Thursday, February 25, 2016

Forgiving John Rigas - Josh Hatcher

By Josh Hatcher
Sometimes you discover you’ve locked a few feelings away, and they’ll creep up so that you have to deal with them. This week, news of the release of John Rigas from federal prison stirred up a few of those feelings for me. In 1999, I started working for Adelphia in the Long Distance provisioning department. Remember long distance? It was a service you used to have to pay for by the minute. My new wife and I had moved back to Potter County after we discovered we were going to have twins, and Adelphia was my first full-time job. When the company declared bankruptcy in 2001, many of us knew that our jobs were doomed. Our department was cut in 2002, and I found myself laid off, and confused. I bounced around for a couple years before finding fulltime work again. To be honest, I hated the Adelphia job. So losing it was in reality one of the best things that ever happened to me. Despite the fact I’ve looked at the loss of that job as a good thing over the years, I’ve struggled with how I felt about Adelphia, and the Rigas family. Part of me has always respected John Rigas for the good things he did for Coudersport while he was at the helm of his empire. If there was a need, he met it. He viewed his wealth as a responsibility to put others to work, and to help those in need. Part of me, though, has been angry for the financial ruin that worked it’s way through the lives of many of my former co-workers and friends in Coudersport and the surrounding communities. I was a little bitter for the two years of struggle my own family endured, while barely able to pay our rent and living expenses. I watched a vibrant community grow dormant, and I watched people lose their houses and their careers. Whether Rigas is to blame is hard for me to say. According to the court, he’s guilty of mismanaging his publicly traded company’s wealth, and thus guilty and culpable in the eyes of the law. According to his family, an injustice was done when their father was incarcerated, and when his appeal was struck down. Whether he was actually guilty isn’t up for me to decide, that’s why we have courts to make that declaration. This summer, I was asked to produce a video for the memorial service of Doris Rigas, John’s late wife. That video was meant to allow John and Timothy Rigas the opportunity to see the service. For me, it was moving, and as I spent weeks editing the footage, I watched as the Rigas family wept and laughed as they celebrated memories of their matriarch. I watched as they expressed genuine frustration with the justice system as it related to the conviction and incarceration of their loved ones. This summer, while watching a beautiful memorial service for a woman I barely knew, I was forced to reconcile something. I saw that part of me was bitter. I saw that part of me was holding on to this tiny little sliver of anger. And much like a wooden sliver that gets stuck under the skin, eventually, it has to come out. So I made a choice. Whether or not John Rigas was to blame for the hardship I went through — I had to forgive him. My forgiveness probably doesn’t matter to anyone. It’s not as though anyone at Adelphia knew that their actions were going to affect me. It’s not as though John Rigas or his family even knew part of me was angry. I just know that it felt awfully good to get that little sliver out. So, while there are a few out there who see Rigas’s release as an act of injustice, I can honestly say, I can see it as an act of compassion. And an act of compassion is never a bad decision. (Josh Hatcher is a contributor to the Olean Times Herald and The Bradford Era.) Posted with permission.