Narrator: Do you ever wish you could hit a do-over button?
Maybe you said something and it came out wrong. Or maybe you forgot the birthday of someone important in your life. Or maybe there are big life choices you wish you could go back and change.
There are plenty of examples of people going on to do big things with their second chance. Michael Jordan didn’t originally make the high school varsity basketball team, but he went on to win 6 NBA championships. Albert Einstein was expelled from school because his teachers thought he was mentally handicapped and slow to learn. He went on to win the Nobel Prize and radically changed the way we look at physics. Henry Ford had multiple failed business attempts that left him broke before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company. Wilma Rudolph was a former polio survivor who went on to win Olympic medals in track and field despite spending many years in a brace.
Being given a second chance can change us dramatically. Did you know that many people who have experienced a near death experience report electrical interference with devices? Weird, right? When they get near radios and television sets they sometimes experience some level of interference. It’s like that second chance changed their body on a physiological level.
But there’s even more real proof that second chances can be effective at changing our behavior forever. A report published in 2013 studied the recidivism rate of inmates in correctional facilities who had received parole from a life sentence. This means they studied how many inmates who were given a life sentence — with the chance of parole — and then were released from prison, ended up back in jail. They found that very few people who were given a life sentence but were then paroled EVER ended up back in prison. Even more interesting, is that the recidivism rate was drastically lower than people who received a shorter sentence and then were let out after serving that full sentence.
What is it about being given a second chance and being let out early that encourages people to change their behavior moving forward? It could be related to the weight of a long sentence being forgiven.
Some countries even have second chances celebrations. In the United States, since 2017, every April has been marked as “Second Chance Month” — it’s a time to focus on the importance of helping people who were formerly incarcerated reenter society. Having a past criminal record can affect your ability to get a job, get housing, and otherwise reenter society. This is even sometimes referred to as “second prison”.
It can be tempting to judge people who have a past full of serious mistakes and crimes. But offering a true second chance is important for helping people not end up committing the same crimes and mistakes that got them in trouble in the first place.
William Freeman III, who works in policy justice, commented on Second Chance Month: “We know young people from low-income backgrounds who commit crimes may never recover from an early misstep because of exclusionary policies. We know that there is a school-to-prison pipeline, and that some so-called second chances are, in fact, people’s first chances.”
Among the many sayings that have been attributed to the great Chinese philosopher Confucius is this one: “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” What if we all could be given a second chance so radical that we could begin a truly new life?