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The Myth of the Self-Made Person

September 1, 2011
Hard Work...

Hard Work+Opportunity=Self made Man

Properly speaking, there are in the world no such men as self-made men. That term implies an individual independence of the past and present which can never exist.

Frederick Douglass (1872)

Post by Susan Mwarabu

Our society today sometimes makes the mistake of defining success as an individual act, independent of personal history and the help others have provided.  The concept that any man or woman can succeed solely by their own actions is a false assumption and one that can be damaging.

Frederick Douglass, despite being born into slavery, became a publisher, author and successful abolitionist. Even a man of such huge individual accomplishments believed that we need to acknowledge the influences in our lives that make it possible to succeed; in particular, the rewards of hard work and the trust and support of helpful people.

Those trying to reenter society after incarceration are faced with many obstacles that must be overcome if they are to make the most of their chance for a different life. The list often looks like this:

1. Get Housing

2. Get a job

3. Build a supportive social network

4. Get healthcare

5. Find reliable transportation

6. Come to terms with their personal history

7. Stay out of trouble

8. Make plans for the future

The list can go much longer, but none of the tasks can be completed without hard work and open doors provided by people who are willing to take a risk and believe in second chances.

Being an ex-offender is a lonely experience. The monolithic odds facing those trying to reenter society  contribute to national recidivism (re-offending or violating parole) rates which are often higher than 50 percent.   Seeking friendship, someone with a record will most often find themselves barred from “respectable” society. The lack of trust from a community that is not supportive will often leave the person feeling isolated, and can drive them back to the very environment, containing the same conditions that led to their offense.

Amicus‘ tagline is “real change starts on the inside.” We believe that the most important work when making a second chance comes from within the individual. That said, an organization whose very name means “friend,” will never cease its efforts to find ways to support the formerly incarcerated along  their road to true  freedom. Caring volunteers and staff are on-hand to help ex-offenders during the most difficult parts of their reentry. Long-term success though, comes only from a community that believes in the worth of every person and from individuals who will open their doors to those who have paid their dues to society.

There is no such thing as a self-made man.

An ex-offender cannot do it by themselves. Hard work on both the side of the community and ex-offender is imperative if there is to be success at reentry.

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