I believe there is nothing more precious than life, nor is there anything more sacred than the human spirit. For that reason, I believe in treating every living thing with dignity and respect, and in never using my hands or my words to cause pain. Sadly, this is not a belief that was passed on to me, but rather a lesson I experienced personally.
I was four and Joey, my brother, was five, when my dad gave us our first beating with an extension cord. For the next 14 years I was reminded every day what a stupid, disappointing failure I am, and how I’d “never amount to anything.”
Convinced I was born defective and worthless with nothing to contribute, I gave in and deliberately became the person I believed I was supposed to be. Ironically, it wasn’t until I came to prison that I escaped the negative influences and learned for myself that I’m actually one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.
I spent my first five years angry, depressed and immersed in self-pity. Until in 1989 when I was offered an opportunity to head a workshop making wooden toys for mentally and physically handicapped kids confined in area hospitals. The toys would be delivered at Christmas. I accepted.
The photos of these innocent kids getting the toys from Santa that we made, and the letters of praise and gratitude from hospital staff ignited our ambition that gradually consumed most of my time and thoughts for the next 16 years. If I wasn’t participating in races and events for the benefit of sick or homeless kids, I was writing prison officials for their permission to begin a new project.
The worst part about prison isn’t the violence or the loss of freedom, it’s not being apart of anything that’s good and decent. And it’s the fear that I don’t matter to anyone.
I believe it’s just a basic human need to feel as though one’s life has meaning and worth. And I’ve never felt more worthy or deserving of my life than when I’ve done something to impact the quality of life for another human being.
In 1999 Sister Kathleen, our chaplain, told me about John Nalingo, a 13-year old in Nairobi, Kenya, who needed a sponsor. He had been taken out of school because his mom couldn’t pay his $160 annual tuition. The money from my crummy prison job covered everything. The congregation also raised enough money for the single mother of five to buy the shack she rented and the land around it. She planted a garden and now supports her family selling vegetables. John graduated from high school last year.
Without exception, I can think of no greater deed than to show love and compassion to another human being who’s down on their luck.
I believe to show respect for all life, and treat the human spirit with dignity I honor my own life. I give meaning and worth to “me.” More importantly, I honor the Father.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.