Can People Change?
This blog is about change not political parties. Can people change?
As I sit here, listening to the news of the day, I suddenly find myself thinking about my father, who was a man, very set in his ways. I remember something he said to me, near the end of his life, that made me truly see that perhaps change is possible. Dad was a proud man (stubborn some would even say), and very devoted to his political party. I recall asking him once if he was going to campaign for a friend of his, who was running for City Commissioner. Dad responded to me by saying “No” and he was adamant about it! He said he wouldn’t support that man because, although he was running under the same political party my father supported, Dad felt he was only running under that party affiliation in hopes of having a better chance of winning. Dad claimed he was a member of “the other side,” and so he couldn’t support him.
I also remember a time when one of our former Presidents was re-elected. I waited two full weeks before calling my dad, because I knew he would be steaming about the results. Well, two weeks wasn’t long enough. I really thought he would drop dead of a heart attack while talking to me on the phone, because he was still so wound up and unaccepting of the results, weeks later. I can still hear that phone conversation to this day, and I can almost see his fists pounding the table and I can certainly hear his voice, raised in anger, as he spoke in disbelief as to what our Country’s voters were thinking.
I got to experience many heated conversations like that in his later years, as Dad would come to live with me, for a long period of time as it turns out. But at one point, I came to the difficult realization that Dad needed more help and assistance than I or my family could give him. A nursing home needed to be the next step, because I just couldn’t take care of him anymore. He was becoming unsteady, forgetful and had many other health issues with which I was unable to help. I contacted my siblings and expressed to them why I thought our dad needed more care and we needed to consider transitioning to a nursing home.
In reaching out to my brothers and sister, I also sent them a video recording that I had of Dad, talking about his politics. In that recording, Dad made a comment about an influential person on “the other side.” At first, I thought it was proof that he was really slipping, as it was actually a positive comment. I had never heard this kind of talk from my father before, and I was shocked. But soon, I realized I was actually quite pleased to hear that my father had suddenly made a change to seeing the good in others. It may seem like a small change to you, but knowing how narrow-minded he truly was, this was huge progress. And just so you know, politics, education and a strong work ethic were not the only things Dad got worked up about. He really enjoyed sparing with everyone he met and as long as the conversation was favorable to his view point, it went well, but if not, he was sure to let everyone know what he thought. His passion always shone through. But in those last months, he softened, he listened and seemed to suddenly see that there were two sides to every story.
Because I was so stunned by Dad’s initial comment, I sent it to my siblings. One of my brothers responded immediately saying, “Hell just froze over” and another responded that it was apparent Dad needed to be put in a home as he was confused. But I see now, that was not it. He was becoming more accepting of change. He had little choice where his body was concerned as it was fighting against him, but he seemed to decide at this time, he could open his mind and take the time to sit and listen. He found some peace.
I hope my readers know, this story isn’t about politics. It isn’t about republicans or democrats. It is instead about an individual's ability to change, under the most difficult circumstances. My father was facing his own death. His body was betraying him and he was coming into the end of his life, imprisoned in his own body, but his mind was still free to think and to listen, to learn and to change.
I think about those comments of my father quite often, and I saved those words and that recording. Those are the last spoken words I have of Dad - the last memory of his voice. When I listen to them, I can’t help but think about personal change. I think about myself 20, 10, and even just 5 years ago. Am I the same person? Am I the same person I was even a year ago? The answer is no. My experience teaching at the prison changed me immensely. It opened my mind to a world I didn’t know and I was a witness to men, hardened, abused, uneducated men, changing everyday. It gave me the reason to “be brave enough to make a change”. Life experiences, both good and bad truly can be life-changing. I believe this to be true for each one of us. We can build on the good things in our life and make them better. We can look at our failures and see them as successes and become stronger. We can change even if it is just the slightest bit, for the better.
Each and every one of us have made mistakes in our lives, things we may not be proud of and things perhaps no one even knows about. When I think of the men and women serving long sentences in prison, I think how many more could be serving time for similar occurrences, but just got lucky. Now, I am not saying we all do things that are at that level, I certainly hope not, but perhaps you were drunk driving once in college and got away with it whereas someone else did not. Perhaps you stole something and walked away without getting caught and perhaps … Are you a better person today? Did you learn from it?
If you believe you are capable of change, can you stretch your mind enough towards those living behind bars - could they also be capable? Many are and I have seen it. This is not a blanket statement and it does not apply to all in prison. There are those who are not trying to change to be better human beings. There are many in prisons today who are indeed where they need to be and where they need to stay. I have seen them both, and I believe we should open our hearts and our minds and give more deserving people second chances. Part of reform has to be accountability and a way to measure and follow progress and change so that we as a society, and prison as a system, can stand up for others and say, “we believe in you, you proved yourself, now walk in the free world making a positive impact on others.”
I end this blog with a reverent nod to my mom and dad. It is because of them, through their actions, words and deeds, and the values that they helped instill in me, that I am able to “Be brave enough to make a change.”
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