I don’t know if I’m so forgiving because I want to be forgiven.
I don’t know if I’m constantly seeing the good in those deemed ‘bad’ because I’m insightful or because I want to be good.
But I am forgiving and I do see good in bad.
This extends from situations to people.
I watched ‘Serving Life’ on New Years Day and it touched me so deeply – on so many levels.
First I thought about the convicted men.
It breaks my heart when I hear compassionate, intelligent, repentant, very human convicts wishing they could go back and undo their crimes.
That’s someone’s child – who cannot go back and will forever pay for their mistake.
I think about all the people who comment on news stories with such piousness. I know that I have sinned – odds are they have too and how dare they judge another?
How many of those judging a murderer have been party to an abortion? How many didn’t get caught the night they drove home drunk?
I think about a person born into an environment of despair, crime and fear – into a broken family devoid of encouragement, hope or love … what chance did they have?
I’m reminded of some lines from Silence of the Lambs.
Hannibal: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Clarice: No. We just…
Hannibal: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day …
We want what we see. We mirror who we know.
We can only do better when we know better. At that point, it’s a choice.
If all you are exposed to is hunger, anger and helplessness – how do you know there is a ‘better’?
Are those seeking an escape from their reality with what they know, crack, heroin … less than those sipping too many martinis after a long day at the office – or abusing their Xanax prescription?
Does the tool for escape define the person?
There are so many crimes committed by people who are under the influence of drugs.
Drug addiction changes a person – takes hold and inserts its barbs into the flesh of the addicted. But these are people who can be helped!
Why are we taking up so much prison space with people who were convicted for drug possession instead of treating them?
Then there are the mentally ill, who are certainly not served as they need to be in our country.
Why are we surprised when an untreated mentally ill person colors outside of society’s acceptable lines?
I think the outrage should be directed more toward the system that is neglecting those who need it.
I’ll now qualify all of the above with – there should be punishment for crime. And murder, theft, assault is not acceptable.
I just know there’s a person under that orange jumpsuit – and reasons behind the crime.
I’m not offering excuses for them – I’m offering the idea that there is more than meets the eye.
Having said all of that – I’ll be honest when I tell you that I found it very difficult to find compassion for one man who had a terminal brain tumor.
His crime was that of sexually assaulting a minor.
He would fall into the mentally ill category I suppose – as in my opinion, a mentally healthy person wouldn’t have committed such a heinous crime.
I still wasn’t able to find my compassion for him even after acknowledging this.
The inmates that decided to take part in the hospice program were surprisingly affected by the environment.
I say surprisingly because some had been exposed to death before, in violent and personal ways.
Men who had taken a life, sat scared and uncomfortable as they sat vigil with a man breathing his last breath.
The film makers did not spare the audience the final moments of the dying. This was a raw and very real look into a hospice situation.
One man in particular became ill suddenly – unable to keep weight on his bones and coughing up blood. The x-rays the prison had taken showed signs of cancer – but until a biopsy was done, they couldn’t diagnose the man. He came several times to the ward only to return to his cell without having the tests done.
The fear in his eyes was my undoing.
The nurse asked him if he wanted to be admitted to the ward – no … he didn’t want to give up.
She explained that it wouldn’t be giving up. That no matter where he was, if he had hope, he was not giving up. But that he would be needing care should medical intervention be needed and that they could give that to him there.
Two things struck me at this point. That this man, who was in prison, wanted to live – and even within the walls of that penitentiary, he still had hope.
To me though, that hospice must have smelled to him like the euthanasia room at a dog pound.
It was where people went to die – not to get well.
Here he was showing up to find out what was wrong with him, and the tests being delayed – and returning to his cell in fear and sickness. I wanted to cradle him. I wanted to shout for a doctor on his behalf.
He was sentenced to life after all – not death.
He finally did get his results – and they were worse than anyone expected. He was given only weeks to live.
In his final weeks, he was afforded a visit from his brother, who was also imprisoned. I was moved to tears as he implored his brother to change … to do better.
They prayed together and again, I wanted to hold that man.
The filmmakers followed him from couch to crematorium.
The men that stayed by his side – who washed him and changed him – were getting perhaps a first lesson in humility, selflessness and compassion.
I say perhaps, because I don’t know that to be true.
But if it wasn’t their first lesson – it was definitely a powerful experience that would leave a profound impression.
Even the warden admitted during his interview that he couldn’t do it. That he had admiration for the men who could.
Those men got past their fears and became angels.
There was change.
There was deep regret for the lives they had taken.
There was respect for the process of dying.
Had these men been part of such a program prior to their crimes – would they have committed them?
I wondered with heavy heart about that too.
How does someone value life when they themselves are born into a world that does not value them?
When you’re raised to feel as if you are a statistic, a stereotype, a burden – where do you find worth within that gives you the strength to want to accomplish good things for yourself, let alone others?
There are those that do find it. People who beat the odds.
I find that to be amazing and inspiring.
I have always been incredibly in awe of those who overcome adversity because they made a choice to do so.
I also think that by choosing to be part of the hospice program and being of service to the dying – the men documented in this film have done the same thing.
Some will have a chance to live that change in the outside world – some will not.
But I don’t think it came too late – it’s wonderful that it came at all – they learned the value of life through comforting the dying.