So Many Look at Life as Simply “Doing Time”

Working in a prison, I have come to an interesting realization. While the incarcerated prisoners have no choice where they live, they do have some choice over what they will do while they serve their sentence.

This said, it is tragic that so many prisoners perceive their stay in jail as "doing time." In case you are unfamiliar with the term, let me explain that "doing time" is first-cousin of "killing time."

It describes the mentality of prisoners who have written off the time they must spend in jail, and expect to achieve nothing meaningful out of the experience. "What are you hoping to accomplish while you are here," I often will ask a prisoner. "There's not a lot I can do," he responds with a shrug. Predictably, not a lot does happen. And it doesn't help that he hasn't even tried. So out the window goes eighteen months, or two years.

My question is: how many of us are just "doing time"? I have encountered not a few young men and women doing just that in yeshiva, high schools and universities. In my work all too often come across people who are doing time in their jobs. Stuck in a rut, they sit it out.

Then there are those who look at their entire life as just doing time. Their attitude is that life is something that happens, rather than something they proactively create. This gives a whole new meaning to the term "life sentence" – to some people life itself is a life sentence. G‑d gives us "time" to serve — is what these people seem to feel — so we serve the sentence. Like the prisoner who just sits out sentence, some people treat life as if it is something to be endured instead of a great opportunity to be embraced.

I have increasingly come across the phrase, "Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious." I found an anonymous quote, "Don't take life too seriously, because you will never get out of it alive." Funny, but untrue. One can come out of life very much alive, if one has spent one's lifetime achieving things of eternal value.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, "Life was meant to be lived and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life."

The Torah describes Abraham's aging as having "come along in days."2 The Chassidic masters explain that this means that each and every day of his life fulfilled its purpose — he had them all in hand, so to speak, as he advanced in years. You can only do that when you take life seriously and refuse to treat life as merely "doing time."