Sunny Jacobs – Shine Your Light
Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs was a young mother of two when she was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death by electric chair. This is how she found the courage to be truly free.
My freedom was taken away when I was accused of a crime that I didn’t commit. I was locked up. I was sentenced to death. I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t be with my loved ones. I had two young children. My son was nine. My daughter was 10 months old. And, all of that was taken away.
And I hadn’t done anything. My husband, unfortunately, he was executed, again, for something we didn’t do. He didn’t just die when they put him in the electric chair. He caught fire, because the electric chair malfunctioned, and at that point, when our daughter, who had been 10 months old, was then about 15, when she heard how terrible the execution was, she tried to take her own life. And I was helpless to help her, and I wished for that freedom to be there. I thought that if I could just be there, I could make a difference.
It was in that very place, when I felt the most hopeless, that I realized that I still had a choice, that I didn’t have to see it the way they saw it, that I was locked up, prisoner, waiting for them to take my life. In fact, while I still was living in breathing, I still was in charge of my life. I might not be in charge of my circumstances, but my life still belonged to me, and I could still choose what I wanted to do with it, and how I would live it.
There’s a freedom that only you can give to yourself, and that’s the most important freedom of all. So, I decided that it was … instead of seeing myself as a prisoner and a victim, waiting for my life to be taken, I decided that it was an opportunity for me to do my spiritual work.
I had no dishes to wash. I had no laundry to do. I had nobody to take care of. I didn’t have to work. I was sentenced to death in the electric chair, so I got free electricity until that day. So I turned my cell into a sanctuary, and I began to do yoga, and meditation, and prayer. I chose to believe in hope rather than hopelessness. That’s what they wanted me to believe.
And so I actually found a freedom that I never knew before while I was sentenced to death, while they had supposedly taken my freedom away. And then, finally one day, my sentence was changed from death to life, and things improved. So finally, with the help of lawyers who worked for free, and friends who always believed in my innocence, I was released.
But freedom wasn’t … it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. See, freedom, that kind of freedom, isn’t free. Who was going to feed me, and where would I sleep? I had no money. I had this little cardboard box of stuff, that was all I owned in the world, and I was a 45-year-old woman, whom no one was going to hire.
But it forced me to go back to the lessons that I learned while I was sentenced to death, and that was that there’s this kernel of freedom, this essence of freedom, that only you can give yourself, and once you find that, then nobody can take it away from you. So I went back to what I knew, and I determined that again, I wasn’t going to be a victim and live in misery, and anger, and fear, and those were not the legacies that I wanted to leave to my children.
Freedom is a gift that you give yourself, and you can free yourself from your past and from your circumstances. Not that you can change them, but you can change how you behave within those circumstances. And the main thing that I taught them is that no one can take away the freedom to love one another.
I’d just like to leave you with another little song. It’s the song that if you open up your heart and let your little light shine out of your heart, no one can extinguish that (singing).