One day in Georgia a man collapsed and nearly died. He lived because the six men he was working with called 911 and did all they could to keep him alive until the paramedics arrived. Because of their actions, the Georgia man survived and has recovered. It’s a nice story, but not all that unusual, right?
But what if I told you the man who collapsed was a prison guard – with a gun – and the six men who saved his life were the inmates he was supervising? Now that‘s a better story. It also happens to be true.
I ran across this story in the September/October/November 2017 edition of the Prison Fellowship Inside Journal. They were telling the story which originally appeared in The Telegraph.
Six prisoners were doing some cemetery lawn maintenance in a rural area of Polk County, Georgia in June. The corrections officer overseeing the project had mentioned earlier in the day that he wasn’t feeling well, and even told the inmates where his phone was in case something went wrong. The group was working in full sun and humidity levels were high.
Then it happened – the officer fell to his knees and slumped over on the ground. He was the only officer with the group, and he now lay unconscious on the ground, with his gun, phone, and vehicle keys with him. But the thought of harming the officer or running off never seemed to cross the inmates’ minds.
Seeing their officer on the ground, these men in striped prison uniforms immediately went to work to save him. They removed his gun belt and laid it aside, and hastily opened up his bullet-proof vest, to allow him to cool off and to expose his chest for CPR. They also found his phone in his pocket and called 911.
EMTs arrived at the scene and took the officer from there, but the courageous actions of the prisoners were not forgotten. Once he recovered, the officer himself thanked them, and his grateful family brought a pizza dinner and homemade goodies for the six inmates to express their appreciation. Their sentences were also all shortened by a quarter.
Things could have gone much differently for the officer had it not been for the quick work of his crew. “It wasn’t about who was in jail and who wasn’t. It was about a man going down, and we had to help him,” explained one of the prisoners involved, named Greg.
Now, do you agree that that’s a good story? Perhaps we can learn something from it as well. Does it show us something about ourselves? If I had begun telling the story of the guard and the prisoner without first telling you they saved the guard’s life, you might have assumed the worst.
The typical person might assume they know the kind of people prisoners are: they’re a pretty rough bunch who may do anything to escape. After all, they already did some awful things to land in prison in the first place.
How easy is it to judge? Society presents us with stereotypes which are just so easy to believe and, because of our (Latin: prae – pre + – judging + ium), our prejudice, well, what you think you know can change your behavior in ways you, and God, don’t want. We’ve all done it, of course. I have and, whether you’re willing to admit it or not, you have too. That man in the grocery store with all the tattoos and piercings; that pregnant teenager at the bus stop; that woman in the park with the wild hair and intense stare; that older man at the gas pump with the silk suit, the Rolex watch and the expensive car. We’ve all done it. It’s human nature, but that doesn’t mean we have to give in to it any more than those prisoners had to give in to their darker pasts.
If those six men were able to reach beyond their crimes, shouldn’t we be willing to let them? Let’s be willing to look below the surface – even a black-and-white striped surface – and realize that what’s in the heart might be better than we could imagine.