• Mary MacCarthy

Use this time to "take a fearless moral inventory of yourself"

Updated: May 7, 2020

Renee Harden is the author of a powerful memoir called "Diary of a Forgotten Child." His book recounts an abusive childhood that led to an adolescence of criminal activity. When he was 17, he was found guilty of being an accessory to murder. Even though he was a minor, he was tried as an adult - and was sentenced to 7 years to life in prison.

Recent photo of Renee at a wedding

Renee ended up serving 43 years behind bars, 25 of those in solitary confinement.

His book is a painful and powerful read. It's an indictment of a society that lets many low-income youth - and especially youth of color - fall through the cracks.

I stumbled across Renee's book a year ago, then reached out for an interview for a television report I was doing about the lack of adequate healthcare in the U.S. prison system.

When Renee was finally released from prison a few years ago, he was legally blind: due to glaucoma that prison doctors had not treated, he had to have one eye removed, and the remaining eye had less than 15% vision.

Renee and I have stayed in touch and become friends. I greatly appreciate his authentic, indefatigable optimism. So of course now, with the COVID-19 crisis, I wanted to hear his thoughts.

Renee and I are posting his words here in honor of a mutual friend of ours - his publisher Willa Robinson, CEO of KP Publishing. Sadly, Willa's husband passed away from COVID-19 last week.

HOW AM I GETTING BY? With prayer, believe it or not. Every day and night. I take time to pray, and I give thanks for seeing one more day.

That helps me to get through the day. I’m going to say this - this, I call it a lock-down, I don’t know what other folks call it - it does remind me of prison. It’s not prison. But it reminds me of it, a bit. Of solitary confinement. I went through that for 25 years straight. I’m telling you: what got me through those 25 years was only the grace of God.

During my television interview with Renee in spring 2019

During 25 years in solitary, I kept exercising, I kept reading everything I could get my hands on.

I said, there’s got to be something better. There’s going to be a better day. For a long time I was half-believing. But once I got more faith - putting my faith and trust in God - it made it easier for me. So this is what I say to people going through this lock-down. I say - and this is hard for people to do - you need to take a fearless moral inventory of yourself. You take this time to say: I have to look inside myself. You ask, “What am I, and what do I want to be?” And if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll get through this. I believe this. It worked for me. And it continues to work for me. That’s what’s helping me get through this Take the time to do that self-moral-inventory. I can't tell other folks what to do. I’m not telling anyone else to embrace religion. I'm saying what works for me. Look at me. My vision. I can see. Not just with my eyes. I can see with my heart. You don’t have to walk around like it’s the end of the world. I believe this is a wake-up call for folks to get right with themselves. I hear some saying this virus is man-made. But I say, even if all that is true - it’s still killing people. This stuff is real.

So what are you going to do about it? There’s only so much you can do about it. Be cautious. Be careful People are dying every single day. Old, young, middle-aged.

I can’t stress it enough: get within yourself and discover who you really are. And if you believe in a higher power, you need to get in touch with it. And if you do that - what we’re going through now, the lock-down - it won’t feel as dark as it is.

And as for me, I say - Renee, you’re still blessed. Some folks aren’t able to go outside and appreciate the trees and the sun. I’m grateful to see one more day. I’m not going to let the coronavirus whoop me. I’m careful and cautious, but I’m not gonna let it consume me. I’m seeing the virus everyday - I know folks who’ve been to the hospital with it, and who’ve passed away from it. But I want to think of the good. There’s a lot of positive. There’s a lot of good folks out here, just making it, day by day Just be careful and be mindful. I make it my business to have a good day. The isolation stuff doesn’t have to be so hard. I did it for 25 years.

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