Last night a secure prison transport vehicle crashed near Xenia, Ohio. At last report half of the prisoners were killed in the accident. And there were a lot of injuries. But many of the survivors were able to escape the damaged vehicle and ran off on foot in different directions.
Most of the escapees have since been recaptured, but many are still at large. Law enforcement officers are continuing the search, but they don’t realistically expect to be able to recapture everyone who escaped. One local official admitted, “We’ll try as hard as we can, but we probably won’t retrieve them all.” That doesn’t sound particularly reassuring.
The worst part is that ALL of these prisoners were death row inmates. Every prisoner on the transport had been sentenced to death.
Since they were sentenced to death anyway, which prisoners actually got the best outcome from the accident?
Did the half that died in the crash get off easy? Maybe it wasn’t so nice to be crushed to death, and some of them may have suffered a lot of pain before succumbing to their injuries, but at least they got it over with. Death was surely a surprise. There was no chance to prepare for it or to say goodbye to loved ones, but they won’t have to stress themselves out about the inevitable result for months or years longer.
Or was it better to have survived the crash, so as to be able to live a little longer? Those guys are still going to be put to death in the near future, and they’ll still be locked up till they die. Does that extra bit of time matter?
What about the escapees who are still at large? Obviously they’d rather avoid recapture (otherwise they wouldn’t have fled), but knowing that people are searching for them and wanting to lock them up again must be pretty stressful. Even if they manage to elude law enforcement for some time, they can never fully let down their guard because recapture at some future date is always a distinct possibility, and then it’s straight back to death row. So is their outcome really the best of all the groups?
To me none of those branches seem particularly appealing. Death, recapture followed by death, or the endless stress of being on the run all seem like undesirable outcomes. It’s a no-win situation for the prisoners.
You could say it’s their own fault for being there. If they didn’t want to end up in that situation, they shouldn’t have done the crimes that landed them there. But criminals or not, is it a wise idea for us to put anyone in this situation? Is this a good thing for society as a whole?
Having spent a few days of my own life behind bars, I couldn’t even fathom what it must be like to spend years locked up like that. And many spend most of their lives locked up like that. That’s awful for them, and it’s also a terrible drain on society’s resources.
It’s easy to judge the situation from a distance and then back off and say, “Well, those prisoners made lifestyle choices that are pretty far removed from me. I’m not involved in their plight. I’m not responsible. And besides, I can’t realistically do anything about it.”
But what if it’s not that simple? What if you are actually involved?
What if there’s a simple and direct link between your daily actions and the plight of those prisoners?
What if you are in fact personally responsible for making decisions that led to at least one of those prisoners being on that transport? What if one of those prisoners was there because of something you did… or because of something you failed to do? What if you could have personally prevented at least a small part of that outcome?
But of course you could say, “Well, I can’t really know how my actions might cause such ripples one way or the other. I’m sure I’m causing some kind of ripples by influencing people close to me, and then those people influence others, and so on. And maybe at some point that diluted influence eventually reaches a criminally-minded person, and it has the potential to sway him one way or the other in regards to a decision regarding a crime. But I just don’t have any way of knowing the extent of those ripples, so it doesn’t make sense to obsess over them.”
What if you could observe those ripples more readily though? What if you had a feedback mechanism by which the long-term ripples caused by your actions could reflect back to you?
Would that feedback mechanism have to be 100% accurate and reliable? It shouldn’t need to be. Some feedback is surely better than none at all.
For instance, the work that I do has such feedback mechanisms. They’re not perfectly reliable of course, but they exist. Now that I’ve been blogging for about 11 years, I’ve been able to see many years of feedback accumulated, which gives me a glimpse of the ripples I’ve helped to create in the world. What I can’t see, however, is what would have happened if I never started a blog, if I never wrote some particular article, if I never did a certain workshop or speech, etc. But I have received a lot of feedback regarding outcomes that I consider to be very positive ripples that people credit to my work, including suicides prevented, life purposes discovered, reconciliations achieved, new business ventures launched, new books written and published, new sustainability-minded habits installed, fulfilling lifestyles created, etc.
In fact, this ongoing body of feedback has had a powerful influence on me over the years. Because I have at least some small glimpse into the ripples that my work causes, it’s made me feel increasingly responsible for those ripples. It makes me think more deeply about how I might be influencing the world through my own actions or inactions. Consequently, it’s much harder for me to pretend that my actions don’t matter because I can see that they do matter. I mean this in a very broad way. Even when I’m offline and just being a regular guy in the world instead of reaching out through the medium of my blog, I think about the ripples my actions will create. And I do my best to avoid inadvertently setting off a chain of events that eventually leads to someone having to step up onto that prison transport.
Is this easy? Of course not. But I do think it matters that we consciously attend to what kind of influence we’re exerting on the world. Even a small force can make a difference. In fact, with so many crimes being committed each day, it’s pretty much undeniable that you could have prevented at least some of them, if you’d only made different choices.
One smile. One hug. One massage. One simple act of kindness. And maybe someone doesn’t have to get onto that transport because of you.
What if you could make some simple habit tweaks that would cause you to influence the world to be a tad less violent, thereby helping to reduce crime just slightly, and thus causing one (or maybe even a few) of those prisoners not to end up on death row?
Would you do it?
Do you care?
Do you care enough to make a small effort? To push yourself to be a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more giving?
What if you could commit to doing this long term? What new habits would you adopt then?
Daily acts of kindness? Becoming an openly huggy person? Taking an extra minute or two out of your day to express appreciation and gratitude for the people in your life? Saying please and thank you more often? Greeting and smiling at people more?
Which habit(s) would be the most powerful? Which would cause the most ripples? The strongest ripples? Ripples capable of eventually influencing someone not to end up on that prison transport?
Do you think it’s possible that with a lifetime of positive growth and change, striving to become a more kind and caring human being, you could eventually save at least one life out there?
I certainly think so.
Is it worth doing?
I believe it is.
If lots of people did this, and if we had some way of measuring our collective impact, and if we could also measure the impact on the crime rate or the prison population count, then maybe we could come up with an average figure for how long it typically takes the average person to save a life, given a specific type of habit change. That would be a complex undertaking to be sure, but what if such data were in fact available?
Then we could say not only which specific habits were the most impactful, but we could also estimate how long it would take to have different levels of impact.
What if we had clear data to make statements like these (these are just made up for the sake of example):
… you’ll prevent one illness for every 500 times you send someone a supportive and appreciative email.
… you’ll prevent one violent crime for every 5000 times you say hi to a stranger.
… you’ll save one life for every 10,000 hugs you give.
Something along those lines… I think you get the idea.
Unfortunately I don’t know of such data. It would be wonderful if it existed, but I’m not aware of any — with one exception.
The exception is an especially powerful habit in terms of reducing violence and the prison population. It’s so off-the-scale impactful that you don’t have to do it for very long at all to make a measurable difference.
In fact, this habit is so powerful that on average, every 3-4 days that you follow it, you’ll reduce the prison population by one. And you’ll save a life too. Do it for a week, and you’ll save two lives. Do it for a year, and you’ll save 100.
I know that sounds crazy, but it’s real. If everyone followed this habit, that prison transport accident and all the deaths, injuries, and escapes could have been avoided since no one would have been on it to begin it.
What’s the habit?
The habit is to eat only plant-based foods. Avoid eating animals or anything that comes from an animal.
Of all the simple habits that I know of which are capable of causing positive ripples in the world, that one is #1 on the list. In fact, it’s so high up there that the second item is probably orders of magnitude behind it in terms of impact and accessibility.
I would estimate that by following this habit for so many years, I’ve helped reduce the prison population by about 2000. But since my website has influenced so many other people to temporarily or permanently adopt this habit as well, I’d imagine the ripples are way beyond that, perhaps somewhere in the 100,000 to 1,000,000 range if I had to guess.
Just by making different decisions, during the course of your life, you could easily create enough impact to prevent some of those prison transports from even existing. And think of all the additional positive ripples that would branch out from there.
The habit is relatively easy to adopt, and with a little bit of practice and some positive social support from other people who care, it’s also easy to maintain.
Is it worth trying this habit for 3-4 days to save a life?
Could you go one week and save two lives?
What kind of person wouldn’t want to do at least that much? Would that essentially be the type of person who’s meant to be on the prison transport? The person who only looks out for him/herself. The person with excuses for everything. The person who doesn’t care.
Wouldn’t it be better to be a person who does care? A person who will lift a finger to save a life?
What if the lives you’re saving aren’t just the lives of potential prisoners? What if you’re saving innocent lives as well, the lives of those who never committed any crimes to begin with? Would you lift a finger to save some of those lives too?
In the news story I shared earlier, it may surprise you that none of the prisoners had actually committed any crimes. Not a single one. And yet they were all sentenced to death anyway.
Why? Because people didn’t care about them. The injustice went unchallenged. In fact, many people actively supported the prison transport, perhaps even you included.
All of the prisoners had something else in common too.
They were born as baby pigs. All 2200 of them.
Their crime was being born into a world run by people who see them as consumable products, not as living beings.
Is that how you see them too? Is that how you see chickens, cows, fish, and other animals? Do you care that 1100 of them died last night before they could make it to your dinner plate? Do you lament the unfortunate loss of product caused by the accident? The unfair burden on law enforcement to have to track them down? Are you relieved that half survived at least, so they can still go on to fulfill their purpose in the world of humans?
What do you want your role to be in all of this? Have you chosen it consciously? Are you living in alignment with your own carefully considered values? Are you following your path with a heart?
Or do you prefer to remain a person who doesn’t care?
Those who don’t care are prisoners, if not in physical cells then certainly in emotional ones. Their world is a bleak one, with three essential options: (1) die, (2) suffer and die, and (3) endure stressful escapism. But none of these are quality choices because the mistake was made upstream with the commission of a crime — the crime of not caring.
Caring can be heart-wrenching at times, but it’s also deeply and undeniably beautiful. And the option to explore it is always there for you, always available, always within reach.
Just pick something to care about, and go actively care about it, not just in your mind but through your actions in the world. Make a slightly different decision today. Try a more compassionate habit for a few days or week. This isn’t difficult. But if you get started on this path, it can make a world of difference. And sooner or later, you will reduce violence, reduce suffering, and save some lives.
Caring is not intention… or emotion… or fluffy, squishy thoughts of love and oneness. Caring is action.
Do you care?
And if you do care, then how will you express that today? What will you do?
Take those actions. Let the universe handle the ripples. Let it show you just how powerful caring can be.