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The Long Road to Redemption


It’s easy to be good if you’ve never been bad.

If you have never stepped over the line or done anything for which you are ashamed, you might not understand much about people who can’t make the same claim. If you’ve lived a good and honorable life, it’s easy to look down on those who have not done the same. It’s easy to condemn those who have cut corners and compromised their own – and society’s – ideas of right and wrong. The problem is, that once the “good people” make up their minds about the “bad people,” it’s difficult, if not impossible, for the “bad” ones to change.

The path to redemption is difficult. It’s a big challenge to change one’s own self-image and behavior, but often, the bigger challenge is changing the minds of other people. To begin, the person with a bad rep is faced with a choice – fight the odds to convince everyone that he has changed his ways – or just give in to the common wisdom that “people can’t change” and keep doing what got him into trouble in the first place.

Unfortunately, the second path is the one most often taken.

My wife Carmela worked with inmates at a prison near our home. In an age of welfare and health benefits, many openly and vocally planned to subject themselves to lives of poverty, rather than make the effort to find jobs or improve their lots. It’s just easier to give in, and many of the women said they’d prefer to have their time to do as they pleased with someone else paying their way, than to have to go to a job every day. Many thought that going to work every day was just too boring and too hard.

That’s a sad and frustrating reality for many people in prison. But for people who have done wrong, and who want to repent, what’s their path to respectability? How long should it take them to live down their pasts? Are they doomed forever, or is there a road to redemption that they can take without groveling, which never works. It only demeans the person begging for forgiveness.

The answer is that former felons should neither have to spend the rest of their lives begging forgiveness nor be forever haunted by their pasts. They have to acknowledge their misdeeds, find new people who have not yet made up their minds about them, and move on. But if their records follow them wherever they go, it becomes almost impossible to change. And, perhaps more importantly, if the friends and family they got into trouble with are still in their lives and still promoting the same harmful and illegal behavior, they need to give up those old friends and family members.

Real friends will understand that.

George Lee Cunningham

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