Jimmy was hustling around the kitchen of his home outside Watertown. He was getting breakfast ready while his wife, Jackie, helped Jared get dressed down the hall. Hearing Jackie leading Jared through picking his shirt, pants, and socks always brought a smile to Jimmy. He felt so incredibly blessed with Jackie and doubly so with Jared.
There could hardly be two people with more contrast in their lives than he and Jackie.
Jackie grew up in a totally loving home here in town with her parents, two sisters and a brother. They all lived in or near Watertown and all went to the same church. Jared loved to play with his five cousins: four older than him and one younger. Jared was three.
By contrast, Jimmy had grown up in a city across the state, on the coast. He could not remember a single time that his family – father, mother, or older brother, Buddy – ever sat down at the same table to eat together.
His father would never have even picked up a utensil or a pan in the kitchen. His MO was storming into the kitchen, slamming the door, grabbing a beer from the refrigerator, and blasting a string of curses toward Jimmy’s mother demanding to know why his supper wasn’t ready. It didn’t matter if his plate was already filled and waiting for him.
When he got through yelling, he would grab his plate, swear some more, and stalk into the den to eat in front of the TV. Woe be it to the boys if his TV tray wasn’t already set up in front of his chair.
Jimmy and Buddy would silently fill their plates and go down the hall to their room to eat. His mother usually ate standing in the kitchen.
His father would yell for another beer and then curse his mother because she was too slow in bringing it to him.
His father worked at the auto plant. His mother rarely got out of the house except to go to the market the day after payday when she would find $50 on the kitchen counter when she came down to fix breakfast for the boys. He didn’t know where his father ate breakfast but he figured he started his day at a diner near the plant over a wake-up beer with his buddies.
Buddy was six years older than Jimmy and the fact that they shared a room was about the only thing they had in common. Despite that, Jimmy absolutely worshiped his brother; and Buddy seemed to really care about his little brother.
Buddy graduated high school when Jimmy finished sixth grade; and immediately enlisted in the Army. When Jimmy asked why Buddy had to leave, Buddy sat him down on the bed, with a hand on each shoulder and said, “Jimmy, if I have to live another day looking at that son-of-b****, I swear I’ll kill him. I have to get out of here and the Army’s the best way to do it. Know what I mean?”
Jimmy understood, sort of, but he felt really alone with Buddy gone. Every day fell into a miserable routine: school, home, chores (grass cutting in summer and shoveling snow in winter) and trying to stay out of his father’s way.
Jimmy cared about his mother, but there was nothing he could do if she didn’t have the desire to do something on her own about the old man.
The bottom dropped out of Jimmy’s world when the Army men came to their door that day in Jimmy’s eighth grade. Buddy’s vehicle had run over an IED and his body came home in a box under a flag. Going to the church for the funeral mass was the first time Jimmy had been a church since he was little. His mother was faithful, but his father said it was stupid for the boys to go to church and wouldn’t let them go with her.
His contempt for his father plummeted to new lows and Jimmy counted the days to his sixteenth birthday when he could legally leave school and leave home. He knew some of Buddy’s younger friends and he moved in with two of them.
Jimmy supported himself, sort of, by making sandwiches in delis and working odd jobs. He managed to stay fairly clean and even managed to save up enough money to buy an old car to go with the driver’s license he’d gotten shortly after he was eighteen and no longer needed a guardian’s signature.
He discovered that he was a lot more popular now that he had some wheels. There were always friends who wanted rides to work and to parties.
His days were pretty predictable: Work at whatever job he had at the moment; hang with a few friends; and try like the hardest to avoid driving back to his mother’s house and beating the tar out of his miserable father. He was a very angry young man.
Yet he had some basic values and there were things he wouldn’t do, including drugs and drinking. The same couldn’t always be said for some of his friends.
Then came the day when he was pulled over on Prospect Avenue with three other guys in his car. One of the others was smarting off a little to the cop and before they knew it, the four of them were lined up being frisked and wearing handcuffs.
When the cop’s backup came, they searched Jimmy’s car and found a bag with some crack cocaine under the seat. Jimmy had no idea how it got there.
The real problem, as the district attorney explained it the next day, was that two of Jimmy’s passengers were only sixteen; all his passengers denied knowing anything about the crack; and since there were over three grams of the stuff and it was in his car, he was being charged with a class C felony of possession and with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The possession had a sentence of up to five years and the sentence for contributing could be up to twenty years.
Nobody seemed to care that Jimmy didn’t know anything about the drugs. Before he knew what was happening, his attorney had worked out a deal with the prosecutor for Jimmy to plead guilty to the possession and spend five years in a minimum-security prison. The contributing charge would be dropped. He told Jimmy that if he went to trial he could get up to twenty years in a general prison; and no eighteen-year-old wanted to do that.
He didn’t know that his old man wouldn’t even let his mother come to see him in jail; and the next month, Jimmy was transferred to the state prison near Watertown without having seen her.
Jimmy was incredibly angry. He’d lost Buddy, his so-called friends had lied on him, and his mother didn’t care about him to be with him in court. He was totally discouraged when the prison van pulled through the gates of Watertown State Prison.
Jimmy was able to learn the rules and move into prison life fairly easily. He’d always had a knack for getting along with people; with the exception of his old man; but in his case the knack for avoidance.
Even though Jimmy was angry, he was smart enough to know that getting along with the system was better than trying to fight it.
Jimmy had to meet regularly with the prison psychologist and he really had problems with that. The man wanted him to talk about his childhood, about his family, and about Buddy. Every time Jimmy started talking, he would get overwhelmed with anger. So instead of opening up, he just clinched up, shut up and sat there.
They gave Jimmy a job working in the prison kitchen and paid him 15 cents an hour that he could use in the prison store once a week.
They had a GED program and Jimmy decided to use his free time to finish high school. He had two years to make up and it looked like he could do it in less time than that.
He was sitting in the commons one day watching TV when a man walked up and introduced himself as Roy who said he was visiting the prison from one of the local churches in Watertown.
Reluctant to offend, Jimmy acknowledged his greeting with a nod and continued watching TV.
Roy sat there for a few minutes, then stood, smiled, and excused himself by saying, “I’m here every week, and I’m a good listener. If I can help you in any way, I’ll be right here.”
One afternoon, Jimmy left the psychologist’s office especially worked up, and he happened to see Roy sitting alone in the commons.
“Waiting for someone?” Jimmy asked.
“Waiting for you, and from the look on your face and your clenched fists, you might need someone to vent on.”
‘You got that right,” Jimmy said as he sat down at the table.
And Roy just sat there; saying nothing.
“So what do you want me to say?” Jimmy asked.
“Say whatever you want to say; or nothing. It’s up to you.”
So Jimmy decided on nothing and just sat there.
“Tell me something,” Jimmy said after a time, “Are you like a priest where you keep whatever I say a secret?”
“Unless you tell me you’re about to commit a crime, I do,” Roy answered.
Jimmy considered that and finally started talking.” I’m about to lose it here. I can’t sleep at night. I’m barely able to work during the day. Forget the GED work. My head is so full of angry crap that it feels like the world is black and it’s closing in on me.”
Jimmy talked some more and Roy kept listening.
Finally Jimmy said, “I’d like to hear your reaction. Am I crazy or what?”
Roy considered that for a minute. “No, I don’t think you’re crazy. I think you’re pretty normal for a guy who’s been through all the things you’ve described to me. But, truth be known, I don’t care that much about your past. There’s not too much we can do about that anyway. But I’m a lot more interested in where you want to go in your future.”
“I thought that I had to relive everything so I could understand and work through why I feel the way I do,” Jimmy countered.
“You can do that if it’s working,” Roy said. “So, is it working?”
“Uhhh, No! I’ve never been so frustrated in my life and it’s only getting worse. I don’t know what to do.”
“Are you asking me if I know what you should do?”
“Yeah, I guess I am. Any ideas?”
“Well, I’m a preacher, that’s like a priest, and I’m supposed to preach so I’m going to say four words from the Bible: ‘Take these thoughts captive.’”
“Okay, meaning . . .”
“Jimmy, it appears to me that you’re so overwhelmed by angry thoughts that you can’t possibly make any good decisions about the future or even about what to do right now.”
“Can I share with you three principles that I learned years ago and I’ve used over the years with a lot of people, and they always work.”
“Okay. . .”
“If you will use these principles consistently, I promise that all that blackness will go away and you’ll learn how you can really be free.”
“Free? I’m in prison, dude!”
‘Just listen, okay?”
Three Life Principles
Life Principle 1 – Whenever a thought enters your mind that makes you angry or could keep you from being the best you can be, you simply say to yourself out loud, “I will not think about that.” When the thought comes back, and it will, you say it again, “I will not think about that.”
“If you prefer, which I do, you can say “I take this thought captive.”
Roy explained that this idea had been around for thousands of years. “We simply do not have to let negative thoughts control our lives,” he said.
He explained that each time we “take a painful thought captive,” we create a little bit of peaceful space in our lives. As you take more thoughts captive, you create more peaceful space in your emotions.
“The reason this works so well is Life Principle 2.”
Life Principle 2 – When you consistently practice the first law, negative thoughts will pop up less and less often until you really don’t think about them at all.
He explained that we all have a part of our mind, called the subconscious, which has the role of helping us be happy and content. If our subconscious thinks that we are happy and content thinking about negative things and getting all worked up all the time, it will keep feeding us those negative thoughts so we can be happy.
But if our subconscious hears us saying “I take this thought captive” consistently, it concludes over time that we don’t want to think about those things and it will stop sending those negative thoughts to us. It’s like our subconscious blocks those negative thoughts automatically.
Doing this consistently replaces your habit of anger with a new habit of peace.
Life Principle 3 – Use your habit of peace to make the best decisions for you and your future. He explained that this is true freedom: the freedom to do what we need to do when we need to do it to become the best that we can be.
When we’re not spending all our time thinking about painful things, we have peace. We can use this peaceful time to think about ways to get along better with others, to do the right things, and to better ourselves for the future.
Roy said that he’s sure these principles work because he has shared them with people for over 20 years. He said they all have learned to break their habits of anger, fear, and victimhood or whatever and create new habits of peace.
Roy slipped a card out of his Bible. The card had the Three Life Principles on one side and on the back there were blocks for each day of the week. Every time a negative thought pops into your mind, I want you to say out loud to yourself, ‘I will not think about that’ or ‘I take this thought captive.’ If you’re someplace where it would be weird talking out loud, put your hand over your mouth like you’re covering a cough and say softly, ‘I take this thought captive.’”
“Then put a check mark in the block for that day every time you dismiss one of those negative thoughts. Let’s meet again next week see you’re doing. I predict by the end of four or five weeks, you will be making very few check marks on the card because the Life Principle 2 will be taking effect in your life. The question now is, ‘Will you do this?’”
Jimmy must have looked a little skeptical because Roy suggested, ”Jimmy, I suspect that you have a negative thought right now telling you that this stupid idea will never work for you. This is a good place to start taking it captive..”
Jimmy smiled and said, “Good idea.” As he walked out of the commons, he said to himself, “I take this thought captive.”
To his amazement, over the weeks that followed, Jimmy found that he really was not thinking as much about losing Buddy or how rotten his father was or the frame job his so-called friends had done on him. He got a fresh card from Roy every week and he was putting fewer and fewer checks on the card.
He was thinking more about what he wanted to do with his life when he got out of prison. Soon, he was not thinking about his anger and resentment at all.
He and Roy had some fascinating conversations and Jimmy finally felt free to share how he really felt about life.
A year later, the GED work was wrapping up soon and Jimmy was talking with Dan, his instructor, after class one day.
“Did you know that the prison has an arrangement with Watertown Technical College where reliable inmates can check daily out and learn a trade? They call it the Extern Program. Would you like me to bring you some brochures?”
Jimmy agreed and then headed for the computer lab to learn something about Watertown Technical College on his own. As he learned about some of the courses at the college, he would go to Careerjobs.com and look at the demand for that skill both here and back on the coast, even though he didn’t really ever want to go back there.
When Dan brought the brochures, there were several interesting areas, but he was really leaning toward HVAC (heating and cooling) installation, repair, and maintenance.
Dan said he would recommend to the warden that Jimmy be considered for the Extern Program.
Long story short, two months later Jimmy began going to the college every day as an Extern taking classes in HVAC. It was a two-year program that would end just about the time of his release.
The prison van would take Jimmy and the other externs over to the college in the morning and pick them up in late afternoon. The state paid his tuition and that included a card to buy lunches in the campus cafeteria; and that’s where he met Jackie.
Jimmy had noticed her in the cafeteria and finally worked up enough courage to go over and speak to her.
She was studying cosmetology and wanted to continue study to become an esthetician.
Because he wore regular clothes, she didn’t know that he was in the prison nearby.
He sensed that she would be open to his asking her out but he obviously couldn’t do that. He just couldn’t work up the courage to be honest with her.
He was telling Roy about her one day and was amazed to learn that Roy knew her; in fact, she and her family attended Roy’s church. Roy understood his problem and told Jimmy that he wanted to pray about what he might do, if that was okay.
They continued having lunch together and hanging out around the campus after school to study together. Jimmy would always have to make an excuse to leave in time to meet his van.
He decided that he had to be honest with Jackie. If she didn’t want to be with him, he would just have to accept that. He put Principle 1 to a lot of work the night he finally decided to tell her about being prison.
He looked her in the eye and told her how much he liked her, but he had something to tell her that would probably make her hate him.
She smiled and said, “Jimmy, are you going to tell me about being in prison?”
“Jimmy, this is a small town. I know every boy in town because I grew up here. When I you saw coming into campus on the van one day, I realized that’s where you are.”
“So, does that rule me out as a boyfriend?”
“Jimmy, I asked Roy to learn something about you. He said he didn’t have to learn any more because he already knew you quite well and that you were one of the finest young men he’s ever known. I decided then and there that I wanted to know you better when you became interested in me.”
Jimmy almost cried in relief. He and Jackie spent many happy months studying together and enjoying each other on campus. She introduced him to her parents on the day that they both graduated from Watertown Tech. She’d already told them his story and Roy had confirmed it to them at church.
As They Say, The Rest is History.
Jimmy poured orange juice for Jared and coffee for Jackie and himself. He pushed down the toaster lever and carried the jam and jelly to the table.
Jimmy finished the scrambled eggs and put portions from the skillet on the three plates on the table. Jackie and Jared came in as he was putting jam on Jared’s toast. Both gave Jimmy a huge hug. Over breakfast they talked about their day.
Jackie would take Jared to day care and Jimmy would pick him up and they would meet her at church that night for Wednesday night supper. Jared was excited that his class was going to the petting zoo today. He had fun naming all the animals they would see.
Jimmy was working for a local heating and air conditioning company where he had risen from repair crew to assistant manager in five years. The owner had offered to sell him half the company and let him pay it off over the next five years. By that time, the owner planned to retire and would sell Jimmy the rest of the company.
Jimmy regularly shared the Three Principles with his employees when he sensed issues where the principles might apply.
He had called his mother last Christmas and he and Jackie had taken Jared over to let him meet his grandmother. His father had died when Jimmy was in prison so the issue of reconciliation was not with his father, but just in Jimmy’s mind and he had already taken care of that.
Occasionally, Jimmy would reflect on his life and consider how free he was now that negative, painful thoughts were just vague memories that he could easily manage. He felt truly blessed!
This fictional story introduces a principle that has been around for thousands of years. In addition to the Bible, philosophers like Confucius, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, and others have written or spoken about our wonderful capacity to train ourselves not to ruminate on negative thoughts and to minimize the effects of emotional or physical pain in our lives. The danger of ruminating on emotional pain is more pain, stress, depression, anxiety, emotional issues, and often worse.
Children as well as adults can easily understand these simple Life Principles. The principles work for many negative emotions that result from almost any negative thinking.
This concept is explained fully in an online eCourse called Finding Personal Peace – http://findingpersonalpeace.com. The course leads you through these life principles and also covers topics like making good decisions, and dealing with serious stuff like death, illness, abuse, and addiction.
The eCourse leads one through a process of turning the habits of negative emotions into the habits of peace and freedom. You can read other short stories on life issues by searching the category, Short Stories, at the right. You can start with the course today and begin to find more personal peace in your life immediately.
All the best.
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