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  • Doug Tjapkes

Would I be concerned about others? I wonder.

The report of Reggie’s death got me to thinking.  Reggie was not only old, but he was an old-timer, having received a sentence of life-without-parole back in the 70s. He was never going to get out of prison. He passed into glory the other day.  I got to wondering what I would do, how I would behave, if I knew that I was going to spend the rest of my life behind bars, due to my own foolishness, without even a glimmer of hope.  My preacher friend Al used to say that if he ever got locked up for a crime he did not commit, he would be a “raging bull” in prison. But Reggie was guilty. He was contrite, but that makes little difference with a life sentence. Seems to me like it would be quite easy to assume a pretty dark view of everything. To be angry at the world, as well as myself. To assume a pretty selfish wishes and desires come first, to hell with anyone else. To reject any programs for self-improvement. What would be the point? Who could care? Who would know the difference?  We actually know people in prison who think like that. Back to Reggie again.  Reggie served as chairman of the National Lifers of America chapter in his prison...a post he had held for many years. And the time is past due that I pay tribute to the men and women who are members of and work in this organization. Formed back in the 80s, the NLA is a strong in-house advocacy agency. Most prisons have a chapter. These people communicate with legislators, the Governor’s office, and the Department of Corrections. They meet, they discuss, they take action...all the types of things that I wonder whether I might even consider if I were to end up in prison for life.  I’ve had personal experience with this organization. They’ve invited me to come and speak. I was even invited to sit in on an NLA Board of Directors meeting. I was so impressed!  The NLA members destroy the typical stigmatized impressions that go through our minds about a rowdy, scary, scruffy bunch of heathens. If you didn’t see their prison blues, and feel the ominous staring of guards, the atmosphere of intelligent discourse and of kindness and consideration would seem much like that in civic or church meetings. Perhaps even better. Their goals reach beyond their personal plight. They are thinking of others. A rich lesson, important reminder, for all of us,...especially right now. Reminds me of these words in an old gospel song: Lord, help me live from day to day In such a self-forgetful way That even when I kneel to pray My prayer shall be for others. RIP, Reggie. Bless you and your NLA friends for thinking of “others!”

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