In the 60s I was given the opportunity to accept an assignment by the Church Education System to teach seminary full-time at the Utah State Industrial School, in Ogden, Utah. The Utah State Industrial School was in reality a coed prison for disturbed juveniles. At that time in the state of Utah it was the last effort the state would make to help teenagers who had committed serious crimes against society or who were self-destructing through addictive behavior of one kind or another. These young people had been in and out of foster homes, and juvenile detention centers, with the Industrial School being the last step prior to becoming legal adults, at which time far too many of them would suffer violent deaths or end up being incarcerated in the state penitentiary at the Point of the Mountain located between Salt Lake City and Provo.
I had heard from those who had taught at the Industrial School Seminary how challenging it could be. I felt however, I should accept the assignment which I reluctantly did. In retrospect, it was a life altering experience for me. I shudder to think what I would have missed out on had I not had this incredible growth experience as a young teacher.
I was fortunate to be assigned to teach with Charlie Beckert. He was very gifted in working with these disturbed kids and was a valuable mentor in helping me get over the culture shock I experienced as I began my three years teaching seminary in this new environment. Charlie had taught there several years before I arrived, and along with other teachers who had preceded him there, had developed what they called "The Reform School Philosophy." It was a number of precepts or short truthful statements designed to help teachers and students successfully survive this experience.
The precept I found most valuable for the students and later in my own life as well, was, "The way out is the way through!"
Most of the students I worked with during my three years at the State Industrial School Seminary were unhappy, depressed, miserable, and very sorry they were in this juvenile prison. They were not sorry for what they had done to get them there, but only sorry that they had been caught. Most would never take ownership for the misery and unhappiness they had brought upon themselves. In their minds, it was always somebody else's fault they had lost their freedom, e.g. parents, teachers, police, judges, etc. In their defense however, I must admit that almost all of them were the products of very dysfunctional parents and families and were not given a very good head start to a decent life.
Given any possible opportunity, they would try to escape from the School. It was quite a secure facility but you could run when the opportunity presented itself, if you really wanted to. Each escapee would inevitably be brought back in much worse condition than when they ran, and in most cases would have to begin a new and longer rehabilitation sentence and program.
Therefore, we tried to instill in their minds and hearts the truth, "The way out is the way through." The way to freedom was to bite the bullet, and instead of running, accept the fact they had problems, had violated the law, and then work through this challenging time, accepting all the help the State School provided by way of teaching and counseling, so as to once again be "free."
Over the years I have learned that it is much easier to teach great truths and principles than to live them. Most of our students did not internalize the fact that "The way out is the way through." It was hard for me to accept the fact that so few were able to do this. Many years later, because of what happened to me one August day at Laguna Beach, I was given the opportunity to implement this philosophy in my own life. I found that it was easier said than done and caused me to have greater empathy for my juvenile delinquent friends than I had when I was their teacher and counselor.
For the first few years after my accident I tried everything I could do to run from the fact that being a quadriplegic on life support was a permanent condition. The neurosurgeons had told me three days after the accident that I would never get anything back because my spinal cord was not just bruised but was severed – in medical jargon, "a complete injury." I could not admit to myself that I would be in this condition forever. I tried every remedy I could possibly find to cure my paralysis, and of course, none of them worked. I was very discouraged not being able to make any physical progress, and I must admit that my mind and spirit were beginning to become as paralyzed as was my body.
Thankfully, the day finally came that I was able to follow the advice of a good physical therapist friend who told me, "Jack, you must accept about your situation that which you can never change, and then explore and discover every capacity, ability, and talent you have left, and magnify them to the highest degree possible."
He was telling me what I had told my juvenile delinquents many years before that the only way out was the way through. The day I was able to admit to myself I would be paralyzed from the neck down and living on life support today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and as long as the Lord permitted me to live, was the day I began to work my way out of depression, despondency, despair, and abject misery.
As I have looked for a manifestation of this principle in the Scriptures I have found it operative in the lives of many down through the ages. Two of the most obvious are Moses and the children of Israel at the Red Sea and Lehi and his family crossing the Arabian Desert and the ocean. In each case their destination was their Promised Land. Neither group could have found their way out of, and through their extremely challenging circumstances, without the "tender mercies" of the Lord and their realizing that the only way out was the way through with HIS HELP.
One manifestation of this principle which is not so dramatic as the two mentioned above, but which I personally can identify with easier, is found in the Book of Mormon. The great Lamanite king, the father of Lamoni, having been taught the gospel by Aaron comes face-to-face with what he must do to have the "wicked spirit" he felt inside him "rooted out of his breast" by coming to know the God of Aaron. At first he is willing to give up all his riches to come to know God, and then his kingdom, but Aaron teaches him that he must do far more than just give up his riches and kingdom – that is not the way out of his sinful state. The king must do much more according to Aaron, who told him "… if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins… [then] shalt thou receive the hope which thou hast desired… the king…did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying…O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day." [Alma 22:16-17]
I believe that the experience of the king must ultimately be the experience of all those who would come to truly know God and come to understand that the way out is the way through – through God. To come to know God, to have "the wicked spirit rooted out of our breasts" requires coming face to face with ourselves and being willing to "give away all of our sins of commission and omission" to come to know God. There is no other way.
Ultimately the way out of the "natural man" condition we all inherit because of the Fall is "through" Christ and his atonement. As Nephi so beautifully taught, "And now behold my beloved brethren, this is the way and there is none other way nor name whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God…" [2 Nephi 31:21]