I personally know three convicts. Each sentenced for different crimes. One served 2 years and the other two men served 5+ year sentences. One is still serving and slated to be released sometime next year.
One of them that served two years had a tough life upon returning home. He was married and his wife faithfully waited and supported him during his incarceration. I worked with him before he served his sentence. I worked with his wife during his absence and again with him after he returned home.
Unfortunately their marriage ended and several years of a tough child custody battle raged. In the end his wife was awarded primary custody of their children. It took a toll on her and the children. They didn’t really like being with him or his new wife afterward. After several hard years his wife is getting back on her feet and finally has created a stable environment for her and the children.
One was released several months ago and I’ve been able to get to know him. He’s a good man and takes full responsibility for his actions. He’s never been married. He is finally now applying for employment and admittedly scared he may be rejected because he is a felon. He wants to be given a chance because he is new person. He has expressed his gratitude for his incarceration because as he stated, “I was able to learn to accept myself and unconditionally love all of me. That led me to learn to trust God.”
The final friend is scheduled to be released next year. I’ve watched this family work through the separation. His wife had to work for the first time in her life. One of his children got married and one had a grandchild all while he was incarcerated. His family has kept him a part of the family. His wife realizes there will be some challenging readjustment and they are preparing for it now. She told me that she and him both are grateful for the incarceration because it brought them closer as a couple and nearer to Christ.
Why the different outcomes?
I know each of these men and there is one glaring difference between them. The first friend, who has had many problems, has deep internal shame. He had a tough childhood and doesn’t unconditionally accept himself. He’s full of pride and will not let people really know him. By not unconditionally accepting himself he can’t unconditionally accept others. He’s a addict to several additions, all masking his deep emotional pain.
The next two men accept who they are. They realized the mistakes that they made and take responsibility. They unconditionally accept who they are. One had a tough childhood that led to an addition. He carried a lot of shame and didn’t like himself for many years. In prison, he shed his shame and learned self acceptance. This has led to peace in his life.
My friend who will be released next year was one of my children’s Sunday School teachers. He was raised in a good home with parents who unconditionally loved him. His parents, dear friends of mine, has supported him during this trying time. They have been a part of his family in his absences. His wife told me that she couldn’t have survived this experience without them.
We are all placed on this earth the same. Many people accept the shame of others; parents especially. Their parents who didn’t accept them self pass their shame to their children by saying things like, “You’re a rotten kid because you didn’t even make the basketball team. All my friends are going to think I’m a loser as a parent.” Then the child learned to believe they were less of a person. Internal shame leads to hurtful and unproductive behavior later in life. It leads to a life of pretending just to hopefully be accepted. These people become controlling people, perfectionist and people pleasers. These people become addicts.
Learning to accept one’s self and all their imperfections starts with parents and other caregivers; like teachers, coaches and clergy, who also unconditionally accept them. It leads to healthy behaviors. A person with unconditional love for them self can unconditionally love others. They have compassion for themselves and all their imperfections and mistakes. This self compassion is then given to others.
You’ve all experienced a person and said, “That person is authentic.” Authentic people carry self acceptance and personal unconditional love.
I love each of these men.
I had to learn to love me first.