The Word of the Day Prompt this morning was RESPECT.
To me this is such an inspiring, healthy, upbeat word that I want to write something about it before my day is done.
I was thinking about a fellow Canadian we have a lot of respect for: journalist and author Conrad Black. When he writes, his articles are informative and what my husband and I consider to be a fair and sensible take on his subjects.
This evening, however, I’m thinking of one particular aspect of his life: the experiences he had during the time he was an inmate in one of Uncle Sam’s jails.
A bit of background:
Conrad Black once owned a chain of newspapers in Canada, some in the US, with shares in the Telegraph group in England and a couple of newspapers in Australia. He was living and working in the States when he was arrested and according to Google, “convicted in July 2007 on three counts of mail and wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice”
Mr Black spent 29 months in a Florida prison before being granted bail. When his case came before the Supreme Court, the Court declared the statute under which he was convicted to be unconstitutional. Charges against him were dismissed and he returned to Canada. However, the case against him is not relevant to the direction of this post.
So what does a journalist do when he’s incarcerated? He writes about it, naturally. I read several articles he wrote while he was in prison, and one in particular has stayed with me. That’s where I want to go with this post.
While he was in prison, he just didn’t sit around writing articles. He spend a fair bit of his time teaching other prisoners to read and write — and in giving an education, he got an education. In interacting with the other prisoners, he got a better picture of the workings of the US justice system. In particular, how it works for poor, illiterate men.
Needless to say, he didn’t come away with a high regard for the education system where so many underprivileged children fall through the cracks. This isn’t always the fault of the schools; sometimes there’s just no encouragement from home — no home even. But it’s sad to see that North American schools have been abandoning the basics in favor of the fluff and passing on those who really need help. Illiteracy among Canadians born and raised and schooled here is shocking.
Mr Black, after listening to his fellow inmates, concluded that if you haven’t got the smarts to defend yourself in a court of law, your chances of being convicted are definitely higher. I’ve read a few stories about poor illiterate blacks who barely understood the proceedings being falsely convicted, especially in the South. I don’t think this is so very rare.
He also wrote that if you haven’t got a basic education so you can get a job and earn a decent wage, your chances of ending up in jail are a lot higher. And re-offending. No news there.
Which comes back to my point about respect. Respect for others comes from learning about them as real people. Self-respect, the ability to stand up and face the world, to get ahead, comes from learning, too. It’s pretty hard to keep your head above water if you don’t have a solid rock to stand on. Like basic “Readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic.”
I’ve seen this. I’ve a cousin who can’t read her bank statement or a business letter, and couldn’t begin to understand this post. Medical issues are total confusion. When her purse was stolen she didn’t report it because she’s scared of dealing with the police, in case they ask her questions she can’t understand. Lack of remedial classes and a poor home combined to hinder her schooling.
I respect Mr Black for his efforts to work with these men and to give them the basics — and the self-respect — they’d need to build a life outside the prison walls. And I respect and applaud all the folks out there who have taken the time to teach, to mentor, to work with, folks who need a helping hand. They are a mighty army, working unseen.
Which brings me to my friend Margaret’s poem. I’m using it with the confidence that if my dear friend were alive, she’d give her permission. She and her husband Milton were just such people as she describes here.
by Margaret Penner Toews
Some folks there are who, quiet, go about
Unseen, unheard, unknown
…planting poignant thoughts in ordinary talk about His Presence,
…dig, and leave no signature, while others draw and drink,
…building bridges over chasms, deeply cut by hate and color, creed and prejudice
…removing stumbling stones of cruelty, indifference and scorn along the road, so those who walk in darkness will not fall
…erecting altars by their hearths, in secret closets, or on busy thoroughfares.
Quietly these folks ‘deliver cities’ (Ecclesiastes 9:14-15)
but no one knows
and no one will remember…
(most certainly not they themselves)
…Except for God…and He will never be a debtor.
He takes a leisurely eternity to give rewards.
From her book, First A Fire
© 1993 by Margaret Penner Toews
Available from PrairieView Press