The outcome of this case will surely be decided within a week or two at the latest. But, beyond the minimum sentence issue, at hand, a larger question exists: What will Genarlow Wilson do to benefit others from his experience? Certainly, his sentence and incarceration has caused a law to be changed in Georgia. One could say that is good. But beyond that, Genarlow is an example of a simple, yet profound, principle: Every choice has a consequence.
The formal part of the presentation I was making to young people at a church had just finished, when I asked the group if they had any questions. One girl lifted her hand nervously and then asked, “What did your children think about their daddy going to prison?” That question caused me to pause. I wasn’t sure I could answer. I knew what they felt. We shared that with each other often, but I wasn’t sure I ever looked at it from the mental perspective only.
The consequences of my choices were devastating. My marriage was destroyed. It’s hard to share a life together when you destroy someone’s trust. My career was over. When you are guilty of embezzlement you will not keep your license or job as a CPA. My assets were gone. Making restitution meant selling all that I had accumulated. Frankly, that was part of the consequence. Facing prison – well that was rock bottom. The “somebody” that I was once known as had changed to being the “somebody” that few wanted to know.
All that said, the one thing that did survive, by the grace of God, was the love of my two sons. They were both old enough to understand what I had done and what was happening. And, I made a commitment that I would tell them the whole truth. I may have made serious mistakes, but I had no intention to continue that process. If any good would come from this, my sons would understand that every choice has a consequence. I was living proof.
As soon as I finished my answer, out of the back of the room a young man blurted out, “It’s not deceit if you don’t get caught!” I was stunned. As a motivational speaker and founder of the Choices Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the message of choices and consequences to young people, I had just finished a presentation that clearly and unequivocally said there is a consequence.
Wobbled, stunned, I’m not really sure what I felt. What I do recall is the reaction that I saw and heard from the kids. A few looked shocked by this young man’s statement – a look of disbelief at what they had just heard. Others, although a small number, just giggled. It was as if this small, yet vocal, minority were testing me and the message I had just delivered. One thing was for sure, there was silence that followed as the group awaited a response.
The opinion that this young man had the courage to share is not that uncommon among adult audiences. The only difference is – they don’t state it out loud – they demonstrate it through their actions. And, since every choice has a consequence, they will reap what they sow. It’s the law of reciprocity in action – a universal law that we all must live by – and one many think does not exist.
No one is exempt from the law and the law does not discriminate based on age. Yet, young people are often misguided into believing that they can get by without getting caught. In fact, recent studies, concerning the ethical attitudes of youth, indicates that the majority of young people would make unethical choices if they felt they could “get ahead” as a result. Success at all costs seems to be a common theme.
As former inmate from Federal prison, today I share with business executives and young people that simple message: Every choice has a consequence. And, while I am extraordinarily sympathetic to Mr. Wilson’s plight, his example has helped other young people evaluate the power of their seemingly simple choices. As the founder of the Choices Foundation, perhaps Genarlow would consider stepping up and helping others understand the power of choice.