Several years ago I met a man here in our community by the name of Don Bingham. Don is a very fine man, but he is also one of those multitalented individuals who has distinguished himself in a number of different fields. He is a gifted musician, author and entertainer, and he is also a fantastic chef. He has hosted his “Celebrate With Cooking” show on the local affiliate stations for PBS and CBS, and has made numerous guest appearances on the local ABC station. Recently, he was inducted into the American Academy of Chefs, one of only 22 chefs that year in the United States with this distinction.
About five years ago the governor of our state, Arkansas, recognized his talents and secured his services to be the Governor’s Mansion administrator where he serves as host, event planner and executor of day-to-day operations of the governor’s mansion. This is the backdrop for the true story of “Three Life Sentences.”
A few weeks before joining the governor’s staff, Don was hosting a special event for the governor and some of his guests, and he noticed a handsome young man who was one of the servers. He really looked sharp in his neatly pressed trousers, white coat and black bow tie, but Don said he was even more impressed with his fine attitude and the gracious, efficient manner in which he conducted himself.
After the event was over Don went up to him and introduced himself. His name is John. As they began to chat, Don learned that he was a prison inmate who had earned the rank of trustee. He also learned that from six to nine other inmates were there to maintain the grounds and to routinely perform household duties in the mansion. This is an incentive program for “model” inmates and it also saves money for the taxpayers. The inmates are transported each night by the state police to a secure location in another part of the city.
When Don became mansion administrator, he began a relationship with John that has lasted till this day. John had educated himself in many areas and had also acquired computer skills that enabled him to help Don in performing his job more efficiently. Don said the thing that impressed him most about John was his wonderful, helpful attitude, especially considering where he was at this time in his life.
After several years, the news came suddenly that, after 14 years of being incarcerated, John was going to be released. Don said the news caught him by surprise and he didn’t have any money in his wallet to give him and all he could do was fix him a sandwich to eat on his way back to prison where he would be released.
On the way back, John wrote Don a note on a small piece of paper that contained three sentences: “You have encouraged me. You have given me confidence in my abilities. You have given me hope for the future.” When a mutual friend, Betty Fraser, heard this she said, “That’s it! That’s THREE LIFE SENTENCES.”
I believe you agree that this is a little bit different than what we would normally think about in relation to a prison inmate. Three life sentences is usually bad news, but this was great news because it meant the opportunity to have a great future on the outside world. Please go back and reread them.
As part of the prison release requirements, John had to move to another state, but this was over three years ago and he is doing great. He is a computer technician with a solid job and he is now making a contribution as a productive member of society. He has stayed in contact with Don by e-mail and has also written and called him a number of times.
It all started with a helpful, positive attitude.
(Editor’s Note: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. He may be contacted at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway AR 72034.)