Sometimes in life it can feel like there are a lot of things to be angry about and this thought is especially true when it comes to wrongful convictions. Imagine feeling trapped, out of hope, resentful and distrustful of a world that harshly mistreated you.
As one man so aptly stated at a recent TESTED speaking engagement: “I get angry just waiting in traffic, how do you guys do it?”
Well, looking at the stories of Johnnie Lindsey, Steven Phillips and Christopher Scott, three of the exonerated men exposed in TESTED, there are some things we can all learn.
Johnnie Lindsey survived colon cancer in addition to the major frustrations of wrongful imprisonment by focusing on the good and using mantras such as, “When there is life, there is hope, and at least I am alive” (p 5). For Johnnie, still being alive was the most positive thing he could find and focusing on “just being alive” helped him to battle tough times (p 7). Also, Johnnie relied on music and even joined a prison band to help him “find beauty, just little spots of beauty” to focus on.
Steven Phillips was able to channel his anger into activity by using sports and writing. Phillips played for the prison’s football and softball teams and also wrote a prison newspaper for the prison’s chapel – he even got other inmates to write for the newspaper, too! In addition, Steven also benefited from realizing his own limits, having faith, and praying, “Help me because I cannot do this by myself” (p 27).
Christopher Scott benefited from a combination of both focusing on the positive and staying active. Before being imprisoned he was in a loving relationship and by looking at old pictures from those happier times he was able to get “through the day” (p 69).
While all of these men noted that the hurt and anguish surrounding wrongful imprisonment and spending time in prison is unavoidable, they recount that the anger was more hurtful if left to grow and credit a part of their eventual exoneration to their ability to move past their anger towards a more productive and clear-sighted place.
Could this be the secret to living a life free of anger? Perhaps focusing on the positive, staying active, and learning when to give up control versus when to keep on fighting really is the key.