Through experiences in life and Unity teachings, Sally came to believe everyone deserves a second chance. As a director of several corrections facilities, she put her belief into practice and saw lives transformed.
Even now I remember how I felt as a sad and confused little girl at age six. My mother and father had divorced. The father I adored was no longer in my life. My mother was distraught, continually wringing her hands and crying, not knowing how she could raise my three brothers and me on her own.
I missed my dad. Every time I heard the rumblings of a truck on the road outside the country school where I attended first grade, I would run to the window and wave, hoping it was my dad. I would always come away feeling brokenhearted because it wasn’t him. He had abandoned my family and me.
Thank God, a neighbor sent me a subscription to Wee Wisdom® magazine from Unity, which gave me a second chance at life. In fact, I believe the teachings featured in this children’s magazine, once published by Unity, may have saved my life. I understood that God’s spirit was within me and could be expressed as me in wonderful, powerful ways. I knew I had a choice in how my life could unfold. Unity has been an influence in my life for more than 50 years.
I am now retired after a long career in the corrections field, during which my Unity background sustained me. As a director of several correctional facilities, I offered inmates a second chance at life.
At the Kansas Correctional Institution at Lansing (KCIL), where I was director, we began a new program where both men and women were housed in the same minimum security prison. I was excited about this program because I knew that inmates who served long terms without ever talking with or being around those of the opposite sex were doomed to fail in society once they were released.
At KCIL, male and female inmates had opportunities to relate with one another during supervised, structured activities such as self-help programs, educational classes, dances, and team sports. The men and women had rooms, instead of cells, in dorms at opposite ends of the campus. Some inmates were able to leave during the day to work at a local factory. All in all, it was a proving ground before they were deemed ready for release from the state prison system.
The new program was still proving itself when an inmate, we’ll call him John, entered the program. He was a tall, muscular African-American man, a loner who never smiled or talked to many people. John did form a kind of puppy-love relationship with another inmate, a beautiful young woman. We’ll use the name Sarah. When another inmate flirted with Sarah in front of John, he went into a rage and trashed his room. The rule was: any violent behavior and the inmate went back to the Kansas State Prison. And John went back.
Taking a Chance
I was working in my office late at night when a counselor from the state prison called and said John wanted to talk to me. John asked if he could come back, but I told him I would have to give it some serious thought. I knew the future of our program depended on not bringing anyone in who might act out violently.
I sat in my office that night with the lights turned off and prayed. I asked God to show me what to do. I believed that this program had so much to offer John, and I knew that this might be the last chance this 49-year-old man had to rid himself of the demonic thoughts and memories that he had held within for so long. The answer came: call the prison and ask them to bring John over to talk with me.
As he sat across from me in my office, I said: “John, there are two things you must agree to do before I even consider taking you back. One, you have to meet regularly with our psychologist.” John said, “I will.” “Second,” I continued, “I cannot and will not tolerate any more violent behavior.” “No more violence,” he promised. Then this huge man started sobbing, saying, “No one has ever given me a second chance.” Overnight John changed. It was a miracle.
He came back to KCIL, and from all appearances he was a different man. Now he smiled, laughed, and talked with everyone. John served the next nine months as a model inmate, and after meeting with the parole board, he was expecting to be released.
Sadly, John died of a massive heart attack before he could be released. Yet I believe he did gain his freedom—freedom from whatever had hurt him in the past, freedom from the hurt he had caused, and freedom to be a person who enjoyed life to the fullest, right where he was.
I believe my life could have taken a totally different turn, a wrong turn, if I hadn’t received Wee Wisdom as a child. In the facilities where I served as director or warden, I witnessed how inmates’ lives were often changed when Unity ministers brought Daily Word magazines and offered seminars that opened the door to a new life.
I think it’s important that we reach out to people and let them know we care. Obviously, in helping people, we need to set some rules, just as I did with John. We can all open doors for others, but they must be willing to walk through them. We cannot take someone who has been deprived of everything, however, and say “Okay, here’s the candy store.” Change can be a slow process, but I believe everyone can move ahead with change—even one inch at a time.
I thank God for the opportunities I have had to make a difference in the lives of others. I thank God for the neighbor who sent me Wee Wisdom, for John, and for all the people who have made such a wonderful difference in my life.
Some people are just like that, hypercritical and judgmental. If they don't like your viewpoint, your politics, the food you eat or the way you dress, that's it, you're out of the picture. End of story.
That's a big mistake, both professionally and personally. I'll tell you why.
To be successful, you need to surround yourself with the most competent people. If you buy into that, and you should, then understand that those same people, the highly effective and capable ones, often take risks and make mistakes. Sometimes they make really big ones. They push the envelope and don't really care whose toes they step on in the process.
And you know what? When those people crash and burn, they usually manage to stage the most ridiculously improbable comebacks. You definitely want to be part of the equation when that happens. You never want to count them out or bet against them.
I can rattle off dozens of examples; here are five:
Steve Jobs had a famously caustic management style. When he was essentially ousted from Apple (AAPL) in 1985, pretty much everyone thought his best days were behind him. Except for Jobs. He bought Pixar from Lucasfilms for $10 million and, 10 years later, sold it to Disney (DIS) for $7.4 billion. The same year, he returned to the nearly bankrupt company he cofounded and turned Apple into the world's most valuable corporation.
Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson says that for innovative cultures to thrive, there must be a willingness to fail and an understanding that it's okay to be wrong most of the time. He says entrepreneurs should expect a lot of rejection. That VCs consider most great, disruptive businesses to be dumb ideas at the time. That was certainly the case with Google (GOOG) and most other successful startups I know.
Why failure is the gateway to successWhy smart people do dumb things
Likewise, Ronald Reagan's political career had numerous setbacks. He was nearly recalled as governor of California in 1968 and lost his first bid to become the Republican nominee for president to Gerald Ford in 1976. Of course, he went on to become perhaps the most successful U.S. president of the past 50 years.
After a dramatic fall from grace that included numerous failed attempts at drug rehabilitation, arrests and jail time, pretty much everyone thought Robert Downey Jr.'s acting career, maybe even his life, was over. But after hitting rock bottom and achieving sobriety, he's managed to stage a remarkable comeback as the lead in several hit films. Could Charlie Sheen be next?
I once had a CEO who failed big-time with a startup company. Then he got the chance to run another one, a late stage startup that had lost its way. He turned it around, got it ready to go public, then the tech bubble burst and so did his IPO. Then his two top executives resigned -- on the same day. But the board stuck with him and, years later, he pulled off one of the hottest IPOs of the year.
The knock on this sort of logic is that nobody -- not me, you, your boss, nobody -- ever knows if the person in question deserves that second chance; whether he'll be the comeback kid or not. Obviously, it's a question of judgment, but still, I might argue that you just don't know. So, just imagine that person is you. You'd deserve that second chance, wouldn't you? I know I would. So give it to him. It'll pay off in the long run. Really.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Wiertz Sebastien.