Twenty-eight years. That’s a long time for a man to live his life behind bars. It’s also a long time for a man to be alone with his thoughts. But twenty-eight years is how long one of the men in my writing class waited for his freedom, waited to rejoin society, waited to once again be seen as a human and not an “offender”. This past Sunday, Danny walked out of prison and into a cold, clear Indiana night. I imagine it like The Shawshank Redemption where Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, steps past the prison gate after 40 years and looks around in wonder at the world around him. It’s the same outside world it’s always been but now, somehow, the world looks and feels different; there’s a shift in the atmosphere and life hasn’t quite come into focus. I think of Danny beneath that inky night sky exhaling years of oppression, exhaustion, and affliction and inhaling…hope.
Hope is an amazing thing. It has the power to propel us through dark days and unimaginable tragedies, but also manifest itself in the rising sun of a new day. I think I notice it most when December closes out the present year and January ushers in a new one. People are ripe with hope. With every New Year’s resolution and every promise to change, comes hope. It’s the possibility and opportunity to improve our circumstances and overcome our challenges. On the outside, hope is prevalent. We are surrounded with family and friends to help us accomplish our goals and fight our battles. We have access to the means necessary to guide us, heal us and support us. But what about those who live life on the inside? Surely the idea of hope must be a pipe-dream to someone facing decades in prison. How can one possibly find hope when life as they know it has been stripped from them and instead, of the promise of a new day, they are forced to accept the fact that they very well may die behind those prison walls – alone.
But, you know what? Hope is powerful. It has a way of seeping in through concrete walls and razor wire and transforming broken spirits. Hope is bigger than what we can conceive or imagine. Hope has purpose.
Time and time again, I hear inmates say the one thing that gets them through their sentence is hope. Hope is different for everyone. To me, hope is knowing that this life isn’t all there is. God gave my life purpose beyond what this world can give and He placed eternity in my heart; I know I was made for something more. I can’t imagine waking up every day and thinking this world is all there is, so I’d better make the most of it, be the best, achieve all I can because when it’s over it’s over. I would be so depressed!
For the men in my writing class, hope is evident in their words:
“For me, hope is all around in the expectation of things to come and in my desire to make those things happen.”
“Hope is having things to look forward to: family visiting, having good friends, going to church, and having a release date.”
“My hope comes from God. Having faith in God gives me all the hope I need.”
“My hope in prison comes from within my heart – my desire to live and be free.”
“Hope requires faith, if not, belief, that there is a chance things will get better.”
“As long as I have breath there is hope, and no matter what you take from me or where you put me you cannot take that.”
That last one reminds me of the conversation between Andy and Red (in the prison movie The Shawshank Redemption):
“In here is where it [hope] makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.” says Andy.
“Forget?” replies Red.
“Forget that there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. It’s yours.”
“What are you talking about?” asks Red.
Danny had hope too. Despite his almost thirty years behind bars, he had this to say about hope:
“Hope comes from knowing that because I can do this, because I can lose everything and everyone, and still get up in the morning to face the world, there is the possibility that things will change. Hope comes from hoping and wishing and watching your dreams and wishes fade away. The next time…next time it will work out. The absolute refusal to allows life’s misfortunes to destroy the light within your soul.”
I believe the poet Alexander Pope (1732) was right: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”. Life is unpredictable. Each day is rife with ups and downs and clad in uncertainty. But, we possess something beautiful, something powerful that surpasses human understanding. Deep in our souls, we have this adept ability to harness hope and allow ourselves to believe in a better tomorrow. Regardless of how many obstacles we face, if we allow it, hope will bubble its way to the surface and refresh us with a sanguine spirit.
Perhaps Andy Dufresne said it best:
“Hope is a good thing – maybe the best of things – and no
good thing ever dies.”
Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption