I learned long ago that the men are more intelligent, empathetic and far wiser than the stereotypic image of a felon belies. Antoine took the initiative to share a book review he’d noticed, and taped it carefully to his reflection paper, so that I could read it. Just like the author profiled in the article, Antoine recognized how we, together, have found a commonality through the processing of words, how we have been touched by certain sentences or passages. We have learned from each other that the very different prisms through which people from very dissimilar backgrounds view things can cause them to absorb and react to words- perhaps even to life-differently. Just like the man in the article, one by one, our literary works have re-lit Antoine’s curiosity, intellect and hope. And for me, like Michelle Kuo, the author of the book, Reading with Patrick, the exercise ushered in greater awareness of society and myself.
After a riveting discussion of Wally Lamb’s This Much I Know Is True, the subject changed to “current events” at a difficult time in our country. We spoke about race and Us vs. Them mentality in the aftermath of Charlottesville.
The divisiveness and cruelty of that shameful moment in recent history resonated differently for my group of incarcerated readers. Prison is not a place of peace. Any sense of calm and absence of fear and violence must be nurtured from inside the mind. Regarding the Neo-Nazi riot, there was a business as usual response when I asked them about the violence and hatred. That climate of clashing ideologies, which our country witnessed on big screen TV, from the spin of Fox news to CNN, is a climate they are familiar with. The book group serves as sanctuary from all that.
As a facilitator of a group of diverse men with many different stories, it is grounding and strengthening to receive feedback from a person like Antoine, who doesn’t miss a thing.