There is an interview in this season’s issue of Parabola magazine that really struck me. It’s w/ Damien Echols. He’s now on death row for murder – although the evidence that lead to his conviction is very questionable. While in prison he’s taken-up Zen Buddhism and spends hours daily in mediation. He was asked if his experience had increased his feeling of compassion, and the answer he gave struck me as very interesting, so I wanted to quote it here:
In some ways yes; in some ways no. I’ve really had a chance over the past 15 years to study what causes people to be in this situation. You see these people who grew up in poverty w/ no education whatsoever and they go rob a store and shoot somebody. When you realize the hardship they came from that can inspire compassion. But you also see how they are once they are here – making no effort to change or grow. I don’t believe anything excuses not taking personal responsibility. You know, I grew up so poor we didn’t even have heat in the winter. We had to walk to the gas station for drinking water…. So stories like that inspire, not the opposite of compassion, but I guess you’d call it tough love, where you want to grab somebody and say, “You can try and blame it on society or anyone else you want to blame it on, but you make the choices to do what you are doing on a daily basis…. We shape our own realities…. I think the main thing is that we have to be responsible for changing our own lives…. We don’t want to settle. I call it living ferociously…. In my situation this is really driven home, because since I’ve been here between 20 and 25 people have been executed. Whenever I have one of those days where I think I’d rather lay here and watch TV, I think, is that really what you want to do w/ your time?