This week’s Daily Press Writing Challenge couldn’t have come at a better time: “Making a new start is never as simple as it seems on paper. It’s easy to talk about losing a few pounds or giving up the job you hate to weave animal-shaped baskets on a tropical island, but less so to make it happen, and keep at it.” I know this was supposed to be creative, and therefore fiction, but starting over has become a real, daily theme for me; I don’t need to make anything up:
Do you believe in second chances?
Growing up I was led to believe there was no return from The Slippery Slope. Until I left home I seldom heard the term forgiveness, and the words grace and redemption were absent from my vocabulary. In my high school years when some relative, a first cousin I believe, needed a rare blood match in order to live I remember the firm, cool response from my home-front that no one was going to help a convict, not after whatever he did to his victim. I never had reason to question this belief; that is, not until now.
When I interviewed for my current position my boss assured me the program boasted the lowest recidivism rates in the state, hovering around 20% rather than the 70% seen in some parts of the country. I would have the chance to be part of, therefore, a successful program. People wondered if I wouldn’t be wasting my education and talent in jail, but these numbers confirmed I could make a valuable contribution for a time.
Recidivism rates usually track released prisoners for 3-5 years, based on previous studies. Our numbers, consequently, come from that relatively small window of time; but if you want to know the truth, even our success stories secretly harbor doubts. “Ten years,” they whisper darkly to each other in private, “and I’ll be back, you’ll be back. We all will meet again behind a barbed wire fence.” It doesn’t seem to matter how precious freedom is, or how sweet success might taste, they can’t imagine any another future for themselves. If they don’t believe in themselves, how am I expected to? But, dear God, I do. I do believe a handful will go on to tell a different tale.
There is one in particular for whom I hope and pray, but one thing will hold him back from his opportunities and dreams. Very large, gang related tattoos cover his forearms and fingers. In searching for grants to help cover the costs, I have discovered the controversy surrounding these programs I never before knew existed. Largely tax-payer funded in two or more states, these programs require the offender to undergo therapy, community service, and hold a steady job. Good. I wish these programs were available to this young man of whom I write. He would jump through the hoops and clear the hurdles to remove these marks from his past. Unfortunately our funds dried up, like our wells in this current drought, with the economy.
With a discount, it will cost $1,000 to remove his visible tattoos. Someone reneged her promise to pay for this treatment. If I could, I would take care of this; however, both my checkbook and the law prevent me. Will you help?
I hate to ask, but it’s the only way I know: Do you know someone with the heart to help someone start over, to make a meaningful difference, someone with the means to invest in a promising young man? Please let me know.