Sunday, March 27, 2011

Highlighting JOY

We cannot erase the world of sorrow,
But we can choose to live in joy.
--Joseph Campbell

* * *

“Why’d you do it?”
“I don’t know, Miss Brynne. Stupid. Mama always said I was dumb. Teacher did, too. Guess I’m just not a good person.” He lowered his eyes to the cold, hard floor. “No, I know I ‘aint.” The disgust he had for himself wasn’t just painted on his face, an act to enjoy some rare sympathy. I wasn’t the parole board. I wasn’t a victim of his crime. He didn’t have a reason to fake what he believed in front of me. This man really hated himself. Probably did for years. I just gave him an opportunity to be honest.

* * *

How do you work in the prison and not get burnt out on all the negativity? Isn’t it horribly depressing? Aren’t those thugs pathetic? Why do you want to work there? You don’t really think you can reach any of them, do you? Are you honestly that naïve?

* * *

I knew I couldn’t erase the anger or pain inside each inmate I met. But I had to find a way to grow some hope, some joy in their world of ugly. And not of the surface. Or for show. Or for my ego, either. Even if they had committed crimes, I was determined to see them as human beings who for whatever reason made bad choices, human beings who deserved to be seen with fresh eyes, as the good people I believed them to be inside, before their paths turned sour.

* * *

I stopped reading charts before they arrived. A murderer or someone convicted of food stamp fraud, I wouldn't know. Let them show me who they were. Who they really were. My paper lay blank upon my desk, the direction of my writing all up to them. I didn't have any idea what was in store for me and honestly, was shocked at the results. For the first time, I started seeing each inmate as the human being he really was.

*Jason gave up drawing when he was a little boy because his
daddy said it was a sissy thing to do.
*Rueben grew up with the dream of being a singer.
*Alonzo used to love to make sculptures out of anything he could
find in the junkyard behind his mama’s home.

I saw creative urges long ago buried or forgotten and kept each inmate there, with me, looking at their buried treasures just a little while longer.

*Why’d you stop drawing, Jason? You have a pen and paper,
don't you?
*Do you ever sing, Rueben? Maybe you oughta
*Why’d you stop sculpting things, Alonzo? Wanna show me what
you can do with this paper?

Before my eyes I suddenly had the toughest of the tough weeping their hearts out in my office.

And the line outside my door grew longer every day. Some said, she's psychic. Others said, finally someone cares. All I knew was that it was working. Seeing each inmate as a human being, as the person they were before their lives turned sour, was working. They felt less sorrow. I felt less sorrow. And all of us lived in greater joy.

* * *

We cannot erase the world of sorrow,
But we can choose to highlight joy.
--Brynne Betz


  1. Such a powerful and beautiful post!

  2. thank you, Samantha!:)

  3. I know EXACTLY what you mean here, Brynne! Whenever I hear of a person who has committed a [violent] crime I always wonder who hurt that person when they were a baby...or a tiny 3 year old? What suffering did this person endure as a sweet little baby with the potential to do nothing less than contribute in a beautiful way to the world around him or her to become the adult they did? Breaks my heart!


  4. Yes, Shelley. Thank you for your words. And while there are some that may be born 'different' and more apt to commit terrible acts of crime, the vast majority, in my opinion, are not. With the state of things in the world right now, I believe we have to start growing more compassion for one another and to take greater responsibility for all the pains of our world not just our own.

  5. Brynne,
    What a gift you have shared with the inmates who visit you...and now, for us, your readers, a moment to pause and remember to see into someone's eyes before judgment is passed on anything else. The world needs a million people like you!!

  6. Me? A million of YOU, my friend, for sifting thru my words to find a morsel of beauty that speaks to you and for sharing it with the rest of us. Thank you, Meagan.
    When someone sees beyond our surface layers we are more likely to be the person we truly are inside, more likely to pay forward the gift of compassion.:)