I remember the lines from the letter vividly:
“Son, I hate what you did to put yourself in there. However, as long as you are there, I am there with you.”
That was the ending to the very first letter my father wrote to me in prison.
It was the beginning of a father saving his wayward child. First, he loved. Second, he loved enough to teach his son eternal moral principles.
I was a wayward son. For a time in my youth, I betrayed the values taught to me in my household. I rejected the basic principles of Christianity and reveled in the philosophies of the world. It ended with handcuffs slapped on my wrists and a sentence of about a year-and-a-half with the Department of Juvenile Corrections.
My family was angry and they let me know. However, they continued to love me. The best example of their collective demeanor was best demonstrated by my brother, Allan. Upon learning of my crimes, he turned to me and said, “I am so mad at you.” He, then, burst into tears and wrapped his arms tightly around me, refusing to let the hug go for at least a minute.
When I went to prison, I held a set of beliefs on par with man-made philosophies. Its basis was, “Do whatever feels good to you.” Questions of moral right and wrong or personal responsibility were ridiculous. As long as I did not get caught, it did not matter. That philosophy began to change with that first letter.
What my father meant by, “as long as you are there, I am there with you” was that he would write and send a letter to me for every day I was in prison.
In those letters, he tutored me. He taught me about the two great commandments: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
He often challenged me to think about the man I was behind closed doors. “It matters not who you are in broad daylight. Even the wicked will offer a helping hand when people can see. It is what you do when no one else is watching that matters. It is behind closed doors that you reveal your true identity.”
He taught me the method for changing my very nature, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I began to care about my moral stature behind closed doors. As a teen, I rarely cared about anything I did behind closed doors. I routinely broke rules and lived contrary to the moral principles my parents taught.
I did not feel guilt when alone. Guilt was reserved for when I got caught. I simply did whatever was thrilling to me at the time, whether that included things as simple as using profane language or things as serious as criminal activity. As long as I got away with it, it did not matter.
As I developed a desire to be honorable, I listened to my father’s teachings. I did not only read the letters he sent, but I began to apply the principles he taught.
As I applied those principles, often falling short of their full implementation, my desire to be honorable grew stronger. I did not only want to avoid trouble. I wanted to be of such good report that who I was behind closed doors and who I was in public would be exactly the same; not only authentic, but authentically good.
That desire sprang from the love my family regularly demonstrated to me. It is a desire that sprang from a father who wrote his son every day he was in prison. It is a desire that sprang from a mother, brothers, and sisters who genuinely wanted the best for their con and brother. Their love caused my love to develop and reciprocate.
It is a desire gained as I developed a relationship with God. Not the stereotypical “I dropped to my knees in my final hour of desperation and felt something.” A relationship developed as I applied the teachings of Jesus Christ into my own life. It is a relationship founded upon trust, respect, and love.
My very nature was changed. I no longer wanted to hide my actions, only feigning guilt when caught. I wanted my actions to be perpetually righteous, not caring who might take note.
More than ten years removed from incarceration and I am a husband and father of three. I work hard every day to provide for my family.
I preside as the spiritual leader of my home, with my lovely wife by my side. We regularly attend church. We read the scriptures together. We pray together. We seek to do good to our neighbors.
Do I think I would be who I am today without a father who wrote me every day and a family that demonstrated the Gospel of Jesus Christ? No! Statistically, I would have spent a lifetime as a repeat criminal.
This is what worthy fathers, loving mothers, and interested siblings, who espouse, teach, and live the supreme teachings of Jesus Christ, create. They create good people and save the ones who become wayward, ultimately transforming their worldly nature into a righteous nature.
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