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The Road to Healing
and Redemption:
Interview with Tom Harrison

By Carin Chea

Author Tom Harrison has lots of soul, and why shouldn’t he? Proudly hailing from Memphis (home of the blues and the birthplace of rock music) Harrison has spent a lifetime surrounded by the city’s rich and profound history.

His latest book, From Punishment to Peace: Road Trips to Forgiveness, is a philosophical memoir directly resonant with the author and his hometown – deep, colorful, and vulnerable.

Drawing from personal life experiences, Harrison courageously releases all boundaries in order to share a fully transparent, unfiltered view on pain and redemption.

The epitome of soul-searching, From Punishment to Peace chronicles what happens when the dark night of the soul finally meets the light.

From Punishment to Peace: Road Trips to Forgiveness by Tom Harrison

Have you always been a writer?

I’m a business consultant by day. At night I put on a red cape with a big A and become an author.

What inspired you to write From Punishment to Peace? Is this your first book?

It is by far my first book.

I’ve been in business consulting and finance for decades, but after way more success than I had ever imagined, two life altering events occurred back-to-back that woke me up to the false illusion I had created for myself. First, my business blew up.

It blew up? In a good way? Like how people’s Instagram accounts “blow up” overnight?

No, it was in a bad way. Let’s call it a high risk, high reward profession, and the high risk finally caught up to me.

The second altering event was the ending of my second marriage. The collision I created after arriving at a point in my life where I could say, “I’ve had everything in life I’ve always wanted” crashed into the reality of “yet I don’t know why I’m not happy.” I wasn’t at peace. I’d had numerous fleeting moments of happiness, but I had always carried an unsettling tension, an unworthiness, an anger.

I decided to walk away from my profession and to try and figure out why I hadn’t been a better person than I had been. I began asking myself, “How can I find a better version of myself?”

To figure this out, I felt I needed to start from the very beginning. I needed to delve deep into areas of my life, primarily from my youth, that held the keys to an understanding of who I had become.

I ended up reconnecting with a family member I had grown up with but had not seen in decades. By reopening my past alongside my uncle John, I knew that we would both be taking a journey deep into our respective pasts that involved unimaginable abuse inflicted on both of us.

John’s route in life took him in a diametrically opposing direction to mine. He had been lifelong drug and alcohol dependent, he had been many times homeless, had been in and out of the judicial system more than 50 times in his life.

We quickly discovered that though we went in completely different directions in life, we ended up in the exact same place: We each couldn’t find peace. For reasons I can’t recall, I began recording our time together. It was through those recordings that I chose to write the book.

During that time, I went to Emory University to study creative writing. I always considered myself a good storyteller, but I felt like I needed to learn how to turn the experiences I was having with John into something that was relatable and engaging enough to want to carry the reader through the story’s rather deep and intense journeys.

Of all of my classes, I had one teacher who helped me quite a bit. I’m a big John Grisham fan. He’s the only author I would say was my favorite and what my writing would most closely resemble.

I think it’s great you pursued higher education before writing your book. Sometimes it’s hard to even finish a 90-minute movie especially when it’s bleak and hopeless, so I applaud you for wanting to engage your readers.

I wanted to educate myself to do this right, and Emory gave me the structure I needed to pursue the writing of the story. I decided that if I was going to write a book, I wanted to do it well.

About two-thirds through the story, something happened that changed the trajectory of where our time together was headed. My uncle’s struggles with his addictions began to take such a deep toll on him, and also on me, that it forced me to stop writing.

The happy ending we hoped to forge together during our attempts to heal had been lost. But an amazing thing happened. Though we had taken our abilities to help each other as far as we could, others were there to help us the rest of the way.

In the end, though a considerable tragedy occurred, there was an amazing, wonderfully satisfying conclusion to the story.

Tom Harrison

Is this your personal memoir? Are you the character of Tommy?

I am Tommy in the book. It was originally set up to where it was going to be just about John, but the story evolved into showcasing how two men who grew up in lockstep with one another, and each having created their unique sets of addictions stemming from their childhood pain, tried to help each other find their peace in life.

The brutality that John had experienced in his youth and the dysfunction happening around him with other family members (which I was immune to) was brutal. I wanted to understand how that translated to his drug use, and how it translated into his difficult life of homelessness and legal problems.

For Tommy, he had suffered from success guilt and with a realization that his life had not provided meaningful satisfaction. Each began to break down the barriers and tear through the thorns of their lives enough to expose some amazing commonalities.

Through our time together, and later chronicled in the book, I wanted to explore: How did we get to where we were?

Through drastically different life experiences, we ended up in the same place. We had become the same. We weren’t happy, we weren’t at peace. We were trying to find something out there that would help us find peace.

His was drugs and alcohol. Mine was world travel, way too much money, and chasing my next big job while dragging my loved ones along for the ride.

What would you say is the central message of your book?

The deep and complex discovery of who we had become and what we had experienced is really the main focus of the book.

When someone is punished from a generation before, one can easily carry that punishment into the next generation. We need to figure out how to overcome that. How did two very different guys figure out how to overcome their difficult pasts? The book goes through that in detail.

It’s not a how-to book, though. I never thought of it that way. I thought it was a powerful story that had interesting characters and a satisfying end. But, the more I thought about it, I wondered, “What would I want a reader to take away from the book?”

So, I locked myself in a room with my wife for hours, and we figured it out. I call it “The 5 R’s of Peace.”

The first R is Risk, or Risk It. We have to take a risk to open ourselves up to the possibility that others may be able help us understand what we’ve been through.

The second is Reveal. If we’re going to take that risk, we need to begin to surround ourselves with others who may have experienced similar pasts and somehow have persevered. Small group environments are great for opening up candid and meaningful discussions.

Then, it’s Receive thoughts, advice, and instruction from other people. Sometimes we think the pain we go through is entirely unique to ourselves. But we need to be willing to allow people to provide their thoughts and experiences.

Fourthly, Respond to others’ pain and be empathic toward that. You’d be amazed how breaking yourself down to help others can affect you. It brings you to a level playing field with others.

Finally, Reconcile, and not just to our wrongdoers, but forgiving yourself as well. Forgive yourself on how you felt toward those wrongdoers, but also how you’ve hurt others.

When you’re able to do all this, and you are totally truthful to yourself regarding your efforts to forgive, I believe you can be at peace. John and I are walking testimonies of that.

How would you describe your experience writing From Punishment to Peace?

There are three or four scenes in the book that, when I re-read it, I get emotional. I’m even getting emotional right now thinking of them.

I’m very proud of it. If I never do another book, I can say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, other than marrying the right person at the right time of my life.

That’s beautiful and so wonderful to hear. This would make a great movie or series. Who would you cast to play the main characters if it were to be made into a streaming series.

The antagonist would be Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.

Oh geez, I’m so sorry you experienced that...

This was a guy who inflicted physical and sexual pain to many people I cared deeply about. If you dialed Hopkins character back a few notches, that would be my step-grandfather.

For my character, it could be anybody, but it’d have to be someone like Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street.

Thomas Hayden Church played a homeless person in Cardboard Boxer. He looks a lot like my uncle.

Thank you so much for sharing so openly. I hope your book finds much success!

Either way, I’m very happy and proud of it.

For additional information, please visit FromPunishmentToPeace.com.

Hollywood, CA

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