today I wrote an email to a friend which included a prolific conversation i had recently with an inmate of a youth offenders institute close to the city in which i live.
I visited the prison without any preconceptions. i had not even seriously considered what the building i was walking in to stood for, what it represented and most importantly, what it was trying to do. in the gym I found a small group of young people huddled around a display board, listening to one another, braiding one others hair and having a discussion too quiet for me to over hear. the exhibition board before them was one which concerned the life of anne frank. anne frank is the infamous young Jewish girl who lost her life in world war two, but left her diary behind which journals her experiences. and can help to teach us the lessons of the past.
Later, I was sat in a living area of one of the blocks, on hard plastic seats facing a row of cell doors that opened into small compact living quarters. a young man was invited to sit with us for a conversation. Ironically the young person in question looked as though he was 25 and was built like a concrete block. he was huge. but well spoken, articulate and as gentle as a giant can be.
a question was asked; 'what did you think of the anne frank exhibition?'
The young man answered.
He had been a tour guide for the exhibit. A few of the inmates had been chosen to learn about certain aspects of anne franks experiences in order to show visitors around and explain the exhibition to other prisoners. he spoke of big ideas, big words and big consequences. the experience had taught him that it is important to stand up for what you believe in. In his words- if you don't then who will? and it is important to stand up for those was cannot speak for themselves. Equality and diversity must be respected and valued and appreciated.
I was quite taken by the words the young man said. they rang of truth and lessons taught by history and the wonderful gift it can bring us- education. truth. honesty. clarity. i was touched when he spoke of ganhi and martin luther king and the importance of respect.
and i wondered how such a bright, intelligent and personable young man could live his life in the boxed room of a cell on a wing of a block inside big dark grey walls which shield the world from the terribleness of his being.
sometimes i just don't understand this society and its excuses.