“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”These are wise words from American statesman Edward Everett Hale. As some of you may know my wife Patty and I have taken the risk to write about our journey, some of it laced with pain, humiliation, incarceration, inspiration and forgiveness. There is risk and there is reward. Some may view this endeavor with pity, cynicism, anger or appreciation, who knows and frankly it makes no difference; it is what it is. As I have shared previously, the only reason Patty and I have forfeited our privacy in a blog is to support those who are rebuilding their lives and dreams after going through a difficult experience. It’s the least we can do. Along the way, Patty has started to share the depths of her faith; it’s pretty amazing and inspiring, but I am biased. This blog and our Face book page are simple vehicles to reach out to those doing time, be it behind actual bars or emotional bars. Hope, dreams and inspiration are powerful; capable of bypassing disparity in wealth, political clout, race, age, education and inflated egos. So why not use a blog or Face book to offer some hope or inspiration to those really up against it? We can’t do everything but we can do something, this is our endeavor.
Patty and I unfortunately have an interesting vantage point on incarceration; we have lived it, felt it, seen it, and continue paying for it, as a married couple. Most in America only see incarceration on tabloid TV shows like Lockup, Extended Stay, Jail or some other prison oriented family entertainment in America. These are shows seeking ratings based on human misery, broken families and crime victims. There is a morbid curiosity about prison, similar to why people gawk at a fatal highway accident scene as they slowly glide by with the windows up; close but not personal. Most Americans don’t want to experience loss of freedom. They don’t want to see the impact in their home, see, hear, or smell it; unless they can escape using the remote. Others could care less. Fair enough. However, I feel everybody has the right to hope, and have the opportunity to live the “American dream.” Otherwise life is simply an existence and an endurance contest until you die. I feel my wife Patty has the right to hope and dream about her future and the right to instill hope in others for their future.
Having said that, I feel there is an unspoken assumption in America, hopefully changing, but still solidly entrenched: “If you have done time, you have obviously failed society’s rules, thus you are a failure, undeserving of hope, prosperity or respect, no matter how hard you try to redeem yourself.” You’re quietly branded with an orange letter which can stand for felon, failure, flight risk, you chose; harsh but true. So, it is often silently perceived as brazen audacity when a released inmate tries hard to regain their life with a career of some sort, seeks to obtain their civil liberties, dignity and yes, hope. I have seen it, felt it, lost sleep over it, and I remember the moments and players. How about this: “Your wife has been on vacation, or not really worked for a couple of years.” Club Fed, really? The quiet subtle disapproval in refined social settings is intriguing to watch, surprise at even seeing her at an event, message? Don’t you know your place? Multiple job rejections with often no basic courtesy letter to advise you didn’t get the job, or “Thanks for applying, but no thanks.” In fairness, there have been those who stood tall, treated Patty with complete professional courtesy and respect even when they couldn’t provide a job. We remember those people who had a role in putting wind in our sails to get through another day with hope.
Me? I am only one man, a husband and father who can do something. I intend to continue standing by my wife and be a loyal, loving, protective friend. No cheap shots will go unnoticed. At times it’s not easy to watch her determined quest to contribute to society with a decent career, bogged down by regulation, apathy, passive resistance or ignorance. What is wonderful however; is to see the strength of her faith, her vision to help those at risk, and the comfort she provides as she reaches out to those that Jesus would help, those shunned by society.
Reminds me of the Mormon Bishop, David Musselman, who on November 28, 2013 dressed up as a homeless man and went to his own church in a suburb of Salt Lake City, to see how his own flock would react. “The majority of people just ignored me and went to great lengths not to make eye contact.” He also shared, “We don’t always have to give money or even food, but if we act the way we believe, just smiling and making eye contact and allowing them to have a little bit of dignity can be enough.” How brilliant. I know Patty would reach out to this person at our church, would you?
So here’s a question for you to ponder, “Would you reach out to someone who you know has done prison time or would you avoid eye contact or avoid contact period?” It is a hard question deserving a hard look. The status quo in America must change as it relates to corrections and released inmates. I’ve beaten this to death in previous blogs. We have a two tiered system in America, the haves and the have not’s. Wealth brings serious power, buying high octane defense lawyers, the ability to stall, intimidate, spin, revise history and on some occasions; avoid accountability. How about OJ Simpson and the murder defense: “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” How about Dominique Strauss-Kahn with the International Monetary Fund and his moment with a hotel maid in New York? There is the new drunk driving defense of “affluenza and who can leave out New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s present handling of “Bridgegate.”
No wealth? You go through the motions, hope for the best and do your time. High profile inmates who did time and made a difference after release? How about Martha Stewart, Chuck Colson, Michael Vick. It goes without saying there are many low profile success stories who defy the odds, just not enough of them.
Each one of us has a God given gift. My wife Patty is a gifted listener who now has “street credibility” with those who have really been behind the wire. Her empathy and compassion for those quietly doing time in some other form of prison, be it emotional, financial, marital, is well established. As Bernie Kerik recently said in an NBC interview with Matt Lauer following his release from Federal prison, “It’s not about me. I’ve served my time.” No kidding.
For those watching with intrigue as somebody scrambles to put their life back together after serving time, make no mistake, it could happen to you easily. No way, you say? That will never happen to me! Oh really? How about this scenario: you savor three alcoholic beverages at an upcoming Super Bowl party while watching the New England Patriots win again. You leave, get in a car accident involving excessive speed, somebody gets killed, you’re drunk, no money for a high profile defense attorney, you get convicted, receive five years for vehicular homicide and lose your job for good measure; simple as that. There you are now, behind the wire; you’ll see things differently, guaranteed. So will your spouse, assuming he/she sticks around. Maybe they will visit you, put money in your commissary account, maybe not. This is real world and sadly it happens weekly in America. Then as a convicted felon, yet a really good person who made a dreadful mistake, you doggedly start putting your life back together; it’s pure survival time. It will be with shock and awe that you experiences the stealth hurdles regularly encountered. Then you will get it when somebody reaches out to touch your life journey when others avoid eye contact. Bottom line, reach out and help someone. You are only one person, but you can do something.