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 It was a story of two men who were sentenced under California’s outdated and recently reformed Three Strikes Law.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.
This afternoon I stopped by a store to pick up some sodas for our incarcerated father’s class. I grabbed and carried them to the cashier station. I waited on the woman in front of me and when she was finished stepped up and watched the cashier scan the drinks and stick them in plastic bags. When it was time, I scanned my card and then entered my pin number. However, as soon as I punched the digits in I knew it was the wrong pin. I told the cashier and she reset the scanner. For a moment I couldn’t separate all the pins and passwords in my life and choose the correct one but finally settled on the right one. It worked and I walked out with my purchase.
As I drove to the jail I thought about the men in my class who were receiving their certificates of completion tonight. I thought about the different men in the program and how each of them has certain “codes” which work for them. For one humor might be the key, another is not being singled out in class but letting him join the conversation when he’s ready. Our goal at the jail is to give the men a collection of tools and skills which will keep them clean, responsible, have abilities that many people on the outside take for granted. However, getting them to participate and accept the knowledge is tricky. Not any one approach works with all. We must take the time, learning about the men, connecting with them, understanding the way they think so we can “break the code” that will help them make life changing choices.
A little bundle of unexpectedness just rode out of our driveway.
This past Saturday Beth and I discovered a kitten hanging out near our house. Knowing the dogs in the surrounding area, including our own Siberian Husky, wouldn’t treat it well, we gave it a safe place, some food and began looking for someone to adopt it. Thankfully, a nice woman, who was looking for some companionship, came this afternoon and took it to a new home where it should live a long, good life.
It is amazing how one small thing can wreak big havoc in our lives. Because it was staying on our front porch we had to start taking Trooper, the Husky, out the back door, not his usual routine. We bought kitten food, prepared and fed the little one three times a day. When one of us left for work the other had to hold the kitten because it followed whoever was walking, wherever we went. Whoever was the last one leaving the house had to sneak to their vehicle because the kitten would come running if it heard them. As the kitten rode off today Beth and I both breathed a sigh of relief while also feeling a tinge of sadness.
Life is not predictable. We’re never sure when someone or something will join us our journey and remind us not to take “normal” for granted.