by Derrick Steilman
C.S. Lewis says, "One never knows how bad he really is until he tries very hard to be good."
A friend of mine said to me some years ago, "You're going soft, bro." He said this after I outlined some of the positive things I'm involved with, such as helping other inmates prepare for release, pursuing positive people to surround myself with, and devoting myself to a Christian moral accountability. This comment was very disheartening and difficult to hear, only not for the reasons you might think.
I was not offended but dissapointed, saddened. I too used to think the same way: a man who was not edgy and ready for violence at the slightest perceived insult must be soft. I was disappointed because I know how far my friend still has to travel on the arduous road to maturity before his eyes would be opened.
The truth of the matter is the opposite of what my friend thinks. Ask any of our loved ones in the free world. They will tell you that being a good man, being a good father, husband, hardworking provider, productive member of society, and a morally upright citizen is extremely difficult. (Even in prison we are citizens of the human struggle.) It is hard to get up and go to work each day easy to take something from someone else. It is hard to be a man of honesty and integrity easy to lie and to manipulate. It is hard to keep all commitments that we make easy to come up with excuses to get out of responsibility.
Doing the wrong thing is easy. Reacting, flashing anger, violence--that is easy. It doesn't take any thought. We simply react on emotions that we don't fully understand and then deal with the consequences of our actions later. It's not until the cell door slams shut behind us that we realize what we've lost.
Doing the right thing on the other hand is hard. We have to think! There are things to consider. We have to weigh the pros and cons--and not just to ourselves, but to those whom you might be responsible for. You have to consider future goals and responsibilities--for yourselves and your loved ones. Who's going to go drive your kids to school in the morning if you're in jail for starting a fight (or worse) because you were frustrated? Who's going to go to work and earn the money to pay the rent, car payment, utililty bill, etc.? What about in prison? If we lose our job for something irresponsible or ego-related, then our families suffer when we leech money from them. If we wind up in the "hole," our families suffer when we can't visit with them, our cellmates suffer when they suddenly find themselves with an open bunk to fill, our friends suffer, our goals suffer, our education suffers, etc.
Doing the right thing gets even harder when you add a moral factor. Whatever your measuring stick (religion, philosophy, culture, family, [MINE IS THE BIBLE]), following rules of ethics and morality are tough. Often times we come into conflict with our very own thoughts. We must battle the anti-social forces (isolation, frustration, ego-centrism, etc.) that drive most incarcerated men--our broken belief systems that put us on autopilot, and prevent us from growing into maturity. Doing the right thing requires us to put in the educational research that can help us discover the tools that will help us begin the work of SELF-REPAIR.
Two types of men stand out in the melting pot that is prison:
1. The man who understands that change is a constant in life. This man will grow in any environment. In prison he may advance his education, seek out self-repair or religion (knowing that HIS will landed him in prison in the first place), and surround himself with positive, goal-orientated individuals.
2. The other type of "man" will say, "Why change just because I'm in prison?" He will continue to believe that he has all the answers just at he did when he was a teenager. This man will continue to immerse himself in the stew of negativity, immaturity, ego, and the three D's--delusion, denial, and defensiveness. He will continue to get the results that he has always got. This is the guy that entered prison at, say, 17, and though he is now 37, he still acts--and thinks!--like a seventeen year old boy. This is because he has done nothing to combat the poisonous mindset that landed him here in the first place.
Doing the wrong thing is easy. Doing the right thing, on the other hand, is a daily struggle. Those of us who choose to do the right thing will fall short often. The difference is that we don't deny that our problems exist by blaming others. We own our mistakes and we always get back onto our feet, focus on the next leg of the journey, and keep moving forward. Yes, the wrong thing is easy, but I, for one, can no longer accept the easy road.
I was once asked what moral courage looks like. I answered, "Doing what's right, not what's easy."