Meet Alfred Duncan. Mr. Duncan is a senior officer at the Tower Street Prison in Jamaica where I was lucky to teach my first course called Prison-SMART (Stress Management and Rehabilitation Training). Recently, the Art of Living Foundation recognized Mr. Duncan for his tireless efforts in serving the prisoners but, most importantly, for his attitude.
When we attend a concert and soak in the talent of the musicians or listen to a well-written speech, we clap our hearts out, don’t we? Well, when Mr. Duncan was asked to approach the stage (in the prison) to accept his award, the prisoners jumped with joy and, yes, clapped their hearts out. As I was taking pictures of the award presentation, I literally had to stop, turn around, and watch them as they cheered. You could hear the sincerity in their applause. They cared for this man and much as he cared for them. As a reminder, this is a maximum-security prison and many of these men are in for a range of crimes you can only imagine …and they are often in for many , many years.
So, what makes this man special? Let me ask you, the reader, when the words “maximum-security prison” are uttered, what comes to your mind? What words would you use to describe people in such a prison? Before this week, there’s a good chance that the words that would have come to my mind would not have been positive. What Mr. Duncan has taught me in a short few days is that, “These men are my brothers. At some point, I’ll share a bus ride with them, and they might even be my neighbors.” It isn’t out of fear that he treats these men with respect, it is out of respect – each one of them is a human being. They might have made a mistake but that doesn’t make them any less human than you and I. Don’t we all make mistakes every day? Maybe theirs came from being in the wrong place at the wrong time OR they were influenced into doing the wrong thing OR they just didn’t have the tools we do OR their circumstances drove them to do what they did and they didn’t have the mental strength to walk away OR maybe they were wrongfully convicted.
We were speaking with the head of another non-profit that had done work with prisoners and she told us that if we had heard these prisoners’ life stories, we would understand how they got where they were. The creator of the Prison SMART program (the founder of Art of Living) says, “ inside every culprit is a victim”. I see now that these words are so true. Only if we treat these people with respect, provide them the tools to transform and give them another chance, will this world be a safer and a better place for all of us.
We’ve learned many things this week but Mr. Duncan’s humanity to the prisoners is a lesson all of us should remember. He’s decided not to judge them and, most importantly, he’s found a place for each of them in his heart. And as amazing as Mr. Duncan is, he is just as humble. The humility that he possesses is truly rare. He does his job not for any recognition but simply because it is an expression of his magnanimous nature.
Seeing these men’s diligent efforts during the course, genuine respect for us, the teachers, and desire to change made me think. If I could accept and believe in the goodness of these men, certainly, couldn’t I accept and believe in everyone else in my life? Imagine what this world would be like if we could take a small ounce of Alfred Duncan’s attitude and incorporate it into our lifestyles. What if we took the same approach with our colleagues, friends, and neighbors and yes, even strangers who seem stranger than strange? It may perhaps seem to be hard to do…but wouldn’t it be well worth it?