By Connie Mish
MARLBOROUGH, October 15, 2012
I sometimes joke with people that I was once in prison. After they get over the initial shock and begin scrambling for the right words, I let them know that I spent a few years inside a men’s medium/maximum security prison as a Correctional Officer. While the experience taught me immeasurable strength on multiple personal levels, the lesson I learned the most was the importance of compassion.
I worked with inmates on a daily basis and one in particular had earned the job of being my go-to person. I will call him Offender Joe, for the purpose of this article. I did not choose him; he was hired for the job by the unit Sergeant. By most definitions he was a model inmate and I never had an issue with his work. As I sat enjoying my coffee one morning, another inmate mentioned that I should probably look up why Offender Joe was in prison. Ordinarily I wouldn’t look up the crimes of an inmate because I didn’t want their crimes to inadvertently change the way I did my job, but something about the way it was communicated to me didn’t feel right. It felt like a warning, and one that I wasn’t going to ignore.
As I punched Offender Joe’s number into the computer, I became a bit uneasy. As I began reading the description of his crime, my uneasy feeling turned into nausea and heart-wrenching sadness for his victims. Offender Joe was serving time on a conviction of a home invasion robbery. Home invasion robberies take a not so special kind of person, but this home invasion robbery was on a different scale of brutality, if one exists. Offender Joe and two of his friends broke into the home of an average, middle-aged, middle class couple one evening. The wife and mother was about 8 ½ months pregnant and the couple had two young children running around. After Offender Joe beat the father, just shy of unconsciousness, he and his two friends tied up the entire family and proceeded to brutally rape the pregnant wife and mother in front of them all.
The heart wrenching, fact filled, crime I was reading never made the evening news, like so many other crimes of that nature. The brutality and lack of compassion, of that particular crime, haunts me to this day. How much compassion do you think Offender Joe had for those people as he was forever changing their lives in the worst way? How much compassion do you think he had for human life?
Let’s look outside the box for a moment at the foundation of crime. Researchers have shown recidivism rates reaching as high as 60%+ and the areas of the highest crime rates being those with the lowest incomes.
Which poses the question; why does money drive crime? The answer is simple; it doesn’t. The connection between low-income areas and high crime is the lack of education. As a former correctional officer I can assure you that the “ghetto university” takes you directly past go and straight to jail. Rarely did I see a well-educated person in prison that was convicted of a violent crime. Not to say that it doesn’t happen, because it does and when it does, it’s usually on the evening news. Lack of education is something that most inmates have in common and I am not just speaking of formal education. While formal education is important, take a moment to think about what can be learned from the compassion that comes from growing up in a loving home. When children are raising themselves, for various reasons, they lack the opportunity to learn compassion.
How can we curb that? What can you do? The answer is simple; teach compassion by example. Each and every one of us on a daily basis can make a difference. You can raise awareness for the need to educate our children on compassion, and teaching right from wrong as an essential skill. So many children today believe that doing something is only wrong if you get caught. We must not forget that integrity is built, and discipline learned, by what you do when no one is watching.
Let’s teach our children to surround themselves with positive role models and to foster value and compassion in everyone they know instead of extracting it. Then let’s go a step further and take the time in your daily routine to show (which teaches by example) a fellow human being an act of compassion. You see, compassion is the desire for others to be free from suffering. When we can instill the desire for and commitment to a society free of suffering we can make a significant impact on the reduction of crime. As the Dalai Lama stated in The Compassionate Life” “True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason”. Ethics, morals, reasoning and compassion can all be taught, let’s start by leading by example.
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