Journal Entry: Douglas Jason Way-03/17/2024-OUR SUPERPOWER

Journal Entry


On a recent phone call with my friend John, we were discussing my prospects for going home–the mechanics and timing. He asked me what my take was, given my experience in the criminal justice system, on hope. He wanted to know if I thought it was a bad idea for people to get their hopes up, especially in a situation like mine.

Looking back at my track record after more than a decade of fighting my way through the system, including 3.5 years of incarceration, there is reason to have an aversion to hope:

* When I was initially targeted by the government, my first attorney told me that the situation was a misunderstanding that he would be able to clear up by talking to prosecutors.
* After refusing to share any concrete thoughts through four weeks of my trial on how it was going, when we were called back to court after only a few hours of jury deliberations, my trial attorney looked me in the eye and said, “We won.”
* During oral argument for my appeal, the lead judge keyed in on the actions of the prosecutor and said that the proceedings were “unfair,” causing my team to celebrate. That same judge then denied my appeal, acknowledging that errors had been made by the trial court, but concluding that those errors were harmless.
* Former President Trump personally told my advocates on two separate occasions that he would commute my sentence. My application fell through the cracks when his administration imploded after the January 6th riot.
* In October of 2022, a town hall meeting was held in the camp at which the administration told us that every person who had a solid release plan and wasn’t a violent criminal or sex offender, would be released to home confinement under the CARES Act. Of the 50+ men who were eligible, including me, only 4 went home.
* My motion for a sentence reduction based on ineffective assistance of counsel, which my attorney referred to as “brilliant,” has been pending for almost two years. It was reassigned to a different judge and then reassigned to no judge. It was effectively lost for six months and was finally just reassigned to a new judge this past week.

In every one of these instances, even when I tried not to, I got my hopes up, only to have them dashed. Like everyone caught in the criminal justice system, all I want is to get out and get home. When these exit doors seem to be opening, it is hard not to get fixated on them. When they are slammed in your face, it is devastating.

Webster’s dictionary defines hope as “to desire with expectation of fulfillment.” This is the kind of attachment to a specific outcome that Victor Frankl wrote about in Man’s Search for Meaning. He observed expectations breaking the spirits of those around him in the Nazi concentration camps. They pinned their hopes to being reunited with loved ones, having friends survive, or being set free by a particular date. When their expectations were not met, they found it difficult to go on, their inner pendulum swinging from hope to despair. Many of them died of hopelessness. While my life is not in danger, I can certainly relate to feeling the crushing weight of despair. For my own protection, I resist the temptation to engage in this kind of hope now.

I am, however, more hopeful than ever. How can that be? Webster’s has a second definition of hope that speaks to my evolving perspective. It reads, “one that gives promise for the future.” What this definition tells me is that the past, even with its tribulations, does not dictate the future. The potential for different and better days ahead is ever-present. We might not know how and when better times will arrive, but they can happen at any moment. Victor Frankl held this belief in his heart and mind, and it sustained rather than destroyed him.

This definition also implies that I have a role to play in giving promise to the future. Better times can come to pass. That does not mean they will. They are more likely to happen if I throw myself wholeheartedly into working toward their manifestation, rather than sitting idly by while events unfold.

That is why I continue to pursue every avenue available for my release while also getting ready to go home stronger in body, mind, and spirit. Not because I have hopeful attachment that a specific scenario will happen, but because I believe that good things can happen and it therefore makes sense to act hopefully.

As I was walking the track one morning, I heard an interview with author and attorney Bryan Stevenson. He has engaged for years in some of the most heartbreaking work in the criminal justice system and has had to watch clients he cared deeply about be put to death. Yet he remains hopeful. He stated with firm conviction, “Hope is a superpower.” I agree. To have any value though, superpowers must be put into action fighting the good fight for a “promise for the future.” A better future.

When John asked the question about getting my hopes up, I told him that we would have to spend a couple of days discussing that one when I get out. He loved that idea and I look forward to the opportunity. For now, I can say in response, no, I do not get my hopes up. Hope has become bigger for me than a desire for wish fulfillment, rising and falling like the tides. It is my superpower, my belief that good things can come to pass and that tomorrow can be better, as well as my strength and motivation to do my part today to make it so.