Mason Suehs used to deal with anxiety and a gnawing sense that he was broken by using drugs. This, of course, led to some poor decisions and eventually to two stints in jail. However during his second period of incarceration he took a class offered by Anna Debenham and the Insight Alliance that pointed towards our innate well-being. The class taught him that he was not broken and didn’t need fixing.
Now Mason works for The Insight Alliance, teaching others what he has seen and helping to reduce the recidivism rate among the inmates at Portland-area prisons.
Mason Suehs works with the Insight Alliance teaching classes primarily to people who are incarcerated, pointing them to their wellbeing and the limitless potential they possess. Through deeper understanding of our minds, life tends to move smoother.
Mason took The Insight Alliance course towards the end of his second prison sentence, and it changed his entire experience of life.
You can find Mason Suehs at The Insight Alliance.
- Searching for answers to life’s questions and to feel better
- How there’s so much less for us to do
- How the recidivism rate for inmates drops when they learn about their true nature
- How we both create our experience and then respond to it
- Why no one is broken or needs fixing
- Seeing unwanted habits for what they are and not defining ourselves as ‘addicts’
- How we’re designed to have insights and change
- Learning from an experience with a cinnamon roll (yes, you read that correctly)
Transcript of Interview with Mason Suehs
Alexandra: Mason Suehs, welcome to Unbroken.
Mason: I’m happy to be here.
Alexandra: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and how you discovered the three principles?
Mason: Sure. I discovered the three principles when I was incarcerated six years ago. And as Anna Debenham, leader of the Insight Alliance or founder, she came into prison. It was my second time in prison, and that was in for drug offenses. And, man, it shook my world.
I had been searching my whole life, for what’s the answer, looking at all the billions of thing things out there and trying to solve my inner struggles and my inner challenges and then turning towards drugs, getting deeply into addiction, and then making not the greatest decisions.
When I took this class I had previously been involved in tons of meditation. And I even was sober for seven years between my two prison sets, got a degree in public health, when I was still felt like life was such a challenge. It was like I was still always looking for a way to try to feel different and feel better. Always looking for the next thing, the next self-help book. How do I escape this challenging experience?
And then when Anna came in, like I mean, she just started with you’re not broken, you actually don’t need to do all that. To fix anything, or fixing an imaginary soul. There were so many insights. And it really just helped me become like a better, better flow or a better surfer a better mover through life.
I realized there’s so much less for me to do than I thought there was not my natural capacity. Like who I was, was actually amazing. Incredible. If I let my hands off of it, and I saw the nature of where my experiences really coming from, I’d elevate. And I and it’s just been a journey of these last five or six years.
Alexandra: When you took that class with, was it with Anna herself?
Alexandra: Are they mandatory? Or is it voluntary, when you sign up?
Mason: I had a couple of friends who were picked because she’d repeat right? After 10 weeks, go to another one. Like, you’ve got to take this class. Like, okay, I’ll do it, you know. And it was all voluntary.
I’m actually in teaching these classes now at the same institution. And you sign up. I did it with some good friends. And, and it’s amazing now to, like, I know many people, I’m still in contact with people from that class. And they’re doing incredible. Six years later. Every person that was close to in there is doing amazing.
Alexandra: Wow. Oh, that’s fantastic.
Mason: The recidivism rate is like 60%, within like, three years or something. And if I felt like, I know, six people from that class are excelling. I don’t know how everyone else is doing. But that’s pretty good numbers right there.
Alexandra: So in the general population, the recidivism rate is between 50 and 60%.
Mason: Yeah, that’s even higher than 60%.
Alexandra: Wow. And so one of the things you mentioned in your bio at the Insight Alliance website is struggling with anxiety, severe anxiety, that was one of the things you mentioned.
What do you see now about what anxiety actually is?
Mason: My creative potential I guess. The amazingness of my mind. That was my lifelong struggle. I got to the point periods where I couldn’t even leave the house to get a haircut. I was on 30 different, maybe more than 30 different medications. and always looking for like always analyzing, like, how am I feeling, oh, that means something about me. And I go into myself, Oh, I’m feeling anxious about though, and then I get up to thinking a lot about it. And I feel it in my body.
I just thought, I’m an anxious person. That’s how I was born. That’s who I am. That’s at the core of my essence. And I mean, when I first heard in our class, you’re not broken, you don’t need fixing, like that rang so true. And then, when we went into, how is our experience being created, not even judging it, or needing to fix it or anything, but know just what is happening in our mind, for us to experience reality.
I don’t even know what really switched, I just know there were so many insights, of seeing myself do things and seeing myself do things that were helpful. And just getting more space in my head and getting more awareness about how I’m navigating. And what I’m taking seriously. And what I’m making up stories about.
It’s just like fat melting away off of really well cooked something, right, just like flit away. And, and then all of a sudden, life became a little easier. And I started to see, oh, I’m not only am I creating, that, not only is life creating my reality through me but then I was responding to that creation. I was really responding and thinking, Oh, I’m going to resist this, and they change this, I manage this. What can I do to feel. It’s looking in the wrong direction. Like, really the wrong direction. And then when I saw it, it’s not making sense to do that.
And so, what is anxiety right? Now, it’s like an experience of humans, we’re going to experience it, right, and I’ll just be feed it as much I know, to feed it all. And I can experience I maybe can be a little anxious about something and then also have a peace inside the same time. And that can be the awareness of that. And like, oh, this means nothing about me, I don’t have to go fix it. I don’t have to go manage my outside world. I can just be okay. And if I have an insight about something to do, that might help a situation I do it.
But there’s a journey of settling in, I guess. I’ve seen my anxiety for what it was. Because I mean, I am definitely not an anxious person today. I am not an anxious person. I have anxious thoughts on occasion. But they’re in my heart. I know without a doubt that not what, what or who I am.
Alexandra: It strikes me to ask you when you’re teaching a class to a group of people who have kind of run their lives off the rails in a way and they’ve ended up incarcerated, starting by telling them they’re not broken is such an interesting place to begin.
I’m curious about how do you do that?
Mason: We do it from just putting out the basics of our class; You’re not broken, you don’t need fixing. And our experience and our reality is being created from the inside out, that life is flowing through us. It’s not coming at us. And we do some exercises in some ways.
And we also say, Look, we’re going to explore these concepts for the next 10 weeks. We’re just going to have an exploration. We’re not here to teach you anything. We’re just here to remind you, or to point you in the direction for you to see for yourself. That’s it. We’re not the experts. Just pointing at it.
And, there’s a pretty high retention in the classes. And there’s some people who drop out. We have one. My class for the person was like, just like, No, this isn’t right. It’s like really upset. And it’s like, not really like, extremely. And we just get attached to our ideas in there. And we can feel attacked and this person left class a week later they came back like I’m sorry. They were like one of the most interactive participants. And sometimes people just it’s not for them. I would say at least 85% are like, I’m doing this. Cool.
Alexandra: That’s so great. Because I can imagine, it can be quite confronting for someone who’s in a situation they don’t necessarily want to be in, it’s not in their control, they’re in this place that where everything is sort of regulated for them, and they can’t leave. And then for someone to say to them, actually, you know what, you’re totally fine. You’re not broken. It could be a little confronting, I can see that.
I also see that because it’s true that it would catch light with people.
Mason: When we’re in prison, everyone says are broken. Everyone says we’re wrong. And I think we were also really careful to say, look, we’re not blaming, it’s not our fault. And our trauma feels real to us. And it’s something we’re bringing forward. And it’s not an attack on who we are. But sometimes we hold on to our trauma on our thoughts, and we just think they become a definition of our experience.
Especially if people aren’t seeing it, and I say just stick with us, and have a conversation. And then you’ll see over the weeks, people will start to open up or they’ll just get a little confused. They’ll be like, I don’t know what to say. I’m just confused. And you’re like, Oh, that’s cool. Something’s mixing up. Okay, let’s see what comes out of it. And you can see a light, you can see a light turning on and people like, you can see them.
For me, I found my freedom in prison, straight up. I found it 100%. I could be here forever be all right. Like, honestly, I had no desire or need for things to change in the situation. And sometimes it can be a really hard experience for people because of situations, everything in it. And there’s a possibility in that. To see that, like, I’m not going to get happiness through my external circumstances. I’m not going to get satisfaction through that. That’s definitely an illusion.
Sometimes being a prison, you can see it a little bit clearer. Because you can recognize I still experience happiness and joy in this space. I feel like it’s best space to actually bring this understanding because couldn’t be more receptive.
Alexandra: Wow. Yeah, and you’re so right, there’s someone in almost the worst of circumstances, and yet they can experience peace and happiness and joy.
So that must be so impactful. It was for you, obviously.
Mason: Right? Yeah. It’s just it’s amazing what we’re all capable of. And it’s amazing how elusive this experience is, how much it was stuck in that misunderstanding. innocently.
I’m constantly amazed at this creation of reality and our experience as we go through life. And always the possibility to see more. Six years into it. It’s like, I’ll see something that I’m like, I did not see that before. Wow, that feels like a deepening. Yeah, or that feels calmer. And then all of a sudden, I may have something else falls away.
Alexandra: One of the things I wanted to touch on was, you mentioned at the top of the show that you had had this seven year period in between two bouts of being in prison. And then I guess fell back into the drugs habit.
With this understanding, what do you see different now about falling back into old habits?
Mason: I’m just aware of it. I think I think for me it with addiction and drugs. I really thought I was an addict, I’ll be an addict for life. That was what it was when I was in all these many programs for addiction. And then also I was really successful in my life at the time doing everything, right. And then I started getting I had some challenges come up, and I started getting in my thoughts, I started believing what I was thinking.
I started rationalizing things, I started going on certain paths. And then I started using the second I use, well, I’m an addict. That’s what I’m going to do that I can’t stop now. I need to just continue doing this. And it’s like, that’s just who I am. My justification, right? And then I’m like, Well, this will be successful at it in this way. Then I started selling and doing not great, thanks, all. And then I just even after I had agreed that there are great jobs, like I just got stuck in this world of experience that I thought was real. I thought maybe it’s a time it made sense to me. Now I can’t fathom how it really made sense. And I know the day like I take my, I mean, I don’t have really bad habits anymore. You know, but it’s like there’s a lot less to do with my habits. So much less, and just that amazing awareness around it.
When I see them for what they are their habits of thinking, their habits of stuff I brought from wherever doesn’t really matter. And if I see it, I see it, I’ll let go. But habits of thinking that just are what I’m experiencing, it’s grist to the mill turning things and me moving through things. And I can just like, oh, this is just what it is. I could hold it with love, hold it with compassion and recognize with that awareness, these things will move on.
I don’t have to bind to my thinking of sickness or of I’m always going to be drawn this or that I have no control. I think is like this is the soul I really. We couldn’t control what thoughts come in. And we don’t have to respond to them. I guess there’s just a much a sense of ease around stuff. And I ended up if I ever am in a low space, a low state of mind, I just know not to trust my thinking. I know that I don’t have to look to feel better. I don’t have to look outside myself. That’s not going to work.
How many times have I used drugs and not felt better? But it’s that habit, that connection that’s like, this will make you feel better. This will do this, let’s look outside yourself, or let’s go find a self help book. I can at least have some awareness around like, I can do this, but I don’t have to put my well being on it and not the drugs but even working out or something like it’s not, that’s not going to make me more.
Am I really have an elevated experience and my well being I could be okay, if I don’t work out. It was that constant searching to feel different. To try to fix a feeling. All I did in my mind, I really thought my feelings were affected and changed by the substances I used to use or the situations I was in.
Alexandra: I think that’s such an important point that anytime we’re addicted or have an unwanted habit, that we do that because it looks like a solution. It turns out we’re looking in the wrong direction.
I always say there’s no such thing as self-sabotage. We’re always trying to do the best we can, with what we know at the time.
Mason: And it’s so funny; habits, addiction, with more awareness, we naturally change and evolve, we evolve, we’re made to have insights and change. We don’t always get to choose when those come, we don’t get to know when we’re going to see more. It’s just that openness and awareness. And when we see at least how the mechanisms are doing it, it gives us that space to then have the possibility of misdirecting changing, moving a different way, or habits might fall away.
Even eight months ago, I wasn’t eating very healthy at all. I was like, 20 pounds more. And that was fine. That was perfectly fine. I wasn’t exercising, but then I was like, let me get curious about this. You know, it’s just like, nothing to stress about it. You’re going to have a, okay, like, what’s interesting, and naturally, what developed is now it’s like, I’m working out three times, four times a week, just because I enjoy it. I feel good about eating incredibly healthy, and not like, oh, how do I manage this? How do I manage this? It just came. It just a rose and over time, and it morphed and modified.
But there’s such an ease in developing new habits when we don’t have as much on it. We don’t think we actually have to control it. And there’s also an ease about habits falling away. When we’re not judging ourselves and putting ourselves down and tearing us and making ourselves feel better, like, Oh, why did I do that? And we go into shame. And then we go back to feeling terrible. And then we do an action again, oh, yeah, this is a cool cycle.
Alexandra: I think you mentioned a little bit earlier about identity, how you identified yourself as an addict. And drew the conclusion that that’s just what you’re going to do.
I think that’s such an important thing to bring up. Because in this understanding that we don’t identify ourselves based on the habit, and something just struck me. I don’t know if I’m going to have the words to talk about it.
In the old model of dealing with unwanted habits and addictions, it almost reinforces what we’re trying to get rid of. It drives us back toward doing the thing because of maybe identifying with it and seeing it as a problem as well.
Whereas when we look in this direction, we’re looking elsewhere, we’re looking towards our wholeness and seeing that the habit is just there. And it can fall away, like you said, a few minutes ago.
Mason: It’s not punitive.
Alexandra: Not punitive. Yeah.
Mason: Like, let’s tear you down. Some people claim strength in that in their own way. But it doesn’t feel good either. And then also doesn’t tend to work for other habits. So it doesn’t really work for all these other supposedly big ones. You know, like, hold on.
Alexandra: Exactly. And so you’re now teaching with the Insight Alliance, which is so great.
What was that progression like for you from someone who was incarcerated to now teaching the principles?
Mason: I got out six years ago, and I just volunteered. And we did courses with Anna. I did like eight or nine of them. And then two years and one month ago, they were hiring the third person at the time. And I was like, Okay, this is what I want to do. That’s I just knew it in my heart. And I got it. It was super amazing.
Now we’re at like 11 people. And we do case management. We support people coming out of prison for wraparound services. And it’s looking like we’re going to be doing drug court. We’re going to be working with D star which is a federal program instead of going to prison to come in There are programs in the prisons.
And in my journey, I mean, it’s been a journey learning this process of teaching, you know, a lot of some insecure thoughts. When I was like, at least I knew what they were or, you know, I don’t have to take myself so seriously, and who will ever be able to do this? Yeah. But it’s been amazing. It’s been an incredible journey of just like, seeing myself more. And seeing other people more really grateful, I’m able to, like, be part of this organization and do what I do, because it’s really about self-development, which then you can like, share what we have. And then being curious and interested in just about other people. Having love and compassion for other people on seeing them for their true selves.
Alexandra: I imagine it’s so impactful for the participants in the course to have someone who has been where they are, to be able to show them the way.
Mason: Yes, it is. I mean, Anna was pretty impactful. And I was amazing, right? And right, there is a connection with some people that maybe wouldn’t have stayed around. And yeah, it’s really cool to like the year like, yeah, when I was here six years ago, they’re like, you are here. And like, yeah, that was your second time. Um, it’s definitely huge. Do you have to say to like, it’s cool.
I’ve mentioned this earlier, it’s last class, I had this before, like, I am moving through life better, and I’ve ever moved through life. You know, what one person there last class, he had this problem of always needing to steal. He’d go into the line and there’s cinnamon rolls, because that’s the big thing, right? And he go on line a second time and always get caught, get put on, like, green shirt or whatever. It’s always, like, I just can’t help myself. I just do it.
And then on the last classes, he had a lot of thoughts around a lot, but he was so quiet down as the weeks went on. And he was he was like, in ninth or 10th class. He’s like we had cinnamon rolls. And I went and get in line for a second cinnamon roll. And I’m like, I don’t need a second cinnamon roll. Why am I even doing this? I got out of line.
I can’t like what happened and from that he’s like when I realized is that I never need to come back here. Just from a cinnamon roll and have such a deep he’s like, I just there’s not. I don’t have to follow that. I just don’t. And because he loved us cinnamon rolls, but it was just like how this is a small little thing. He just saw something really deep for himself.
He saw the agency in his life and where his experiences coming from and he able to listen to his wisdom.
Alexandra: That is so amazing. The wisdom in a cinnamon roll. That’s awesome.
Mason: There’s so many more like stories. That’s just kind of a funny old one. Because you think oh, cinnamon roll. But no, it’s little things. We never know what insights it can lead to.
Alexandra: That’s the thing. When we see the nature of thought and how it works, it can be that from the tiniest thing to the biggest thing. It’s always the same source. Very powerful.
About how many participants do you have in a class at a time? I’m just curious.
Mason: 15 to 20.
Alexandra: And you said it’s 10 weeks?
Mason: Yeah. And then we do have participants that take it a second time. So I think like five of them are retaking it. It’s nice; the second time around, they see different things.
And then at the woman’s I know it’s going to be 20 because we’re starting the women’s prison here. And they’re really excited because they had years ago when Anna went in there, and so we couldn’t get back in because of COVID and complications, we have at least one year in the woman’s classes. And then the youth is all the smaller we probably have like 10. Each woman that’s because they’re separated by units.
Alexandra: Say more about that. So is it a different prison for people?
Mason: Yeah, we have the McLaren the youth, which we’ve been doing do a lot virtual that they’re kind of the exception, they can do some virtual zoom versus just better for paying attention. But they have different units and they don’t like to mix them. So we’re going to be going on Wednesdays and do a morning class and an afternoon class with the youth. They’re present. It’s like anywhere from like, 14 to 25 they use that to go to adult prison when they turn 25.
Alexandra: Well, this has been lovely Mason.
Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you’d like to share with our listeners today?
Mason: I was going to say thank you for having me on. It’s been a pleasure. And it’s just so fun to even talk about this. Thanks for wanting to hear my journey. Yeah, thank you.
Alexandra: Oh, you’re so welcome. My pleasure. Thanks for being here. I’m loving this.
Tell our listeners where they can find out more about you and about the Insight Alliance.
Mason: Okay, TheInsightAlliance.org. They have all our contact on their emails, reach outs, pretty much to go to and some videos and resources as well.
Alexandra: I will put a link in the show notes at unbrokenpodcast.com to that so people can find it. Well, thanks again, so much Mason for being here. I really appreciate it. You take care bye bye.