Laura Caldwell, mystery writer, Loyola professor and civil rights attorney came to speak with my reading students this week. They have been reading excerpts from her book, Long Way Home, which is Ms. Caldwell’s account of a case she took on for Chicagoan Jovan Mosely, a person wrongfully convicted of murder as a teenager. Today, Ms. Caldwell oversees the program she founded at Loyola called, LIFE AFTER INNOCENCE. This program helps exonerees who are wrongfully convicted gain productive access back into society. Rightfully so, my students were very interested to find out how Jovan and other exonerees are doing today. Read the book for an intriguing account, not only of how Jovan became mixed up in the murder case, but also how Laura helped clean his record later and gain his life back. What really excited me as a teacher was just how inspired my Reading Improvement students were to find out about writing and even getting published some day. The students – in my reading improvement class – had so many questions. Some were literally walking down the hall with Ms. Caldwell well after the bell rang!
A life lesson Laura Caldwell learned in working with the wrongfully convicted is our abilities to choose gratitude over anger. This is something we will talk about in class through the end of the year! Those convicted of crimes they never committed are souls who spend a significant amount of time in a horrible place they don’t deserve to be in. Ms. Caldwell intriguingly accounted how they wake up every single morning, open their eyes and think it was all a bad dream only to be awakened by the harsh reality of cold jail – day after day after day. She explained that, for survival, these wrongfully convicted learn that for every situation in life, each of us has a choice about how to react. Acting out in revenge or anger hurts only ourselves – no one else. While some situations may be harder than others, we CAN control are thoughts and, therefore, choose more productive choices. Sometimes it may mean taking a step back and breathing before speaking or reacting, but it is always a choice.
Ms. Caldwell gave the example of specific, remarkable men she’s worked with who spent years in prison but chose to not be angry about the years of life they lost. Instead, they are grateful for and concentrate on the chance to start anew – however late it is. Gratitude can be chosen over anger in every single life experience. This sounds cliché, but it is true that there is always something to be thankful for. A man may divorce but be grateful for his children and the good years he shared with his ex-wife. A student may fail a math test but be grateful for learning afterward how to solve a difficult question. A young woman may lose a job but be thankful for the time to re-evaluate goals. These are only pieces of examples of the gratitude so prevalent within each of us. So next time you are feeling blue, realize it’s a normal emotion and okay to feel that way. It is also okay to, in turn, make a choice to help yourself out of the slump and move forward. If we can do this more often for ourselves, the little things that can bug us will disappear and the bigger things that test us will promote growth! Gratitude promotes growth!