His real name doesn’t matter. So let’s call him Steve.
Steve made a mistake. He went to prison. The details aren’t important.
He was twenty-four, illiterate, and he felt like a worthless creature. At night, he’d lie awake thinking of people he’d disappointed. Namely, his mother.
Steve made friends with the chaplain—who discovered that Steve couldn’t read or write.
The chaplain taught Steve the basics. ABC’s, cursive, grammar. In a few years, Steve went from reading Doctor Seuss to Walt Whitman.
He enrolled in a GED correspondence course. After that: onward and upward. It took years to earn college credits through the US Mail.
He graduated with an associate’s degree.
And when the chaplain baptized Steve in a feed-trough, Steve rose from the water and hugged the chaplain.
Steve told him, “I wish I was hugging my mama right now.”
“This hug is from her and me both,” said the chaplain.
Steve’s mother passed while he was inside.
Years later, our hero joined civilian life as an older man. The world felt like a foreign place. He found a job on a concrete crew. He grew his hair long because he could.
At work, Steve made friends with a twenty-six-year-old man who we’ll call DeRonn.
DeRonn and Steve grew close. They had deep conversations at work. DeRonn admitted that he’d once wanted to study art, but never did.
“Why not?” asked Steve.
“Because,” said DeRonn. “I dropped out at sixteen when my girlfriend got pregnant.”
A few days later, an envelope appeared in the front seat of DeRonn’s car. Inside was a little cash, wrapped with a rubber band, and a note which read:
“That’s to help pay for art school.”
That was two lifetimes ago. DeRonn is not a kid anymore. And he’s not sad, either. And as it happens, he did finish school. His degree is in photography.
Today, he volunteers at an after school art program for at-risk kids. It’s only a few hours per week, but he enjoys it.
He instructs troubled teenagers how to operate film cameras, make clay mugs, and paint with acrylics and watercolor.
There are several students worth mentioning.
Like the fifteen-year-old whose mother died in a car accident. We’ll call him Jason.
Jason’s family was poor. The kid was a wreck. But he was pure talent. His paintings were fit for museums. And over the course of one semester, DeRonn taught him how to be better.
DeRonn managed to save each of the boy’s projects that year.
One day after class, DeRonn approached Jason and his father. He invited them to a cocktail party in a nice part of town.
“And dress sharp,” DeRonn told them.
The party was at a small art gallery. It was an art auction. Think: finger food, fancy wine, and people fake-laughing.
When Jason arrived, he was wearing a necktie and tennis shoes. The room of people applauded.
All the paintings on the wall were Jason’s.
That night, DeRonn auctioned off twenty-nine paintings. They didn’t earn much, but the money went toward Jason’s college fund.
“Why’re you being so good to me?” Jason asked.
“Because,” said DeRonn. “Someone was good to me once.”
So you might wonder where I’m going with all this. To tell you the truth, I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Because I’m just some guy you’ve never met who likes to hear stories. I don’t know much.
But I do know this:
There is still plenty of kindness in this world.
Chaplains and prisoners matter more than they think they do.
And last week, Steve finally got to hug his mother.