Jewish Journal

A Convict’s Quest For Faith

by Beit T'shuvah

November 2, 2012 | 1:21 pm

Russell Harrison is the perfect example of a simple truth—you can’t judge a man based on his past.  In fact, if you simply met Russell today it would be a near impossible task to guess at what his life had been like up until the past year.  Before he got to Beit T’Shuvah, Russell had served 27 years on a life sentence.  He’s a man who freely admits that he has made mistakes and isn’t ashamed to try and change his circumstances.

After years of being stuck in a convict mentality, Russell is now a beacon of redemption and hope.  His jovial spirit permeates through everyone he encounters.  In fact, the only thing more powerful than Russell’s spirit is his voice.  It’s a voice that booms out during every song of every service.  “I’m adamant in services because that’s my longing for the light that I had lost,” he says.  For Russell it’s all just part of his daily journey back towards faith and away from certainty. 

Officially, Russell is part of the Maintenance staff at Beit T’Shuvah.  He’s been out of prison for a year and has lived at Beit T’Shuvah for the past 6 months.  Unofficially, he holds a far more important title that is shared throughout our entire facility; Russell is a “grateful member of the community.”  The truth is, Russell is more grateful than most people.  “You try not to dream too big when you’re inside because you don’t know life is ever gonna be that good again,” he says.  “For years I had no hope, no soul, no spirit…faith has been the only way for me to get all those things back.”  Now Russell uses faith and mitzvah to put some of that light that he took away back into the world.

For anyone who ever thought, “I’ve gone too far,” or “my life is ruined and over,” Russell is a flesh and blood embodiment of the fact that it is never too late to live well.  According to Russell, “There are things you have to do in order to live well.  Making amends is a continuous obligation and even though sobriety is the lynchpin of my life, faith is what provides me with wholeness and holiness.” 

Just remember that no one is ever too far-gone to become the person they dream of being.

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