August 31, 2011

Guest Editorial: Whose Life is it, Anyway?

Free at last?  Really?
This is not a subject that I think about often, but it's a pressing issue that we all must consider at one time or another. If you've never been robbed or beaten or defrauded in your lifetime, then by all means count your blessings. But it's a harsh reality that most of us will eventually be victimized at one time or another, even if only indirectly through the experience of a friend or relative.  Their pain, after all, is our pain. There's no escape.

When these things happen, we hope and pray that the offending party will be caught and duly punished to the fullest extent of the law.  And rightly so. They must pay their debt to our society, and atone for their sins.  But then what? So often they are released from prison with no job, no home, no money, no one to help them adjust to life on the outside. It's no wonder that so many of them return to their old ways and end up back in the lockup after a year or two.

These recidivists are a menace to our society, and they make great fodder for stump speeches. "Send me to City Hall/Sacramento/Washington, and I will be tough on crime!"  We've heard it all before. But wait; is there something we can do to break that cycle?
Recently, my friend Abdul Majeed Askia delivered an inspiring speech on this very subject at our local City Council meeting. As an ex-con himself, he knows the struggle well. But unlike so many, he makes no excuses for his behavior. He asks for his fellow citizens to assist such people in their hour of need; but also -- very importantly -- he exhorts the newly-free to meet them halfway. I asked him to write a few words for this column:

The nature of this writing is to address the issues of prison recidivism, senseless violence and the reorientation of inmates into the free society.  We have composed principles and ideas along those lines that will serve in helping inmates make a positive transition as they adjust to life on the outside. We will address the issues of accountability, responsibility and autonomy in that order:

1.      Accountability. By accountability we mean being responsible for your behavior, the choices you make. Being accountable for your decision. Rising above the blame game, the idea that “it is always someone else’s fault.” It is very important to take charge of one’s actions to effectively make changes or achieve desired goals.

2.      Responsibility. By responsibility we mean, your life is in your hands. The various goals that one sets for  him/herself; you must be willing to accept full responsibility to achieve those goals; whether it is to make phone calls, travel, surf the Internet, try over and over again; to reach those goals you must shoulder that responsibility. The attitude is

This is my life, and I must do what it takes rise above whatever circumstances, reach any height and/or travel any distance to get where I need to go.  I have to use my energy, my drive, my passion and my effort to climb that mountain, swim that river or cross that desert in order to get where I need to go. I must overcome any and all setbacks or obstacles in my path, and be responsible enough to say "I went the wrong way" or "I made a wrong turn,"  "I said the wrong thing" and/or "I made a bad investment" or "I should have re-evaluated the situation at hand."

3.      Autonomy. By autonomy we mean I am the captain of my mind. Autonomy is similar to responsibility and accountability  in the sense that when it is all said and done, whatever actions we take, the decisions we make will all come back to us. Autonomy is to acknowledge that I am the leader within myself. I am part of the broader society and interdependent; however, I am uniquely responsible for my thoughts, ideas, dreams, hopes, visions, plans, and the choices I make in life.

      As I take full responsibility for my life it puts me in a better position to make sound decisions, take constructive steps and be more conscious of my behavior, knowing that every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. The three ingredients autonomy accountability and responsibility  are the ingredients that will enable one to face life and set you on the firm ground to accomplish your goals.


Abdul lives in Southern California, and he's available to speak to groups large and small on the topics of religious tolerance, crime prevention, prison recidivism, race relations, and religious extremism. He can be reached at

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