Thursday, December 20, 2007


I think this post would provide a good contrast to the last one-fast forward to the present. Yesterday my husband, mother-in-law and I went to see my son graduate from a fiber optics program he completed at the state prison where he is incarcerated. This class was the one and only of it's type because funding is no longer available for it, and it turned out to be a one-time offering to younger inmates. Many took advantage of the opportunity. But there were probably 60 or so inmates who completed everything from GED's to bakery apprentice. Sort of true to prison last-minute fashion or sometimes misinformation, we got an uncharacteristic Monday morning phone call from Bran telling us to be at the prison at 12:15 pm on Wednesday, which is fine, but we knew about the ceremony months prior and we have a four hour drive. Still, we expected to be there about that time anyway, so that worked out perfectly. We did not want to be left in the cold after all that or late.

We got to the prison and waited, and waited....and waited along with the other families and friends for things to begin. Time was of the essence. On a usual visitation day we leave at 4 in the morning to get there and have maximum time to spend due to the distance. We were dictated this day-1 to 3pm. Of course most of that was spent watching the ceremony. The dayroom was beautifully done, I'll have to admit, and it was touching to have two inmates by the door handing out programs. If it weren't for their sun-faded brown jumpsuits and white canvas sneaks, you could well have imagined any graduation ceremony. I joked later to my son that the two things I was sure I'd never see him in were a gown and a tux. Ok, one down! (And hopefully at least one more to go with the gown). The speakers ran the gamut from very polished to "I never speak in public...nor should I". The ceremony started out with a highly synthesized version of Pomp and Circumstance played by an inmate as well, I think. And I imagined a gymnasium stage with a curtain rather than a cell block from which the men walked out so proudly in their caps and gowns.

It was nicely done, a happy moment and Brandon looked so fine in his official garb. I was glad as a mom that this relatively normal moment was provided for us. The high scorer in the GED program was considered validectorian, and so addressed his "class" and had the honor of the tassel turn. He was truly impressive, humble, funny and intelligent. We raced to the regular picture-taking booth area to grab some shots before anyone else and realized there was an official photographer. But posing with an elf and fireplace background we felt was more fun (and Bran did not purchase tickets for pictures in rather procrastinating fashion). We then hit the treat table, which was loaded down with aforementioned bakery apprentice inmate goodies, all peanut butter. There were peanut butter brownies, peanut butter balls, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter oatmeal (just kidding). Delicious.

We had only about 45 minutes to visit before leaving, and I tried hard dispite being really hungry for a regular meal and really tired from the travel to concentrate on Brandon and his moment. As time drew to a close it was hard not to look around at other inmates. About a third to half had family or friends there, and the rest had no one. It was no more strikingly apparent that this was true than to notice the young man who was head of his class standing alone in his gown with the diploma in hand. (Brandon pointed out the diploma read "the ninetieth day of December" rather than the nineteenth). But I watched as this young man stood gazing at other families, sort of wheeling around as you might in a crowded auditorium looking for a familiar face. There was none for him. I turned away and looked again, and he was gone, back to the block.

I guess it was hard to help thinking, given the Christmas season and all, of the words of Jesus to his followers in the Gospels as He told them the parable about those who will be with Him in heaven one day. He welcomed those who "saw Him hungry and fed Him, naked and clothed Him, sick and in prison and visited Him", and they asked Him, "Lord, when did we see You hungry, naked, sick or in prison?" and He told them that whenever you do this for the least of these, you do it for Me.


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