The story of how we "ended up in prison" is one we're often asked to tell, and we think this column (first published in February 2013) does a good job of doing that …
|Coming up with this month's topic and title was easy. Figuring out how to explain it may be a little more complicated.|
|No kidding. Every time we meet with Chaplain Watkins and she tells us about the men she works with and how they've reacted to our book, I'm left speechless.|
|That, in itself, is fairly amazing.|
Cute. But if anyone had told us when we wrote our book that it would end up in a men's prison and that offenders would not only be reading the book, but enjoying it, learning from it, and sharing the lessons in it with their families, I'd have said they were crazy.
|I believe that is what you called me when I told you that we were going to be speakers at the National Prisoner's Family Conference last February.|
|No. I thought you were kidding. Remember, YOUR business plan was that the book would be the basis of a sitcom. Not a Texas-approved textbook.|
|That might not have been our plan but, as you know, life rarely goes according to plan.|
There's an understatement. But at the time, I thought it was just another one of your "outside the box" ideas. Way outside the box. However, once we spoke at the conference, and started learning more about the prison world, I realized there was a huge need for this information.
|You are conveniently forgetting that initially you were fairly negative about it.|
|Yes, I was. My attitude was that prisoners had done something wrong, so they deserved to be in prison. I had no desire to help them. My heart was with the students, and trying to get our book and its "real life" lessons into the schools.|
|I understand. I would venture to guess that most people feel that way. On the surface, it seems logical.|
|Of course, you saw it differently.|
|Maybe more pragmatically. And then I started doing research. What really got my attention was the Children's Defense Fund's, "Cradle To Prison Pipeline" report. It explains all the contributing factors that feed that pipeline. And how education is a critical key to changing the trajectory of these lives.|
|What got my attention was the concept that you can calculate how many prison beds will be needed in the future based on children who can't read on grade level by the fourth grade.|
|It makes perfect sense … once you stop and think about it.|
|But it's not something you would typically think about. But then again, you rarely do the typical thing. Like the time you asked me what I was doing on a Friday night, and I thought you wanted to go to a movie. It never dawned on me that you were inviting me to "go to prison" with you and the founder of Wings Ministry.|
|And you found every excuse in the book not to go.|
|I'm a single mom. Heading off to a prison is not something I'd feel safe doing. And I wondered about your logic, but didn't want to ask.|
|There is only one way to get first-hand knowledge. I wanted to see what I had only read about. However, I was not prepared for what I discovered.|
|I remember you telling me that it was like a scene out of the old "Get Smart" TV series, with the long corridor and the locking doors.|
|Architecturally, it was built in 1908 and is beautiful. Although initially intimidating, once I met some of the men it became very "human." They were truly appreciative of my being there, as so many of them feel the outside world has forgotten them. And once the chaplain heard about our book she was anxious to read it.|
|What I still find hard to believe was that she mentioned that Stringfellow Unit is the only prison in Texas that has a kosher kitchen! I remember telling you that in this instance, G-d was not being subtle. There was clearly a reason that this was the first prison you ever visited.|
I believe the word is beschert.
|Well, a lot has happened since then. Chaplain Watkins not only had our book/program "approved," but also completed two pilot book clubs with 50+ men, and has already started a third. Even Sawyer, who is only 10, was surprised by the feedback from the men who have completed the program. Her exact quote was, "Wow!"|
|What I find fascinating is how many of these men are connecting the dots between how not understanding personal finance causes stress, and then realizing how it can lead to drugs and/or alcohol. And how "all of the above" contributes to bad decisions.|
|Obviously, they're finding the "life lessons" I learned as a 40+ year-old to be extremely important as they're saying they want to share the book with their families. I'm moved by their statements that they want their wives, their children, to learn what they're learning.|
|Well, according to Chaplain Watkins, their actions are matching their words. They are writing home about it, and a few even said they were going to send the book home.|
|I know. But my favorite story is the man who now turns off the water when he brushes his teeth. It sounds like such a small thing, but it says so much once you learn that he's doing it to because he recognizes he'll be living with someone when he gets out and doesn't want to waste their money. He wants to start today to make it a good habit for the future.|
|It is all about taking control of your life, versus letting your life control you. It is what I told you when Nick got fired. And it is what we tell students.|
|But in this case, I can't help but wonder how many lives are being touched – not only the offenders, but their families, their friends, their communities. Not to mention, what if some of the men who have read our book now start making better decisions. And once released, don't return to prison.|
Exactly. Just imagine the money that would save taxpayers. The cost of Texas state prisons is about $22,000 per person per year, which works out to $60 a day. Our book costs less than half a day in prison. So if it has the potential to actually make a difference in their lives and their future decisions, it seems like a small investment … with huge upside potential. To me, it is a no-brainer.
I was thinking more about the family environment, but your numbers make perfect sense. Unfortunately, just because something makes sense, doesn't mean it's going to happen. Just take a look at the education system. And what we've been trying to do for over three years now with limited success.
|I know. It is extremely frustrating. But one day it will be ironic.|
|What do you mean?|
|Besides the fact it is much cheaper to educate than incarcerate (average cost for a year of public education in Texas is about $8,700 per student compared to the $22,000 cited above; nationally, the numbers are around $11,000 and $31,000, respectively), one day I expect to ask the question, "Why is it that these critical life lessons are being taught in prisons, but not in our schools?"|
|Well, that should get Austin's attention.|
|Austin? I was thinking Washington, D.C. And, it needs to do more than that. It needs to get everyone's attention. Especially voters.|
Normally, you shred important papers before trashing them … not expensive art after selling it.
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: Red will admit that she's never been into art, except for the Tudor paintings section of the National Portrait Gallery in London, but that's because she loves Tudor history. And although she's been to plenty of art museums, they were more to "tick off" places on her tourist "to do" list than a genuine desire to see the art. That even includes the Mona Lisa at The Louvre in Paris! (When in Paris, Black was content to go to the Louvre-Rivoli Metro station as the platforms themselves were decorated with art replicas found inside the Louvre Museum.)
Black can't remember when she first became interested in contemporary art, although it went to a whole new level when her second husband asked her to acquire an investment-quality collection. In typical Black fashion, she not only researched the art market and worked with an art consultant, but became friends with several leading artists with whom she shared a mutual passion … cars and racing.
And, although the marriage did not last, and all the art was ultimately sold at auction (except for what she purchased from her ex), Black continued to follow the market. She was fascinated by the well-known, but mysterious, street artist Banksy, who made headlines in 2018 when his popular piece Girl With Balloon was purchased at a Sotheby's auction for $1.4 million. But Black explained to Red that it wasn't the price that made it so famous,
Literally, as the hammer fell, it quickly became "performance art" as part of the painting passed through a hidden shredder, leaving everyone shocked and speechless. It was pure Banksy genius. The anonymous purchaser proceeded with the sale (I cannot help but wonder if they were "in" on it) and ended up with a piece of art history.
That was an understatement, as the piece (renamed Love Is In The Bin) went on tour, and then on Thursday evening, it came up for auction again at Sotheby's and sold for $24.5 million, a record for the artist and close to 20 times its pre-shredded price. Meanwhile, Red couldn't help but think,
I may not "understand" contemporary art, but I respect not only its ingenuity and creativity but how it proves that "art is in the eye of the beholder." How you look at something can make all the difference. Because while I might have seen something destroyed, Black probably saw something created. And in that, there's a huge life lesson.
We thought this would be the perfect question to run on National Boss's Day.
|Oh yes, definitely! Without question, that would be Black.
In fact, on more than one occasion, I've been known to refer to her as
The Boss (and I'm not talking about Bruce Springsteen). It's
usually me kidding around and saying something along the lines of "I'll have to
check with The Boss." (Even my daughters
have heard me refer to their aunt that way, and they've never questioned me, so
there must be some agreement, at least in my family, about who's the
To a great extent, it may be because if you were to compare our bios, I don't think my background as a mom prepared me to be a businesswoman, although Black has tried to convince me otherwise. On the other hand, Black's bio makes it painfully obvious she's "all business" so better suited to be "the boss."
on how you define "boss." If you are referring to who owns more of the
company, I hold 1% more than Red, which technically means I have more
"authority". And, I will admit that as
the older sister, I have more practice being bossy (especially as she has
always tried to avoid conflict), but when it comes to business, I value
teamwork. Red has a perspective and background very different than
mine (that is an understatement!), but the key is acknowledging that – and
learning from one another in order to make the best business decisions. |
The bottom line is there would be no Red & Black … without Red or without Black. It is truly a partnership.
|I can't believe that Halloween's almost here, and the house isn't already decorated. Can I use the fact this is the first year I'm an empty nester as an excuse?|
|Does that mean that you are not going to decorate?|
|No! But without Sawyer home asking about it or prodding me by pulling the decorations out of the garage, it's still just sitting on my "to do" list. But fall is my favorite time of year, and I love seeing the house with all the Halloween decorations, so it will happen.|
|I would think you could just put out the inflatables and be done with it.|
|They're probably my favorite decorations, regardless of the holiday. And not just because I like seeing them out the window of my workroom but because I get to watch all the little kids in the neighborhood walk by and enjoy them.|
|Well, I hope this year Halloween will be a little more "normal" in terms of trick-or-treating, especially as the CDC has issued guidelines to make it less scary.|
|I think that the coronavirus has genuinely been the scariest thing to appear in our lives. Full stop. And while I'm not making light of the tragic loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, I can't help but wonder if we're going to see Halloween "COVID" costumes since there seem to be costumes of almost everything else that's considered scary.|
|FYI, there is a shortage of store-bought costumes (and decorations) due to pandemic-related shipping delays, so there is no telling what you will see. Hopefully, this year's trick-or-treaters will include lots of kids dressed up as front-line workers as they are the true superheroes. Not to mention, the costumes would then include masks that are functional as well as decorative.|
|Do you have to look at Halloween pragmatically? And does that mean I'm about to get a lecture on how Halloween's big business?|
|No, my "treat" to you is I will not tell you how it is a $10 billion industry that did not take as big a hit in 2020 as you would have expected.|
|Yeah, except you just managed to tell it to me anyway. So, I guess that falls under the "trick" category.|
|That is merely semantics. Sometimes we "package" things to make them more palatable for the recipient. But, some people take it to an extreme and disguise who they really are … but, I do not want to make this a conversation about politicians and the "costumes" they often wear.|
|Please don't! Although I know you've occasionally "pretended" to be me.|
|Except, whenever I try to do "warm and fuzzy", I have a hard time keeping a straight face. And, being "nice" can be a challenge, not to mention time-consuming. I remember when we taught at KIPP and its motto at the time was, "Work Hard. Be Nice." and I asked if I could just "Work Hard. Be Fair."|
|Of course, you did. But I can think of a few times when you've been in situations where I thought you were going to take a stand, yet you used my "default" setting of conflict avoidance. It was very out of character. And more than a little scary.|
|You pick your battles. Keeping in mind that some things are not worth the time and effort. Or, need to be saved for another day.|
|Are you saying that you give them the "treat" of letting it go when in reality you are "tricking" them into a feeling of complacency?|
|I guess that is one way of looking at it, but only if you are trying to give it a Halloween spin. At the risk of "tricking you" into talking about marketing, do you remember years ago when we worked with Rob (an advertising creative executive director), and he told us how he could envision little kids one day dressing up as the characters Red and Black?|
|I had forgotten about that! At first, I thought he was kidding around or being sarcastic until he clarified that he was serious. Explaining how he could see kids pairing up with each other, pretending to be us. Obviously, the one pretending to be me would be sweet and nice, and the other would be … well, you!|
|Actually, I think he was focused on the differences in our appearances. Regardless, I think it was crazy. Although the costumes would be easy – mine could be high heels, tattered jeans, white top, black jacket, and a wig with short, black, spiked hair.|
|I guess that means my "costume" would be something boring and "mom-like". But even with a wig of long red hair and comfy shoes, I'm not sure any kid would choose to "be Red".|
|Yes, but what is that old axiom about you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar? Maybe the trick-or-treating "Reds" would be rewarded with more candy …|