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Friday, November 21, 2014

Do Law-Breakers Deserve a Second Chance?

Everything that happens to us has the propensity to teach us something if we are willing to heed the lesson.  If we view failures as opportunities to grow, resilience is born from those experiences and we become stronger.  Hopefully we are wise enough to not repeat the same mistakes again.  

Alas, many of us do repeat mistakes and we find ourselves reliving the same reality as we move through our lives.  These patterns of behavior can be difficult to break because we are creatures of habit and we tend to live out what we know.  It is the same reason we continue to battle our own demons over and over.  If we are lucky, our loved ones continue to forgive us and we forgive ourselves.

That same pattern of behavior also correlates to recidivism rates for offenders.  We want to believe that our criminal justice system is one where a person can serve their time and then assimilate back into society after having paid their debt.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way at all.  May repeat offenders continue their pattern of crime because we don’t allow them seamless entry back into the free world.  But surely I cannot compare those who break the law with the rest of us law abiding citizens.  

We have a tendency to judge others so harshly by their transgressions because they sin differently than us.  In other words, we attach value to wrongdoing by ranking it.  Violent crimes rank high on the list but as we move down in descending order, I’m certain we’ll find our own bad behavior.  We rationalize the bad things we do but have no problem condemning others.  

We draw a line in the sand between breaking the law and crimes of morality but the reality is, they are all just different degrees of bad behavior.

I recently was part of a panel discussion in Chicago sponsored by the Illinois Justice Project where smart and caring people came together to collaborate on “reentry”.  That is, prisoners who are released from jail and transitioning back into society.

It turns out, we don’t make it very easy for them.  Now, I can hear the voices of the contrarians declare that it shouldn’t be easy.  After all, they are criminals.  The universal paradox is that we are free to choose but we are not free from the consequences of our choice.

But what about those who have paid their penance and wish to live honorably thereafter.  The truth is, they have trouble finding people who will give them a chance.  If I were a business owner and someone with a felony burglary record applied to work for me, I can tell you I would have trepidation about hiring them.  After all, past behavior is typically indicative of future behavior so why on earth would I put my livelihood at risk when I could hire someone with no criminal background?   Therein lies the problem.

Those who break the law, serve their time, and wish to assimilate often resort to committing crimes once again because no one will give them a chance to succeed.  When you factor in societal circumstances that were more than likely to contribute to the delinquent behavior, there is seemingly no way out for a person who genuinely wishes to reform themselves.

If you were lucky enough to be born into an existence where food, shelter, affection and boundaries were prevalent, chances are you turned out okay.  Those who weren’t so fortunate have to unlearn what they have been taught.  There must be a pattern interruption for them so they can see that there is another alternative.

People are going to continue to fall from grace.  But after atonement, it is in the best interest of all of us that we commit to finding ways to reform offenders so they can be productive members of our society.  

Who among us hasn’t benefitted from a second chance?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Redefining Success

In order for you to be successful, you do not have to be the smartest person in the room.  This is relieving news for someone like me who is of average intelligence.  Many studies have been done on Fortune 500 CEO’s who have achieved success in their respective careers and it was learned that there were a few traits that many of them had in common.  Humility and empathy were among the virtues that they possessed. 
After learning about the study, I started to pay attention to the people around me in formal leadership roles.  I watched how they worked and how they related to others and it started to become abundantly clear that the ones who were effective were the ones who had a high level of emotional intelligence.  But then I started to notice all the people in informal roles that were doing great work and I started to question what it means to be successful.
Merriam-Webster defines success as "getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame,” but I think it’s so much more than that.
Rising to the top executive level of an organization certainly would translate into achievement; however, some people don’t aspire to move up to a formal position in the hierarchy of their organizations.  Furthermore, we have all had experiences with those who have attained positions of authority who we would not consider successful leaders. 
Success for me is loosely defined because the benchmark is always different. For example, I would consider a police officer successful who uses their skills and influence to achieve the best possible outcome for a citizen.  The men and women who put a uniform on every day and enforce the law with compassion and even-handedness; the ones who do their very best in every encounter – they are successful even if they aren’t in a position of rank.
I received an e-mail from a citizen not too long ago who told me that she had an interaction with a police officer that made her lose faith in our police department.  The incident occurred near her home where officers responded to a person with a weapon.  The citizen said she remained in her home watching the action from an upstairs window when she noticed a man walk to a truck and get into it after most of the officers had left the scene.  She felt as though she needed to pass that information onto the officers who remained so she came outside to speak with them.  Apparently the officer responded by saying, “Do you want my badge?” implying that she was attempting to do his job. 
This citizen was so offended by his comment and she said he made her feel worthless.  When I spoke with the officer, I learned that humor was his intent but he realized by her reaction, that it was a failed attempt.  On his own volition, he advised me that he wished to go back and speak with her.
I received a follow-up e-mail from the citizen whose faith had been restored in this officer and the collective police department. 
The officer involved is one I know to be empathic and compassionate but at the moment, he made a mistake in judgment.  In being confronted, he chose to right the wrong.  When a person can stand tall and admit their mistakes and attempt to correct them, I consider them successful.
It’s showing up every day and giving your very best and not losing your enthusiasm even in the midst of failures.
My favorite poet, Brian Andreas, says this:  “Anyone can slay a dragon.. but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That's what takes a real hero.”
So success is not just in the big milestones.  It’s actually better defined in the small moments of our lives when we bring the best of ourselves.