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Jim Mandelin

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A Life Worth Dying For

Jim Mandelin was born in rural Alberta to a violent, alcoholic, Klu Klux Klan father and a teenage runaway, homeless kid who became Jim’s mother. His grandmother insisted on caring for him and he was taken from his parents to be raised on her farm from infancy until fifteen years of age. Jim never saw his mother again until adulthood. Though his grandmother did her best to care for him, she was confined to a wheelchair and his care became the primary responsibility of his father’s younger siblings. This they did with great resentment and animosity.

Jim endured years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse at home and severe bullying at school. At fifteen years old he ran away to the mean streets of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver British Columbia where he continued to be abused, selling drug for the gangs, ending up in prison and being recruited into a motorcycle gang. He became a debt collector for the gang and beat people. Life changed for Jim when at the age of twenty two he entered drug rehab where he had a drug induced heart attack and had a near death experience.

Although Jim’s story is one of great trials and much sadness, he has lived to overcome a life of addiction, prison life and gang violence. With years of painful introspection and therapy Jim was able to stop his self-abuse, violent behavior and develop empathy for himself. The results of this helped Jim to quit a four package a day cigarette habit, completely change his thinking and behavior and to create a holistic health regimen for himself.

With much therapeutic help Jim is now thirty-eight years clean and sober. Jim currently works as an inspirational speaker and counselor sharing his experience and hope with thousands of kids in schools and prisons each year. For the past ten years now he has also taught a course at several Universities to classes of new police officers, prison guards, border guards and parole officers on the topic of Interpersonal Relationships and the Development of Empathy. He is now living happily with his wife (Kids have grown up) in Vancouver, British Columbia.



59 Jim Mandelin A life worth dying for. #isharehope

Summary: Jim’s answer to the five questions! Listen to the full conversation on the player above; also available on iTunes and Stitcher.

Question 1: How do you define hope or what is your favorite quote about hope?

Jim Mandelin:

“Extreme hopes are born from extreme misery.” ~Bertrand Russell

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you could contain.”

Question 2: Who has shared the most hope with you?

Jim Mandelin:

There’s a few. My first hope came from my dog, Lassie, when I was a small child. Lassie hated adults, didn’t trust them and just loved me and my little brother. We called her mum because I grew up without a mum.

Then, there’s the few random acts of kindness by strangers that stuck with me and consequently when I died, was my epiphany. That turned my life around as I remembered, for some reason, your life flashes before your eyes when we die although the only thing that flashed before my eyes were these few random acts of kindness. I wondered if that’s what love was and I didn’t know. Then I thought, if that is, then I have to find out. Those people that gave me those random acts of kindness and the doctor that worked on me to bring me back to life

The most special person is my counselor, Laila Van Steinberg. She was a 60-year-old counselor who was the kindest person I’ve ever met.

Question 3: How have you used hope to make it through a difficult time in your life?

Jim Mandelin:

This poem that I wrote, it summarizes my story from beginning to recovery.

How Violence is Born

My whole childhood was filled with violence.
My mother escaped that violence
She ran away when I was three; brother was one.
She was only 18.
She never came back.
I never got one hug after that.

My father was a member of the Klu Klux Klan.
He drank and then beat everyone up including me.
He would punch me to the ground
and when I could stand up and not cry he would say “that’s my boy”.
My father sexually assaulted me in his drunken darkness.
His sister molested me by night, by day. She was just mean.
I was terrified by four, peed my bed ‘til I was 15.
My uncle beat me often, I never knew why.

See, I was always a good kid, always obeyed.
One day at gunpoint, my uncle made my brother and I kill our puppies.
I was 12, brother was 10.
He made us hold the puppies’ head under water. They all died.
I started to hate that day and crime entered my life.

I was bullied every day in school, even some teachers were cruel.
One, she wouldn’t let me go use the toilet.
I pooped my pants six times that year in her class.
I was only seven.

I tried to hang myself by a rope at the age of 11.
My aunt cut me down.
Severe poverty is what I lived with as a kid.
Never had a pair of shoes that fit.
Never saw a doctor or a dentist.
Pulled one of my own teeth out using a pair of plyers.
I was only 11.

At 15, I too escaped the violence
But then in the streets there were just that different kind.
I became homeless, a drug user, a drug dealer and I went to prison.
In and out, in and out.
In prison, I was recruited into a gang where I finally got hugged.
My gang family swept me up and then soon I truly became violent.

At 22, a drug and alcohol seizure led to my cardiac arrest and I was pronounced dead.
In this place of death, I had an epiphany which brought me back to life.
That was over 38 years ago now and I AM STILL HERE.
With the help of some remarkable counselors, I forgave myself, my family and I have moved on.
See, I learned that hurt people hurt people.
Now, I dedicate my life to helping hurt people heal that hurt – especially kids.

I take pride in telling my story and becoming vulnerable.
Vulnerability has become my greatest strength.
I dedicate my poem to all the people
whose stories will never be told because they didn’t survive.

Question 4: How are you sharing hope today?

Jim Mandelin:

I am constantly in a state of introspection and constantly looking at what I can do better. It’s not the smartest, it’s not the strongest, it’s not the most brilliant people that will survive. It’s the one that’s most adaptable to change. People aren’t too adaptable to change and my middle name is change. Anything at any given moment changes for me.

Question 5: How should I (the listener) begin to grow in hope or share hope today?

Jim Mandelin:

(1) Grow inward and know your truth.
(2) Do not be afraid.
(3) Tell your story to an enlightened witness.
(4) Search, rediscover, Google and find out more about changing yourself.
(5) Seek of others with the problems you have and share your experience, strength and hope.

Listen to the full conversation on the player above; also available on iTunes and Stitcher.
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