Monday, May 28, 2012

Leadership, Justice and Forgiveness (Semester Summary)

I believe leadership is an action. I test myself through each of these classes; perhaps the test was greater with this class. A significant question I ask myself at the conclusion of a class is: How did I apply what I learned?  As I reflect back to my initial post I see an uncertain student. As I mentally engaged in the required reading uncertainty was a regular guest. I also felt this was a class with an impact which would become more evident as I healed from the readings. Therefore, I looked for an external example to demonstrate the principles of servant leadership, justice and forgiveness.

Holding Cell
Crowded U.S. Prison
Angola prison in Louisiana is an interesting look at restorative justice.  While many prisons in the U.S. are overcrowded to the point that many inmates are being released--sentence unserved, Angola prison is a maximum security prison where over 85% of the prisoners will die in prison. In Serving Life, Angola warden, Burl Cain is demonstrating servant leadership and stepping back to allow the prisoners to grow into servant leadership as well.

Cain's philosophy is rooted in practicality: "The criminal is a selfish person, whatever he wants he takes it. The way to be the opposite of that taker is to be a giver." Even so the prison operates as a working farm, holds rodeos twice yearly, provides a variety of educational opportunities (including parenting programs) and allows for an inmate published and edited magazine. These elements are notable on their own, but as the warden notes: "The only true rehabilitation was moral. I can teach you skills and trades but I just make you a smarter criminal unless we get something in our heart."
Word on bronze ornament Stock Photo - 11901603
As part of this heart-giving program one prisoner with a 149 year sentence says: "I put my hand on his arm and I prayed for him. He was the first one for me to touch out of compassion." Another prisoner with a 60 year sentence says: "I thought maybe if I helped somebody else, that would relieve some of the guilt." Another prisoner talks of his transformation: 'It's less stressful for me because I'm not taking on my own cares, I'm taking on the cares of someone else." Another budding servant leader says: "It's helping us live our life with love." How did these maximum security prisoners learn compassion?

Angola prison now offers the prisoners to serve one another as Hospice volunteers. The volunteers provide the physical services of a nurse's assistant but more importantly they provide companionship and genuine warmth to the end-of-life prisoners. At the end there is a bed side vigil in which the volunteers provide love and support but must also face their own mortality.

I say the warden is a servant leader because he initiated this program knowing full well he believes he could not serve as a Hospice volunteer. Yet I would speculate he is learning from the compassion of the prisoners on a daily basis. To me this servant leader should be commended because he stepped outside of his own limitations. Furthermore I believe this example of Hospice for restorative justice exemplifies a healing element of servant leadership, one in which all who are involved heal.

As I reflect more on this class I came to believe the students who take this class and engage in the dark side to find the light are, in the long run, better leaders. I have discovered forgiveness is imperative to healing and leading.  The final paper in this class required a leadership development plan.  My plan includes developing my interior. I am a bit in the dark on this, but I am willing to engage in exploration which provides me the assurance I will find a treasure.

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