"When I say to people, for 12 years and 8 months, my sole possessions were short pants, a short-sleeved shirt, and three lice-infected blankets... the human mind is not capable of understanding what I'm saying."
"I shared a cell that measured 6x8 meters with 49 other prisoners."
"We were fed once a day on a half cup of cabbage leaves and a half cup of rice."
Reon Schutte told me not only of enduring incredible suffering in one of Africa's most hostile prisons, but how he discovered the power of choice within his cell. For the first four years, he said, he felt anger. Despair. Rage. And, he blamed everyone he could name. As a special forces agent in the South African army, he had been captured in Zimbabwe and sentenced to 26 years in jail... and no one came to negotiate his release.
And he was hungry. "For those first four years, 24 hours a day, I was hungry," he said Then, he realized that this food, though not what he wanted, was keeping him alive. It was enough. So, he made the choice to not be hungry. It worked. "You can't change anything in your life if you don't own it and accept it." He moved on to accept his daily beatings. And the hole in the floor that served as a toilet. And everything else that had tortured him about his imprisonment.
Acceptance brought him the sense of peace he needed to deal with his circumstances. Through this story, Reon holds a metaphorical mirror to our lives. What can we choose to accept? When willl we stop asking "Why?" and begin asking "What for?"
Today, Reon travels the world and speaks about his experience and the power of choice. He shares the breakthrough that enabled him to make life worthwhile in prison by serving his fellow prisoners and to make a difference in the world after his release. He supports orphanages on multiple continents and the Power of Choice Foundation. By choosing to serve others, he said, means to help yourself.
Reon left me with one last thought as we parted: "What I love about choice is, if you choose wrong, you can always choose again."