Archive for March 27th, 2015


merely decent


The American poet May Sarton (1912—1995) once said: “One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being.” The thought has been borrowed by writers as varied as John Le Carre and J.D. Salinger. I was exposed to a variant of the idea yesterday while watching a documentary about film history, when a director who didn’t believe in heroes was said to believe that only the “merely decent” was possible. But it’s not easy being a decent human being.

Sometimes we must adjust our sights to the merely decent from the heroic. There’s no shame in that. Facing the reality of a situation can even touch on the heroic.

Yesterday Derek King called, and I took the opportunity to initiate a “heart to heart” dialog with him. He has been having a particularly hard time recently. He had car trouble, and without reliable transportation, he lost his job. Last month I sent him nearly $700 to help him hold things together, but I had to borrow money to do it. Even if there were an uptick in contributions, providing support at this or a similar level would be unsustainable.

As more of our young people are released into the world, just multiply that challenge. Shit happens, and in the best of circumstances, life is just one damned thing after another. But for the former inmate out there in the world alone, chances are especially great for failure.

Derek understands this, but it doesn’t ease the financial pain he’s feeling.

I shared with him the strategic conclusion that were he here in West Texas, I would be able to swing doing more. If he were here, we would be concentrating our spending at a single point in space and time. Were he here, maybe we would have even been able to prevent the mechanical break-downs that started his chain reaction of misfortune, or failing that, at least provide a spare vehicle. Were he here and saddled with the restrictions of parole or probation (which he is not), there would be little opportunity for him to fail.

But Derek wants to pursue his dreams in a place that is populated with lots of people and that offers more worldly opportunities. A place that is more expensive to live in—you know, with rent, utilities, insurance and all the other things that “normal” people pay for.

I understand. It is no different from what virtually every other young person desires. Plus, I understand that he now has a girlfriend with a son who does not want to relocate to a radically different and challenging place.
But it may not be a practical or realistic desire for every former inmate. I have come to the conclusion that a comprehensive “safety net” can exist only for prison releasees who choose to locate themselves at Estrella Vista. If they wish to make their ways somewhere else, the level of guaranteed support must necessarily be minimal—maybe $200 a month at most—and only when they need it. The outer world is likely to be inhospitable to them for a long, long time.
In any event, the young people we help must agree that they will come here immediately upon release from prison and give us at least 9 months of voluntary service helping to build the place. They will also be asked to help us build a community where the efforts of each will enhance the success and happiness of all.
And who knows? Maybe they’ll like it here and choose to stay (they are free to stay here as long as they want). If West Texas isn’t their cup of tea, we’ll pay for them to get elsewhere; after that, they’re nearly on their own. But at least they’ll have given it a chance.
Not owning up to the truth, or refusing to accept reality for fear of looking bad, puts our primitive instincts in charge of our lives. Facing reality can focus our attention on the winnable challenges and recognizing that the biggest and most noble struggle is deep within ourselves.


Groove of the Day

Listen to David Bazan performing “Hard To Be


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