April 15, 2020
Secretary's Message to Inmates and Offenders: Find Meaning
Amid this COVID-19 pandemic, what do you need from me? If I could give you anything within my authority as Secretary, what would you ask for? Careful, there is a reason for this question. Your request will tell me a lot about you. Will your request be of an immediate concern and involve your personal safety from the virus? No need to ask, we are working hard on that! Will your request be more about getting stuff? Will your request result in pleasure or entertainment? Will your request create for you status or give you power over others? If you ask your true desire, I will know what motivates you.
Last month I visited Union C.I. While there, an inmate asked me to allow in a banned book. The book is “Destruction of Black Civilization” by Chancellor Williams. I had our Literature Review Committee reevaluate the book and they removed it from our prohibited publications list. But I was intrigued with the request. I don’t personally know why the man, when given the unplanned chance to talk with the Secretary, chose to ask for a book. But I think there is something “right” about pursuing knowledge and meaning in one’s own and also another’s cultural history. So, I ordered the book for myself and have added it to my pile of reading material.
When you order a book or go to the library, what are you looking for? My father was a professor and author of over 60 books. His books address deep theological and social issues and are filled with amazing insights and wisdom. But titles such as “Psychology in the Psalms,” “Scripture as Story” and “Saga of the Spirit” never hit the best seller list. On the other hand, there is one book by another author who also wrote 40 books of great insight and wisdom. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl sold over 12 million copies. Imagine that, 12 million people bought a book because of a title that described their emptiness. Similarly, a book by Rick Warren, with a title of “The Purpose Driven Life”, sold over 34 million copies! Wow, that many people were searching for their life to have purpose.
Do you now see the reason behind my first question? Most requests we receive are about gaining power or pleasure. But shouldn’t you want me to give you a chance to find meaning and purpose? That is something to discuss! Where do you want to see yourself in 5, 10, 15 years? How do you want to be able to positively affect your family, community, and a greater cause? Think and act on that and you will find meaning! Even in the midst of a crisis, you can make a choice TODAY to search for meaning, instead of pursuing power or pleasure. I cannot make that choice for you, but you can see examples of those who have made that choice all around you; for example, the nurse that just took your temperature. You must figure out what cause is greater than yourself, that takes ahold of your focus and effort. It is that simple, that hard, and that important.
I have a specific message for men and women with longer sentences, to include Life. If in your search for meaning, you want to better the lives of others around you, we will figure out a way for you to have that opportunity. This programming research and redesign will take some time, creativity, and probably the agonizing bureaucratic process of changing rules. But I am committed to looking for ways for you to be able to act on behalf of others, for you to find and feel meaning.
On the last Wednesday of the Legislative Session, I sat in the State Capitol House Gallery to watch a historic vote. Following a Senate vote two days prior—a unanimous vote, I might add—our two bills to reestablish the Inmate Welfare Trust Fund made it to the House floor. After 17 years, and with another unanimous vote, the House voted to send the Senate Bill to the Governor for his signature. Let me say that again in another way, on your behalf and to provide you tools for your search for meaning, every one of your Senators and Representatives voted for you!
Yesterday, Deputy Secretary Dixon and I visited the Tomoka Correctional Institution and spent about thirty minutes with a group of the men that have tested positive. Last week, we also “gowned-up” at Sumter C.I. and visited Zephyrhills. I heard the anxiety in the voices of those I spoke to and understand how hard it is to balance what we hear in the news, what we hear from our family members, and what you are being told by your facility leadership and health care providers. We have successfully blocked the introduction of the COVID-19 virus into the vast majority of our facilities—and will continue that fight with all our energy and effort! But in those few facilities it has entered, I ask you to follow the advice and directions of your facility leadership and health care providers to minimize the spread, for your safety and those around you. We truly are in this together.
As our pace of activity slows during this crisis, perhaps use some of your time to talk to each other about “meaning,” following social distancing guidelines, of course. To start that discussion, allow me to provide you a quote from Viktor Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance, to choose one’s own way.” I didn’t mention it before, but Dr. Frankl was Jewish and survived the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, before writing his book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” That man had the life experiences to speak and promote his insights and encouragements to us all.
Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections
As Florida's largest state agency, and the third largest state prison system in the country, FDC employs 24,000 members, incarcerates approximately 90,000 inmates and supervises nearly 155,000 offenders in the community.