Over the years I've seen men, and a few women, who had been recently released from prison. Common to them all is a noticeable subdued demeanor. And, truth be known, it's a demeanor that is contrary to the one they had before they were incarcerated. Such transformation is not common to all ex-convicts.
A few months ago, in the span of one day, I had the privilege of meeting two men who had been so transformed. One as a patient, and the other, who I knew before but not personally, at a social encounter in town where we had a nice conversation. Both are from the Mississippi Coast and were involved in the deaths of others. Like each other, their crimes were unrelated.
The older, white collar offender, accomplished his crime insidiously, while the younger man was street-wise, a wage earner when he could find work, and used direct methods to ply his trade. I surmised from our conversations that before their gig was up that they were each, different as they were, equally well off with respect to money and assets.
But I knew that based upon his upbringing, no one could have predicted how the former professional's life would turn out. He had grown up with a Mom and Dad, had everything, and had gone to all the good schools. He had been bombastic and arrogant but was very successful. Now, having served his debt, it was obvious in the content of his speech that he was humble. His conversation was laced with spiritual overtones, thanking God for his family and other blessings.
I say it was a privilege in meeting the two because it's always nice to see people who've changed for the better, and to learn what it was that caused the change. Obviously, years of being locked up was a factor in transforming them to men who are now volunteering and contributing to the community.
The younger man's path to prison began with a back injury. He became addicted to prescription pain medicine and eventually became a proficient drug dealer. In prison he used his skill set to profit in bartering and selling Suboxone, the opioid addiction treatment medicine. Suboxone comes in strips and he had it smuggled in with the help of someone who owned a canning machine and labeler. He quit the project before he was caught.
He wielded authority, of sorts, in and out of prison, and continued to behave as if the world revolved around him. This was before his conscience was re-formed. Until then, he wouldn't have thought twice about sending someone a Thank You letter -- but he sent one.
He sent it in response to a routine Welcome Letter, returning the sentiment and specifically expressing gratitude for having seen him (though there was no reason not to see him). But more interestingly, he was thankful for having been recommended, among other things, that one try to discover what spirituality means and to practice it.
Studies and surveys reveal that people who live and practice some kind of spirituality have, as a group, fewer mental health and general health issues than those who lack this element. I still have difficulty in effectively enlisting a patient's interest in incorporating some type of spirituality in their life. But to those who find their way to it, the statistics bear out that they tend to have better health outcomes in general.
He had learned a spirituality in prison and was actively practicing it. Something that probably finds him in the minority of ex-cons. For not every convict, as they say, "finds Jesus in prison." And from it he had gained a peace he had not had before and claims this is what now helps him get through the day.
Each men paid their debt in full; each seems very grateful.
The letter from this young man -- a former drop out, a scoundrel by his own admission, an administrator of murder, and ex-convict but now a man who's also found his way a little closer to God -- this letter, I have filed in the Thank You folder.
It's been said that gratitude is the foundation of all virtues. Consider sending someone a Thank You note or card. Two people may feel better and perhaps it may even move one to consider changing -- for the better. People of all stripes can and do improve -- without, of course, having to experience years of incarceration to do so.