Punishment or Provision –
This morning, at a County Jail Resource Council Meeting, the group was discussing the different programs and services offered to the residents of the facility. It was stated that we want to do more than incarcerate men and women, we want to rehabilitate them so they can gain the skills and talents to give them the best opportunity to get out and stay out.
One of the programs is an art program. The residents come together and work on a project. A person who works at the jail said the first time he heard the announcement; “…report to the art room,” he thought he was in a school, not a jail. This and other programs offered at the facility have not been without their detractors. “Jail’s for punishing! It’s not for the inmates to have fun, be comfortable, doted on by the staff!”
What most of the naysayers don’t understand is if these folks don’t learn good, responsible lessons from the teachers and mentors at the jail they will learn not so good stuff from each other. I’ve seen the cells, the pods, the lockdown rooms. Trust me they’re far from comfortable. As far our treatment of them, some have never known what it is to be loved, cared for, respected. To understand they are of value is the greatest lesson we teach. If they can grasp the truth that they are of great worth, the rest is easy.
Broke or Broken –
Someone asked me today what’s the difference between being broke and broken? It was a great question that I am still pondering.
I think being, believing, you are broke is resignation. To be broke spiritually or emotionally is to lose hope of being fixed, reset, used again. I have felt this way in the throes of an episode of major depression. When all is dark and being of any use our used again is lost to the shroud that settles, stifles and suffocates your soul.
To be broken, for me, is to still believe there is life and light to be found in the dark night of the soul. It’s not easy to find hope, purpose, any emotional or spiritual depth but somehow, someway, there’s a place in your inner most being that believes it’ll get better. These are my good days and, though they may seem disheartening to one who has not suffered from depression and anxiety, are worth celebrating.
Broke and broken. Two sides of the same coin where one is a sense of worthlessness and the other a chance for a life which is valued.
This afternoon my wife was painting some wood for an outdoor project we’re trying to finish before it turns cold and stays that way. She had completed one side and was waiting for it to dry. She began helping me and, of course, took longer than expected. When she got back to her part of the project she discovered a bird had relieved itself on her recently white-painted board! She began looking around and said loudly; “A bird pooped on my board!” It was funny but I dared not laugh while she was looking at me. We glanced up into the trees above but no culprit was located. Finally, she went inside, dampened a paper towel, came back outside and cleaned it. Luckily, for any birds that were in the area, none dared soil her board again!
Life can be challenging. Often things we value, have put a lot of effort into, protected and cared for are spoiled by unseen and unexpected difficulties and problems. Relationships, family, friends, vocations, talents, hobbies and more are treasured by us but it doesn’t take long before the world attempts to spoil them.
When the spoiling occurs we have a few choices; look for someone or something to blame, complain and become bitter, let go of the frustration and do our best to make the best of it.
Wisdom tells us; “It only matters when one falls if they refuse to get back up again.”
It’s The Thought –
I sat with one of my regulars for a session yesterday. We made small talk at first asking each other about what’s happened in the last week between appointments. He told me about his weekend and I mentioned the rain and how this negatively impacted my work on the front porch extension. As I said this his eyes lit up and he said; “That reminds me!” and he put his hand in his pocket and brought out an object and slid it across the table.
He continued; “I know you don’t charge for these sessions but I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you helping me.” I looked down and it was a gift card for a local home improvement store. I smiled at his graciousness and then slid the card back to him and replied apologetically; “I’m sorry. I can’t accept this gift. We are a non-profit and can’t accept personal payment of any kind but I appreciate your generosity and the thought behind the gift means a great deal to me.” Even as I think about his desire to tangibly say; “Thank you” it brings a big smile to my face.
I have no idea how much the gift card was for and it doesn’t matter. What matters is his appreciation for the times we’ve sat together and worked through some tough issues to help him become the best man he can be for himself and his family. The old adage; “It’s the thought behind the gift that counts” is true and was a wonderful gift that I will value for a long time.
Life can be hard, difficult, painful and full of loss. There are times, seasons, when the chaos of existence seems to strip us of everything we hold dear and we wonder; “Is there a reason to keep going? What’s the point when everything has been taken away?” When all around us has crumbled, our foundations have been shaken and those things which we’ve placed our faith in no longer exist and we come to place where love, grace and miracles are illusion, what do we do?
At this crisis point we are faced with the decision to trust when there doesn’t seem reason, to see blessing when your way is cursed, to expect life as death hovers near. From the rubble of disappointment, disease, defeat, dejection, even death comes a chance at a new beginning, an appreciation for what will emerge after all we value disappears.
Last night it was my privilege to give a group of dads a graduating certificate from our Incarcerated Fathers’ class. We began the evening by highlighting the previous twelve weeks and the core values we’ve learned as we walked this path together. Then each dad was called up to the front of the classroom and handed an official certificate stating they had completed the course.
I asked the fathers what they had learned over the last three months. Answers included; “how to respect others, communicate, control emotions, expressing emotions in productive ways, better understanding of how to love their children and family, self-awareness and the need to keep trying and not give up.” I followed by inquiring what they would miss about the class. One father stated; “Being with a group of guys and not worrying about sharing, someone judging, knowing we’re all on the same level trying to be better men and better dads.” For a man to express this in a jail, with a group of men he spends almost every minute of every day was huge and humbling.
One of the keys to listening, learning and changing is feeling safe and jail can be a dangerous place. In spite of being filled with people it can also be depressingly lonely. You keep to yourself, mind your own business and try not to get on the wrong side of anyone. You’re on edge constantly and never let your guard down. For a place designed to keep groups of people confined and secure, isolation and fear are ever-present.
Bring together a group of men who’ve seen the worst this world has to offer, living in a place they don’t want to be, put there by both their choices and the choices of others, plop them in a room and trouble seems the likeliest outcome. However, the opposite can happen if you treat them with respect, listen to their stories, see them as equals and commit to walk this part of their journey with them. Do this and friendships are formed, confessions are uttered, weaknesses recognized, worth is bestowed and people become more than what they believed possible.
We are all so very much alike. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. What we need is someone to help us feel safe, a person who makes us feel accepted, loved, appreciated, valued for where we’ve been and where we’re going.
This morning, on my way to a father event planning session, something caught my eye and I pulled into a Mom-n-Pop grocery store parking lot to have a look. Thinking more about turning around then my surroundings I almost hit a van which suddenly pulled out from behind the store. I slammed on my breaks, coming to a sudden stop and was thankful my distractedness didn’t harm me or others.
Life has a way of distracting us, focusing our attention on other things and pulling our gaze away from what’s most important. Then, through a tragedy, series of mishaps and setbacks, physical or mental ailments and diagnosis we’re thrust back into the now, the reason we live and what we truly love becomes crystal clear.
In the moment our focus becomes laser sharp many other things fall away. It’s not that these aren’t good or even necessary they just pale in comparison to what has captured our hearts and souls, the reason the road of life is worth travelling.