Life without parole is a sentence we all share.
I became aware of this fact in my early days of sobriety. I never fully understood the real meaning of “I have your back” until I learned from those who had been incarcerated the abject necessity of having “back saving” friends. Prison is not the place to be without such friends. Alliances are formed with others out of necessity; without them one can meet a swift and brutal end.
This idea of protecting another with the same vigor you use to protect yourself is the very essence of the expression “You only keep what you give away.”
I learned that from a guy named Cy who I met in the early days of my sobriety. Cy had been a jazz musician who was involved in a drunken altercation when he was 25. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison for 25 years at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington. He sobered up in prison and when he got out, he had one of the most remarkable sobriety programs I’d ever witnessed. He was positively ferocious in his commitment to work with others. He came to every meeting early and was always the last to leave. He had been an avid sponsor of those who had been sentenced to life without parole.
He shared stories of how the newly sentenced lifers would arrive at his prison meetings defiant, angry, and with no acceptance of their fate. (It was here he would stop and ask us all to close our eyes and contemplate a sentence of life without parole.) Cy would describe how his cohort of “old lifers” would gradually, over time, drag the “young lifers” into a state of reconciliation and acceptance. He told how time and again these young men would learn that even the harshest sentence could be embraced, and that a rich life could be lived behind bars. What an amazing service Cy performed!
At least as amazing, though, was that Cy was forever reminding us that we all have been sentenced to life without parole. Each of us has our own life journey that cannot be wished away or traded off for another. The task for each of us is to live the life we have and to be grateful for all of it.
When I look back on my life I understand just a fraction, perhaps, of what those young lifers experienced:
- How often I too have screamed nooooooo
- How often I rebelled against my life in defiance
Then I remember the unfailing efforts of others who chose to have my back so that I didn’t end my life in a rampage of self-destruction.
Cy understood better than most that his own existence depended on sharing his truth with others. And really, isn’t that true for all of us?
Just a thought…
Copyright © 2017 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.
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