Friday, October 25, 2013

Serving Life

The word Angola sends a fear vibration through my heart as I remember news of the atrocities wrought upon that African nation, first during the Portuguese occupation and later through civil war -- not to speak of the tortured souls who actually lived through decades of abject cruelty at the hands of multi-coloured persons.

Angola is also the nickname for the largest prison in the United States, a moniker decidedly not accidental. Housed in Louisiana, it is a maximum security prison where most inmates are lifers, passing time behind barbed wire and bars until death disperses their breath.

Thanks to a prison warden whose Christian beliefs incorporate some of Christ's real teachings, a hospice program was set up for inmates who don't drop dead instantaneously. Like us folks on "the outside," old age and sickness happen to lifers too.

Murderers, rapists and armed robbers are trained in hospice care, often tending to inmates with whom they spent decades in a their contained community. The result? They develop compassion for the dying and respect for the living. They think about the lives they took, whether in anger, or for money, or any other reason that the ego-centered mind will dream up. And they change into the sensitive human beings that they once were as small babes, before misinformed life tripped them up. Big time.

True criminals are people whose empathetic qualities are underdeveloped, enabling them to inflict pain on others without remorse. Whether that law-breaker belongs to a street gang or the US Congress, the only way to end the vicious cycle of suffering is to turn that person into a giver, not a taker.

One needn't end up locked away in Angola, winning the job of hospice provider after years of good prison behavior, to develop the milk of human kindness. But the general principle -- being a giver, not a taker -- is something we can all contemplate in our daily lives. And better yet, implement.

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