I once lectured a group of ex-prisoners who had just been released from prison in Israel. All had been jailed from crimes resulting from their addiction to drugs. I tried to impress upon them that having a positive self-image can prevent tehir relapsing into drug use.
I posed the following question. "Suppose you were fortunate enough to have a brand new, shiny, luxury automobile. How cautious would you be to protect its luster and to avoid it being dented or even scratched? We seem to have an inherent resistance to damaging something that is beautiful and valuable. I'm sure you would have gingerly cared for your automobile. Why then, did you not have the same attitude toward yourself? It can only be because you did not think of yourself as beautiful and valuable.If you had only been aware of your great value and inner beauty, you would have assiduously avoided damaging yourself by use of drugs. In order to recover and avoid relapse into drug use, you must come to a better self-awareness.
One young man, Avi, interrupted and challenged me. "How can you tell me that I should consider myself valuable and beautiful? Sixteen of my 34 years have been spent in jail. I have been imprisoned eight times. Whenever I get out of jail, no one will give me a job. When they call my family to tell them that I will be released in two months, they go crazy. My family does not want me out of jail. I am a burden to them and an embarrassment. They actually wish I would be dead. How do you expect me to have any self esteem?"
I was taken aback by this frontal attack, but then responded. "Avi," I said, "have you ever seen a display in a jewelry store window? There are precious diamonds, scintillating with beauty and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Do you have any idea what those diamonds looked like when they were first brought up from the mine? They looked like dark rocks or pieces of dirty glass. The average person would have thrown them away and would have been afraid to soil his hands with them.
"Fortunately there is a mayvin, an expert, who examines the diamond ore and can tell one rock from another. He may become ecstatic with a particular rock and tell the onlooker that this 'piece of dirty glass' may be worth millions of dollars. Indeed, after this piece of ore is processed, it emerges as a perfect, priceless diamond of dazzling beauty.
"There is no way the processing plant can inject any beauty into a dirty rock. The beauty is there, deep within the rock. It is not visible because it is covered with layers of other material. The processing plant merely removes the layers that cover the diamond and expose its beauty.
"Avi," I said, "in your case I am the mayvin. You have a beautiful neshama of inestimable value. True, it has been covered with many layers of objectionable material that has accumulated over the years. If you stay with our program, we will remove these layers and expose your beauty to yourself and to the world."
Avi completed the treatment program and eventually got a job and moved into the community. One day the administrator of the program received a call from a family. Their elderly mother had died and left an apartment full of furniture which they wished to donate to the treatment facility. The administrator called Avi. "We have no way of bringing the furniture here. Can you help us?"
"No problem," Avi said. "I'll get a truck and bring it over."
Two days later Avi called the administrator. "I'm at the apartment with a truck," he said. "There is no point in bringing the furniture over. It is old and dilapidated. We can't use it."
The administrator said, "Bring it anyways, Avi. I don't want to disappoint the family. Maybe we will be able to salvage something."
Avi bought the furniture and began hauling it up the stairs to the treatment facility. As he was bringing up an old sofa, an envelope fell from the cushions. It contained 5,000 shekalim! It was essentially hefker (abandoned money). No one knew of its existence. Remember that in the past Avi had stolen purses and broken into houses for just a few shekalim.
Avi called the administrator and reported his find, "Call the family and tell them," the administrator said. Avi did so, and the family donated the money to the treatment program.
I learned about the incident several months later. "Avi," I said, "didn't I tell you that we would reveal the diamond within you? Many people who had never done anything dishonest would have simply pocketed the money. What you did revealed the beauty within you."
Avi subsequently donated a bronze plaque which is affixed on the door to the treatment facility. It reads "Diamond Polishing Center."
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski in Angels Don't Leave Footprints.