It is very common to hear a criminal defendant say that he is no longer the same man he was before he ended up in custody. I often hear that he has accepted Christ into his life now, and that as soon as he gets out of jail his life will be completely different. Really? This newfound proclamation that Christ has come into a person’s life and suddenly changed them can be difficult to believe. “Hmmm . . . weren’t you here just last year saying the same thing?” I guess I have to admit some skepticism (a common by-product of the job).
Most of the time I just let these comments come and go without much consideration. It is a personal matter anyway, and I believe that one’s personal relationship with Christ is a sacred matter that is usually best kept private. But a few times, something has rung true – this concept of jail, and finding Christ, and becoming humble, and reaching for something true and good, and seeking guidance and peace. All of it runs together and lives really can be changed.
When Alma was teaching the Zoramites he recognized that they had been brought to much lowliness of heart. It was at this lowest point that they had become humble enough to truly recognize the spirit and the great love that Christ had for them. When they had been “compelled to be humble” they finally became ready to accept what God was ready to give them.
My clients have generally been brought to this humbling place because of their own improper behavior. When a person is put into jail, an emotional rendering takes place. Reactions and expressions that were once part of daily life are no longer permitted. Jail is hard and mean, and locked doors do not allow any easy escape. Some of these individuals are hardened criminals that have no problem living in this unforgiving environment, but others do not belong there. These are the ones that tug at my heart.
Some of the people in jail are just everyday people who have made bad decisions, been arrested and find themselves in a new place that could never be called “home.” All freedoms are taken away. They are no longer allowed to make their own decisions; they are told when to eat, what to wear, where to stand, when to walk, when to stand still, when to talk, when to be quiet, etc. They are brought as low as they have ever been. Their agency has been severely compromised.
These are the ones that deeply regret disappointing their families, and truly see that a change is required in their lives. These individuals have been compelled to be humble, in the most humiliating manner possible, and they are ready for a change of heart.
As I have thought about what it means to be locked up in jail, I have compared that to other situations that many of us find ourselves in – places where we feel like our agency has been taken away because we feel so locked in to our current life and the problems that surround us.
What is your jail? Without actually being shackled and locked down in a cell with other inmates – have you experienced a situation that has brought you to much lowliness of heart, and desperation of soul? Have you been brought to a place where it physically hurts because of emotional trauma or stress?
These circumstances cannot be numbered. They are different for each of us.
Have you committed a crime? Do you have an addiction? Do you have children that have turned away from your love? Has your spouse been unfaithful? Have you been physically or mentally abused? Have you lost someone you love to suicide or some other tragic event? Do you suffer from a life-threatening disease, or do you love someone who does? Have you been betrayed by a dear friend? Have you lost your sense of who you are? Has your heart been shattered, and your spirit brought low, and then have you, at that lowest point, felt the greatest humility you have ever experienced?
Must each of us be compelled to be humble in some manner? I believe the answer to that question is, definitely, yes.
Love this post!! Kindness is so important.
I will spend time with the people I love. No regrets.
I will realize my full potential. No regrets.
I will let myself be happy. No regrets!
The age for missionary service has changed!! This is so wonderful and inspired. Changes are happening, and there will be more missionaries available to teach the gospel to those who are searching for answers in their lives.
This weekend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints changed the age of missionary service from 19 to 18 for young men, and from 21 to 19 years old for young women. So many youth at these ages are ready to go and serve the Lord – what a testament to the strength and faith of LDS youth today!
I know this change is inspired. In my work I see so many young people who have lost direction in their lives. Near the end of high school they don’t know what to do next. Some can’t afford college. Some don’t think they can excel in college. So many have doubts about themselves and their potential. So many are out of work, out of school, and have lost self-confidence in life and the opportunities it has to offer.
But LDS youth are different. They work towards the end of high school with a knowledge they are needed and that they can offer so much in the world. As they forsake other interests, they go forward, often to other undeveloped countries, and serve others. They serve for 18 months to 24 months with the sole focus of bringing others to Christ. They learn languages that will help them in the future, and they become so thankful for the opportunities and comforts that they have. For many it gives a new perspective about life. They learn hard work, how to communicate effectively, and they serve God selflessly with all their hearts and souls. When they return, they have so much more to offer themselves, their families, and society. What a contrast to those I work with who are so lost, and who find themselves in trouble with the law because they do not know what to do with their lives or what they can accomplish.
I am so incredibly thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the plan of happiness that it provides.
A defendant was recently sentenced to ten years in prison for her lengthy pattern of serious drug abuse and thefts. This was not terribly unusual, however the following discourse was different, and it filled many in the court with pity and compassion.
Judge: You understand that your bad choices have put you here.
Defendant: Yes, your honor, I know.
Judge: I’m sure your family is disappointed in you.
Defendant: They are.
Judge: How long have you been using drugs?
Defendant: Since I was seven.
I have talked in a previous blog about the age of accountability. Mormons believe that eight is the age when children have become aware of their choices and have sufficient self-control to make those choices. But, what about this case? Knowing the highly addictive nature of all drugs, when did this woman become accountable?
The Bible speaks of a parent’s responsibility to teach children and to bring them up in the ways of light and goodness. Because of the sin of the parents here, a child, now a grown woman, has borne a lifelong disease of darkness and bondage. Can a child be guilty for the sin of the parents?
It seems to me that there were many stopping points along her way. A neighbor? A teacher? A friend’s mom? When should we step in and break a cycle such as this?
Can we all commit to opening our eyes and being a little more aware of the people around us? Can we commit to an act of kindness that may make someone’s life a bit easier today? I believe that we show our love for humanity by helping others along our way.
You never know a life you may save.
On September 4, 2012, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), participated in the 2012-13 Notre Dame Forum, “Conviction and Compromise: Being a Person of Faith in a Liberal Democracy.” He answered some important questions about faith and democracy. Some of the questions raised were:
- How can people of faith reconcile religious conviction with politics, which is often described as the “art of compromise”?
- Should voters take a candidate’s religion into account when casting their ballot?
- How should elected officials apply their faith when making policy?
- How does religious diversity affect our national understanding of religion’s role in both politics and government?
“Elder Dallin H. Oaks’s comments reinforced the Church’s stance on political neutrality: “Our church tries to stay away from political activity in the more than 150 countries where we have members. … We therefore offer no political guidance to members of our faith and rarely take a position on public policies.” He continued that while “our members are encouraged to participate in governmental affairs” and in parties of their choice, the Church is “neutral on political parties, platforms and candidates” and does “not endorse any party or candidate … [or] advise our members how to vote.”
Elder Oaks explained that the Church does encourage members to “draw upon their religious beliefs, including personal inspiration, in all their important choices — political and otherwise.” Furthermore, he stated that all religious persons should be allowed to participate in the political process on the same basis as other citizens, though refraining from unnecessarily forcing their personal religious beliefs on others. While civility is always necessary, and political neutrality encourages members to exercise their own discretion in political matters, Elder Oaks stated that in “very exceptional situations, reserved for the decision of Presidency of the Church, … [the Church] would take a position on a public issue that we consider to have very important moral implications.”
Elder Oaks advocated uniting with “persons of all faith to teach and exercise the principle of religious freedom so that we are assuring our ability to unite on the things we have in common and assuring our ability to act out and exercise those things that we do not have in common.” “
It would seem that politicians run into the same ethical dilemmas that defense attorneys do. I love Elder Oaks’ advice that we need to draw on personal inspiration in all that we do.
In the area where I work, there tends to be some graffiti. Well, actually, there is a lot of it. When I arrived at work this beautiful Monday morning, the entire dumpster next to our office was painted with the name of some gang or tagging crew. This really ticked me off.
In court I often have to defend young men who like to paint their name on anything that has a canvas – even a poor dumpster. I have found that the prosecution has started to really crack down on these vandalism crimes – even requiring a felony with a strike (under a gang allegation) sometimes. Usually these young men are between the age of 18 and 25 with their entire futures ahead of them. A felony will certainly become a barrier between them and a job – which might lead them even further down a road of breaking the law.
And yet – the vandalism is ugly. It causes reductions in property values. It says that the community does not care enough about its lawful citizens to do something about it. A punishment is required – but what should it be?
What do you think?