Looking from the outside you have no idea of the impact on family life that comes with an addiction and involvement in the criminal justice system. As a child comes home crying about being tormented about having a father in prison, the remaining parent is tasked with comforting and explaining the hardness of the world to a mere child. Going to the mailbox to collect the mail can be another exercise in trauma, hoping that no one will notice the envelopes which arrive stamped in red ink STATE PRISON. This shame and personal pain invades all aspects of life. Out of that daily struggle rises the fury of realizing that you are truly alone in this world and few people are willing to accept you as you are. Alone, you make it through the day and somehow draw strength to support and encourage those who live in your world.
Many will think that such encounters only happen to a certain type of people, but the reality is that more and more American families are experiencing the bitterness and sting of a justice system gone awry. Few are willing to publicly acknowledge their burden and most choose to hunker down and try to get through the crisis without drawing personal attention. It is a horribly lonely road to walk alone and estimates suggest that 90 million citizens experience some form of this hardship. Often the practical solution to these extraordinarily painful encounters is to dismiss the offender from the family circle. Somehow that solution appears to be acceptable to the silent majority who sit by and enjoy a seeming immunity to this social virus. Don’t be deceived, any system that can devour the family life of a third of this country can suddenly impact your personal security and the illusion of protection.
Consider the scientist whose high school aged son disappeared in the midst of a chemical addiction and was not seen again for 8 years. True, there were various reports which seemed to occasionally filter back that he had been seen, but no confirmations. Those long eight years were filled with days and nights of searching back alleys, bushes, hospitals, jails and most frightening were the visits to morgues to view dozens of unidentified bodies. Where does one get the strength to carry on these efforts, it is clear that there are precious few resources available to those who keep the love light burning for their lost family members. The essence of this strength is the realty of a spiritual awareness that ALL human beings have great worth and dignity. Our value is not determined by what I smoke, stick in my arm or the number of criminal convictions I acquire on my journey. My value is solely based upon the fact that I am one of God’s creatures, made for a purpose and empowered to serve others with my time, talents and abilities. My journey is an experiential encounter during which I acquire any number of opportunities to change direction and refocus my life. No one can predict when the light will come on for those still out in the dark.
Consider another professional who engages in the business of drug testing to serve the needs of those caught up in the criminal justice system. He has encountered a considerable number of individuals who are striving to attain some sense of balance in their daily lives. For him, this business opportunity is transcended by his encounter with individuals on a daily basis. Rather than see those who walk through his doors as losers, he looks beyond appearance and recognizes that each of these individuals are in need of support, direction and encouragement. While this is a business, it has also become a ministry serving others on a personal basis. It may be quite difficult to look upon those who have consistently disappointed us with kindness and hope, but his reports about these encounters serve as a legitimate basis to believe that all of us have the innate capacity to change direction at some point in time. If I have given up on someone, I will never see that moment arrive.
Life itself is a very personal and intimate journey and none of us arrive with a pre-programmed instruction guide. We often find our way like blind men groping along a long and unfamiliar corridor. Those of us who have made good choices may embrace a certain sense of smugness and self-satisfaction as we view the lives of others. But the fact is that we are all sharing a life boat called existence and if I stand by and allow you to perish without assistance, than I am placing myself in a precarious position. I need all of you to make this journey a successful venture. Everyone counts or no one counts. Think about the implications of that statement. If taken to heart how would that decision reorder your life choices? Would that reality change the way that you experience others?
We are all familiar with the saying that ”it takes a village to raise a child” but do we accept the responsibility to create an open village to accommodate the needs of those who challenge our understanding and coping abilities? In no way do I mean to suggest that we avoid the topic of legal consequences for harmful actions. What I am suggesting is that there are significant number of offenders who change their behaviors post-conviction and their actions approximate the essence of true repentance. As a global leader can this nation afford to maintain an estranged relationship with 30-40 million citizens? Can we ignore the potential which each of those individuals represent in terms of future contributions to our society?
Can we ignore the plight of family members, spouses, children and friends of those who have broken the laws? They themselves have no personal liability, but suffer the unfortunate circumstances of sharing a relationship with an offender. Can any nation on earth afford to alienate up to a third of its population and remain a bastion of freedom? Very few of us like the chores associated with housekeeping, but this is a call to overcome the inertia of apathy and bitterness. The United States is in need of internal healing, not just with regards to this matter, but on multiple fronts. As I have traveled and spoken with various people, I seem to have encountered a strong sense of isolation among the citizens it has been my privilege to meet. While the facts about the pending justice scandal have yet to emerge, it is clear that our nation has largely ignored a number of issues which directly relate to the quality of life among our nameless citizens.
We have been a great nation know for our caring and compassion throughout the world. This is a call to restore that greatness by turning our attention to the tasks of reintegrating all of our citizens in a common cause: The health of the nation. These problems will not go away or disappear of their own accord. A nation divide cannot stand. In support of this goal a website has been created to reach out to families of offenders, offering support and encouragement. That website is www.DISMASPROJECT.com. A separate resource (Surviving the Justice Experience) has been recently released by Ambassador-International, Inc. Let’s start the healing process together and reclaim our national heritage, which is the people who are our neighbors and those individuals we encounter in our daily lives.