2016-06-30
By now we all know that Martha Stewart has been sentenced to five months in prison and five months of home confinement for lying to the government about her sale of ImClone stock. What could prison time mean for Stewart's spiritual development? How could she grow morally and psychologically from her "dark night of the soul"? Beliefnet's Wendy Schuman interviewed three spiritual leaders--Charles Colson, Thomas Moore, and Rabbi Steven Z. Leder--with expertise in these issues.

Charles Colson: Advice From a Former Inmate

Colson, the former Nixon chief counsel and "hatchet man" who did time for obstruction of justice in connection with the Watergate affair, is a poster child for jailhouse conversion. He became a born-again Christian in prison and subsequently founded the highly influential Prison Fellowship Ministries, as well as the conservative forum BreakPoint. Here's the advice he would give Martha Stewart (and he plans to call her about it too).

The first thing I would tell her is that she should get with the Christian Fellowship Group inside the prison at Danbury [the Connecticut minimum-security prison where she is likely to be sent]. It just so happens I was up there last fall and spoke to the women and was really impressed. There was a thriving fellowship, we had about 400 women come out. In fact, they packed the hall. We couldn't get anymore in. And they were on fire for the Lord. So she will discover if she goes to them, that they will open their arms to her.

The biggest problem in a prison is you don't know who to befriend, you don't know who really you could trust. When you're famous [in prison] as I was, a lot of inmates will want to help you. But they want to help you because they want something from you. So the best advice I got was: Find out who's real and who's sincere before you start making any close friends. Prisons are full of con men or con women, and I had people every day offering me narcotics or alcohol. They would have loved for me to have taken [it] because then I would be in their debt. So you have to be very cautious about your relationships, but at the same time she would find out that the Christian group, which I know in that prison to be a really wonderful group of women, would be warm and supportive.

The other thing I discovered that I would tell Martha Stewart is to recognize that prisons are full of people just like you. You might come from a high and mighty position, but you're basically no different than the people in that prison. Jesus for a time had become lower than the angels to be like us, so that he would not be ashamed to call us his brothers. I looked around that prison, which was full of some very serious criminals and a lot of drug dealers and swindlers, con men, and realized, hey, these folks are my brothers. I'm no better than they are. Inmates can scope out a phony in a hurry because they've either manipulated people in their lives or they've been manipulated. So if you approach them in a patronizing way, or if you aren't really sincere, they'll be onto you in a minute. Therefore, just be yourself and be sincere and don't hold yourself out above any of the people in that prison.

She may discover exactly what I discovered, that the best thing that ever happened to me was adversity because it made me face myself. It then gave me an opportunity to help a lot of people that I never would have even thought about before. She may well discover that she feels called to do something-to help people who are largely the most overlooked people in our society-the inmates, the poorest of the poor. Nobody wants to have anything to do with the outcasts of society. And I grew to love those men inside and have found that the most enriching thing, to be able to go back and to try to help them. So I think she may discover that.

I had correspondence with Jean Harris [convicted of murdering her lover Dr. Herman Tarnower, the "Scarsdale Diet" doctor], and gave her some help going in. I don't think she became a Christian, but she got into a lot of projects where she was helping the other inmates and teaching them. She made her whole time in prison worthwhile, and she really redeemed it as much as you could redeem something apart from Christ. And that would be the example that I would give to Martha Stewart.

The biggest thing I would tell her is to accept her fate-don't fight it. Martha Stewart's got to look herself in the mirror and say, "I committed a crime and now I'm going to pay for it and I'm not going to think about it again. I'm going to get on with myself." If you start dwelling on the past you really destroy yourself.

Thomas Moore: Her Own Greek Tragedy

Thomas Moore, a Beliefnet columnist, is a best-selling author, psychotherapist, and lecturer who spent 13 years as a monk in a Catholic religious order. His latest book is Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life's Ordeals (Gotham/Penguin).

I don't know any details of her personal experience of this situation. But it appears she is going through a sort of Greek tragedy of her own: A person in a high place, perhaps placing herself above the limitations of other mere mortals, suffers a significant setback. This is the full pattern-rise to fame, success, and fall. It's a painful arc that most of us experience in our own way at some time or other.

Now everything depends on how you fall. Do you find someone to blame? That's avoiding the fall. Do you make excuses and over-explain yourself? That's another avoidance. The best thing is to take the experience to heart. Really feel it. Be changed by it in some way. Don't give in to self-pity. Don't make empty resolutions. Use the complete fall, with its full penalties, to become a deeper person. Allow it to make a deep change in your outlook.

I assume this is a dark night for her. In my book I speak of "Dark Nights of the Soul" as rites of passage. You have to confront yourself honestly. See yourself for exactly who you are. Judge yourself for just what you did wrong, and get some insight into what weakness in yourself brought you to this place. Then you can on from there and live a life somewhat differently. You may realize how important it is to the meaning of your life to make a positive contribution to the society you have wronged. The idea is to have as little ego in all this as possible.

She hasn't had a failed life at all, just this bad mistake. As we tell kids, you're not a bad person, you've done a bad thing. The point is not [just] to learn from your mistake and make it all right. You have to be a different person, one who definitely will not act this way again, and in fact will be significantly more ethically sensitive in the future. Martha may feel like doing something very positive in response to this ethical slip. It's partly a matter of character.

This kind of failure is a gift, as long as you receive it precisely for what it is, neither too much nor too little. Martha Stewart could become a truly significant person now. It all depends on how she reacts.

Rabbi Steven Z. Leder: "I haven't heard her say she was wrong"

Rabbi Leder, senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, is the author of More Money Than God: Living a Rich Life Without Losing Your Soul (Basic Books). Members of his synagogue include some of the wealthiest and most successful people in Hollywood, and part of his ministry is to help his congregation "not confuse their outer life with their inner life" and to teach their children solid values.

I have not yet heard her say, "I was wrong, I'm sorry, and here's what I'm going to do to make up for it." Without that component, it would be hard to imagine much growth coming from this, other than "Don't get caught." Perhaps because she pled not guilty, after the sentencing when there's no longer a need to maintain her innocence, she might say something like that. To me as a rabbi, the real healing, what Jews call teshuva, repentance, comes first from accepting what you've done and taking steps to assure that it's never repeated, and then changing your life in a way that supports better values. I haven't heard her say, "I'm going to give 100 times that amount to charity." If I were her spiritual adviser, those would be the steps that I'd advise her to take.

Of course, there's a tremendous sense of shame. But the opportunity is to be relieved of the burden of living a kind of double life, which I think in many ways she did. Many famous people do. I think ultimately it points to some kind of internal emptiness.

For Martha Stewart to risk her reputation for a quarter of a million dollars, when she had the kind of money she had, what does that tell you? What it tells you is this is a person who equates her net worth with her self-worth. If that's how you keep score, then it makes perfect sense why she would risk everything for a little bit more. Because it's never enough.

[Ironically,] this is a woman who made a living out of convincing people not to take shortcuts. To do it really well. Every craft, every baked good was the best it could possibly be. The best mattress, the best lemon squeezer, the best chocolate chip cookie. But she didn't have the same sense about her own character.

We all should be equally aware of the fact that for every Martha Stewart, for every Kobe Bryant, there are tens of millions more doing precisely the same thing who are not famous, people like you and me crossing the very same lines. If anybody in this country thinks this is just about Martha Stewart, they are sorely mistaken. And that's a lesson we can all learn: If you don't want to be subjected to shame, don't cross the line.

If we somehow allow her to be the vessel for all of the evil in the stock market, we let ourselves off the hook.

It's not the amount of money. A decent values-centered human being can handle failure and success. A person without a solid inner core will fail at either.

If she were sitting on a couch in my office, I'd say to her, at least from the perspective of Jewish tradition, that every human being has the opportunity for a second chance. Every human being has the opportunity for teshuva-repentance. No human being lives without sin, no human being lives without mistakes. The point should not be, Gee, I wish that hadn't happened. The point should be, now that it has happened, how am I going to be more serious about my life and the kind of person I am? I would say to her, You're a gifted, talented, remarkable person, and you have the opportunity to do a great deal of good in the world. Go do it.

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