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Nurturing hope: We all have a story

"I never had anyone there for me, no father

figure who cared; I know that if I would have, I wouldn't be where I am today." -

Hubbard County inmate

This statement was shared with me by an inmate with whom I have interacted and one I have heard from many. Men tell me that if they would have had a good male role model, they wouldn't have been in so much trouble.

I can't help but feel a sense of loss and anguish for these men, fathers, individuals that the bulk of society has turned their backs on. It seems we find is so easy to place a title on someone for a mistake they've made. I am not saying that if a person has done wrong that they don't deserve to be punished, but knowing that our country's jail population is constantly growing, I would have to say we are doing something wrong.

We have repeat offenders, all ages and races, who continually come out and go back in, caught by the revolving door of their bad actions or habits.

When we speak with someone who is struggling, do we take time to listen to their story? It might be best not to start with the basics of where they came from or how they arrived at their current situation, rather to speak candidly with open ears and a closed mouth and a mind that's not already assumed that this person is worthless or helpless.

We should have hope in all who walk this earth, hope in the good, lost, lonely, hurting, anguished, scarred and bruised. Our minds have been conditioned to pay more attention to who is the latest reality star than to how we can help others. We forgo time with our children and leave them in front of dangerous video games.

We have brave predecessors and role models such as Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln whose words and actions are easily found even in this day. Think of Anne Frank, who, even in the darkest of days when the soldiers were right outside ready to discover her hiding place, still clung to hope, for she knew no one could take hope from her.

All of the most influential people in our lives have made an everlasting mark on us, and that is because no matter what they stood for, they instilled a feeling of hope that no matter what the adversary, we should step forward each day and believe in ourselves and others.

If we are to be a nurturing society, we need to collectively care about the human condition. We need to listen to everyone's story and after having taken the time to truly know that person, we can erase our assumptions. Once we have begun to live with this state of grace in mind, we will ultimately become a nurturing individual, parent, and friend, and we will change the state of the world one act of kindness at a time.

That young inmate, the young man who told me he never had a role model...I chose to be one for him, to give him a reason to hold his head up and embrace hope. Hope is what will change this world!

Editor's note: Joe Johnson and his wife Amanda have two children. He is a licensed master trainer/consultant for St. Joseph's Area Health Services Community Health Nurturing Fathers Program and is a case manager for the FATHER Project, a program funded by Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota. To learn more about participating in Fathering Skills classes, call him at 255-2063 or e-mail josephjohnson@catholic