Bryan Stevenson graduated from Harvard, and, despite his mother’s concerns, he decided to work in Arkansas with prisoners on death row. His story is chronicled in the book “Just Mercy” which he authored and the movie by the same name.
The movie states: “For every 9 people who have been executed in the U.S.one person who has been on death row has been proven innocent and released – a shocking rate of error”.
As we stand on the threshold of a new year, many of us hope for new beginnings. Some are burdened by mistakes made in the past. You might have felt that you were persecuted unjustly or are stuck in one of many types of prisons on earth. The bars of your prison might be addictions, depression, anxiety, physical disability, unhealthy relationships, poverty or even self-harm.
Often, I have said that I wouldn’t be a psychologist if I didn’t believe in hope and positive change. The keys to these, however, involve several steps:
- Decide that you truly do want to change. This is much more than just agreeing with others who state that they have a plan for you to do better. You have to really, truly want it for yourself.
- Ask for help. Fortunately, we live in a world that has an abundance of resources. There are organizations that offer educational programs. Therapists can be accessed at all socio-economic levels. Support groups, as well as library and online materials are easily found.
- Be willing to be willing. Significant change requires more than lip-service. You need to take action.
- Follow proven principles. If what you have been doing isn’t working, then look for better ways to reach you goals. Often, a mentor who has overcome the things you are battling can help you with this.
- Adhere to realistic expectations. Focus on having one achievable goal, one small task, and one good day.
- Learn to forgive. Resentment and bitterness block progress. You don’t need to forget what happened. In fact, if you forget you will likely stumble into the same problem again. But you do need to let it go. Forgive others and forgive yourself.
Bryan Stevenson was founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and has worked since his graduation in 1985 to help the poor, incarcerated and condemned. He addressed the April 1, 1993, US Senate Hearing on the Death Penalty and I share quotes of wisdom from his speech:
“Through this work I’ve learned that each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done, that the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.”
And “If we can look at ourself closely and honestly I believe we will see that we all need justice. We all need mercy and perhaps we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
My prayer is that the next year will be one of new beginnings involving justice, mercy and unmerited grace for everyone.
Happy New Year!