorize as that's not an easy win right there, I'd rather go someplace else and look for a victory because he is going to be a problem.
Luke West: [00:11:24] What was the age dynamic cause you were really young going into prison. So what is the age dynamic and kind of span of a lot of these people in prison. Were people that have been there for a years afraid of a 19, 20, 21 year old or not really at all. 
Eldra Jackson III: [00:11:42] The age dynamic is when I went in, I was 19. So you got people in there who are 18 sometimes as, as young as 17 on, through, you know, 90 a hundred, however long people live. So the age disparity it runs the gamut. And it's not about necessarily seeing a 19 year old and being like, "Ooh, look at him. You know, fear him be afraid of him." I was into some things I was running with folks. It's not like I walked in the door by myself. I walked in the door, wrapped in the cloak of, you know, my homeys, my gang and the retribution that comes from a group if you fool with one of that group.
So I just continue, you know, in, in prison in the engaging in the activities that I was engaged in, out in the community and everybody in prison knows everybody. So, I was, you know, fairly mischievous when I was in the streets and some might say dangerous. And so there were people that I knew inside, and I just continued to build upon that as a means of building on that reputation as a means of building that persona to be able to hide behind so that you couldn't see just how fucking scared I was.
Luke West: [00:12:58] And that's really interesting that you use it as a way to shield other people of knowing how scared you were. And. This is coming from a gentleman who was in prison with Charles Manson and was more fear than Charles Manson, if I'm correct. Right. What's behind the story there with you and Charles Manson being in the same prison.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:13:17] I wouldn't say that I was more feared  than Charles Manson, but there was a time in my term where I was classified by the administration as a little more worthy of being isolated then Charles Manson, I'll say. I was classified as what they refer to a standalone walk alone. And what that means is you live in a cell by yourself. You go out to a yard for recreation by yourself, anywhere you go, you are alone, you are shackled, you are handcuffed. You're escorted by a guard, and the gun tower has a mini 14 trained on you, just in case you decide to do something stupid while you're shackled and handcuffed, and they can blow your brains out.
My judgment was that Charles Manson was somebody who was, you know, way more heinous and vicious than I was. This is the man responsible for Helter Skelter. And then the Tate LaBianca murders and just massacring people all throughout the night, terrifying all across the countryside. He's way worse than I am.
That's what my mind said, but my actions up to that point, dictated that I be treated a little bit more callously than him.
Luke West: [00:14:26] So I'm really curious with the amount of time you spend alone, how, what did that do to you? Is that when you did like, came to know that you needed to do work on yourself, or what was that period? When did you come to that realization?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:14:44] Well, during that timeframe I was in isolation. I was in the hole, with a lot of time to think of course, and what came to me was not necessarily that I had a lot of work to do on me. I wasn't quite, I hadn't quite matured to that level within myself, but I was able to see that. I was my own worst enemy.
And the decisions that I was making were a direct result of my situation. I was coherent enough to be able to identify that piece. I knew that something had to change. I didn't know exactly what that change would look like. I didn't have some epiphany that was like, "Oh yeah, I'm all screwed up on the inside. And I knew just started looking on that and thinking and meditating and everything is going to be okay."
What I started thinking was I need to start distancing myself from some of the people that I've been associated with and some of the things that I've been doing, because it's going to be a hindrance in, in, in me getting into a position to be able to escape from prison.
That was really the Genesis for the change within me. It wasn't about you know, I need to change and evolve into something. It was about, I need to leave this shit alone so that the goon squad stops looking at me so tough. And I can get down to a lower level prison and hop a fence.
Luke West: [00:16:00] So some real Shawshank type stuff.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:16:02] Yes sir. 
Luke West: [00:16:03] In terms of isolation, I'm really curious, does it look like what it looks like in the movies? Like when they put someone in the whole single cellular room where there's nothing going on, like, do you drive yourself mad? What does that actually look like for those listening?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:16:21] Well, for some people, it does have the potential to drive you mad, but you don't have to be in a single solitary cell by yourself. I see people out here in the community and civilized society who go mad every day. It is it is dark. It is cold. It is lonely. It is an opportunity for you to look at yourself if that's what you so choose to do or find another means to escape into some alternate universe and trick your mind into another existence so that you don't have to face where you are and who you are and how you got here. It's an opportunity. It, for me, it was an opportunity to make some choices. Go crazy. Grow up. Or go into fantasy land LA LA world and just keep doing the same bullshit I, I had been doing and I've seen people do one of all of those three things that I've just mentioned.
I just, you know, made the choice not to go crazy. I had a little bit too much pride and ego and was scared. Then there again, fair. It's not that I couldn't go crazy. It's that I was too afraid to surrender, to insanity and lose myself in my own mind out of fear of what other people might think about me.
 Luke West: [00:17:36] And then that brings us to the work, which is if you've watched the documentary caring, what other people think of you is one of the hindrances that a lot of people face when they're trying to open up from what it looks like. When did you get involved in that work? And then I'll ask you a few more questions about the specific stories and what you do with that process, with that men's group 
Eldra Jackson III: [00:18:01] I got involved with that work. In, in 2004, I got out of the hole. I got out of solitary confinement in 2000, I was sent a new Folsom and I officially was invited into those spaces into those circles in 2004.
Luke West: [00:18:17] So do you have to be invited in? I picked up that phrase on another podcast I listened to of you, you have to be invited or can you just go
Eldra Jackson III: [00:18:25] no, you cannot just go. You've seen the film. You've seen the sorts of things that go on there. You can't just be like, Oh, I want to go in there and see what's going on. It doesn't work like that. Somebody who was already in the group has to sponsor you and bring you in it's at least like the mob,
Luke West: [00:18:38] okay. 
Eldra Jackson III: [00:18:39] You're brought in by somebody who's already made.
Luke West: [00:18:42] Okay. That, that, that was a really interesting note that I definitely wanted to ask you too. So what did this work do for you? How long did it take for you to open up and be comfortable sharing the vulnerable parts of yourself? Because in the movie for context, you're like in there leading a lot of it, you're intense.
Like I was like, I, you might stare into my soul on this podcast that we're doing right now, the way you did in the documentary. So when did you start to open up? Because I'm sure it wasn't instantaneous.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:19:17] Well, for me there. What I have seen and what I have experienced is that it is a process. For me it is, it was a process. And no, I didn't walk through the door and just, you know, crack my chest open and bare my soul and said, you know, here I am, take a look at, you know, all of the deep, dark parts of myself that I'm embarrassed about and that I'm ashamed of and were all of my fears are, but there was an immediate connection to other human beings.
There was an immediate reverence for the space and how men who I viewed as hardcore killers and gangsters and not even, you know, killers and gangsters, but just stand up men, how they were able to hold other men in their places of pain, where they were wounded and just loved them exactly where they were at.
And the individual who's being held in love didn't have to do anything, but just be, I immediately saw that and connected to that. My spirit, my soul connected to that. And I knew that I was home. So for me, that piece was immediate.
Luke West: [00:20:24] And that is an amazing segue because I wanted to definitely ask you about this idea of being able to have permission to open up, which seems to be a huge thing for men. Why do you think men need permission to feel, to express, to have those moments like they do in those men's groups in the work that you do?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:20:50] Why do men need permission to do that? Well, it goes back to what I spoke about earlier, you know, growing up for myself and a lot of peers and a lot of men that I sat with, that I sit with today, men, traditionally, little boys, young boys in our society don't get that permission. we get permission to be strong.
We get permission to we get told to stop crying. We get told to stop being babies, to stop being sissies. We don't often get encouraged to get in touch with our feelings. We don't often get encouraged to express where we're hurt, where we have pain, where we have fear where we have trauma. We do get encouraged the emotion that we do get encouraged to express is , is anger. And to a further extent, rage. We're not even often encouraged as little boys to express joy and to be happy because if you show too much of that, now you're just showing out. Now you're just acting silly. Why are you laughing so damn much?
Quit acting like a little girl, quit giggling so fucking much. Those are the messages that as little boys we receive. So yeah, we need to learn, we need to be given permission. We need to learn what it's like to emote. We need to be have it demonstrated to us that it's okay to feel, and we won't be judged or ridiculed or are cast out of the society for that.
Luke West: [00:22:15] When you did it in prison was it like the documentary where you had men from outside of prison coming in to do the work with you? Or was that only for the documentary that you kind of crossed those two worlds?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:22:26] Every day men come in from the inside. I was when I was inside I was going to circle. I was sitting in circle Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, sometimes Sundays and the men who came in to support were coming in from outside. What you see in the documentary that big event happens two it on a good year, three times a year, but we were sitting in group.
The men are sitting in group year, round, multiple times a week doing just what you see in the movie.
Luke West: [00:23:00] Yeah, that was something that I thought was really well done. And something that you've talked about a lot and that the world needs to realize is that men outside also have the same restrictions on themselves cause Brian, Holy crap. Like that was in, in the documentary a wild moment. And you know, I watched it with my family and one of my family members didn't really understand the whole, cause it is a very tribalistic almost feeling or look.
And it could be hard for maybe someone to understand it, but I cried probably four or five times watching it or teared up at least. And I was making notes the entire time. So what can you paint of that picture of going of one this idea of, of emotional prison is beyond just the physical prison and then two the power of going down into the wound and why it needs maybe that more tribalistic.
I don't know if there's another way you want to name it, approach to going down into the wound.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:24:09] well, the, the, the word that I would use is probably ritualistic and, and I would use ritualistic to point people back to our ancestors collectively as humans. Before, you know, we got all a civilized in society, got all industrialized and we were just people living in a village. We were, you know, very simple people living in a village.
The elders would come for the boys when it was their time and take them out away from the village into the wild and initiate them into the ways of manhood. There's a ritual there, there's a process, a Rite of passage that is ritualistic, and there's a crossing over. There's a journey that's taken.
And that's, you know, how you see it framed up how you got the opportunity to see a framed up in the, in, in the weekend intensive. And it was filmed so tenderly and lovingly in that film and the need for that is because there is a journey. There is a descent I'm traveling, there's a descent I'm taking into the depths of myself.
And I'm going all the way down into the well into the wound to begin to heal that wound, because right next to that wound right next to where my poison is, there's the medicine. It's just like a snake. The antivenom  comes from the poison. It comes from the venom. It doesn't come from someplace else. It comes right from the source.
So there is a need to go deep down into self, to face the wound, to begin to find what's needed to heal it so that I can come up out of that place with something new. I can come up out of that place with a renewed sense of self, a renewed understanding of that wound. And I can come up armed with a new way of moving in the world from that space.
I can come up with the tools, equipping me to move with a greater sense of healing, as opposed to moving through the world recklessly like a bull in a China shop from that wounded place.
Luke West: [00:26:21] Yeah and, and exactly what it's. I actually just finished reading the book wild at heart, which talks a lot about the wilderness nature kind of perspective. And I agree as I've done more and more interviews that the rites of passage is a really interesting component of manhood, whether it's, you know, as ritualistic as going out into the wilderness or just hearing the words you are a man from a father figure, right?
Like those are really important for young men to hear. And why did men join this this group is another thing that I wanted to ask you. I heard you say on a show that it w it's not, you know, to, to reduce their sentence time, like, what is the motivation or benefit to them? What do they see from this work?
Was it seeing other people do it and learn more about themselves and have more empathy or compassion, or what was kind of the motivation to, to join it in the first place for a lot of newcomers.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:27:25] Well, I'll take you back a bit and give you a bit of an insight into the origins of the group. The group was uh, the brainchild of a man named Patrick Nolan who was serving life. And what he did was. He started his own journey. He started his own ritualistic travel into the depths of self and to try and determine what his purpose was, knowing that he was having resigned to the fact that he was going to die in prison.
And the final straw for him was a massive race riot in 1996 in Folsom on B facility, there was a man that was killed. There were several other, other individuals who were, were very badly injured and taken to outside hospitals. And what Pat did was he had a vision of a place inside a prison where we were not killing each other period.
Not because of what we look like. Not because of what race we were, what our color were what gang we were from. We were not killing each other. But what we were doing was creating a space to just see each other. He had already started to reach out beyond the walls and get in touch with the men's movement and men's work and what that was.
So he invited some people from the outside uh, Rob Albie and Don Morrison to come in and bring what they were already doing out in the outside world into prison. And so it was just about finding a space where we could stop killing each other. Where we could just see one another as human beings. So that's what it's all about.
That's what it was for me. It was an opportunity for me to reconnect with number one, myself and my own humanity, which would then in turn, allow me to see you and get in touch with your humanity. That's all it's about.
Luke West: [00:29:12] Yeah, cause in the movie there's Aryan's, there's people from different gang affiliations too, I believe. So did that translate outside of that group? Was there more peace between all those groups, even if it was just one or two or three individuals from those maybe gangs or internal groups, or how did that create peace through a ripple effect?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:29:35] well, the way that it had a ripple effect on the the prison that I was able to witness while I was, there was uh, originally Pat went around to all of the leaders. He went around all of the gang leaders and asked them to come and short of them going he asked for their permission for them to allow their people to go.
And if you get enough of the right people in the room, you get what we call a key influencers in the room, then that can go out and it can inoculate the culture. It's like a vaccine and it spreads it's out onto the yard. I, you know, I spoke about this program being born out of a prison riot.
I was on the yard in in, in C facility, in new Folsom from 2000 to 2010. And during that entire decade, there was not one major incident across racial lines. And this was a maximum security prison. And you didn't have all eight or 900 people who were on the yard going to group. There were maybe at any one time, 80 people going to the group at different times.
So you don't need everybody involved. You don't need everybody bought in. But what you can do is have a key individuals who are looking at themselves and looking at the world differently and they can influence. Others, because that's what humans do. Humans, not a lot of humans think for themselves or do their own things.
We're pack animals. And we followed a crowd and we do what others say is cool, where we follow trendsetters. Unfortunately.
Luke West: [00:31:15] So it was a very strategic approach is what it sounds like even starting it and getting the right people in the room.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:31:20] Oh, Pat was, he was a sharp cat. He was very strategic and it, you know, took off from there. It took a life of its own.
Luke West: [00:31:28] Yeah. So when was the video or documentary recorded for that context?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:31:33] 2009.
Luke West: [00:31:35] Okay. And that only came out in 2017, correct? 
Eldra Jackson III: [00:31:37] Came out in 2017. 
Luke West: [00:31:39] so it took eight years to produce or kind of what's the story behind that?, 
Eldra Jackson III: [00:31:42] Well,  uh, the McCleary's James McClary. You see him he's the man who does the chant in the beginning of the uh, call? Yes. He and his sons Blanket Fort media. They created a media outlet to put this film together. They actually went, James actually went bankrupt bringing this movie to the finish line, him and his sons just felt like this was something that needed to get out that needed, you know, to come into the world to bring some sort of a spotlight and or revelation onto what is possible and to share the magic and the medicine with the world.
And so they worked hard. Again, you know, he lost everything because he believed in, they believed in that family, the McCleary is believed in getting this movie out to show people what was possible. They weren't rich people. They weren't people that had, you know, access to you know, unlimited capital.
So, you know, working on a shoestring budget and cobbling things together here and there, and finding other people who believed in it and bringing the resources together to put it put it all in place. It, it took a minute.
Luke West: [00:32:53] Yeah. Yeah. And thank goodness that they did, because one of the things I realized in watching it was one, the emotional intelligence of the facilitators blew my mind away. And the other part was the physical intimacy in a lot of ways between men and how important that was. I remember there was a time where.
I think it's Kiki. He was, He was biting his lip and everyone's like, why you stop biting your lip? Let it out. And there was another time where they noticed that the jaw was getting super tense and they said like, and they touch the jaw and they to loosen it up. What is that like to be in those moments?
And can you talk a little bit about the importance of that physical intimacy in those moments? Because that was something I really wanted to get your thoughts on.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:33:42] Yeah. You're talking about, I remember very clearly. You're talking about burrata G paying attention to somatically where Kiki was at. And energetically where an individual is and how a person, how I can hold energy. We all hold energy. And if I'm being present with another person, if I'm there in that moment with another person, then I'm tuned in and keyed in to where they're at and I'm paying attention to all of the communications. All of the cues. It's not just what's verbally being said, but what physically is being said and not being said and those things need a release. And without the opportunity to have a release, that's where that tension stays in there and holds in there. And you see a person, you know, all bound up and people suffer from various physical and health maladies because of from holding tension and holding that sort of energy.
So again, it goes into giving a person com permission to sink into and relax into what it is they're feeling you saw there where that young man was. He had some some grief in him. He had some sadness in him, but he was holding it so tight. He needed permission to be able to sink into it and feel it and let go, and just surrender into it.
Luke West: [00:35:05] Another part I'm curious about is  , it almost took all of you to hold each man down as they went through their process as they went into the wound. Is that like, just when you're down there and you're fighting, is that like the strongest you think a man could be when they're trying to fight against going down to that wound that they need five, six, seven men to, to kind of hold them down. Like what's the reasoning behind that process?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:35:35] Well I'll say the strongest that a man can be in my experience is not when he's fighting against that, but when you see him surrender into it. When you see him embrace what's underneath what he's fighting, what he's doing is actually fighting to keep from going there. The strength comes when he relaxes and just --gives over to what it is he's feeling.
And the purpose of of having, you know, bodies like that on hand is so that an individual can feel safe because often times as a man. A good excuse to not release emotion, to not release that energy is to convince myself and to tell others, well, I can't let this out because if I let this out, it can't be contained. Somebody is going to get hurt. It's not safe to let this out. So there needs to be a container of safety created where a man feels safe enough that no one matter what he brings the container can hold it. And once he feels safe and once he certain and sure that the container can hold it, that's when you start to see the release of that energy. And sometimes it looks like, you know, five, six, seven, eight, nine, guys holding containing another man. But what they're really doing is embracing him and letting him feel the safety. To completely let go and to completely be free with the emotion. And then his strength, like I said, really comes when he's fought through that and he's gotten to the other side and he sees something other than the anger.
He sees something other than the rage and he's willing to embrace it. That is what takes spring. strength.
Luke West: [00:37:19] So a follow-up to that would be how can men in their day-to-day life right now give themselves permission to feel? And maybe if it's not the same system or structure as it would be, that inside circle is doing, what would permission look like to, to maybe someone who's working on themselves trying to overcome, but doesn't have that group or that support?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:37:48] Well, uh, for me I, I, what I would say is begin by questioning. What's coming up for you in any given situation. When start to work with what you can tap into. And if that just happens to be anger, road rage, whatever somebody cutting in front of you in the line at the grocery store, why is that pissing you off?
Why does that anger you when this cat just cut in front of you in line? Why did that anger you, when this individual just cuts you off on the expressway heading home? What about that anger as you? Oh, well, you know, they're rude. They're this they're that they did this, they're doing that. They're not being, you know, considerate of what I'm feeling and where I'm trying to go.
Okay. And what about that disturbs you? Just keep asking those questions and keep going deeper and keep going deeper because sooner or later you're going to get to a deeper truth. Oh, well, you know, the truth is when he cut me off and I judged that to be inconsiderate and he was an asshole and he didn't care about what I was, you know, had gone on and where I was trying to get to the truth is he was holding the mirror up for me.
And I saw where I show up in the world. Inconsiderate and I don't care about others and what they have going on. And so what that anger really is masking is the shame that I have for myself when I do that.
Luke West: [00:39:07] Do you think there's such thing as like healthy shame?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:39:10] I, I don't know that there's a such thing as unhealthy shame because shame is an emotion. I don't know that there's a such thing as unhealthy love or unhealthy fear or unhealthy joy. It's not the emotion that's unhealthy. It's the choices that I make.That I attach and put on the emotion that can be unhealthy, but emotions are not unhealthy.
Luke West: [00:39:34] Wow. Yeah, no, that makes I that's something. I was, I was listening to your episode with Dan Doty and you talked a lot about shame and I was like, I need to figure out this, the shame thing that's one of my goals in life is to figure out shame and how it works and what the devil it is and what you just said, it blew my mind. So, in terms of the work and the emotional intelligence that, that you had in that group has in the facilitation of the circles. How have you seen that translate to your life outside of prison after prison? How D does self work for you now?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:40:12] Hmm, How does it work for me now? Well, for number one working on myself freed me from my internal prison and ultimately it freed me physically from prison because I was serving life. So without working on myself internally, I would not have been able to access the parts of myself that needed to be healed.
To ensure that, you know, I could sit before a parole panel of former law enforcement officials and have them sign a piece of paper saying that they would not have any problem with me being their next door neighbor. Having done all of the things that I'd done in my life up to that time, that's a direct result of me doing my own work and how it shows up in my life today is now six going on seven years later, I'm still in the community. I have not returned to a custody. I'm married with children and I'm working and giving back into society and supporting others as they seek to try and save their own lives. It is in how I live my life. It's in how I make choices.
It's in how I see myself and how I see others. It's just apparent and obvious in the way that I walk, talk, breathe, drink, sleep. It's an ongoing thing. It's a lifestyle. That is my lifestyle. Now my lifestyle is not now hitting people in the head with claw hammers. My lifestyle is in supporting people.
Luke West: [00:41:31] Can you walk us through that parole hearing or that panel experience just how much you have to communicate. Cause it seemed from what I'd heard in another show is it takes a lot of self-awareness, which doesn't really seem to be offered to you as much as maybe it could be in a healing and in a healing model or a model that's supposed to prepare you for life after prison.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:42:05] Well, a healing model or the model if you're talking about inside circle, it's not it's not a program that is designed its purpose is not to prepare you to go and present in front of a parole board and it's not designed, it's not a program. Let me say that it's not a program. It is a, for me, it's a way of life for the men who I have sat in circle with. It's a way of life. It's about trying to figure out where I'm fucked up. It's about other men trying to figure out where they're fucked up and trying to heal those places. That's it. And What it prepares me to do is to have a relationship with myself. And what it prepares me to do is to take agency over my life and begin to make decisions that work for me.
And the process of going, you know, before a parole panel is one of sitting in front of, you know, a few people and talking about everything that you've ever done in life from the day you stepped out of the womb up until the moment you step through that door, into that room, and being able to articulate to them your understanding about every aspect of your life and what every motivating factor was behind everything that you did. Since you've been on the face of this planet.
 Luke West: [00:43:17] Wow. Sounds like a lot, like, I don't even think I could list those things.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:43:22] a I, I mean, I've been in, in parole. I went to parole board three times. The first time I went, it lasted for shit, six and a half hours. The next one was five hours and the final one was two and a half hours. So you're sitting there for hours and they're reading into the record everything that you, I mean, every time you got a suspended from school, every rock you ever threw, everything you've ever done that is on record, you're walking through it and they want to know everything about it. Not Why you did it, but what is it in you that allowed you to rationalize or normalize something doing to being able to do something like that.
And do you understand the impact of that? Do you understand the lives that you affected and you need to be able to articulate genuinely and authentically that you understand this, cause they're not throwing yourself out. These are people who are former wardens, former sheriffs, district attorneys.
These are people who are professional human lie detectors. They do not snort bullshit.
Luke West: [00:44:30] Yeah. So what are they expecting from you? Like how do you learn to articulate and what  what would be a satisfying answer to them that would get you cause you said you went through it three times. So, so what would that look like to them? W if you went back to that first time and second time, why do you think you weren't given parole, then
Eldra Jackson III: [00:44:59] I don't think that I w I don't know. It's not that I don't think I knew I wasn't given parole then because I wasn't ready to be paroled. I still hadn't developed a healthy relationship with myself to understand what my motivating and cause of causative factors were. I still had blind spots. I still had things inside of me that until I faced them would have been very dangerous and detrimental back in society. And what it is that they're looking for is they're looking for the truth and there, and then the cold thing about it is there are no, they're not asking any trick questions in there. Everything that they're asking about, it's about you, they're asking.
They were always asking questions about me. So it was, there were no secrets. There were no curve balls. There was nothing, you know, no trap doors, every question, the entire process was about me. So it was about me finding relationship with myself and being able to share who I was with them, that I knew who I was, that I understood who I was, that I was able to come to terms and look at who I was.
And be open with that shame, those places where I might have shame and don't want to talk about it. I want to talk about how I've been good and I ain't stabbed nobody in the last 10 years, but now let's not talk about, you know, everything that happened up to that. Cause that, you know, let's just sweep that up under the rug.
See that shame. And if I'm ashamed and I can't talk about those things, what's to say that those things won't rear their heads and come out and bite somebody in the ass.
Luke West: [00:46:37] And now you're after prison. You're out. I'm curious. Cause you said you're married you have two, two children. What does did that allow you to create an open, upfront, honest relationship with your wife after? Like what, how did that translate to your personal life being that open in front of a parole  or doing all that self work in while you were in prison?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:47:06] Well, it, it helps me be open and honest with them. It helps me be able to have a relationship with them without all of the fluff. It cuts a lot of the, you know, poppy cock up out of the way we can get just straight to it. This is what it is. This is who I am. This is who you are. Do we want to go in this direction together? If so, yes. How are we going to get there? Okay, let's go. There's not a lot of pretense. I don't have, I don't have enough time left on the face of this planet to engage in pretense.
Luke West: [00:47:38] Yeah, that's true. Yeah. And I love how you don't really, it doesn't seem like you hold too much ill well towards them system or the structure you're focused primarily on getting the most out of the rest of your life and serving for the rest of your life. And you had you had someone on your own podcast, which everyone should go check out now. Eldra hosts it for the inside circle. And it was talking about that rehabilitation. And one thing that really caught my ear, it was with the woman who helps men after prison. I think rehabilitate a little bit. I might be getting the context wrong, but the idea of responsibilities and how there are no responsibilities in prison, you're told exactly what to do. How did you adjust to responsibilities after prison and how did you get used to in a climatized to the day-to-day role of a free man?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:48:37] I'm still getting used to it. It's something that I'll probably be getting used to for the rest of my life and hell I know people who've never been to prison doesn't they'll barely even know how to spell prison. They're still learning. They're still getting used to what responsibilities are and what it means to be a husband, a father, a son and all of these sorts of things that's something that points to the human condition.
It's not necessarily a prison condition. We've got a situation, a global situation right now where we're all collectively dealing with a pandemic and people are learning how to deal with responsibilities. People are learning how to deal with reacclimating to normal and what normal is and reframing in their mind what normal is.
So that is something that, you know, as a human being, you know, I'll probably always be doing.
Luke West: [00:49:26] Hmm. And as a father, what are you doing to end that cycle of trauma to your family, obviously you talked about it now, but does it look different now that you're actually a father and with a family? What does that look like to you now to end that cycle?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:49:49] What it looks like to meet in that cycle or to, to at least try and stem the tide is to recognize what is my stuff and what's my work so that I don't project my stuff onto the next generation and cast onto them the things that I have taken on and that have been cast onto me by generations behind me. Or in front of me, generations in front of me. So what's key for me. And the main thing that shows up is making certain that I'm aware of where the line is between my stuff and them, so that I'm not putting my baggage and luggage onto them because the world's going to give them enough stuff. So I don't want em carrying mine too.
Luke West: [00:50:33] What's been your biggest takeaway as a father so far?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:50:36] My biggest takeaway as a father is that is how smart children are and how they are teachers. And they're people. They're not, you know, objects that I don't own them. I'm responsible for them, you know, on a lot of different levels. And they're humans. With personalities and with spirits and with opinions and with ideas and that, you know, that really, I have a responsibility to respect that and then nurture that.
Luke West: [00:51:04] I love it. And looking back at your life. Now, is there anything you would change about how you got to where you are today?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:51:14] Yes. Yes, there he is. What I would change about how I got to where I am today is how many people got hurt in the process of me getting where I got today. That is probably that's the only thing that I would change.
 Luke West: [00:51:29] To follow up on that if you hadn't hurt so many people do you think you'd be able to heal as many people as you're healing now?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:51:35] I don't know if I would be able to and, and, and to clarify, I don't heal people. What I do is create a space and engage with them to co-create a space where they're able to tap into their own healing and What I'd be able to do that. Yeah. Probably would be able to engage in that co-creation because there was a lot of hurt that I suffered. And so the what I tap into when I'm in those spaces is my own experience. My own hurts.
Luke West: [00:52:05] And then I wanted to, I'm not sure if this is a a question that you've ever gotten before, but in the documentary your, your name is Vegas or is that. Like, where did that name come from? What's the context behind that? I wasn't sure if that was more of a street name, but I definitely was, was curious about that myself.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:52:23] Oh yeah, it was the street name. I got that in the street when I was gang banging and Vegas, you know, a is a city that's known for gambling and I used to be somebody who used to gamble a lot. I, and when I say gamble a lot, I mean, I used to gamble with life situations. The higher, the stakes, the more comfortable I was with the gamble. Oh, this is something that I, or we could die doing shit. I'll do it.
Luke West: [00:52:45] And then lastly, Eldra, I want to say thank you so much for your time. What can people do to support the work that you're doing, support you and support inside circle?
 Eldra Jackson III: [00:52:55] Uh, Well, inside circle is a nonprofit organization so, we'll take all the money that we can get. The government will, will give you a receipt and you won't have to pay taxes on that. Money is completely tax deductible, but yeah, you can go to insidecircle.org and check out the work that we're doing.
Sign up for a drop-in group. We host weekly drop-in groups for anybody from the community. Check out our pen pal program. Sign up to become a pen pal for somebody on the inside, listen to the insight circle podcast and uh, yeah. Follow us on social media.
Luke West: [00:53:27] Awesome. Definitely. I'll link everything. I'll link to social media. I'll link inside circle. I'll highlight your podcast in the description of this podcast. And I didn't know about that PayPal or pen pal thing. So I'm going to sign up for sure about that are the meetings that you're doing right now, virtual or like anyone can do.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:53:44] They are virtual. Anyone can join. They're hosted every Wednesday evening, 6 PM Pacific Standard Time.
Luke West: [00:53:49] Oh, my  I'm going awesome. I'm going to sign up for one of those. I believe if I can and definitely link that in the description below as well. And again, everyone the first 10 people that message mefrom this episode that say, they want to watch the documentary, the work I will pay for you to watch it on YouTube, Amazon, wherever you can.
But Eldra, is there anything, any last words you'd like to leave with the audience?
Eldra Jackson III: [00:54:14] Uh, Last words I would like to leave with the audience is uh, love yourself. Take care of yourself. Everybody out there take care of yourself, know that you're worth it, invest in you and don't let anybody tell you what you can or can't do.
 Luke West: [00:54:29] I appreciate it. I appreciate you, eldra. Thank you so much for coming on the show to talk about the work you'd been doing yourself, your life story. I really appreciate it and was very excited and nervous for this for this recording, just cause I, I loved the work that you were doing and think it's amazing.
Eldra Jackson III: [00:54:46] Well, thank you for having me, Luke. It's been an honor and a pleasure,