(Ed Note: A periodic posting to TOC, by Richard Roy)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
Smile, today is the first day of the rest of your life. –Inane 1970’s bumper sticker
A fellow inmate recently shared with me that his life is over. He is 52 years old and feels that if he dies he would be better off; he has nothing left to live for.
A “Pollyanna” would try to point out all the positive aspects of life: People care and would miss him no matter what he had done. A Pollyanna would probably mention the wonderful things in life that are still left to do and see. It would be a sincere yet futile effort. I’m not a Pollyanna so I helped him look for a rope. Just kidding, we don’t have rope in prison. You have to rip up a bed sheet.
But the conversation did spark a thought in my head; these are rare so they tend to stand out: what will we be upon release from prison?
A painful series of additional thoughts, ideas, and questions, followed, painful for the effort required. I’m a notorious procrastinator.
How did I get here? I mean, really? Prison? Me? Industrial Incident Investigators use a process called “Root Cause Analysis” (RCA). In working backwards from an accident it becomes clear the incident was no accident at all. Each event, circumstance, situation and decision led to a specific conclusion that is obvious in retrospect.
I am an amalgamation of my life experience by conducting a personal RCA. Every school, job, move, hobby, book read, movie seen, church attended, person met had a role in shaping who I am. Add other life events like marriage, children, births/deaths, vacations, divorce, and career change and I hope you see where this leads. No specific event caused me to do what I did to be where I am. Now add prison to the list.
People are not defined by a single event. To do so is to pre-judge and prejudice is unacceptable in our society. Realistically, though, there are those in our lives who allow a solitary event to affect their view of others. These people probably contribute little to our lives. What contribution they do make is most likely negative.
Those who cannot accept the new man, the current “me”, must go. The old adage of “You can never go home again” applies. Acquaintances of the past should remain there if they cannot accept who I am. I’ll never again be who I was. Am I worse off without them? Is Dominique Strauss-Kahn throwing parties for hotter maids? I am thankful for the time we did have, now I’m moving on.
I cannot do anything about what others think or believe. What I can control is my response and behavior toward others. To hinge my serenity on another’s opinion is to relinquish my life to their whim. I’m not willing to do that.
It is much more rewarding to accept who I am and surround myself with those who support the new me. English clergyman, Thomas Bayes, is credited with Baye’s Rule: Initial beliefs + Recent objective Data = A new and improved belief.
Blocking out recent objective data, feedback, prohibits me from developing improved beliefs. By opening myself to new information, I open myself to the potential of an improved future and a positive outlook. A positive support system around me sets me up for a positive outcome.
As a student of human nature it fascinates me to have people ask “why are you smiling?” “What do you have to be happy about/” I’ve even been accused of liking prison as if bad food and family separation was my goal all along. Negativity is such an accepted part of prison that a smile draws suspicion like Casey Anthony at a kindergarten.
Upon exit from incarceration, the average felon has lots of upside: a fresh start (able it with a handicap). Advantages include, low or no debt, new career, new friends, a chance to develop new habits, education, training, vehicle, home; a chance to do it right this time.
So here it is. The grand revelation (drum roll please, the crowd holds its collective breath). Stop fooling around and start acting like LSU Head Football Coach, Les Miles on Saturday night. Stop making excuses or looking for the approval of others. Find your passion. Make a plan. Execute. Live happy.