Joe and Red

Joe* is being paroled today after 34 years in prison. He is 58 years old. He was about the same age as my son – 24 years old – when he was sent to prison, before his adult life had ever really begun.

I interviewed Joe at length for the book, Grace Goes to Prison. I visited him in prison. We’ve maintained a lively and thought-provoking correspondence for several years now.

Joe is an intelligent, articulate man. He has served in numerous leadership roles within the prison, served in various in-prison service and charitable organizations such as the Jaycees, he has volunteered and helped to organize many of the PA Prison Runathons, and helped to organize a Victim Offender Reconciliation Forum within the prison. He has completed the few educational programs that have been offered within the prison, as well as the few job skills training opportunities that have been available to him.

Joe has witnessed and experienced horrific things in the prisons. He has intervened and helped to mediate many violent or potentially violent situations between gangs, races and other prisoner groups. He stepped in to prevent the rapes of several female prison staff members as well as of several prisoners. He has experienced and witnessed blatant racial and religious prejudice from prison staff and other prisoners.

Joe has big dreams and bold plans for his future in the “free world”, dreams and plans that he’s managed to hold onto tightly, through all of the violence and hatred and cruelty. Joe wants to put all that he’s experienced, all that he’s learned, to good use by creating programs to help other prisoners to be accountable, to serve the community they’ve harmed, and offering them, as he described to me in a recent letter, “possibilities for redemption and restoration to full civil participation in society.”

Joe has a devoted, wise and thoughtful wife, “Red”, who has stood by him for these long painful years, yearning for and dreaming of this day. She and I have been corresponding too.

It’s hard to fathom the joy, anxiety, excitement, nervous anticipation and who-knows-what-other emotions they must be feeling today.

It isn’t as hard to imagine the challenges, the barriers, the closed doors, suspicion, distrust and fear Joe will face as he tries to create a new life for himself in a society that is openly hostile to and that ostracizes people with Joe’s “background.”

Joe and Red have taught me about patience and faith and persistence, about commitment and courage and inner strength.

I admire them.

I pray for them.

And I can’t wait to visit Joe again – on THIS side of the razor wire.


Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison criminal justice

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