Unexpected Insight

Unexpected Insight

Faith is the essence of being. Everyone has faith. Whether theistic, pantheistic, or atheistic, everyone believes in something, and faith perspectives stack exponentially. I mean, we must have faith in not only the legitimacy of our faith, but also how each perspective merges with another.That is, we must believe our faith perspectives are true, or ultimately we don’t believe them.

Personally, I am a Christ follower. I have faith in the accuracy and legitimacy of the biblical framework when effectively linked with common sense and married to scientific discoveries, revealing yet another layer: I have faith in the scientific method as well, believing that scientific inquiry and religious faith are not mutually exclusive but complementary. Faith solves philosophical problems that science cannot. The scientific method can only measure the physical world. Philosophy and theology attempt to interpret and explain those measurements. Faith, however, determines a person’s worldview based upon the subjective integration of available information from both science and philosophical or religious paradigms.

Faith can be difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. It is entirely peculiar, modified by one’s experiences and particular apprehension of reality. But basically it is a durable and enduring belief or trust is something or someone, right? However, the very capacity for faith is, in itself, evidence of a spiritual component within the human personality structure. Whatever you put your faith in will grow in your life. Faith is existential and inescapable, providing meaning and purpose while shaping one’s thoughts, goals, behaviors, and worldview. Yet the application of faith to everyday life is volitional, an act of the will. A person can know what should be done and still not do it, or know something should not be done and do it anyway. Regardless of one’s faith perspective, spiritual convictions can be either a blessing or a burden, a fountain of strength and perseverance or a pit of quicksand, pulling a person deeper into despair and self-loathing.

If a person has a conviction of faith, a genuine commitment to a moral value system but consistently fails to apply it or grow spiritually through an inability to apply it situationally, then he or she will feel inadequate, unworthy, and inferior on a deep, existential level. Over time, the pain of self-contempt will become endemic to the personality, part of the person’s identity, making it extremely difficult to shake at that point. Self-esteem is eroded, creating a sort of downward cycle of unworthiness, increasing the likelihood of failing to live up to the standards of one’s faith. And on the cycle goes, leading to insecurity, compromise, and defensiveness as a result of spiritual inauthenticity. The subsequent shallowness leads to felt emptiness and an ineffectual fulfillment of purpose.

On the other hand, when the principles of one’s faith are actively applied in ways that, albeit imperfectly, influence decisions and behaviors, feelings of self-respect and self-esteem increase, leading to spiritual empowerment. One feels the strength and authenticity of his or her faith. When a person lives out his or her beliefs, spiritual formation develops, and he or she experiences actualization of purpose, increasing opportunities to include faith paradigms in the decision-making process of one’s life. An upward cycle takes shape that expands worldview and faith perspectives through the accomplishment of growth objectives.

My faith, in conjunction with my education, has played a pivotal role in my personal transformation. My journey to life-changing faith in God’s existence and personal concern for me as an individual was certainly profound, but it did not break the laws of physics or include any strange hallucinations or visions. It occurred quite organically, actually.

In July of 2002, I was involved in a fist fight. I was taken to disciplinary segregation (the hole), and one day something happened. I was standing in the shower, and you need to understand that the showers in segregation are basically single-celled cages. It was dark, only a single, dim light in the center of the ceiling that revealed staggering filth. Hair and dirt lined the walls and used bars of soap and body fluids on the floor. I was disgusted. I felt like I was in the bowels of the earth, completely alone in that tiny cage. I knew it was my own poor decisions that put me there, and that only made it hurt worse. My soul was in profound pain, and I knew nobody cared. Nobody.

It was at that moment that I felt in my soul, in the deepest part of myself, the idea that I was worth more than the way I was living. It did not feel like my own inner voice or even a voice at all, just the idea, which was something I had not experienced before. Although inexplicable, it occurred to me that self-centered decisions will always lead to the dark places. I felt the incredibly strong conviction that if I continue to make myself the most important part of my story, then I would never be anything more than I was. I would never become the person I was designed to be. I felt a pull inside of me, telling me there is a better way to be. Yet, not only did I not know how to be any different than I had always been or how to make different decisions than I had always made. I had no idea who I was supposed to be, either. Discovering those things became a journey of faith over the next several years and continues today, and I am such a different man because of it.

I am certainly not trying to tell anyone what they should believe or how they should live. I have plenty of my own stuff to figure out, and I deeply value the idea of freedom to choose for oneself. After all, God gave us all the freedom to pursue Him or not, to believe or not. Who are human beings to take that away? I am only sharing some thoughts about my own understanding of faith and its importance in my life.

I am not claiming that I have arrived at this place of spiritual enlightenment that others have not. I’m not even trying to define enlightenment or what that looks like. What I am saying is that I have faith, and I know what I believe. My faith in the sinless life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, has made me a better, more empathetic, compassionate, and forgiving man, as well as provided me with a framework to move beyond my self-centeredness and even learn to forgive myself, which admittedly has not been easy, nor should it be, in my opinion.

Faith can fill the soul with joy and light. While convictions of truth may be uncomfortable or unpopular, they are foundations upon which personal growth is built. In moments of weakness and self-doubt, emotional exhaustion, identity crisis, profound grief, fear or pain, faith can guide us home. It can help us learn and understand who we are and even why we are. The key, I think, is to know, to really know what you believe. Otherwise, you cannot lean on that which you don’t really have a firm grasp.

I would encourage anyone who is lost in the chaos of contemporary times, of division and shallowness, whatever your faith perspective, live what you believe. Authenticity brings congruency and peace. Resist the lure of materialistic narcissism and hedonistic humanism that would have you believe that faith does not matter. We have been designed with a spiritual aspect that influences well-being in either positive or negative ways depending upon whether or not it is acknowledged and nourished. Find truth. Pursue it with your whole being and refuse to relinquish it. Find that balance between conviction of faith and love for those who believe differently. It is no sin to clutch your beliefs close to your breast with one hand while sifting through the thoughts, beliefs, and traditions of those who walked this earth before you with the other. Arrogance can lead to a closed mind that may miss unexpected insight. Life is too short. Don’t miss a thing.

Retribution vs. Rehabilitation

Retribution vs. Rehabilitation

What is the most effective approach to dealing with crime and punishment? Should the criminal justice system primarily be used to punish those who violate the law by sending them to prison for lengthy terms? Or should it rather serve as a mechanism for rehabilitation? This dichotomous question is a polarizing one that aligns people on opposite sides of this argument and has shaped our penal system since its inception.

When men and women come to prison, we invariably cost hard-working, law-abiding taxpayers across this country billions of dollars annually to feed, clothe, and house us. Our water, heat, medical and dental care are all paid for on the backs of hard-working Americans from all walks of life. Recidivism rates show that most of us who are eventually released will re-offend and return to these overcrowded prisons within three to five years, continuously costing taxpayers many more billions of dollars for our lengthy terms of incarceration. This bleak trend will, unfortunately, remain intact if prisons continue to be used to primarily warehouse inmates.

Statistics show the higher the education one attains while incarcerated, the greater the likelihood of his or her success in the community, leading to a lesser likelihood that he or she will return to prison. Subsequently, the longer he or she thrives in a productive role in society, the more he or she will feel like a member of a community and not a criminal outcast. Earning a college degree or becoming certified in a trade while in prison is the key to this radical transformation and reintegration into our communities.

Having noted these promising outcomes, I know it is also paramount that the individual who commits a violent felony pays for his or her crime by serving time in prison. The sensible thing to do is to ensure that prison doesn’t continue to have a revolving door that perpetually costs taxpayers and state budgets billions of dollars, but rather to educate prisoners so they can begin to contribute to society. Offer college and apprenticeship programs to prepare them for the ever-evolving technological and service-based occupations that comprise the 21st century economy. When people have more at stake to lose, they tend to think twice about risking it by doing something illegal.

Understandably, many would vociferously rebut this assertion by arguing, “So, we’re just supposed to reward criminals with a free college education?” My answer would be pragmatically blunt: “No, you don’t have to offer any education of substance at all, but either way you’re going to spend those same tax dollars — either on lengthy incarcerations for re-offenders or on education that would enable them to contribute to society in an economically and socially meaningful way.” Which scenario benefits society more?

I am dismayed that this country that offers abundant opportunity on one hand can simultaneously incarcerate more people per capita than any other nation on earth! We’ve become a state and nation that would rather warehouse human lives in the name of retribution than rehabilitate people for the greater good of our collective society. Ironically, every state in the Union includes the word “corrections” in reference to its prison system. The (fill-in-the-state) Department of Corrections sounds as though it is primarily designed to correct or rehabilitate its occupants — but how? This is paradoxical to say the very least.

Personally, I’ve been extremely blessed to have had the financial means and support from loved ones that have enabled me to attain a college education. When I started this journey in 2004, I’d made the decision to make the most of my time by getting a college education and becoming a substance abuse counselor. I didn’t know how this was going to happen, but I was nonetheless determined.

When I arrived at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in 2005, I began taking college courses one at a time for $25. After my father passed away, I used my portion of his life insurance policy to fund my education via correspondence. I began independently taking courses from other universities, earning a Certificate in Human Services from Louisiana State University, AA from Indiana University, BS in Sociology from Colorado State University, and an MS in Psychology from California Coast University. I was certified as a recovery mentor last year and recently as a substance abuse counselor. Good for me, but what about everyone else? It disheartens me when I think of the lack of opportunity for countless others in Oregon prisons because they have been institutionalized with no real opportunities to rehabilitate themselves and gain something tangible to show for it. Sadly, this deplorable trend will only continue if retribution over rehabilitation remains our state’s and nation’s motive for incarceration.

Honoring My Victims Every Day

Honoring My Victims Every Day

We are pleased to share this Opinion Piece in The Oregonian by guest columnist and frequent AI blogger Martin Lockett.

I had been drinking all day on New Year’s Eve of 2003 and then, had gone to a party to celebrate more. Later, as I drove my twin brother home, he tried repeatedly to get me to slow down, to drive more carefully. But I ignored him.

Moments later, I sped through the intersection of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Fremont Street and crashed into a car. As I was being interviewed by a police officer, he told me that I had killed two people and another was being life-flighted to Emmanuel Hospital.

It was days later when The Oregonian newspaper was delivered to my cell that I grasped the devastation — and the irreversibility — I had caused my community. It turned out that my victims were actively working their own programs of recovery from substance use. They had turned their lives around and were helping others do the same. Now they were gone.

Employees and clients at Volunteers of America and other recovery-related organizations were in shock and disbelief as they learned about the tragic deaths of their friends, mentors and loved ones.

Nearly a year later at my sentencing, I was confronted by my victims’ family members who were just a few feet away from me as they gave their victim impact statements. They offered me forgiveness that I didn’t deserve, yet they also made it known I took something immeasurable from them that they could never get back: Any more precious memories they’d ever make with their mothers.

Then I stood up, turned around and addressed the courtroom: “My indictment says I acted with extreme indifference toward the value of human life, but I can assure everyone here that my feelings have been anything but indifferent since the day this happened. And I know it’s not much consolation, but I vow to spend the rest of my life doing all I can to ensure something like this never happens again.”

With that, I was sentenced to 17 years and six months.

For the next three years I lived with immense guilt and shame for the senseless decision to drink and drive that fateful night because it changed the course of these people’s lives forever. But once I was able to forgive myself, I was able to positively channel that energy into making a difference in the lives of others, carrying on the legacies of the people I had taken from this world.

In keeping with that solemn life vow that I made more than 14 years ago to my victims’ family and friends — and my own — I have used my time to earn an education toward a career in counseling. I knew this would give me an opportunity to help others struggling with addiction, the same addiction that led to me killing two people. In these efforts, I have earned a master’s degree in psychology and published my memoir, “Palpable Irony,” in an effort to detail and warn against the dangers of drinking and driving. Three years ago, I was given a rare opportunity to share my story and help lead panels of victims hurt by other impaired drivers here at the prison. This restorative justice program provides profound healing for many men incarcerated for fatal car collisions as well as victims who come in and tell us their heart-wrenching stories. Those in attendance are incredibly moved and grateful for having heard so many compelling stories that urge them not to drink and drive.I currently work as a certified recovery mentor in a drug and alcohol treatment program at the prison. I mentor men one on one, counsel them in group settings and assist them with recovery-related issues. This is such a unique position within the Oregon Department of Corrections, and I couldn’t be more grateful and humbled that I would be entrusted with such a responsibility. Through this effort, I have earned state certification as a recovery mentor, and I expect to receive my state certification as drug and alcohol counselor early next year. This work is my life’s passion. Not because it makes me look good, or makes a lot of money, or because it could reduce my sentence. It can’t.

Rather, I do this work because my reckless actions took two beautiful people from this world. Therefore, I will honor their precious lives and bring meaning to mine every day through using my story, education and experiences to help others not follow in my footsteps.

And, because I said I would.

— Martin L. Lockett, MS, CRM, is serving the 15th year of a 17-year sentence at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

Why Wait

Why Wait

Being in prison for now fifteen years, it’s pretty obvious that I have spent countless hours, days, and nights waiting: waiting for what will be my eventual release. On a daily basis, I’m forced — well, conditioned is more accurate — to wait for more mundane things like chow, yard, line movement (when inmates are given five minutes to come and go from their cells to a designated area), visits, etc. In fact, when I think about it, even prior to prison I spent much of my life waiting: waiting for my next paycheck, waiting for my lunch break, waiting to get off work, waiting for my vacation. It’s seemingly a natural human instinct to wait. But why? Why do we accept this bleak, uneventful reality? And perhaps more importantly, what are we giving up in the meantime?

When I came to prison fifteen years ago, I could not fathom how I was going to bring a semblance of normalcy to this dreaded situation. The only thing that actually kept me from going insane was day dreaming about my eventual release, albeit nearly two decades later. However, at some point I had to come to terms with my circumstance, accept the harsh reality I was going to be here, and begin to brainstorm how I was going to make my days meaningful — if I could.

Once I’d reached this point, I discovered something: I can make this as hard or as “easy” as I want it to be; I opted for the latter, and in doing so I began to pour all my energy into my evolution — my character overhaul, purpose-driven living, educational goals, being of service to those around me.

I focused on my character flaws (impatience, selfishness, manipulation) and began to work on each one, asking others around me to hold me accountable when they saw me exhibiting them. I approached every day with the attitude of improving myself, in turn making myself better able to help others – particularly younger inmates who may have looked up to me for how I conducted myself in prison. This gave me a purpose even in a place as dark as this. I tutored inmates of all ages and backgrounds who were working on their GEDs and other curricula because, thankfully, I was suited to do so having gotten my own GED while incarcerated. I then delved into my own educational endeavors by pursuing a college education. I didn’t know how it would turn out, where it would lead, but it didn’t matter because all that mattered was, I was improving myself personally and increasing my chances of employability when released. All of these things enabled me to keep my mind off the time – waiting – and on bettering myself on a daily basis, bettering those around me, bringing purpose and meaning to my life in a way that I’d never experienced prior to prison.

In eager anticipation of things, we often say we “can’t wait” for them to arrive. We spend each day leading up to a particular day or event in deep contemplation about it, excitement building at the mere thought of it. This should particularly resonate with those of you whose favorite holiday is Christmas. Though I’d never be the one to tell you that you should feel guilty for waiting in eager anticipation for this sacred, beloved holiday to arrive, I do caution you to not let it — or any other day or event you look forward to — prevent you from making the most of the day before you; to not lose sight of the gift of the present and the vast opportunities it yields — ones that will only be realized and seized if we’re looking for them, not if we are merely waiting for something else to arrive.

As I sit here and write, I only have two and half years left on my sentence. I have earned a master’s degree in psychology, published two books, gotten certified as a recovery mentor and expect to be state certified as a substance abuse counselor by year’s end. I have helped countless men in their own educational pursuits, addiction recovery efforts, and personal goals. I have co-facilitated the DUI victim impact panels offered here, telling my own story twice a year. My life has taken on a quality and immeasurable purpose that I could not have even imagined possible fifteen years ago when this journey began; this is directly attributable to the fact that I refused to wait: to wait for my life to pass me by in eager anticipation for a date on the calendar that would eventually come on its own.

Counting My Blessings

Counting My Blessings

It’s not too often that we take time in our day to reflect on the many good things we have: a job, healthy kids, a home in a safe neighborhood, food on the table, and the list could obviously go on for pages. After all, we are so preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of day-to-day affairs, doing everything we can to stay on top of our responsibilities; who has time to stop what they’re doing, ponder life’s blessings, and truly be grateful for them without thinking about what we need to get done the next day — or even an hour from now? But doing this is actually as critical as taking care of all the obligations we give so much of our attention to.

I have indeed found myself contemplating, more and more, the many blessings I have, even in my current circumstance which is inherently negative. But this is not entirely voluntary; allow me to explain.

I work for an addictions treatment program. Every day we start the group session with a daily reflection read from a book, and each person says why or how it resonates with him, followed by what is called a Daily Moral Inventory (DMI). When we check in for the DMI, each person says how the previous day went, what they’re grateful for, what they regret (if anything), etc. This expectation can at times seems repetitive, but I’ve learned that it’s a healthy practice to get into because if I were not “required” to do it, I likely wouldn’t “have time” to reflect on what I’m grateful for, in spite of my physical circumstance. Instead, I’d either keep my head down and stay focused on my job, my next goal, or find myself complaining about what is not going well in my life. 

It’s entirely too easy to fall into a pattern of allowing good fortune in our lives to go unacknowledged as we focus our attention on the next goal or responsibility we want and/or need to carry out. This is a harmful practice, however, because it is essential to our psychological well-being that we take time to “pat ourselves on the back” for things we’ve accomplished, appreciate the things and people that make our lives more purposeful and fulfilling, and be grateful for opportunities that others have not had in life. Doing this has allowed me to refocus my efforts, while doing my part to “pay it forward.”

I intend to keep this practice of daily reflection and gratitude going even after I release from prison because it’s shown me how to ground myself on a daily basis. Life is entirely too short not to celebrate our good fortune and acknowledge how others have enriched our lives.

I take time to acknowledge and be appreciative that I can fulfill my dream of becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. I get to work for a successful treatment program in a prison setting, and teach groups and individuals about addiction and recovery, decreasing their likelihood to recidivate after they are released. I have had the rare opportunity to earn a Master’s degree in prison that, according to statistics, gives me a 0% chance to recidivate. Moreover, it enables me to go directly into my field with a level of credibility and respect that I never imagined coming into prison 14 years ago.

These are a few of the many things I take time to appreciate as often as I can. Life has enough struggles to complain about; therefore, I owe it to myself (as do you) to cast as much sunshine on my day as possible — by counting my blessings.