Earlier this week I watched a powerful documentary on people being released from prison. It was a story of two men who were sentenced under California’s outdated and recently reformed Three Strikes Law. Simply stated the law demanded that any criminal who was arrested and found guilty three times received a harsh prison sentence often 25 years to life. After almost 20 years of being in place, the penal system and the citizens of California realized it wasn’t effective, led to overpopulation in the jails, severely impacted people of color, and left a trail of broken families in its wake.
The documentary follows two of the thousands of men who have been released for petty, non-violent crimes, after serving decades in jail. The transition for both of them was difficult, however, one was able to get back on his feet stay clean and sober, get married and be promoted in his job. The other man, who had a strong family and church structure, struggled mightily. Old demons such as drugs and mental health issues kept him unbalanced and unable to find his groove the way the first man did. At the end of the documentary both men were still out and making their way the best they could.
As I watched the film I couldn’t help but feel for both of these men. I work with men who are incarcerated and addicted. Addiction is a powerful force for evil and destruction. Incarceration can also be a doorway to a life of crime and recidivism but I’ve also seen men who learn how to make different choices so as not to end up in the same predicament.
Men who do three things greatly reduce their chance of going back to jail or getting back into their addiction. The first is having a positive home environment that might not necessarily be with their biological family. The second is a full-time job, a chance to do something and receive. The third might be most important and that is living a life around positive people, folks who will pull you up not drag you down. These three things, which most of us take for granted, will help men stay balanced, sure-footed, and on the path to a new life.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
In Line –
This afternoon, on my way into town, I was in a line of traffic. About three cars in front of me a young man, hand out the window, smoking a cigarette, and in a hurry. He was “riding the bumper” of the car in front of him in spite of their being numerous cars in front of the object of his fury. I watched him and wondered; “Why? Why are you being an aggressive, desperate driver, when there are more cars in your way? Are you going to tailgate every car until you get in front of them all?” I knew the answer was probably; “yes if he could.”
I reflected on this man and the way our focus of life can be out of whack. When we go through a challenge, a difficult situation, we focus our intensity on the object in front of us. We blame it for our lack of peace and purpose. We think; “If I could just get this off my to-do list, remove that problem, rid myself of this habit, break off or begin this relationship, everything would get better.” The truth, however, is more poignant. If we do not have peace before we run into a challenge, overcoming it will not bring us peace. If there is no stillness inside prior to a relationship there will be none afterward. New job, friends, home, whatever, cannot bring us the sense of calm and wisdom we desire if we don’t acquire them deep inside by searching for them now.
“The only peace and wisdom you find at the top of the mountain you are climbing are what you bring with you” -Wisdom Proverb
In the Deep –
I listened to a police officer tell an interesting story today. She and her partner had been called to a house where a married couple was fighting. They knocked on the door, entered the residence and found the man and woman arguing in the kitchen. The two people were screaming at each other so loud the officers could not get a word in even though they were speaking at a high volume. Finally, in an act of desperation, the gentleman officer grabbed a loaf of bread, went to the fridge and retrieved some mayonnaise and meat and sat down at the kitchen table and began making himself a sandwich. After a few moments the couple noticed what the policeman was doing and stopped arguing and stared at him, incredulous at what he was doing. Taking a bite, he said after chewing; “I’m just going to eat this sandwich until you two are ready to listen.” Silence filled the room, except for the officer’s stomach digesting his snack, everyone else sat down and began to talk.
I reflected on life and all the voices which fill our minds, spirits, emotions and lives everyday. If we aren’t careful we can find ourselves all consumed by the noise. On social media, TV, radio, printed media people express their opinion and fight with those who don’t agree. Others add their perspective to whoever may be in ear shot, trying to persuade them to embrace their positions on everything from politics to sports to global issues of terrorism and finance. It can be hard, if not impossible, at times to find a place of silence and stability.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive stillness is at times and action. It is a purposeful removal of ourselves from all the distractions of the world, which scream for our attention, and enter into a space where we can rest and remember wisdom, truth, doesn’t force itself upon us but rather whispers in the deepest recesses of our souls.
dandelion, sitting on a hill
rooted, grounded, in place, until
a mighty force arose and lifted
carried your essence far from home
floating in all directions at once
never letting you settle
dropping and raising
bouncing between stillness and gales
yet in the chaos, swirling turmoil
your beauty decorated the wind
the gift of recognized breezes
making that which could not be seen
now traced over meadows, fields, hills and valley
where you take root again is unknown
until then your untamed spirit
alights upon my shoulder for a glimpse
of what it means to be unleashed
The last month, as I have recovered from being sick, I haven’t had enough energy to take the trash to the dump. It’s something I knew needed to be done but not something high on my priority list to do. This weekend I finally felt well enough to begin to gather up the bags and later loaded them into the truck and made the trip. When I arrived at the dump I knew it was going to take a while because even though there are only two of us living in our house we tend to generate a lot of refuse. I began unloading it, trying to avoid getting wet from the rain which had recently fallen on the bags. A gentleman walked up to my truck and began unloading my garbage with me. I was pleasantly surprised and said; “Thank you sir!” “No problem.” he replied back. After we finished I thanked him again, he waved and I drove away with a heart full of gratitude for the smaller blessings of life.
Since this encounter I’ve also reflected on our ability to help others with the trash they carry with them on the journey of life. We do not have the power to force them to throw it away but when they are willing to get rid of it we can certainly help them unload their burden.