I don’t excuse what Michael Vick did, but he served 18 months at a maximum-security prison in Leavenworth, Kan., with bank robbers, drug dealers, and other serious federal criminals.
By committing his crime, he lost $130 million in pay and ran the risk of never being employed in his field.
I spent 13 years working for the federal prison service in maximum and minimum security. Believe me, even the most minimum-security prisons are not country clubs: sleeping in barracks with 400 other inmates, told when and what to eat, where to work (yes, everyone has a job) for pennies a day, when to wake up, when to sleep. Worst of all, seeing your family only for short visits and being unable to share the affections of your spouse. It’s all very humbling.
Why are we so vengeful? What happened to giving a person a second chance? Vick is working with a great mentor in Tony Dungy. The Humane Society will ensure that he reaches inner-city youth where dog fighting is prevalent. What if he saves more dogs than he was responsible for killing or injuring?
Ultimately, he hurt himself the most. Let’s all look in the mirror. Can we rid ourselves of this anger and resentment just to see if this works?
Rid ourselves of anger? Sounds great, but it doesn’t come very easily, if at all.
Anger has been called a judicial emotion – a reaction to injustice. People who are divorced are often angry because of the sense of injustice as are people who have been traumatized in some way.
That anger keeps us from feeling the deeper wound of loss and helplessness.
Some use anger to reinforce a sense of victimization, resentment, or self-pity.
But others can use a wider lens, using anger to pursue social justice.
(Michael Vick Photo by Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr.com/Creative Commons 2.o License.)
What Michael Vick did to those dogs sparked outrage because of the horrific injustice done to innocent animals. In a way, the outrage stems from a human instinct to protect the vulnerable.
But as we know, there is a darker side to outrage, and you touched on it with the word vengeful.
Revenge and justice are two different things. Justice is about righting wrongs; revenge is about inflicting pain.
The key question is not about Vick and what he deserves but about us.
Peter, what you have tried to do in your letter is to help us understand Vick’s experience in prison so that we may feel compassion.
Several years ago I wrote a column about four words that I felt could change the world. These words could cut down on divorce, help heal the wounds of trauma, and even diminish global conflict.
Those words are: Tell Me Your Story.
Look someone in the eye and say those four words and just be quiet and listen until the other person is done. That alone could change both of you. Just imagine how it would feel if someone who didn’t fully understand you uttered those words.
But more is required for mutual change to take place. When we hear that story, we must have an open heart and imagine that story is ours.
My daughter is an animal-rights activist and has been most of her life. She doesn’t believe in killing any animals. She is vegan and does not wear leather. So you can imagine how angry she is that the Eagles signed Michael Vick. She was even upset with me when I said “let’s see.”
I wonder what would happen if Ali and Michael could sit together and exchange those four words. I don’t know his history with animals, but Ali might hear about how he was one of four children born to unwed teenage parents in a very violent, drug-infested housing project in Virginia. And that he did whatever he could as a child to escape the violence. Perhaps she would hear more about how he experienced himself then, his life in his NFL heyday three years ago – and now.
And what would happen if Michael heard that Ali grew up with a mother who had cancer and a father who became a quadriplegic and was hospitalized for a year. That her only solace came from animals that she was able to love and that loved her back seemingly without risk. That she has devoted her life to caring for these critters and making their world safer. Perhaps she could tell him what animals mean to her. And he might understand. And then maybe she would.
And if we could eavesdrop on that dialogue, perhaps then we would understand.
Of course I realize his internal barometer of right and wrong might be damaged beyond repair. Ali might look in his eyes and see that nobody’s home as he tells a story he doesn’t believe. His heart and mind might be closed. But does that mean ours have to be? After all, outrage and righteous indignation close up our hearts.
Maybe he is hopeless. But then again maybe he is not.