WORDS ARE WICKED

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“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

For over 50-years now, I have worked in criminal justice as a law enforcement officer, prison warden and a security manager, and I can tell you without an ounce of uncertainty, that our criminal justice system is broken. It is broken because of the emotionally laden words we use which support and drive the whole system—in the wrong direction. Here are the big three words to re-evaluate with patience and careful thoughtfulness:

1. Intentionality.

We tend to assume quite a bit about a person’s intentions about doing either good or bad, especially in interpreting what we perceive and then judge, as their wrong-doing. But are these assumptions, perceptions and judgments at all justified, being aware of all that we need to know to make truly informed decisions? The answer to that follows everything we know about assumptions—they are always a shortcut to failure. And the only path to success is the one that questions sacred assumptions.

Brain research today pretty much proves free will to be a myth. After all, there are so many variables that fill the space in between what we think we know and what we choose to do. And, most of this process of thinking and doing is based on unconscious activity that isn’t really known, at least to the level of what is needed for an accurate assignment of responsibility and accountability. When assumed from the outside looking in, this is especially true .

When we get to an act of violence, there is always something that causes it and there are always red flags that warn us of it eminence. But to automatically assume anything is intentional violence, makes it much worse than it is, in reality. The word intentionality is wicked and assumes too much that isn’t true .

2. Violence.

The movie “American Violence” available on Netflix. is both repulsive and enlightening at the same time and it is well worth enduring the gory bloodshed, for a bottom line we should never be allowed to forget, forever. Violence is not an accident. It is caused and perpetuated by previous violence of some sort or another, usually wrongly interpreted as not quite so bad or believable. All violence can almost be justified when all the facts are collected. That doesn’t excuse it, just explains it a little better.

Unfortunately, everything we enjoy these days has some sort of violence to it, from TV reality shows, to action movies to professional sports. It is the norm. Violence may very well be in our blood stream. But when it is modified with intentionality above. or evilness below, that is when the word gets all its dreadful power and creates a pervasively terrible effect. It needs to be stopped now.

3. Evil.

Every Police officer, correctional worker and judge, has experienced at least one individual with an undeniable sense of dampness, coldness and shiver that made the hair on the back of the neck stand up in a worrisome prickly, threatening manner. This is an un mistakable feeling of confronting the Devil himself with nowhere to run or knowing what to say.

My two overwhelming personal experiences as a prison warden in Nebraska involved a man who sexually abused, mutilated and killed over 20 young children while in the military. The other case, which the review board couldn’t excuse me from, was a young father who could see no other way to shut up his crying baby was, then to bounce him off the wall seventeen times until there was no more crying. I still feel the innocent baby’s pain after almost four decades.

My immediate reaction to both cases, as the Inter-Prison Disciplinary Committee Chairman, was to say “Hell no, you are staying in solitary confinement for at least two more lifetimes to think about the helicity of what you have done. And then the third time around, you will likely still be there. None of the other two committee members objected.

But if you relate all of these three words together and question the words themselves and the power and realities they convey, it becomes a moment to savor and study very carefully from here on out. And, the only possible conclusion a sensible person can arrive at is this:

“Words are wicked so be very careful how you use them.” How do I know this is so? Simply because my dog Riley told me so and that is enough to know. Dogs always know better than we do.

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” ~Yehuda Berg.

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