Please send me your stories of HOPE
Huskies for Opportunities in Prison Education
Living Beyond Terrorism and Wrongful Conviction: Stories of Hope and Healing
I have listened to the stories of over 100 survivors of traumatic events, their families, and families of the bereaved – events that can be momentary (like a terrorist attack) or sustained (like incarceration during the Holocaust or following a wrongful conviction). These events can change the lives of the traumatized and oppressed individuals and the lives of their loved ones forever, creating permanent scars deep inside the psyche. Not to belittle in any way the life-altering and life-long negative psychological consequences, survivors of such highly challenging experiences have demonstrated that it is possible to concurrently bounce back (as in resilience) or move forward (as in posttraumatic growth) alongside the profound and disturbing pain and learn to live with and beyond the trauma. They have been able to cope with their horror and grief, gain a better level of understanding of their difficulties, and rebuild the almost unrecognizable pieces of their shattered lives.
In my recently published book Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing (Gefen, 2014), I present the remarkable life journeys of 48 survivors of terrorism in Israel, their families, and families of the bereaved – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze.
I sat with these people and listened to their horror and distress, their suffering and losses – what it is like to feel the pain of a bullet entering your body, believing your life is ending, coming home to babies who don’t recognize you, and family members, friends, and co-workers who don’t understand that you are not the same person you were before even though you look the same – what it is like to lose your child or parent or spouse and see friends cross the street to avoid talking to you because they don’t know what to say to you.
But I also heard what it is like to come back to life after such a horrific experience or the death of a beloved one and maybe finally be able to find the light at the end of the tunnel. In their true life stories of hope and determination to rebuild and to triumph over the terrorists – a victory of the human spirit – these remarkable people spoke not just of moving on with life but of living next to their feelings of grief, pain, and helplessness, overcoming suffering, finding meaning and purpose, and moving forward to turn tragedy into action.
I have also heard stories of hope and healing from the 21 wrongfully convicted and exonerated women I have interviewed – women just like you and me who “could have been your neighbor, your nurse, or in line with you in the supermarket” – yet they have been charged with and convicted of crimes across the spectrum, primarily murder – often where no crime was actually committed. Many involved the tragic deaths of loved ones and these women had to deal with deep personal losses along with criminal charges. For these alleged crimes, they served between 0 and 20 years in prison—a total of 156 years. Let me share one story with you.
Ginny served 20 years for the alleged murder of her husband, who actually died from a drug overdose, until she uncovered the fact that the toxicologist had lied about his credentials, leading to her release and exoneration. Although she had no reason to believe in hope, Ginny continued to have hope. “I always knew from the very beginning that I would win. I knew it. I just knew it. I knew it in the marrow of my bones. I knew it. And I knew they were wrong. And eventually the guys in the white hats win. You just have to last that long. And for some reason I always had some level of hope”
Ginny believes that “human beings can live without almost anything except hope.” We can live without people and things we were perhaps sure at some point we could not live without – friends, spouses, parents, grandparents, and children … houses, cars, jobs, careers, drugs, positions, prestige, and power … freedom, personal space, body parts, physical abilities like sight, hearing, and mobility … adequate shelter, food, and even water for short periods of time. We can endure the harshest of punishment, the worst kinds of deprivation. But we cannot survive for long without hope. Because without hope, our spirit, the spark that makes us human, soon withers and dies.”
In the face of overwhelming disaster, these survivors discovered for themselves, that the meaning does not lie in the disaster, but in the way we respond to the disaster. As Viktor Frankl wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” “even when we are confronted with a hopeless situation and facing a fate that cannot be changed … we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Zieva Dauber Konvisser, PhD
Fellow, Institute for Social Innovation, Fielding Graduate University
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Wayne State University
Hope in Prison
I find hope – and the ever-present opportunity for hope – in prisons. Yes, within massive walls of constraining concrete. This is also where I find internal peace (it’s through giving that we receive). I started volunteering in jails and prisons 1993 and wouldn’t give it up for anything. When our choices land us within unwanted constraints – whatever those constraints are - the experience of unwanted constraints can sometimes be what propels us to evaluate the choices that generate those constraints and to seek resources (life skills, whatever) to move into more productive and meaningful directions. For some, prisons of concrete are the constraint that gets their attention (although self-constructed emotional prisons sometimes have the same effect). For me, the transformation of seeing people’s lives change keeps me “going in.”….The value provided by prison volunteers was summarized for me one night when a “repeatedly incarcerated” woman showed up for the program I was participating in. She said she remembered me as a volunteer from several years previous. She then said, “You’re still here. Oh…..somebody actually cares.” …..“Going in” also keeps me accountable for continuous self-improvement so that I’ve always got a current story of change to share with women when I go inside. Further, seeing the sometimes deep levels of desperation experienced in prison drives me to look for the deepest causes of societal unwellness and to participate in a push for meaningful social changes that provide the context making personal change more possible.
National Network of Prison Nonprofits