He’s been down for the majority of his life. That’s prison lingo, meaning he’s been locked up for most of his life. However, he’s pretty “up” right now because he’s soon to be released.
I’ve been blessed to work with programs which improve recidivism rates, tremendously. Prison Fellowship has one which claims 70 percent of those who go through their program will not return to prison. Unfortunately, not everyone goes through such programs. The fact remains most who are released will return. It’s a vicious cycle.
But there he was, talking openly about how he’s about to be released. It’s so close he could almost taste the many foods he has missed over the years. He was talking about so many things he wants to see and do. I figured nothing could wipe the smile off his face.
I figured wrong.
Things shifted when I asked what his plan was for work and housing. He began to tell me that although he’s already acquired his own living space, some in his family have been using his funds he had so carefully tried to make sure were readily available once he’s out. They were depleting his funds in order to support their own bad habits.
As he continued, I heard an unfortunate part I hear all too often in the stories of repeat offenders. He has this dilemma which many do. The people he has to rely on for help in transitioning back out into society are strung out on illegal drugs, themselves. He has to find a way to utilize his family’s help, but keep a little distance between them and himself if he’s going to have any chance of not repeating his past poor choices.
Oh, he loves his family. He just realizes if he hangs around them too much and doesn’t set boundaries, he’ll fall back into old habits and wind up back where he is today. He went on to talk about how one of his parents did time and how siblings have. The look on his face changed from being so excited about getting out to one which said, “I will be destined to return and die in prison if I don’t put limits on my relationships with my own family members.”
This is the story of so many incarcerated individuals. Sadly, too many families have shared behaviors which are toxic, destructive and so unnecessary. Most have become so entrenched in their way of life, they don’t think there’s a way out. But there is. There really is.
Some of you reading this might be thinking things like, “Blaming one’s upbringing or family for one’s own poor choices is just an excuse.” While that is true, some of us thinking such thoughts haven’t been in situations like that. Those of us who were raised in two-parent, God-fearing, law-abiding, genuinely loving and supportive families don’t know what it’s like to be raised in one with multiple felonious drug addicts. We hear stories of overcomers and assume it’s easy to break such horrible cycles. It’s not.
Please don’t be so judgmental.
Scripture compels us to have compassion on the prisoners. Being quick to judge is not compassionate.
As this man spoke with such anticipation and hope, he shifted and acted like if he doesn’t set clear boundaries, he’s doomed. Unfortunately, it took years in prison to get him to realize that. Worse yet, some of us, reading this column, haven’t figured out we need to set boundaries. If we don’t learn to do that, we also could be doomed.
Addictive behaviors can be hard to break. Some quit one bad habit and jump right into the next one. Too often we don’t deal with the overall addictive behavior and simply only deal with each addiction one at a time. Maybe we should consider dealing with each one and the overall addictive behavior.
Part of the problem is most people with addictive behaviors don’t want to admit they have a problem.
What’s the first thing middle school and high school students do when they get seated on a school bus? Answer: start using their cell phones. It’s true. If you’ve ever had the chance to see video of what happens on school buses these days, you’ll quickly notice our middle schoolers and high schoolers are almost all addicted to their cell phones.
Families sit at home in the same room with each other, each on their mobile devices. People in restaurants and in other public places, sit and stand, staring at their cell phones. It’s so common that it’s now almost expected. Once you sit down in the doctor’s office, airport, or wherever with strangers, you’re supposed to pull out your phone and start surfing around on it. If you don’t, you certainly won’t be like the majority.
Parents have been using screens (TVs, tablets, smartphones, etc.) as babysitters for years. Active parenting is apparently rarer and rarer. Even on road trips families don’t look out the windows, talk and enjoy each other anymore. No, even the smallest of passengers are glued to their devices.
One really sad thing is beyond the dysfunction this causes in the family and social makeup. Harvard graduate, Naomi Schaeffer Riley, documents quite well the damage caused by excessive use of screens — especially in the developing brains of children — in her best-selling book, “Be the Parent, Please.” I highly recommend it. In it you’ll learn how too much screen time can lead to attention, mood, social, behavioral, self-esteem and developmental problems.
Then there are video games. It’s a growing problem in which grown men are so addicted to their video games they’ll neglect their families. Some will stay up so late, they call in sick the next day all because of their addiction they don’t want to admit is an addiction. Don’t get me wrong. Playing video games can have its pluses. It can be therapeutic and even help stressed people relax. Even so, there is an epidemic of adults and children, addicted to video games. When video games are causing you to do poorly in school, to socially disconnect in face-to-face interactions, or to neglect your family or work, you have an addiction problem, and you need to self-evaluate, instead of getting so defensive when someone brings it to your attention.
Right now I know of a young man in our area who has a child he doesn’t do anything to support and is expecting another child with another woman he does nothing to support. The new woman in his life is about to have her first child and won’t be able to continue to work to provide for the family. Her partner, this young man, plans to be a stay-at-home dad. He doesn’t work because he’s got the newest and best video game console and is addicted to video games. He knows they will be unable to pay the bills once she has the baby and misses work. His solution is to move back in with family. He has no ambition, no desire to work to support his family, even as the mother of his child can’t for a little while. It’s scary to think about what might happen to that child when the mother goes back to work, leaving the infant at home with a dad who can’t peel himself away from his video games.
Christians, we are supposed to have self-control as we utilize the Holy Spirit within us (Galatians 5). Jesus taught us we can only have one master (Matthew 6). The reality is, some of us are mastered by our habits. We know we should quit, but we don’t do anything to try to quit.
For some it’s video games, drugs or smartphones. For others, it’s tobacco products, alcohol or vaping. Some are shopping addicts. Some have a never-ending stream of products from Amazon or other online vendors coming to our doors, but we deny we’re addicted to online shopping. Then, there’s those of us who gamble away our income, constantly struggling to pay the bills, while throwing it away on a fantasy that we’ll strike it rich someday as we play the odds and keep losing.
If you know you have a habit in which you should quit, please decide today to do something to stop it. There are helpful addiction programs available to you. If you cannot break the habit(s) you know you need to break, contact a local church, which can direct you to conquer your addiction. Get some help, even if it’s not from the local church.
If you know of people who have addictive behaviors which are destructive, please pray for and encourage them in better decision-making.
“When you know the good you ought to do and don’t do it, you sin.” – James 4:17
Pastor Jeff Adams is a longtime community leader, victim advocate, counselor and chaplain. He ministers internationally, nationally and locally. His column appears online weekly, and can be reached at email@example.com.