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ben tikvah notes (son of hope)

notes on lost things

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        by   david  berkowitz                                                                                                                                                         It has been almost three decades since I was first arrested, since I first began this journey of incarceration.  In spite of all the hardships of prison life, plus other circumstances that brought forth many challenges, this has been an enriching experience.
     I know this sounds odd.   Whoever heard of a convicted felon calling prison an enriching experience?  But this is the truth.  Christ has given me hope and peace.  My heart is settled.  My life is going on, and only by His grace. 
       I could be looking back all the time, tormenting myself with thoughts day in and day out about the past---the things I am so sorry for but can never undo or change.  Or I could be focusing on what I believe with all my heart that God has called me to do. 
     I know that I will be in prison for the rest of my life.  I can accept this and I have complete peace about the matter.  I have never made any efforts to seek release, nor have I ever asked any  Christians to campaign for release from prison.
     I came to jail when I was twenty four.  I am now 52.   That is more than half my life.
     A few of my friends were sharing about their sentences, and some of the people and things they lost because of the crimes they committed, and the fact that they had to leave it all behind when they came to a place like this.
     We began to talk about punishment.  This is a big issue nowadays, especially for the politicians.  For we inmates know that the public has shifted from their ideas of encourageing "rehabilitation" and focusing on punishment.  There's an emphasis on making it harder for a prisoner, of taking things away and making it more difficult physically and even mentally.
     We all came to the conclusion that the worst punishment any prisoner could be afflicted with is the punishment we have inflicted upon ourselves.
     We've truly punished ourselves far more than the State has.  For there is a pain worse than simply being confined to cell, of being deprived of certain freedoms, of having to eat oftentimes unappetizing foods.
     And so I would like the public to know that there does exist the punishment of a guilty conscience.  I believe God has placed a conscience in every person.  And in here, as I know from my own life and from what other men have told me (although this is not something that's discussed very often) it is that a guilty conscience hurts.
     There is an inner pain that is so intense, so suffocating, that all the macho-role-playing, living in denial, or trying to stay busy to occupy one's time cannot silence it.
     And this goes beyond one's knowing that he may have hurt someone else,  maybe even took one or more innocent lives as I have.  There is much torment in knowing that one has injured or destroyed another person.   Yet there is more.
     There is the haunting pain of knowing one has thrown his life away, and has ruined many of his relationships with others.  Coming to prison has caused men to lose their wives, children, parents, friends.
     So many inmates have lost their spouses to divorce.  Court orders have severed all contact with their flesh and blood children.  Parents are left to grow old alone.  And there is the tormenting knowledge that one has been marked as a "felon".  That a criminal record will follow a man like a dark shadow, all the days of his life.
     Then there is the sickening sense of failure that eats away at a convict.  And while some may be better than others at denying this or hiding it from one's self,he knows deep in his heart that he has failed and betrayed his family.  He cannot help but know that his life has been up to this point, a big waste.
     And this too, is an agonizing and punishing thought.  In the deepest part of a prisoner's mind, knows that he has not reached his fullest potential.  That he has not fulfilled the purpose which he was placed on this earth.  Furthermore, that his life, for the most part, has amounted to nothing.   He knows he should be working and supporting his family.  But now he must sit in a prison cell ten, fifteen, twenty or more years with his conscience whispering to him every day, "Failure!  Failure!  Failure!"
     Thus a prisoner is forced to live with an army of punishments.  He has to face a painful reality which must be confronted every time he wakes up in the morning and sees the cell bars, and every night when those cell doors close and the main lights go out.
     For I know the pain and anguish of having to face oneself.  And I am not talking about a "pity party", but rather a sober self-examination of the self-destructive, pathological and anti-social life I led in the past.
     Really, any prisoner who truly desires to change and leave his life of crime and failure and become a better person, has to absolutely face himself and listen to his conscience.
     In fact, I believe that all inmates must do this if they want to become Christians.  For in Christianity there is a divine call for and restitution.  There is a mandate to, as much as possible, begin to do good with one's life, and to make amends in every way possible.
     To choose to confront one's own wickedness, and for a man to honestly come to terms with himself is painful.  Then to want to change and begin the progress is difficult.  It requires God's help.  Yet it is at this time that God can truly begin to do a work of healing and restoration in a prisoner's life.
     Over time many of the good things a man once had can be restored.  Repentance is the start of this new beginning, even if the "new beginning" happens late in life.  In the end it will be worth it.

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