Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pride and Indecision

I have been in a bit of a quandary the last several months.  For years I have been a corespondent/mentor for several men in prison.  It all began with two young men I met in Brooklyn.  These two brothers made a deep impression on me and every time I went back to Brooklyn I crossed their paths.  Then one year one of them was not there.  His brother told me that he was incarcerated at Riker's Island.   We wrote him a letter and visited him before we left the state.  This embarked me on a long journey of studying the prison system and writing to inmates.  You see, this one man I was writing to encouraged others to write me as well.  I believe that at one point I was writing letters to at least ten men, counseling them, encouraging them, and often helping them in ways that I now realize I shouldn't have.  (i.e. helping them find addresses of people on the outside)  I owe my college degree to these men, because it was in writing to them and desiring to make a difference in the future of prisoners that I found the inspiration to return to college, to excel, and to graduate with a degree in Sociology.

This is where the indecision part comes in. 
Since graduation my life has taken a different path than what I had expected.  My sights are no longer set on working in re-entry programs, at least not for the time being.  I don't feel the indecision in that area though.  Where I feel it most is in whether or not to restart my program of correspondence, either with some of the same men or with an entirely different set of inmates.  You see, some things happened that have made things quite difficult for me.  I would say that my problem initiated with Facebook of all things.  Social networking took up so much of my brainspace that I all but stopped writing letters to anyone (with one notable exception, to be discussed in a minute). I am beginning to come back out of that shell now that I have left Facebook behind me.  The problem was exacerbated though with the news that those first two young men were potentially involved with a crime that I cannot wrap my mind around in any way. I will not discuss that crime online.  This situation, along with the realization of the many errors I made in the course of my correspondence have made it extremely difficult for me to proceed.  So here I sit, trying to figure out whether or not this is a chapter of my life that is closed completely, or can it possibly re-emerge as something new, something stronger, something that makes a greater difference for inmates and for the world they eventually rejoin.

With all of that said I want to highlight one of the men that I am so intensley proud of.  I will call him Henry.  He is an incredible person, and I am so happy that we are part of his life!  He was initially a reluctant writer.  Our original contact was simply him letting me know the whereabouts of one of my other pen-pals who had moved on from Riker's.  As it turned out, Henry became my star!  He worked soooo hard on himself throughout his term of imprisonment.  In every prison he moved to he involved himself in every program available in a constant commitment to rise up out of his previous lifestyle and become a new person.  He cleared his body and mind of addictions, reconnected with his family, and earned his GED (graduating at the top of his class!),

all within the confines of prison.  Soon he will be free again!  In less than a month he will be with his reunited family, and the day after his release he will be cooking a fabulous dinner in honor of his baby granddaughter's first birthday! (He sent me the menu)  I dearly hope that our correspondence will continue and that we remain lifelong friends. 

So, this is a constant undercurrent in my life.  What direction do I go? And on days like today, when I come across articles like these that I found on NPR about a radio program and a knitting program, the questions loom ever larger.  How much of a difference can one person make?  Henry would tell you that we are the cause of all his successes (though I believe it was all him).

A friend of mine posted a little story about a starfish (click here) that resonated deeply with my current quandary.  Maybe it will for you too!

Let's all go out and try to make a difference for at least one!


abbie said...

I remember your being consumed with the writing and advising. It was a positive time for you-doing good and helping others. I strongly advise you, should you take this practice up again, to limit your communications to WOMEN. Let your husband take the men, if he desires to accompany you.
There's my 2 bits.

Barb Schanel said...

Thank you for the encouragement. I will definitely take it to heart.

Jen awJ said...

You're one of the unsung American heroes, too. Proud to know you. Follow your heart! You have already changed the world.

(On an unrelated note: how do I put links to blogs (i.e. yours) on the side of mine like you have? This layout stuff is confusing.)

Barb Schanel said...

Jen, If you go into design you can click add a gadget (in whatever spot you want the list)then scroll down the gadgets until you get to blog list. I renamed mine to other awesome blogs. :-)

abbie said...

I have to second what Jen said. You are pretty impressive. : )