Thursday, July 19, 2007

So Much for So Little

My other weekly prison program ended just this last Tuesday. The program has a limited duration, lasting three or four months then ending. This has costs as well as benefits. On the plus side, there's always a waiting list of 100 or more prisoners who want to go through the program. So the program needs to end at some point so others who want to take it can do so.

On the other hand, it's really hard after getting to know a group of guys over a four month period just to end it, knowing that you probably won't see most of them again. (I keep in contact with a few, but can't do much more than that.)

So it's sort of sad, also.

On the last night of the program, we traditionally bring in some snacks from the "outside." With a new warden at this facility, it was a bit iffy this time. He originally denied us permission to do so, although we've been doing it at the end of these programs for years and years. The chaplain talked to the warden, though, and explained that the end-of-the-program treats contributed to the program by giving the men a little something to look forward to if they persevered in the program over the months. (If someone misses more than two weeks they are automatically cut from the program.) He explained that since the state wants the men to come to these sorts of programs, and since the small celebration encourages attendance, that permitting it helps the warden to achieve his and the state's goals for the men.

So the warden approved the celebration after all. All the food needs to be in professionally sealed containers, which limits the options we can bring in.

So we brought in salad (with the trimmings), soda, cheesecake, and cookies.

I was eating with a few men from my group. Oscar looked at me and said how much he appreciated the snacks. I told him that he was welcomed, but that it wasn't that big of a deal for the volunteers to bring this stuff in. He said, "Jim, it may not be a big deal for you, but it's a big deal for us. I drank Pepsi all the time when I was on the outside. It was my favorite drink. Tonight is the first time in eighteen years that I've had a Pepsi. It means a lot to have people care."

A Pepsi. A freaking Pepsi. It's next to nothing for the volunteers; a few minutes at the grocery store before we drive over to the prison. The whole program is pretty much like that. We show up for just a few hours every week, and the guys treat us like celebrities. I suppose it's just one more divine irony, that the volunteers give so little and yet the men receive so much. But it is an irony. And I cannot but be humbled by it.


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