Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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 …


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


Coming up with this month's topic and title was easy. Figuring out how to explain it may be a little more complicated.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


That, in itself, is fairly amazing.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



That might not have been our plan but, as you know, life rarely goes according to plan.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


You are conveniently forgetting that initially you were fairly negative about it.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



I understand. I would venture to guess that most people feel that way. On the surface, it seems logical.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io


Of course, you saw it differently.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


It makes perfect sense … once you stop and think about it.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


And you found every excuse in the book not to go.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


I believe the word is beschert.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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!"


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



I know. It is extremely frustrating. But one day it will be ironic.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io


What do you mean?


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



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?"


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io


Well, that should get Austin's attention.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



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.

Keep Reading ... Show less

We thought this would be the perfect question to run on National Boss's Day.


Red's Head assets.rebelmouse.io

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 boss.)

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."


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


It depends 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.
Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


Red's Head assets.rebelmouse.io

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?


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io

Does that mean that you are not going to decorate?


Red's Head assets.rebelmouse.io

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.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io

I would think you could just put out the inflatables and be done with it.
Keep Reading ... Show less