Imagine walking through a gate, adorned by flowers. Imagine sitting down to eat in a lovely, cozy and welcoming café, which serves cheap and delicious food. And imagine knowing that every server, every cook, every greeter served their time in the Chiang Mai Correctional Center for women.

Placed in the middle of the city, not hidden in some remote place, it was open and inviting. There were no special security measures at the doors. Women were smiling and welcoming. The place was very clean and beautifully decorated. And I, a Russian-American tourist on a personal learning journey felt strangely uneasy. This surprised me. I always thought that I was a broad-minded and accepting person. Why I felt nervous and tense?

Of course, nobody wants to go to prison. Usually, we prefer not to think about women in our country or other countries, who serve their time in prison. And it’s easier not to think what happens to them after they served their sentence.

What I learned, that in Thailand, these women are given a second chance. They are retrained and reintegrated back into society. They are employed in many massage centers which openly state that all massage treatments are done by ex-inmates.

I felt uneasy thinking that food was cooked by ex-inmates. Then, I remembered that they were women. I didn’t know what happened to them and why they ended up serving time. But they served it. They were accepted back into the society. From now on, they were no longer ex-inmates, or ex-prisoners, but women trying to put their life back together.

They served time. Now they were just serving food. They were women. They were human beings. They were mothers, daughters, grandmothers, nieces, sisters. They had their stories and their unique purpose on this planet.

It’s so easy to separate people by giving them labels. It’s so easy to divide human beings on “deserving” and “undeserving”. Immigrant children (if you are not an immigrant). Black people (if you are white). Homosexuals (if you are not). Women (if you are a man). Men (if you are a woman). Jews (if you are a Nazi). Just a trick of words and it’s easier to tolerate injustice. It’s easier to turn away.

So many of my clients learned to attach labels to themselves – labels, which somehow make them less deserving of love, compassion and kindness.

I remember one client exclaiming, “I served my time in the dungeon of my mind. I deserve forgiveness and love!”

I encourage you to start looking beyond labels. Especially labels which divide and separate us as humans.

Because separation is imprisonment. And as long as we are imprisoned by own words, we cannot see beyond the bars and walls of our individual perception.

The more I expand the circle of my compassion – to women, men, animals and the planet – the more freedom and more joy flows into my life.

So try this. Next time you point your finger at “them” look at your hand and notice, there are three fingers pointing at you. When you notice it, start playing with labels and see what else is there that you couldn’t not or was unwilling to see before.

P.S. If you need help letting go of old conditioning based on shaming and blaming, and you know it’s not who you truly are, reach out to me. The most wonderful journey is the journey toward more unity, compassion, kindness and love. And it starts from within. As you discover more and more your own spirituality and humanity, it’s easier to start seeing, truly seeing other human beings.

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