A favorite patriotic song of mine is Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” I am particularly moved by the lyrics “If tomorrow all the things were gone, I’d worked for all my life, and I had to start again with just my children and my wife. I’d thank my lucky stars to be living in a land where the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away.” This week we celebrate Thanksgiving, a day our nation sets aside to pause, reflect, and give thanks for those people and things in our lives for which we are grateful. This day is more than football, turkey, rice dressing, sweet potato casserole, and even bigger than pecan pie (hard to imagine, but it is!). This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for “living in a land” that promotes freedom, prosperity, and opportunity.

From the very beginning of our existence, God has woven into the hearts of his creation the desire to be free. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should be guaranteed, God-given freedoms for all Americans. The founders of our nation risked it all for the freedom and independence to pursue these inalienable rights. The freedoms we enjoy as Americans also apply to those who have made mistakes in life and who desire a second chance. I am especially thankful for being able to work with the Louisiana Legislature and other criminal-justice stakeholders to remove barriers and provide hope to those justice-involved people who seek a second chance at freedom and prosperity.

It took a great deal of reflection to see prosperity in the chaos of 2020. During the past 11 months of 2020, we have witnessed destruction from hurricanes, wildfires, tragic accidents, a global pandemic, senseless killing of innocent lives, and many other personal and national tragedies. Despite the unforeseen and unpredictable disasters and tragedies of the last 11 months, the good in people emerged once again to remind us of the greatness of the American spirit. In my home state of Louisiana, people came together to rebuild, to comfort, to aid, and to console those affected by hurricanes.

This is not anything new for Louisianans who know what it takes to rebuild a community. This phenomena of unity is displayed in Louisiana’s effort to assist those with a criminal past rebuild their lives. Business leaders, service providers, nonprofits, and lawmakers from across the ideological spectrum have united to reform the failed tough on crime policies that have limited access to opportunity and prosperity for a large percentage of Louisianans. We have transitioned from a focus on toughness to effectiveness, which improves the protection of victims and overall public safety. I am thankful for the potential prosperity this brings to the State of Louisiana and its justice-involved population.

The opportunities that I enjoy by living in this great nation deserve my gratitude. Ensuring these opportunities are available for all those striving to be productive members of society is a force that drives my passion for criminal justice advocacy. Across the United States, over 625,000 men and women—with 18,000 in Louisiana—start again each year after being released from prison. I have personally met hundreds of parolees each year in my decade long career as a parole officer. Many of these men and women are striving to contribute to their communities in a positive manner. They desire to leave their old ways behind, so that they can have an opportunity to experience prosperity. Basic opportunities such as employment, housing, and transportation are often denied those who have served their time and seek redemption from their communities. As a conservative, I stand true to the principle of personal responsibility. Applying the principles of conservative criminal justice reform are the ingredients necessary to ensure opportunity for redemption and a chance to start again.

While I cannot be sure what I would do “if tomorrow all the things were gone, I’d worked for all my life,” but I am certain that any effort to rebuild would require the support of my community and the hope for opportunity; hope that comes from opportunities afforded by the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.  With hope, I would thank God, and then—like Lee Greenwood—my “lucky stars,” that I live in a nation and a state that values freedom, prosperity, and opportunity.

I want to issue a special thanks to those who fight daily to protect these freedoms and who ensure that everyone living in this great nation and state may always enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!

Photo: Sabrina Ripke/Pixabay