The Hole In My Chest

tlm icon-1By Harry Hemphill

San Quentin State Prison


One of the most difficult issues I’ve had to overcome while being incarcerated, has been the overwhelming feeling of abandonment and loss. I once knew the contentment and happiness found in the comfort of a stable home; the devotion of a loving wife, the admiration of children, and the accolades that come with excelling in business endeavors. To have that fairy tale life shattered and replaced by a dark and lonely abyss called prison, changes ones outlook on life forever.

It created a vacuum in my life, an emptiness that demanded to be filled. Initially, it was easy to occupy that space, with rage and anger. I was content blaming others for my actions, and targeting those I perceived to have plotted against me. However, after years of attempting to fill that void with every ugliness associated with rage, I still found myself yearning to have that hole inside of my chest closed. I sought help through counseling, and self-help groups, I grew weary and frustrated at the typical text book cliches “You have to forgive yourself ‘, “In time the anger will dissipate”, ” You have to let go and let God”, “You’ll grow from this experience and be a better man on the other side”. The only thing I was growing was more and more angry.

Recommitting myself back to a spiritual foundation has helped me in many areas of life, but my path to filling that void was still opaque.

Then, one day after spending an hour in prayer and meditation, I had an epiphany. You see, for most of my life, my happiness was always based on the acceptance and approval of others, wanting the attention and praise from parents, seeking comfort and approval in the arms of a woman, the respect and dependence from children, employers, and friends.

Somehow I never learned that I was responsible for my own happiness.

With my happiness dependent upon a woman, job, money, or my friends, I was damned to always be controlled by others. The reality is that sometimes people abandon you, jobs are lost, and money may run out. I was in a constant state of instability and insecurity.

Today the emptiness I felt inside, is being filled by the what already dwells inside of me. I have found peace, love and joy that is not dependent upon others but my reliance on self and dependence on God.

I no longer need the attention of others to be happy, but rejoice in the freedom of simply being happy within myself(Tweet-worthy!)


All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program with Quora is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter:  @TLM


  • jerry

    Harry, thanks for the inspiring words.

    • marge

      Harry you have been given so many gifts and talents you bless my spirit that you continue to let God direct your mind heart and fill you with his annointing

  • Leslie

    Harry…this brought tears to my eyes.
    You are a treasure and joy, and I so pray for you to succeed and move
    on with your life. You have learned one of the most important and essential things in life!!!!! And, you have soooooooooo much to give!

    Truly…gotta love you man! There is so much that WE (on the outside) can learn from you (and others who are like-wise incarcerated).

    With all my blessings,

  • Marilyn

    Absolutely beautiful! So moving! And so well
    expressed…I could feel your epiphany.

  • Eric

    That is a wonderful message that everyone’s should read!

  • Heracio Harts

    Well said my brother. Stay focused, the best has yet to come.

  • Mary Beth

    Wow did that hit home for me. I am currently going
    through a similar internal crisis and have just realized this conclusion
    at age: 65. Thanks I needed that, Harry!

  • Z

    Lovely and moving essay. Contains so many simple truths that are
    often difficult to grasp, regardless of one’s life circumstance. Thank you for sharing!

  • Kenyatta

    Keep the faith brother Harry and keep up the good work!

  • Gennarias

    Happiness can appear in the strangest of places. Most important is that you found it AND you found it inside. One of my favorite quotes is “Happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of travel.” Travel on my friend and may your journey yield many rewards. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Bill

    Sounds to me like the “Jesus shaped hole” in us (that I have heard
    described before by preachers) that can only be filled by HIM, and I
    knew it as soon as I read the heading “The hole in my chest”: I knew as I
    read the testimony by Harry Hemphill what was coming. Thank you Harry for sharing what you discovered can only be satisfied and filled by Jesus.

  • Such a great piece of writing. I’m so happy for you!