Freedom to Choose

Someone once told me, “I don’t care what you do in your life, whether you choose to be a carpenter, a doctor or a bum. I care that you have as many tools as possible so that you are free to choose.”

Though I lost my way and made terrible mistakes, I am still shaped by those words because wisdom has no expiration date. It was waiting for me when I became ready to listen.

It makes me think about the men I’m incarcerated with, about their opportunities, or lack thereof.

Some were like me. They had choices and futures but got stuck in a bottle or a bag of dope. Lost their moral compass in animal craving and spiritual darkness.

Others seem cursed. Born addicted. Burned with cigarettes. Bones broken. Bodies violated. Spirits shattered. Shuttles from one foster home to the next. Starved of food, comfort and love.

Most were somewhere in between. Limited opportunities and bad choices led them here. Not inevitable but certainly understandable.

I grew up believing I would be a lawyer or counselor. Many grew up believing they’d be dead by 18.

I have been blessed to find teachers, inside and out, who helped me take responsibility for my choices, discover my options and grow into the man I am today.

In turn, I have been grateful to teach, mentor and share my experience. I have watched men blossom and change. Others have been unable or unwilling to depart from long-held habits. I can’t control their choice. My hope is to help them see they have one.

There are days life feels like a tragedy. Other days a comedy. A joy. Working with others reminds me I’m not the center of the universe. It keeps self-pity at bay and gratitude near.

Life is not fair. The playing ground is not level. I don’t know how to change that. Each day I wake up and try to share the love, support and wisdom that have been so freely given to me, so maybe one day we can all find the freedom to choose.