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.|
For those of you who have followed us for years, you know what’s coming … a naked turkey story. Because as soon as Black wrote it, it became a Thanksgiving tradition.
Black typically doesn’t reminisce, so her memories of a perfect turkey that made for a perfect Thanksgiving (for her) have become the perfect way for us to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. May your day be filled with family and friends and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Today is Thanksgiving, and I cannot help but wonder why we are online. However, everyone has their own way of celebrating. I know that Red is in the kitchen cooking – and watching a marathon of "The Godfather" movies. Which is perfect as turkeys take such a long time to cook and patience is important when you want it perfectly browned. So inviting, so appetizing, so … naked?
Growing up, our house used to be where everyone congregated for the holidays. Not because my mother was a good cook, or even liked to entertain, but because my parents bought a house on Long Island while the rest of her family continued to live in apartments in Brooklyn and the Bronx. In other words, they had the most room.
Thanksgiving was always a house full of people and everyone always gathered in the kitchen, which made food preparation a challenge. Especially as everyone loved to nibble on ingredients during the process. For the most part, Mom was a good sport about it. But, the closer we got to the turkey being ready, the more food she would move into the dining room, hoping we would follow the food.
I remember one year when the turkey cooling on the counter looked like something from a magazine – it was perfectly browned. Normally, it was splotchy, although you never knew it once my father was done carving it. (Although an engineer, he had dreamed of being a surgeon and every year as I watched him carve the turkey, I would think he missed his true calling.) Anyway, my mother was so proud of this perfectly browned turkey that she would not let anyone near it, and was delaying the inevitable carving.
However, she made the mistake of taking the balance of the side dishes into the dining room and my father must have been helping as my cousin and I snuck back into the kitchen. In a matter of seconds, we had striped that turkey naked. Enjoying the crispy skin (ok, this was well before the days we were told it was "bad" for you) and laughing until my parents returned to see what was causing the commotion.
Mom was less than pleased, while Daddy tried to hide his amusement. My cousin ran to the safety of his parents, while I stood there defiantly asking if could have a wing. To this day, I cannot see a perfectly browned turkey without remembering that Thanksgiving. And, I venture to guess it has become a favorite memory of my Mom's, as well.
So today, at the risk of being warm and fuzzy (which is Red's area of responsibility),
I want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving … filled with memories that will last a lifetime.
People have told us they’re using our sisterly banter to start conversations with others (family, friends, and even in classrooms), so Black created “Conversation Starters”.
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I’m really looking forward to Thanksgiving this year,
especially since last year was the first since Mom passed away, and the dining room table seemed incomplete. Which may partially explain why we ended up
sitting around the kitchen table and island instead. And that was wonderful – so relaxed, easy,
and fun – but I still couldn’t help but think of her not being with us. It’s funny because, over the years, even as
life changed, such as the girls growing up and going off to college, I’ve
always taken for granted that Thanksgiving would somehow always remain the
same, cooking the same dishes, with all the preparation beginning days in
So, I'm not sure that I truly stopped and appreciated each Thanksgiving Day as I was so focused on everything I needed to get done. This year, though, I plan to take a moment to stop and think about some of the things I'm thankful for, and to start appreciating the day itself. To try to "be present", so to speak, in the present.
|I know that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, but what
you just described is gratitude. Gratitude is "deeper" than
thankfulness, and the best way I can describe it is … think about when
you might write a thank you note – someone gives you something or does something
for you. It is a fleeting event. Now think about if you were to write someone
a note or letter of appreciation.
You have repeatedly told me that mere mortals often need reminders, so what if this Thanksgiving you start a "gratitude habit"? Make a daily appointment with yourself to find a few quiet moments and write down at least one thing for which you are grateful. It can be as simple as sunlight on your face or the crunch of an apple. You are probably rolling your eyes right now, but it will only take a few minutes and can change your life. Or, at least, how you look at it.
THE CONVERSATION STARTERS
- If you look back, what or who would you appreciate (or appreciate more) that you didn’t at the time?
- If you begin to appreciate the value of appreciation (pun intended), what might you want to be mindful of going forward?
- Do you think a "gratitude habit" might be useful? Would you be willing to "test-drive" (Black's words) one for a month and see if your opinion changes? Explain your answers.
Money. It’s the first thing Red thought about when her husband came home and, totally unexpectedly, told her he was fired. And what was the first thing she did? She freaked out (Black likes to say that Red finally used her theater degree), assuming the worst about their financial situation. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she was certain she couldn’t “do” personal finance.
She then made a third foolish assumption … that her sister Black, who had an M.B.A. in International Finance, would tell her what to do. Instead, after giving Red a few days to deal with her emotions, Black started to ask her basic questions about their financial situation, and it became obvious Red’s default setting was to “freak out”.
And so Red’s journey (which Black turned into our bestselling book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!) began with learning the basics of personal finance and, ultimately, she’d realize that Black wasn’t being sarcastic when she said,
When it comes to money, you have two choices: you can let your money control you, or you can control your money.
But first, Red, a straight-A student, had to overcome the unfounded belief that she wasn’t capable of learning about money. She had to find a way to get around the mental roadblocks of being intimidated by financial terminology and concepts, which the very thought of gave her a headache. And then Black simply asked,
Can you add and subtract? If so, you’re qualified to “do” personal finance.
So, whether you’re more like Red (was), feel like you’ve got a good handle on your money but are always looking for tips and tools, or merely are curious about Black’s unusual ways of looking at money (or her sarcastic comments), we think you’ll enjoy the DOLLARS & SENSE section on our new site in the new year.
Until then, and especially since “tis the season for spending”, we want to share some of our favorite money posts:
- TERMINOLOGY (AS EXPLAINED BY BLACK): RED & BLACK … Like Money More Than Math?
- A POWERFUL TIP: Think Before You Spend?
- MONEY & RELATIONSHIPS: My husband and I always argue about money. Any advice?
- CREDIT CARDS: My credit card bills are out of control! What do I do?
- BUDGETING (THIS IS A TRUE STORY): Black’s First Budget – A Fond Childhood Memory?
- ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS: Talking To Myself … About Money?