Dec 182010

I received the following testimonial from Pat Burns, a prisoner at Oregon State Penitentiary, and a member of the 7th Step Club there.

Testimonial by: Patrick Burns, OSP 7th Step Foundation Member

OSPI would like to share my experience with 7th Step in the hopes that others who may find themselves in a similar position can benefit from what the club and its members have to offer. For those of us who are ready to change the reward is well worth the effort.

I first heard of 7th Step when I was in my 20’s and read “My Shadow Ran Fast”, the book by Bill Sands that detailed his time in prison and how he came to see that there was a better way to go than the one he had chosen. Mr. Sands was the founder of 7th Step and his story is an inspiration to all who know it.

At the age of 43 I was sentenced to 70 months for a bank robbery. I also had a few DUII’s on my record, so it should have been obvious to me that the choices I had been making weren’t working out too well for me. Should have been, but wasn’t. My stints in county jails had not provided the wake-up call I needed. Hearing the judge say 70 months was the start of my awakening to say the least. At first I was still upset and not wanting to place the blame where it belonged, which was squarely on my shoulders. Instead I blamed my attorney, the judge, being laid off from work, etc. It’s always easier to point our fingers at others than to face ourselves, isn’t it?

As I settled into my sentence an interesting thing began to happen. I was no longer upset at the others that I had blamed for my troubles, but began to realize that in many ways this prison time was the best thing that could have happened to me. I began to look at my life, not from the perspective of how I had been wronged, but in how I had wronged the people in my life. This was the beginning of the great calm that has come to settle over me.

When I arrived at OSP after having been accepted into the Automotive Technology program, I saw the list of clubs available and noticed that 7th Step was one of them. I signed up right away and was welcomed into the club. I also joined Toastmasters, so now I was involved in two clubs that encouraged growth and where I could share the lessons that I was learning. As part of that growth the third of the 7 steps is my favorite: “Evaluating ourselves by taking an honest self-appraisal, we examined both our strengths and our weaknesses.” And a good way to start that self-appraisal is to ask ourselves “Why are we here?” And I don’t mean the crime you committed. That’s what we were sentenced for, it’s not why we are here.

We are here because of choices. Now granted, in a few cases it was one choice, made in a bad or trying situation. But for most of us, it started with one bad choice and went from there. The first time we decided to skip school, or work, to get high. The first time we cheated on a lover. The first time we took something that wasn’t ours. The first time we made a choice that we knew wasn’t right. That’s when we started chipping away at our moral foundation.

Because after that first one, it got a little easier each time to ignore the voice in our soul, the one that tells us “this is wrong.” But try as we might to ignore that voice, it wouldn’t go away. So that led a lot of us to medicate our guilt away with drugs or alcohol. Being drunk or stoned or high not only shut the voice up but also made it a lot easier to make more choices that weren’t right. Then the guilt hits and the cycle starts again. If only that voice would go away! And that is the answer to “why are we here?”

Now that we know that, we can start to work on that honest self- appraisal that I feel is the key to our growth. Acknowledge the choices and mistakes that have been made, and wherever possible, make amends. Realize that you and you alone are responsible for your choices, and take strength in the power that realization gives to you. Take steps to prevent your weaknesses from controlling your actions, and seek help with that through the people that you know you can count on, your 7th Step brothers and sisters being an excellent place to start.

Is this going to be easy? No. It takes constant effort to do the right thing. It takes courage to have real principles, especially when you are surrounded by those who will tell you that it’s not cool, or you’re not being tough. But those of us that are working on doing the right thing know how tough it is. So I am asking for all of us to start doing the right thing today, follow your steps and answer the question “why am I here?”

It’s hard to comment in the face of the raw courage Pat has had to make effort to change and to share it unselfishly with others.  I know what he went through, because my experience was similar in making the move from denial and blaming others to accountability.  People like Pat is the reason that we, on the outside, are proud to assist them in their steps to freedom.