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.|
red head assets.rebelmouse.io
|I know I shouldn’t say this, but I can’t stand N95 masks! They make me feel like a duck.|
|That quacks me up. Regardless, they are much more effective than cloth masks. And, FYI, they do come in different shapes.|
|I just wish they were more comfortable.|
|It is a lot more comfortable than being on a ventilator or in a hospital. Or dealing with long-haul symptoms of COVID. It seems like such a small sacrifice – not only to protect yourself, but also those around you.|
|Which is why I’ve been masking from the beginning of the pandemic, and, in fact, I often double mask, just to be on the safe side. Although sometimes, it’s because I want to cover up my ugly “duck face” mask with a more attractive fashion mask.|
|Funny that you mention “attractiveness,” as there have been studies done, and masks can actually make people more attractive. But, I guess a PSA stating, “Improve your looks, wear a mask” might not be well-received.|
|Now that’s funny. But hopefully, now that the government’s going to make 400 million N95s available for free, no one should have an excuse not to wear one. I can remember at the beginning of the pandemic when you couldn’t find any masks, not even “fashion” ones.|
|That problem was solved, only to be replaced with a bigger issue. A combination of people who always resisted wearing masks, those who do not think vaccinated people need them, and those who are just getting tired of wearing them. After two years, so many people have lost whatever patience they used to have with COVID.|
|That’d be like our parents and grandparents losing patience with World War II and deciding to stop making sacrifices for the good of the country. But rationing went on for years! Whether it was cars and gas, or luxury items like silk and nylons, Americans didn’t think twice about doing their part.|
|Small sacrifices for the greater good. It is especially appalling when you think of those people who have made significant sacrifices, and I include all the frontline workers, for this nation, while others cannot do something as simple as wearing a mask.|
red head assets.rebelmouse.io
|That’s because in America, wearing a mask has become political. And I don’t know how even logic will help you get around it. All I do know is it just makes me roll my eyes.|
|Something you cannot hide behind your mask …|
How can Black be sarcastic about … a crisis??? Easy. Because sarcasm’s her default setting (Red knows it’s more realistic to expect sarcasm from her sister than compliments), and Black never passes up an opportunity to be a … well, let’s just say she never passes up the opportunity to be sarcastic. Even when talking about something as straightforward as New Year resolutions, she has to be sarcastic about her sarcasm!
Curious about the "Back Story" to our animation teasers? Red's daughter, Sawyer, told us we needed to do some very short animated "teasers" … so Black said, "Great. You want to work in video production. Take the final working versions of our animation and start creating them!" So, she did!
P.S. – For those of you who've met us or seen us at speaking engagements, we'd love to know if you think the animators have accurately captured us! (You can email us at Banter@RedandBlackBooks.com.)
FULL QUESTION: What do you think about hugging? And how do you handle hugging in the age of COVID?
red head assets.rebelmouse.io
|Being a warm and fuzzy person, I’ve always been a hugger, but
even before the pandemic, I was aware that some people liked hugs more than
others, so would “regulate” my hugs accordingly. For example, neither of my children have
inherited my hugging “gene”, although sometimes they don’t get a vote, instead getting
a big ole’ mom hug. But I digress (as
My biggest adjustment in terms of “COVID” hugging, especially now that things have become a little “easier” (I’ve been vaccinated and had a booster), is that I simply ask people what their preference is. For some, a hug is welcome (and the human touch wanted), while others are good with a fist or elbow bump, while others prefer to keep their distance entirely. Which, to be honest, is usually people that wouldn’t have wanted a hug even before COVID, so not a big deal.
|Anyone who knows me knows I am a non-hugger. Always have been. I am also that person who is always curious,
so found there is science behind why people are or are not huggers. And, although I fully appreciate that
hugs provide a wealth of
health benefits (I was fascinated by this study), that still does not change that I find
hugging can be selfish (the hugger often is the one needing a hug).|
COVID, and especially the fact the omicron variant is so contagious, provides a legitimate excuse for me not to hug. However, I will make exceptions for close friends that I know need the hug – as long as I also know that they, like me, are fully vaccinated and still mask-up outside the home.