A few weeks ago I had dinner with a group of young men, all of whom, I have mentored over the years. The majority of those present were convicted felons. One is a former drug dealer and one a former gang member. One of the young men and I have been friends for over 20 years. The oldest is in his late 30s and the youngest is in his early 20s. All of these young men have faced very difficult trials. They have made some poor choices and all have paid the consequences of their folly. What made that evening so special, and what they all have in common, was not that they were now free men, but the manner in which they are now living their lives. They have indeed beaten the odds and made a come-back in grand fashion.
Our conversation that night was moving and very rewarding. These are not the sort of men who are easily influenced; you must earn their respect and they do not say anything to go along with the crowd. Everyone present that night is now working in or near management level. One is a high level, certified HVAC technician, two own their own companies, one is a leader in his church and is seeking to become an evangelist, one is a supervisor for a construction company and none of them has been re-arrested. How is it that all of them were able to come so far after such disastrous teenage years? What is the formula for this sort of success?
The answers to these questions are best answered by the dialogue that took place during our dinner conversation. Essentially it comes done to four things; education, work ethic, moral values and an unapologetic faith in God.
Although everyone present that night dropped out of high school, most had obtained their GEDs. A few had continued their education and obtained various certifications, including some in highly specialized areas. Along the way the thirst for knowledge had awakened. Next, they all value work. They are proud to be able to earn a good living; the streets don’t teach work ethic. Poverty level values teach one to work the system and to work others in order to get by. A respect for education and a strong work ethic are not street values.
During our dinner the conversation turned to their childhoods, being raised fatherless, and living in poverty. They each expressed their desire “to do it right.” To “meet a nice girl first, get married and then have children.” These are the exact words expressed by one young man and repeated by the others. This sort of ideology flies in the face of today’s live-for-the-moment mentality. Although this is a significant departure from their previous opinions, the most unexpected part of our conversation came when the conversation turned to God. Each young man gave God the glory for his new life. To say it was moving is understatement. Their expressions were not the typical jailhouse religion I‘ve witnessed in the past. There was no “I’m being good, so God is helping me.” Instead what was said was nothing more than sincere words of gratitude and devotion.
A changed life begins with a changed heart. For from there proceeds the thoughts and words that accompany those beliefs.