So I have a friend in prison of whom I have written about here and here. I think I've written another post about him, but can't track it down. In any case, he's been in prison about three and a half years now. Although we correspond frequently, I have not spoken to him since he was incarcerated...until Christmas Day, that is.
He called me that morning. We only talked for about five minutes or so (he was paying for the call), but it was so good to hear his voice. In truth, my friend sounded better and in higher spirits than I ever remember him being before he was sent to prison.
My friend was a good guy when I knew him at school, but he had a lot of problems. He was lazy, arrogant, entitled, selfish, and coasted through life with no regard for the consequences of his actions. He was an alcoholic and a drug abuser who was unwilling to admit he had a problem. He had no belief in God and death scared him greatly because he didn't think anything existed afterwards, and his own mortality was a sticking point for him. He was irresponsible and reckless and self-destructive.
When he killed a man in a drunk driving accident in August of 2007, my friend's luck finally ran out. Or so it seemed. In truth, prison has been the best thing that has ever happened to my friend, and he would be the first to admit it.
In a recent letter to him, I wrote:
It sounds like you’re still doing very well and maintaining a positive attitude.
...I’m glad to hear that you’re being productive...and are keeping yourself busy, occupied, and useful. That’s terrific. I also chuckled when you said all of this is helping you become more organized and structured because I know that prior to prison, structure and routine were not your strong points.
It truly warms my heart that you’ve experienced spiritual growth and have a daily connection to a higher power, whatever that represents for you. It’s nice to see the humility, selflessness, and productivity that this experience has wrought in you. Some people just go to prison and take no responsibility for their actions and experience no personal growth at all. I’m glad you are not one of those people.
I’m grateful the AA program is working for you and that you are able to help others as well through AA. I’m very glad death doesn’t frighten you like it once did. Death need not be frightening.
I was telling my mom at lunch this afternoon that I needed to write you, and she asked how you were, and I said from your letters you seem to be doing amazingly well. She felt sad that a “really nice guy” (her words) like you had to have this happen to you, and I said what I’ve said to you many times: while the circumstances are unfortunate, I think this experience is exactly what you needed. I talked about how I and my fellow classmates at [school] figured it was just a matter of time before you either killed yourself or somebody else, and while it is tragic that another life was taken, and while it is not the ideal circumstance to be in prison, I’m grateful that you got a desperately needed “wake-up call.” I have seen so much positive growth and change in you, my friend. I have seen you become less selfish, more giving, more responsible, more humble, more hard-working, more sober, more grateful, more grounded, and more spiritual, and I love these changes in you. You were always a great guy, [my friend], but I always felt you were somewhat “lost” in life, and I feel like you found your true self, and it’s wonderful to see that. I hope you take that in the spirit I intend.
I’m glad to hear that you’ve never had a “bad day” in prison. That’s really great. I’m not sure all prisoners could say that.
I’m glad you were able to write to your victim’s family even if they didn’t respond. I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to, either, and they may never forgive you, but at least you are doing all you can to try and make amends. I think that is important and admirable.
...I think it’s great that you’re trying to make amends for other things you feel badly about as well. That’s good.
My friend was in 100% agreement with everything I said. Since his imprisonment, he has now been sober for nearly three and half years; he's become such a responsible, hard-working, stable person. He's become so positive, and I could hear that in his voice. He's so much more giving and thoughtful, and his faith in a higher power has increased.
He reminded me of a conversation we had had in our kitchen (we were roommates) early on in our friendship. He was telling me about his lack of belief in a "god" and his fears of death, and without being preachy or anything, I simply affirmed my absolute belief in life after death and in God and said, "I think you will be pleasantly surprised when you die." He said he always remembered that (I remembered it, too) and although he was filled with doubt at the time, he was envious that I so sure about it because he wished that for himself, but didn't know how to achieve it.
On Christmas Day, he told me that he understood why I had believed so strongly what I did and said he felt he was so much closer to that. He sounded so happy, so buoyant, so joyful. He has taken responsibility for his actions and lives each day to the fullest he possibly can. He does not worry so much about the past or the future, but about what he can be doing now for both others and himself. He has faith that no matter what happens, he is where he is supposed to be right now.
It absolutely warms my heart to see such changes in my friend, and hearing his voice only reaffirmed how much has changed positively for him. While I never would have wished prison on him, I grateful for what he's allowed his prison sentence and his actions that brought him there to teach him.
I've told my friend that since he went to prison, he's actually become the person I always thought he was if he had only gotten out of his own way. He agreed completely. It's so great to see. I understand somewhat why Alma was so happy when his rebellious son, Alma the Younger, was struck into a coma after being chastised by an angel. And look what happened to Alma the Younger.
While not necessarily crazy about the circumstances, I thank God every day that my friend has become who I always knew he was meant to be. It makes me so happy.