As a "white collar" criminal, Mr. Bertrone Pitts, Sr. speaks to us today of the moral ambiguity and misguided belief that convinced him that his crimes were harmless because they were not violent, gang related, or involving drugs. This mindset unfortunately cost him 20 years of his life in state prison. I was quite intimidated when I first met Mr. Pitts. I felt completely out of my realm. It's that feeling you get when you know everyone else in the room is smarter than you. I felt as though I was listening to a professor educate me about the ins and outs of the prison system from first hand experience. He is yet another individual that doesn't fit the mold of what you think a criminal looks, acts, or talks like. I hope by now we have learned to set aside our judgements and stereotypes and listen to each person we meet with the respect of a fellow human being that simply learned a life lesson the hard way.
I'm so glad to hear that Mr. Pitts Sr. became a Defy facilitator while in prison. Can you imagine all the men he encouraged and helped. I appreciate his insightful recognition that Defy is not there to teach about entrepreneurship solely, but that the entire program is based first and foremost on character development...exercising those muscles of responsibility, forgiveness, and the ability to examine your motivations. It was because of this internal work that he was able to eventually voice his own admission that at the time of committing his crimes he was unable to see that he was lying to himself and blind to how his actions affected the lives of those he stole from. This type of self reflection can only come from a place of deep contemplation of the parts of yourself you typically prefer to hide or justify.
I learned alot about the internal politics of prisons by listening to Bertrone's experience. I also appreciate how he advises people to vote by using statistics not emotion when it comes to issues based on the justice system. His warning of placing people in the prison system who are not genuinely deserving of that punishment needs to be heard by those with the capacity to make changes to that system. He has personally witnessed that too harsh of punishment actually achieves the opposite effect. It has the capacity to turn out more warped, more violent, more biased, and more prejudiced people than when they entered that system. Is that truly what we want?
Helen Keller says, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." I think this approach to life is in step with Bertrone's life experience. Sometimes suffering happens to us, other times we create our own suffering. But despite the origin, character is built. May we all intentionally choose to develop our character for good...just as Mr. Pitts Sr has.
Bertrone's Quote: Treat others like you want to be treated.