Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dead Man Walking

“Dead Man Walking!” These are the words used by the prison guards during the movie of the same name when Sean Penn begins his final walk to the lethal injection chamber where he will be executed for the crime of murder. Based on a true story, the film chronicles an unlikely relationship between Penn’s character inmate Matthew Poncelet a young, rebellious man and Susan Sarandon’s character Sister Helen Prejean who is an aging nun fighting the death penalty. The two form a relationship that eventually leads to a change of heart, a confession of the soul, and a symbolic redemption of Penn’s character before his execution.

Last month, we looked at Step 4 wherein the recovering addict is asked to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of their past mistakes towards themselves and others. This tool is very useful in helping the addict to begin to see, understand, and own the fact that their treatment of themselves and other people were chief components leading to their addictive behavior. It is a hard process but one that is indispensible in the recovery process.

This month we will look at Step 5 which is, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”. If Step 4 was the key that unlocked the door to future freedom, Step 5 is the first step in that direction. The purpose of Step 5 is confession through vulnerability resulting in acceptance and affirmation. It is NOT easy. This step calls for the addict to be brutally honest about all the skeletons piled high in their moral closet. It is a purposeful exposure of the deep, dark places of their lives that no one but they know about.
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Thankfully, through the wisdom of the program, Step 5 occurs in the safety of a sponsor, trusted friend, or clergyperson. It is also occurs in the presence of the addicts Higher Power. This safety and trust allows the addict to be real and unload the burden they have carried for so long.

Likewise, in the film, Sean Penn’s character Matthew Poncelet goes through his own Step 4 and Step 5 through his relationship with Susan Sarandon’s character Sister Helen Prejean. At first he is arrogant and dismissive of Prejean’s attempts to form a relationship but later capitulates after he sees Prejean’s persistence. As the film progresses, Poncelet begins to soften in his demeanor and attitude. Prejean supports him as a human being regardless of his guilt. This support makes it safe for Poncelet to eventually confess his guilt and try to make restitution.

Here is the dialogue that occurs near the end of the film:


Prison guard: “Do you have any last words, Poncelet?”
Matthew Poncelet: “Yes, I do. “[pauses]
Matthew Poncelet: “Mr. Delacroix, I don't wanna leave this world with any hate in my heart. I ask your forgiveness for what I done. It was a terrible thing I done, taking your son away from you.”
Clyde Percy: [Softly to his wife] “How about us? “
Matthew Poncelet: “Mr. and Mrs. Percy, I hope my death gives you some relief.”


While it may seem like a typical “jailhouse confession”, Poncelet’s words comprise a basic Step 5. They point to the reality of his crime, those who were affected by it, his intentions with the crime, and his hope for restitution through his death. Obviously, this can be considered an extreme example however a lot can be learned from it. Penn’s character is open and honest with Sister Prejean and the victim’s family. He owns his crimes admitting their exact nature.

Likewise, in recovery, honesty and accountability go along way. When an addict shares their Step 5 with a trusted confidante, they become free on the inside. They no longer have to carry their past alone. They can take it off their shoulders and set it down once and for all. That is the joy of Step 5.

So this month, let me encourage you to be bold and take a step out of the darkness and into the light of vulnerability and confession which yields acceptance and affirmation and give up the title of “Dead Man [Woman] Walking”!

Chris Newcomb - Aftercare Coach / Coordinator

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Chris. I actually attended a lecture several years ago when Sr. Prejean and members from the murdered victims family spoke about forgiveness. It was powerful. The quote that comes to mind: Revenge is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

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