Most Tuesday night spaghetti dinners were loud, sticky, and
unremarkable. This one was life-defining. The "let's learn about the world,
kids" topic de jour was the state of America’s prisons. At age 12, I was
completely captivated. I remember the stories of men packed into auditoriums of
bunks, of those same men dropped at remote bus stations with $20 and
nowhere to go. Isn’t this America, land of opportunity?
Unable to stand the sedentary academic discourse, I leapt from
my barstool, grabbed a scrap of white paper and a blue marker, and began to
write the Congressman.
Despite my feeble attempt at action and the patronizing eye
rolls, I knew I had found my life’s mission: to fix the prisons, to
create chances for change.
To remember the forgotten.
In years following, I made new friends and
learned new stories: Wanda, who learned her multiplication tables at
45 but would need 19 years of in-prison education to earn her GED; James, who
begged for mental health services while serving his sentence, only to be told
that he would have to act out to be given proper medical attention.
The prison system is failing: recidivism is high, costs
are astronomical, and fatherless communities are paying the price. The
solution isn’t sexy or flashy. It’s gritty, it’s complicated, and it
takes heart. In my own pursuit of progress, I will remember the people,
the families, and the communities that are so often overlooked.
And, one day, I will teach my own family that lesson
at a Tuesday night topic de jour. Over spaghetti, of course.