Words & Banter

Black Feels This Is … Criminal

Black of Red & Black

Although I am known for speaking my mind, I have never been one to publicize my passion projects. I get involved because I believe in what I am doing – not because I want others to know of my involvement. Decades ago, it was Make-A-Wish, but once we started Red & Black and detoured into the worlds of education and criminal justice, I added new projects. And “soapboxes”.

And, I saw how education and criminal justice were intertwined. Which is what compelled me to write a letter when the Texas Legislature held a hearing about a house bill related to programming within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and invitedpublic comment. It was the first time I ever went “on the record” (comments are in the public domain), but I feel very strongly about the topic, and specifically the lack of women’s educational programming.

When I sent a copy of my letter to Red, the self-proclaimed mere mortal, she was adamant (not a typical trait for her) that my words needed a wider audience than the legislators and people who follow legislative bills …

Mandy S. Williams
HB 3227 (86R) Comments
Women’s Programming In TDCJ

As a retired oil and gas executive, my background and expertise are in neither education nor criminal justice, so I am not sure how I got here, but we all know that life rarely goes as planned.


I spent my entire life trying to stay out of prison, so imagine my surprise when a book I co-authored with my sister, intended as the basis of a sitcom and launched by Neiman Marcus, detoured into the world of education at KIPP Houston High School (resulting in it being approved as a Personal Financial Literacy textbook by the Texas State Board of Education) and then was embraced by the Chaplaincy Department of TDCJ.

The initial “Red & Black Personal Finance & Life 101” program at TDCJ was championed by Dr. Leticia Watkins, chaplain at the Stringfellow Unit. Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback (both qualitative and quantitate, and available upon request) from the men, TDCJ allowed a film crew to interview the pilot group (the powerful video is available at http://youtu.be/426TrZ_N_sA), and the program was expanded within TDCJ.

The first women’s program occurred at Plane State Jail as part of their prostitution and human trafficking initiative. Even before the program was started, demand for the program exceeded the initial book supply, and additional books were requested. (Please note: our programs within TDCJ have been fully funded by my friends and business associates as once we saw the impact of the program, it became a passion project for me.) Again, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive (and available upon request), but what resonated with me was the dramatic impact educational programs have on the women’s self-esteem. And, the one quote that still haunts me is, when asked, “What, if anything, did you learn that you plan to share with your family and/or friends?” one woman replied,

That I am of value.


My sister, a straight-A student who went to Wake Forest University on an academic scholarship, was totally clueless about money (and, I would say, about life) when her husband was suddenly fired. The fact she was well-educated did not mean she was prepared for life, and as I started to guide her through her “crisis” (her word, not mine), I realized it was probably the best thing that ever happened to her as it forced her to learn life lessons she had managed to avoid. Today, she agrees, but adds, “The most important thing is that if I hadn’t learned these critical life lessons, I never would’ve been able to teach them to my daughters.”Take a moment to stop and think about that. And the ripple effect of knowledge.

In terms of people who are incarcerated, my sister believed in what are probably typical stereotypes – they are bad people who committed crimes. After reading the feedback from the men, and watching the video, they became people who had made bad decisions. A very different mindset. And, after meeting the women at Plane State Jail, she could relate to them as women who would do anything for their children, and wanted to learn what she had – to take control of her life versus having her life control her.


Many program participants are questioning why these lessons were not taught in schools, and many indicated if they had, they might not have ended up incarcerated. They are also asking where people in the free world can take this program. I am amazed how many men and women are sharing the stories and “lessons” in the book with their families on the “outside”.However, the bottom line is … you should not have to go to prison to learn these lessons. But, the fact remains … participants in the program are trying to change the trajectory of their lives, as well as their family members.

If the education has failed them, that is not their fault. If we fail to offer programming to help them, that will be our fault.
Photo by Hillwoman2 on iStock
It’s been two years since President Biden signed the anti-Asian hate crimes bill, but making something illegal doesn’t stop it from happening. Hate crimes, including against Chinese Americas, continue at an alarming rate. But imagine if instead of hating someone for being different, we looked at what we had in common and their contributions to American culture and society? After all, that’s what makes America such a unique and special country.

May is Asian American Pacific Island Month (which prompted our conversation below about Jews and Chinese food), but we should treat all our fellow Americans with respect and kindness every day.

red headred head assets.rebelmouse.io

Have you ever wondered why Jews love Chinese food so much?

Black's HeadBlack assets.rebelmouse.io

No, but what prompted that? Did you take in Chinese food this weekend? Or, did President Biden signing the anti-Asian hate crimes bill make you think about how Jews can relate given all the antisemitism in the world?

Red's Head assets.rebelmouse.io

Only you would connect those dots. I was straightening up papers in the kitchen and noticed how Chinese takeout menus look the same as they did when we were kids, and how we've laughed over the decades about how much Jews love Chinese food. But now you've reminded me about how we've recently talked about the recent increase in hate crimes against the Asian community . I simply don't understand how people can hate an entire group of people based on race or religion.

Black's HeadBlack assets.rebelmouse.io

You are the history lover. It is not a new phenomenon. And, the reasons have not changed – Ignorance, prejudice, feelings of supremacy; the list has many "reasons". What I find scary is that people form stronger bonds with others based on what they hate than they do on what they love. But, there is no question that the Asian community and Jews have experienced hate for a long time.

Red's Head assets.rebelmouse.io

I know, but in America of all places, that just shouldn't happen. Ever. We're a country built on immigrants, and the contributions of Asian Americans and American Jews have been so significant. From scientists to doctors, artists to activists, the list goes on and on.

Black's HeadBlack assets.rebelmouse.io

The lists of contributions can be sliced and diced in so many different ways – gender, race, religion, nationalities. There are not enough months in the years to celebrate them all. However, some groups tend to be forgotten or overlooked, which is why President Carter signed the first proclamation celebrating Asian/Pacific Americans , which eventually led to May becoming Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. But now, with hate crimes increasing against them, celebrating by learning about their cultures is even more critical.

Red's Head assets.rebelmouse.io

Well, I admit that I personally didn't know any Asians before I lived in Hong Kong, and then Shanghai, several years after getting married. Until then, all I knew was that I loved Chinese food. I know that might sound condescending, but that's not how I mean it.
Keep Reading ...Show less
Photo by Iam Anupong on iStock

I’ve always been a proud redhead, even though I used to wish that I could tan like those glamorous models in fashion magazines. Or maybe I just got tired of Black’s sarcastic comments about my white skin. Except for the one time when we played a rare round of golf together (see below), which ended up becoming one of my favorite memories! Although I do wish I had known back then about how important it is to protect our skin from the sun … So, now I invite everyone (regardless of hair color) to join us in not only observing Skin Cancer Awareness Month but also celebrating National Sunscreen Day.

I'll never forget the day. It was an "almost" ordinary day out on the golf course with my mom and dad during the heat of a Long Island summer. Now, if "Long Island" conjures up images of stately manors on the North Shore (think "Great Gatsby") or beachfront mansions in the Hamptons (think Robin Leach and his popular show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"), you can put those out of your head. I'm not talking about some fancy country club golf course, just a regular public course.

Keep Reading ...Show less
Photo by Epiximages on iStock
This Mother’s Day, Red will be visiting her best friend from elementary school, both of whom have lost their moms, so they’ll be sharing lots of stories and warm memories. (And since she’ll be in NY, she’ll be “visiting” Mom at the cemetery.) Meanwhile, Red’s youngest daughter is looking forward to having dinner with her second mom … Black!

Mother’s Day is a celebration of moms – those with us and those in our hearts and memories. And that’s why we’re repeating last year’s post (that, and because Black was borderline warm and fuzzy) …

Black's HeadBlack assets.rebelmouse.io

I appreciate that bullet points may not be the typical approach to Mother’s Day, but it seems appropriate to me …
  • Be sensitive to those people whose mothers may no longer be with us, especially given how many have been lost to COVID
  • If you have lost a mother, remember they are always with you – in your heart and in your memories
  • Remember Mother’s Day also includes all those “unofficial moms” and “mother figures” who are like second (or replacement) moms
  • And, last but not least, If you’re a mom, try to enjoy the day by doing something for yourself, as today may be the one day you can get away with it

red headred head assets.rebelmouse.io

This year I write about Mother’s Day with a heavy heart and still much raw emotion, as our mom passed in December. My pragmatic side (yes, that’s usually Black’s area although she did sound somewhat warm and fuzzy above) knows that she had been 94 and led a full life, but that really doesn’t make it any less sad or fill the emptiness. But I find myself, when I least expect it and triggered by the most unexpected things, finding comfort in wonderful memories. And although Black’s first bullet point hits too close to home for me, I’ll try my best to focus on the other bullets.

Wishing all moms a very Happy Mother’s Day!