Last October I submitted an article to MSR as a guest commentator. In it, I challenged incarcerated men like myself to use their influence to effect change and curtail youth violence in the community. MSR published the article and then gave me the opportunity to be a regular monthly columnist and live up to the challenge I issued.
Through this column, I hope to reach out to my community from within these prison walls and myself to offer insight, encouragement, perspective, awareness and solutions that deal directly with violence, young men, and the community.
To provide context for upcoming articles and a reason why many young men choose the wrong path in life, I’d like to share my philosophy of the purpose of life.
A couple of wise men from the North Side, brothers Shane Price and Woodrow Jefferson, once imparted a revealing lesson to me. They said the two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you discover your purpose, for identifying your purpose crystallizes your focus and makes your principles strong.
As a man serving life in prison, I know all too well the dangers of failing to discover your purpose and falling for the wrong one.
When I was younger, I lost sight of my true purpose in life. I began to feel insignificant, hopeless and angry. Without a purpose, I felt disconnected from humanity. I didn’t understand how their well-being was connected to mine. It was easy for me to internalize a destructive purpose and offend against my community.
Fortunately, my life was redirected. I completed college and reclaimed my purpose. But unresolved pain from the past blurred my vision of my purpose and resulted in a 99-year prison sentence.
I share this detail of my life because many troubled young men, some of them your sons and loved ones, are experiencing the same confusion of purpose I did. Too many of these addled young men will end up trudging through this prison labyrinth with me, entombed by frigid steel bars and suffocating concrete walls. Knowing their true purpose may shift the trajectory of their lives away from prison.
To understand our true purpose in life, we must know what makes our lives significant. It isn’t money or power over others. These are superficial concepts that lie at the surface of what makes life significant.
People are at the core of everything that has meaning in our individual lives. The existence of other people gives each of us the platform to be significant.
Think about it. What would the meaning of life be if you were the only living being on Earth? What would be the purpose of your existence?
Money is worthless without someone to buy something from. Power over others can’t exist without other people. Your possessions, laughter, love and accomplishments lose their value without someone to share the experience with.
All life is interdependent. Both science and religion acknowledge this. Neurology and psychology inform us that a healthy functioning brain, the source of who we are, is dependent on positive communication and emotional involvement with other people. Most holy scriptures state that their main message is to treat your neighbor well.
If life were all about you and getting yours, you would’ve been created in isolation on a desolate world, not where seven billion others live. The events and emotions we experience in life have meaning largely because of these interdependent relationships.
So the purpose of life is not to selfishly exploit these relationships, but to use whatever talents and interest we have as vehicles to affect the community positively. It must be a positive impact because we are interdependent with all that exist. If you wreak havoc on the community and tear it down, it will eventually cause physical, emotional, spiritual and financial harm to you.
Being true to yourself means being true to your purpose. If you’re not committed to uplifting others and your community, you’re not being true to yourself.
Make this the day you discover your purpose in life and help other young men discover theirs. A man who knows his true purpose is a man who can avoid prison.
Jeffery Young welcomes reader responses to Jeffery Young #213390, 7600 525th St., Rush City, MN 55069.