“Shame and dishonor were his flags, and self loathing was his constant companion.” – James Lee Burke; “Feast Day of Fools”
“Remember it is a sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” – James 4:17 NLT
Many of us serving prison sentences for not using our freedom in a way that honors ourselves and our families have foolishly – and selfishly – exposed those we love to the same shame and dishonor we have branded ourselves with. We have also made them victims of the sins we have committed, while at the same time making them unwilling and unwitting accomplices to our crimes.
In addition, we have forced them to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden for our wrongdoing through simple guilt by association. While we languish in the purgatory of prison, their lives continue in the real world. While our lives are held in a static state of suspended animation, their lives move forward on a daily basis. While many of us try to explain our behavior to ourselves, our families are left trying to explain it to the world in which they live.
A great many men I meet have strong family support. While some have lost everything and everyone that used to make up their former lives in freedom, many more still have their families and friends solidly behind them offering words of encouragement and support.
They are to be commended for that and we who are the recipients of the genuine goodness of their hearts should all take note that the debt we owe them can more than likely never completely be repaid.
While they function unwaveringly as brave defenders of our tarnished honor and smile encouragingly for us, let those of us who are blessed enough to have individuals who are that strong fighting on our behalf, never forget that we have disappointed them. We have let down those who love us; those who need to look up to us; those who reach for us when they are uncertain, afraid, need help making a major decision or just tying a shoe.
In many cases, anger accompanies the disappointment, but far too often the anger is kept from those of us whose behavior triggered it in the first place. The consideration for the feelings of those locked out of society’s sight is another attempt by those who love us to “protect” us and to try to shield us from unpleasant realities that we created.
While this is a touching display of the lengths to which love will go, this is not what is needed.
What is needed is for those who are disappointed and angry to make sure that the one who causes them to feel this way is aware of it. Of course the offender must also be reassured that he is still loved and still supported. But the negative emotions created must not be borne only by the incidental victims.
What is needed is for those incarcerated to reflect on the disappointment and anger they have caused in others and use it ‘as a catalyst for change within themselves. This will ensure that whatever caused them to violate the trust of their loved ones and the laws of society will not be repeated.
What is needed is for society to recognize that the system we use to punish those who commit transgressions against it also punishes everyone who is a part of that individual’s life, so we must exercise caution that the prosecution of an individual does not become the persecution of a family, as is so very often the case.
What is needed are prosecutors and judges who see not just the offender but the twenty-year-old daughter of that offender who takes an overdose of drugs or alcohol and lays down on the side of the road in what turns out to be a suicide attempt that is foiled. Her pain over what is happening to a father she loves momentarily overwhelms her, and this is how she reacts to his absence. (This happened to the daughter of someone I was incarcerated with.)
What is needed is an awareness that another young woman was successful in the taking of her own life because she felt the stigma and restrictions placed upon her father by the sex offender registry were hers to bear as well and the burden proved to be too great. (This I read about in the paper.)
What is needed is for society to hear the cries, see the tears and share the pain of a young girl whose father is in prison and cannot attend her school play to share in her moment of happiness and view her in the spotlight of recognition. (This happened to a friend of mine’s daughter.)
What is needed is for society to experience the anguish of a loving grandmother who closes her letter with “I’m starting to cry now so I’d better end this letter.” (I read thise words written to another inmate.)
This, the most powerful nation on earth, must understand that locking up millions of individuals has a profound effect on tens of millions of innocent lives. There are better ways of dealing with non-violent offenders than locking them away and perhaps the citizens of this country should demand this from their elected officials.
This, the most powerful nation on earth, must understand that a year taken from a family can never be given back, so it is incumbent upon society – in the interest of true justice – to find other ways of correcting behavior.
The handing out of multiple year sentences for non-violent offences as if the years were a handful of Halloween candy must stop.
God Himself no longer visits the sins of the fathers on future generations.
Just who do we think we are to do exactly that?