This I Believe

KUHF-Houston Public Radio's "This I Believe" with Billie Sue Smith

Ms. Smith has lived in Houston most of her life and she recently celebrated her 76th birthday.  During that time, she's learned a lot about human behavior.  For the last several years, Ms. Smith has worked with prison ministries trying to save souls and help the hopeless.  Ms. Smith believes deeply in what she calls "the power of change" and that's the basis for her essay.

Billie Sue Smith remembers when the Gulf Freeway was a two-lane crushed shell road.  So in her 76 years, she’s witnessed a lot of life and has seen plenty of change.  Ms. Smith admits her long life has given her a greater perspective about the passage of time.  In her work with prison ministries, she’s worked closely with inmates.  That’s allowed her to get to know these men and women by more than just their crimes and rap sheets…she has gotten to know the whole person.  Ms. Smith says many of the inmates, who’ve served long sentences, are no longer the same person who committed the crime for which they’re incarcerated.  She’s become an advocate for rehabilitation with the hope that those charged with drug crimes can receive genuine treatment for their addictions while serving the time behind bars.  

Here’s Billie Sue Smith with essay for Houston Public Radio’s This I Believe.
“The Power of Change”

“I have been involved in prison ministry for many years.  I’ve served on the board and been a Chapter Chairperson of the Texas Inmate Families Association and a member of the Texas Association of X-Offenders.  I have met and corresponded with many incarcerated people over the years, and come to know some of them very well.

One of the profoundest truths to emerge from my experiences with the Criminal Justice System is that people can, and do, change.  Which of us over 40 can’t look back on our lives and identify numerous changes we’ve undergone?  I don’t mean the obvious, superficial changes of appearance or age or physical fitness, but the substantial changes in perspective, maturity, and wisdom.

Prison is like being in suspended animation.  The prisoners notice things that those of us going about life in the free world don’t have time for.  As Hugo said, a month of a prisoner’s year is like an hour of his day.  Thus, prison acts as a great focusing lens, giving new meaning to self-reflection and introspection.

Of course, there’s a purpose and place for punishment, but just as a parent may spank a child only until the child cries, there is a point beyond which punishment becomes counterproductive torture.

Morgan Freeman’s character in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” told the parole board after 20 years in prison; “I’m not the same young man who came to prison.”  That statement is poignantly true for many in prison today. Their crimes are so far in the past that the reasons, if not the facts, have faded from memory.

I believe it’s time for a new Age of Enlightenment, where America puts into practice its professed Christian tenets of mercy and forgiveness.  Many have written how the human spirit can be destroyed but never defeated.  The spirits of many sincerely repentant people are locked away in our prisons, and it’s time we stopped wasting them.

I believe in the power of change, and it gives me hope that our society will change for the better.  This I believe.”