FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 24, 2021
Contact: FDC Communications
Secretary's Message: FIND YOUR SMILE
The most crushing day of my life was almost ten years ago, the day I lost my first wife of 27 years to cancer. Just a crushing, devastating, tragic day. On that day, and for many days, weeks and months to follow, I did not know if I would ever experience joy again or find my emotional balance. I wasn’t sure I would experience any emotion other than anguish, despair, or at least abject sadness and emptiness. Those first months following her death are a dulled but still poignant memory today, but I clearly remember one thing that was very important during my initial grieving and later healing. That is, I held on to hope and had a willingness, made a conscious choice to feel all my feelings, even joy.
Prior to that horrible day, I had experienced trauma, stress and grief in my life. I had learned the importance of recognizing my stressors and acknowledging my feelings, all my feelings. As a younger man, following a military deployment to Somalia, I had taken a much longer than necessary path to putting post traumatic stress into perspective. For much too long I let negative feelings dominate my day and mind, and resisted opening myself up to more positive influences in my life; the love and protection of God, love and care of my family, and the love and fellowship of friends.
One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, wrote a book called, “A Grief Observed,” after the death of his wife. The author wrestled with his feelings, famously saying, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” Lewis learned “grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” He concluded that, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”
We have just walked through a terrible valley these past fifteen months. For some, you have experienced the tragic loss of family and friends. I think there is value to stopping for a moment to reflect, and to look back over our shoulders, and see where we have been. The valley was dark at times for us all. But if we look hard, we see that the valley extended well before the start of the pandemic or even your incarceration or supervision (have we not all grieved?!). But now the path extends before us into the future. We as an Agency have climbed up out of the valley. Have you? What are you feeling? Perhaps the better question is, what are you thinking about your feelings?
I am convinced, through my life’s experiences and the teachings of others, that there is value in what we feel. Feelings are not necessarily a good foundation or measure for making decisions (let’s not forget thinking and rational choice!), but feelings help balance our perspective of what we’ve experienced. We must acknowledge our feelings. Here is the key, we must let ourselves feel even the positive feelings, not just those feelings of sorrow we think we are supposed to have. I’ve met so many who think the only appropriate response to tragedy, stress and life’s challenges is to hold on to every negative feeling that presents itself. But what of the hope, joy, or just the warmth of appreciation to be alive?
During grief, or following a period of stress, you should allow yourself to also feel happiness, satisfaction, relief and joy. Allow yourself to smile without guilt. A couple of weeks ago I was at Putnam CI, watching a softball game between the men there, and a team from Sports Reach. As our team shook off months of inactivity, I noticed the smiles of those playing, and those in the stands (we, of course, had just dropped the mask requirement when outdoors). Last week, I visited Madison and Jefferson CI, checking on the status of our incentivized prisons expansion. Again, as I toured the recreation rooms and the upgraded rec yards, I saw smiles.
There was something right in those smiles, even as we come off the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, as our volunteers return, programs resume, visitation returns to normal, and the new budget takes hold, I think today is a good day to look forward and find your smile. No mask, whether made of cloth or by your own guarded expression, need coverup your smile now 😊
As Florida's largest state agency, and the third largest state prison system in the country, FDC employs 24,000 members, incarcerates 80,000 inmates and supervises nearly 146,000 offenders in the community.