Every now and then, some of my well-intentioned Facebook friends will post what they believe are inspirational stories. Unfortunately, many of these are usually urban legends, and my friends didn’t notice the telltale telltale signs. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a link to a story about the last wishes of a death row inmate, that included the following picture.
The text of the story was as follows:
A death row inmate awaiting execution, asked as a last wish a pencil and paper. After writing for several minutes, the convict called the prison guard and asked that this letter be handed over to his biological mother. The letter said…
“Mother, if there were more justice in this world, we would be both executed and not just me. You’re as guilty as I am for the life I led.
Remind yourself when I stole and bring home the bicycle of a boy like me? You helped me to hide the bicycle for my father did not see it. Do you remember the time I stole money from the neighbor’s wallet?
You went with me to the mall to spend it.
Do you remember when I argued with my father and he’s gone?
He just wanted to correct me because I stole the final result of the
competition and for that I had been expelled.
Mom, I was just a child, shortly after I became a troubled teenager and now I’m a pretty malformed man.
Mom, I was just a child in need of correction, and not an approval. But I forgive you!
I just want this letter to reach the greatest number of parents in the
world, so they can know what makes all people, good or bad …is education. Thank you mother for giving me life and also helping me to lose it.
Your child offender.”
I knew immediately that something was not right about this story. The accompanying photo wasn’t of a death row inmate, but of Jeremy Meeks. He gained considerable media exposure in June 2014 as the “hot convict”, after his mug shot was posted on social media. In late 2014, Meeks was sentenced to 27 months for gun possession but he was never on death row. This unrelated image alone made the story suspicious.
Secondly, death row inmates in the United States receive a last meal, but not a last wish. Thirdly, how did a note written exclusively for his mother end up being published in the media? If you were his mother and had been maligned and shamed to that extent, would you take that note to a media outlet for publication? Finally, this story also had all of the hallmarks of an apocryphal tale: the inmate was not named, and neither was the prison. The location, crime and date – all items that could be used to check the veracity of the tale – were curiously missing. Finally, Snopes verified my suspicion; this was indeed an urban legend.
Normally, this is where it would end. I would usually continue scrolling through my news feed, and wonder why so many people fall for what is to me, such obvious fakery. However, this article stood out because of the reader comments below it. The commenters were not only fooled by the story, but they also took to heart, the parenting message that they believed was contained within it. Here are some of their comments:
- “Wow! This touched me. I am crying not because he would be executed, but because his mother failed to raise him properly. I hope she gets this letter and see what a failure she has been.”
- “This letter will hunt the mother for the rest of her life, she use her own hand to destroy the future of her son. what a pity.”
- “SMH! What a mother”
- “some women dont deserv to b mother’s”
- “She was a total failure as a mother”
On the surface, this article seems to promote a positive parenting message: teach your kids right from wrong, and practise what you preach. However, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I see things from The Bob Angle. Not only is this an apocryphal tale, in my opinion it’s is also one of the least helpful messages I have ever read. There is another, more important lesson to be learned here, and one that seems to have escaped all those who commented beneath this story.
Stop Blaming Others
Right up to his final hour, this fictional inmate is blaming others for his poor behaviour. In this case, he has the audacity to blame his mother for his imminent execution. Admittedly, his mother was an enabler, and implicitly condoned his thefts through her actions, but one doesn’t end up on death row for petty thievery. Death row is reserved for capital offences. This web site describes 41 capital offences. Thirty-nine of them involve death or murder and the other two are treason and espionage. In the United States, five people have been executed for treason or espionage; the most recent ones were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, in 1953. Since there are no more recent examples, this man must have murdered at least one person. While his mother may have implicitly condoned his thievery, he alone is responsible for making the leap from theft to murder, despite his claim of “You’re as guilty as I am for the life I led”.
Our Role Models Are Not Perfect
None of us is perfect, and this means that we have all been raised by imperfect parents, relatives or guardians. Many of us grew up in a single-parent home. A few of us may have been raised by people who were alcoholics, or who had other addictions. Most of them did the best they could, but ultimately it’s up to us, as we move through our formative years, to understand the difference between right and wrong and to eventually rise beyond the limitations of those raising us. We can’t expect perfect or even admirable parents. We are responsible for internalizing whatever life lessons we can from them, and then for setting our own moral code and level of behaviour.
Secondly, we were all taught by imperfect teachers. Discovering that your teacher is wrong about something is not a traumatic event. Personally, I was delighted when I knew something that one of my teachers didn’t. It made me feel more grown-up, and certainly wasn’t an excuse to mimic a teacher’s ignorance or to refuse to learn. I was proud that I had something valuable to contribute.
Thirdly, our peers were probably the least well-informed of all. Over the years, I’ve received all kinds of dubious or even dangerous advice from my peers (usually in the form of dares and double-dog dares). Fortunately, I knew when to listen to them and when to ignore their boneheaded suggestions. Growing up, we (or at least most of us) learned how to be true to ourselves and behave accordingly, regardless of what those around us were doing.
Finally, we are continually exposed to all sorts of poor behaviour and dubious role models during the thousands of hours of television and movies that we watch. Despite being exposed to boorish celebrity behaviour, televised violence and a multitude of criminal or otherwise unhealthy lifestyles (Cops, The Sopranos, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Orange Is The New Black, Criminal Minds etc.), the vast majority of us still manage to obey the law, remain kind to others and lead productive lives.
Own Your Mistakes
Being responsible for your behaviour and your actions is part of being an adult. Blaming others for your shortcomings is a sign of immaturity and demonstrates a decided lack of integrity. People are not stupid – they understand cause and effect, and will see right through your attempts at deflecting blame. If you make a mistake – even an egregious one – you have to own it; it’s the adult (and expected) thing to do. Blaming your parents for a less-than-ideal upbringing means that you’ve merely joined others in the world who are refusing to adapt to and rise above their own set of less-than-perfect conditions.
Learn The Right Lesson
To all of the article commenters: yes, she wasn’t close to being an ideal mother, but by focusing solely on her dismal parenting, you are absolving her son of any responsibility for his behaviour. He can’t be let off the hook – especially for a capital crime. He needs to own his actions.