Photo by Matthew Essman on Unsplash

This past weekend, although not on my "To Do" list (although maybe I should start including it), I decided to take a little time to catch up on reading. So, I grabbed the pile of newspaper articles that I've been saving to read when I have extra time (which doesn't happen often). The good news (pun intended) is that many of these articles are so old by the time I get to them, that they go straight into the recycle bin. Such as the one when Trump was still President and covered not only the pardons he had announced but also the ones that were still expected.

Anyway, I wasn't sure the subject still interested me, as obviously it was no longer relevant, but decided to give it a quick glance, which is when I saw that it mentioned how Trump had promised to "drain the swamp" when he was running for President in 2016. Before you stop reading – this post has nothing to do with politics. It's about how that phrase brought back one of my fondest memories of my Dad and a piece of paper now yellowed with age …


My dad was a consulting engineer and worked from home (which was very unusual in those days but I thought wonderful) in a room in our basement that he had converted into an office. Every day after school I'd go directly downstairs, even before running to the kitchen for a snack. I'd dump my bags, plop down (sorry, no other way of describing it) into the wooden chair in the corner, and tell him about my day. He'd turn around from his drafting table, so I could see him, and give me his undivided attention. Behind him and the drafting table was a large corkboard with assorted notes and drawings, but pinned in the far corner was a piece of paper that he'd probably put up there even before I was born.

What was on that paper always made me laugh, even though at the time I'm not sure I really understood how true it was. It was so like my dad, who had a dry but wonderful, sense of humor, sometimes silly (think Monty Python), sometimes a little sarcastic. A lot of it, though, was in his delivery – whether a story or a joke – how he'd calmly lead you into something that ended with the unexpected. Somehow, all of that came together, in what was written on that piece of paper. And although a small thing, he must have known how I'd always look at it because when it came time for me to get married and move out of the house, he gave it to me.

It has always stayed close to me, literally, in the decades since and today it's in my Red & Black binder that I use every day, especially since it's where I have my monthly calendar. And every time I look at it, I smile …

The objective of all dedicated employees should be to thoroughly analyze all situations, anticipate all problems prior to their occurrence, have answers for these problems, and move swiftly to solve these problems when called upon …. However .… when you are up to your ass in alligators it is difficult to remind yourself that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.

We never expected to be in prison!

Photo by Lynn Lane

You know that your life has gone down an interesting path when Gayle King references prison slang and you don't need the explanation. It happened the morning after Derek Chauvin's jury verdict was reached and she referenced how Chauvin had been placed in "ad seg" for his protection. And then in the next breath started to explain what it meant, but not before I thought to myself, "oh, administrative segregation, that makes sense."

So, why would a warm and fuzzy mom who lives in the middle of suburbia, and to any casual onlooker would look like the least likely person to know anything about prisons and prison terminology, have this kind of information? Well, it's all my sister's fault. She was the one who got us involved with criminal justice, first by having us present at a Prisoner's Family Conference and then with her "field trip" to a men's prison south of Houston.

And my attitude towards all of this? After all, aren't prisoner's criminals? You know, lock them up and throw away the key. Well, our involvement over many years led me to a greater understanding, which included that nothing's black and white, especially when it comes to the world of criminal justice – and incarceration. And I came to realize that just because someone made a bad decision doesn't make them a bad person.

Looking back, it's been a long but interesting journey that started when my husband got fired (I thought of it as a crisis, whereas Black saw it as a book that would be the basis of a sitcom) and has resulted in some very unexpected detours – how could a Neiman Marcus launch lead to our book being approved by the (Texas) State Board of Education as a textbook and then … drumroll, please … being used as the basis of a personal finance and Life 101 program embraced by the Chaplaincy Department of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. (Trust me, you can't make this stuff up!)

So that explains some of my prison "education" (I've also learned that many people personally know men and women who either are or have been incarcerated, but they're often ashamed to admit it). Still, it doesn't explain why I specifically know about Ag Seg (or what many people call solitary confinement, although Black has told me it's now called restricted housing, but that doesn't change what it is). Well, our book was initially used for Faith-Based dorms and then General Population, but most recently has become an independent book study program used in, you guessed it, Ad Seg.

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Today's "Take Our Kids To Work Day," which made me think about how incredibly lucky we were that Daddy worked from home. Every day was take your kid to work day!


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


Yes, back then, many people had home offices, but they were typically separate from the house. For example, doctors and dentists whose practices were in extensions on their house. But, I also remember when Daddy worked in a "real" office.


red head red head assets.rebelmouse.io


Well, my memory is of Daddy working in his office in the basement. I'd come home from school, open the door to the basement, and shout down that I was home. Then, even before getting a snack, I'd go downstairs, plop down in the wooden chair in the corner of his workroom, and tell him all about my day.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


Even when Daddy worked at a corporate office in New York City and commuted on the Long Island Rail Road, getting home just in time for dinner, that never stopped him from immediately asking about my day. No matter how tired he might be, he was always genuinely interested in everything and anything I wanted to discuss.


Red's Head assets.rebelmouse.io


I never remember Daddy being tired, he was always present and engaged. I can remember asking him questions about his drafting table, the blueprints, and what he did, but it seemed based on math which was never my strong suit, so not much of it stuck with me.
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Underlying photo by Charles Forerunner on Unsplash

It's funny how one thing can remind you of another thing, sometimes in an obvious way, other times in a "train of thought" (or what Black calls "connect the dots") way. And in our case, that "train" has two passengers.

It began with Red reading a Texas Monthly article about younger tech-savvy people helping older lower-tech people schedule COVID-19 vaccines. Touched by the story, Red mentioned it to Black, who immediately thought of a recent email she'd received from Encore.org about a 31-year-old man living in Hawaii using technology during the isolation of the pandemic to befriend a 60-year-old woman living in Texas. We started talking about the power of one generation helping another, which led to our Banter Bite, Young + Old = Solutions.

Our conversation then detoured (as they often do), and we started reminiscing about the profile Encore published about us. It's not only one of our favorite pieces, but one we share with others as it explains, in an entertaining yet concise way, our highly improbable journey into the world of education (and criminal justice). A journey that we now looked at from a slightly different perspective, or at least Red did …

Looking back, the journey of Red & Black is proof that the experiences and lessons learned by one generation can be shared with others. When Black first created our business plan, she saw us as a "Disney for baby boomer women" because we're baby boomer women. The plan also included younger women (and men) as target audiences, but Black admits that was more "marketing" than actual expectations. Obviously, she was wrong. But there was no way to know we'd have such an unexpected impact (and ripple effect) on so many demographics, from middle school students to senior citizens.

And that's how one article led us to the memory of another article, with a few stops – and important lessons – along the way.

P.S. – For anyone "older" (that's a relative term, but we'll use 60-years-old as Red enjoys the fact she's "under" while her older sister is "over" that threshold), who's looking for a second-act (an "encore") with purpose we suggest you check out Encore.org.