Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing Stacey Lannert on the phone. Stacey has a very complicated story. Basically, she was incarcerated at age 18 and sentenced to life without parole for shooting and killing her and her sister’s molester after years of abuse. Their molester was their father. After serving 18 years in a penitentiary in Missouri, she received clemency and her freedom from prison in 2009 at age 36. In the past year alone, she has set up a non-profit to help people who have been abused to find their voices and heal, she has been speaking at colleges, training service dogs for the disabled (a skill she developed in prison), and she is also writing a book for Harmony Books. Our editor introduced us. Her major goal with all the work she is doing is to help others heal and learn about the choices they have through her story of her experiences and mistakes.
I had emailed Stacey to introduce myself and schedule a phone interview. She wrote back answering the basic questions I send to everyone I want to interview, which I’m going to paste below. We eventually spoke about her epiphany in detail and it was fascinating…At one point she said to me something like, “I was thinking I had no choices in prison, all my choices had been taken away from me but then I realized, I may not have a lot of choices but I still have choices – we all do wherever we are…It’s the little choices I can make and be grateful for — like I can pick out what color socks to wear every morning! It seems ridiculous, but it’s true! And I can still make the bigger choices that really matter about how I choose to be in every waking moment. I suddenly understood that I may not ever realize the dreams I had of making a difference in the world outside of prison, but I could still make a difference right where I was. And that is the inner freedom I found that I am talking about.”
I just can’t quit thinking about those socks…that choosing the color socks you’re going to wear is a choice to be grateful for — am I grateful for all the choices I get to make every day? That I get to go to the grocery store and choose whatever food I want? What jeans I put on? Which restaurant to go to? What gas station to fill my gas tank at? Who to spend my time with? Who to vote for? Which charity to donate money to help Haiti? What movie to see? I mean, if you think about it, the list goes on and on and on, doesn’t it? We are so incredibly blessed and wealthy with choice in this country that not only do we lose sight of how privileged we are to have it in such abundance, but we are almost overwhelmed and confused by it.
Lately this theme of choice is coming up for me…I keep hearing it over and over…and then I hear this epiphany from Stacey. We can always choose to look at any situation, any circumstance, any truth from a different perspective. There is always another perspective. There is always another viewpoint. There is always another choice. You don’t have to feel trapped or hopeless in any situation. Stacey is an amazing example of how we can choose how to feel and see things no matter where we are, no matter what we are doing — and that is the secret to true freedom.
“No matter what the situation is we have a choice, every waking moment is a choice. We choose happiness or sorrow, we choose gain or loss, we choose forgiveness or blame, we choose faith or doubt. We can choose hope.”
“True freedom is found within, everything else is just geography.”
– Stacey Lannert
– What was your greatest epiphany in life?
Realizing that true freedom is found within, everything else is just geography.
– What led up to it?
I spent 18 years in prison for killing my molester (father). I was sentenced to life without parole when I was 18 years old. I would have spent the rest of my life in the penitentiary but the Governor granted me clemency and I walked out free six days later.
-Did your life change?
Yes. I found true happiness, freedom, and forgiveness within myself.
-If so, did that change or impact others as well?
Yes. People are amazed that spending so much time in a negative atmosphere did not cause me to be bitter but instead instilled compassion, contentment, and peace. They reflect upon their own lives.
– How would you summarize the epiphany or what you learned from it in one or two sentences?
I learned that no matter what the situation is we have a choice, every waking moment is a choice. We choose happiness or sorrow, we choose gain or loss, we choose forgiveness or blame, we choose faith or doubt, we can choose hope.
– Whose greatest epiphany would you like to know about if you could ask anyone in the world?
Dr. Maya Angelou.