Is redemption really possible? Our nation is founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People are presumed innocent until found guilty. We come into the world with only our human dignity and unblemished reputation.
Unfortunately, we live at a time when little respect is given to one's human dignity and one's reputation is trashed and severely damaged without even a thought. If you are arrested for any kind of alleged crime, you are considered guilty until proven innocent.
The most troubling reminder of how the media is out of control is the unfortunate circumstance surrounding the three college lacrosse players from Duke University. They were accused of rape and serious assault and then were convicted by the media of these crimes. We now know that they were innocent of these specific charges. Although the district attorney apologized and lost his job because of this, the reputations of these three college athletes has been forever tarnished. After one young man involved was exonerated, he told the press that it saddened him that he will always be known as one of the Duke Lacrosse players accused of rape.
Once a reputation has been stolen, it is very difficult to reclaim it without blemish. As a nation that values freedom of speech and respect for the dignity of all people, we are clearly out of control. We have become dangerously reckless with what we tolerate and endure in this regard.
Sensationalism and exploiting the vulnerable sells newspapers and engages people to watch television. We are clearly reminded of this in the present moment as the election of our next president is dominating our national news. Although a year away, the Democrats and Republicans are dominating the daily newspapers and nightly news with their respective potential candidates.
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the issues of domestic and foreign policy and the war in Iraq, much of the news coverage tends to exploit the personal, private areas of the various candidates' lives. Some of the media have attempted to blemish the character and integrity of the various candidates considering a run for the presidency.
Clearly, it is important to have a sense of the character and integrity of each potential candidate. However, exploiting the missteps of their children, spouses and extended family has no bearing on the issues of domestic and foreign policy. Hammering the candidates on specific domestic issues and the issues of terrorism, war and peace are fair game. It is totally inappropriate to exploit a candidate's son or daughter on his or her personal life, life choices or beliefs. The children of candidates running for president are not running for public office. Their privacy should be respected.
If a candidate who is running for public office is guilty of a criminal act, that should be public information. However, if a candidate is guilty of a human indiscretion that has nothing to do with the law, but has everything to do with his or her past personal life, that should not be up for public consumption.
TJ is twenty-five. He was born into a family of privilege. When he was in high school, his parents divorced. During high school, like many of his contemporaries, TJ partied recklessly. He drank regularly and experimented with a wide range of street drugs. As a college student, he discovered that there was money to be made in dealing drugs to many of his rich friends and social acquaintances.
By his early twenties, TJ had established a rather lucrative business dealing illegal substances. He was cocky, successful and well known in the underground drug business. He made the fatal mistake of dealing drugs to an undercover cop. Subsequently, he was arrested and charged with a series of felonies.
This bright young man with tremendous promise was now facing a long-term prison sentence upstate. He was fortunate to connect with an excellent attorney who was able to convince the district attorney to consider an alternative to long-term incarceration for this young man. The attorney underscored that TJ was not a criminal, but rather a drug addict who'd gotten in way over his head.
The attorney pointed out that prior to TJ's arrest, he'd been a normal college student from a good family. TJ had done reasonably well in high school and had never been in trouble before. The district attorney was genuinely open to the conversation and even more interested in the proposed alternative for this young man.
A few years ago, a nontraditional, long-term residential drug and alcohol treatment program was developed as an alternative to incarceration. The literature on this program indicated a high success rate for those who participated. The participants made a commitment to a minimum of three years of intensive supervision and treatment. If the person was given this program as an alternative to incarceration and was found to be non-compliant, he would immediately go to jail for the full term of his sentence.
TJ was definitely facing more than three years in an upstate prison. Three years in an intensive treatment program didn't sound so bad, until TJ realized that in many ways it was a prison without bars. On some levels, it was harder than living in a prison setting. Every day, all day, he was forced to look at himself, the choices he made and how they impacted on him and the other important people in his life.
During this experience, TJ was able to reclaim his life, complete his higher education and define a career path. Almost four years later, he was clearly a different man then when he began. Every day, he works on his recovery and strengthening his inner spirit so that he can continue to make positive life-giving decisions.
Just before TJ was discharged from treatment, he was able to apply for employment. He vigorously looked for career opportunities. On his first interview, he landed his first professional job. Before seeking employment, he had applied for a relief of disability, which technically, if granted, would not allow his criminal past to block his future professional employment.
His new employers were impressed with his college transcript, his professors' recommendations and his interviewing skills. They really wanted him. They are a young firm. They loved his energy and enthusiasm for his career path. After being offered the job, TJ struggled with disclosing his past to his new employers. He conferred with his counselor and his attorney, who urged him to be forthright and honest. He did that. His new employers applauded his honesty and agreed to give him a chance. To date, all of his professional reviews have been exceptional. His employers value his presence at their firm.
Recently, a headhunter recruited TJ for another firm, which is much larger and more prestigious than the firm that presently employs TJ. TJ was interested in the opportunity because it would provide him more experience in the specific area that interests him.
He went for the interview. He was one of several candidates that they were considering. He made it to the final round and ultimately was selected. They offered him the position. Again, he was faced with whether or not he should share his past with his future employer. He sought counsel and they encouraged him to be forthright and honest. He did that and unfortunately, the opportunity was withdrawn. The future employer apologized and made an excuse saying that he was afraid if people knew of TJ's past, it would blemish his firm.
Needless to say, TJ was devastated. It was probably one of the most challenging moments of his new life in recovery. He has stayed the course and has not given up. He is adamant that he will continue to better his career and not let this unfortunate circumstance deter him from his ultimate goal.
However, it does raise the question about redemption. When does a young person pay enough for the reckless choices of his youth and have the opportunity to reclaim his human dignity and his reputation without blemish?