Life Transformation in Jail
By Shertina Mack
Hello, my name is Shertina Mack. When I was asked to share my experience, I must admit that I was very hesitant. My hesitation arose from the fact that I have never spoken in front of a large group of people before — to say the least and never thought I would share some of the most personal and embarrassing details of my life. However, today I am spiritually free and that freedom allows me to share my story — regardless of how shocking it may be for some.
I was introduced to NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO by a co-worker about 10 years ago and I learned first hand how beneficial it could be. At about the same time, I was also introduced to drugs. Drugs seemed to fill a need for me because I had battled depression for years. There would be times when I took psychotropic medications successfully and other times when I just used street drugs. In between, for some reason, I always chanted. Whenever things would get to the point of no return and I didn't know what else to do, my mind would always say “CHANT”.
During one period of six months, I experienced a stillbirth, the death of my maternal grandmother, and a failing marriage. My depression grew larger than life itself and I attempted to take my own life on two occasions. Not only did my depression grow, but my use of cocaine did as well. At the time, I was living in Baltimore, MD, and I had severed ties to everything and everyone that was positive. I started hanging out in drug zones, committing crimes, and basically slandering my life condition to the maximum. You name it, I did it.
Of course, the negative causes I set in motion produced negative effects and I started getting arrested. But somewhere in the back of my mind I would hear “CHANT”. Sometimes I did chant, but it wasn’t until September 5, 2000, that I really decided to transform my life. I had been arrested in a Baltimore City Court house for being late for my court appearance and the judge issued a “no bail” bond on my case. That meant that I had to sit in jail and wait for a new court date — but not only one court date. I was scheduled to appear in court five times on separate charges before it was all over. However, on September 5, 2000, I was tired of running and decided to listen to the voice in my head that said, “CHANT”.
First, I called my only sister and asked her to send me a copy of Gongyo from off the Internet so I could start saying my prayers every day. Then I asked a cellmate to draw me a picture of a butterfly and a lotus blossom with the words “LIFE TRANSFORMATION” across the top. Twice a day I performed Gongyo and chanted as often as possible to my “home-made” Gohonzon. I was determined to transform my life. I was facing a lot of time, however I chanted with faith that all things would work together for absolute good.
My first court date was October 17, 2000, for a felony theft charge of 24 counts of theft. The charges were all dropped but one and I received a 12-year sentence with all time suspended but 18 months. My next court date was the following week for 5 counts of theft, 1 count of falsifying a document, controlled dangerous substance possession, and fraud. All the charges were dropped except the fraud and I was given a sentence of 5 years — all suspended but 18 months to run concurrent with the first sentence. I was now facing two violations of probation charges where I could have received 3 years on each of them. I received 6 months. All of my time was served at the Maryland correctional facility in Jessup for women.
My last court date was in the District of Columbia. When I met with my attorney he told me that the prosecuting attorney didn’t want to plea bargain until I was debriefed. At that time, he said I was facing 30 years. Needless to say, I started crying immediately. All types of negative things ran through my mind. What is happening? I had been practicing faithfully for almost 6 months. I started getting depressed again. Then something said, “CHANT HARDER”. I was in a cell by myself and I could only come out for one hour a week for recreation at the DC Jail. I told myself, “This is it, if NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO has helped me so far it will not fail me now!” I went to court and the judge originally gave me a concurrent 3-year sentence. This sentence would have extended my incarceration. I explained to the judge that I was eligible for parole in Maryland on my cases and that since my incarceration I had completed two college courses and was enrolling in another one. I told her about my decision to transform my life and be the best person that I possibly could be. She immediately reconsidered her decision and gave me a 3 year suspended sentence! What a relief.
Once I returned to the correctional facility in Maryland, I had to wait for all the paperwork to go through before a final decision could be made on my parole. I continued to chant and pray on a daily basis. I even shared the message of Nicheren’s Buddhism with other inmates. Overall, my chanting helped me get through the most challenging time of my life. I am focused, positive, and happy.
I was paroled from prison on September 14, 2001 — one year, one week, and 2 days after my decision to transform my life. I was released almost 3 months earlier than expected. The power of chanting set me free — literally!!
Currently, I am working again and enjoying life drug-free and full of daimoku. All of my relationships are positive and I am spiritually in tune with the universe. I want to add that I can now say Gongyo as fast as the rest of you. Before my incarceration you would leave me in the dust!