Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2004 / 7 Tishrei, 5765

Issac J. Bailey

Issac J. Bailey
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My brother belonged in jail | Prison was good.

And necessary. And healing. And revealing.

At least that's what my brother tells me.

"In there, you either get better or worse," he said.

He got better.

Watching fights, witnessing occasional stabbings and sleeping next to a convicted murderer serving a minimum 30-year sentence has a way of doing that, doing what big-brother role models can't.

But that's not why I once prayed that my younger brother, the seventh of nine boys, would find himself confined behind cold, steel gray bars, hidden away from the free world by tall fences topped with pointy, curved barbed wire.

I prayed because I knew it was the only thing that would save his life. The drugs, the guns, the drive-by shootings had become too much a part of his world. So much so that they crowded out his view of everything else. His mother's sleepless nights. His brothers' relentless pleading. His father's attempts at guidance.

His purpose.

Somewhere along the line, he forgot he mattered, that what he did had

impact, on himself and others.

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So he stopped caring and began latching onto the superficial - the quick high, the empty bravado, the easy buck - in his confusion. And no amount of social engineering was going to change that - not programs to provide positive role models, not more job opportunities, not more access to education - no matter how worthy they might be.

The reason I prayed for prison, I think, was because I knew he'd no longer be inundated by the messages of those who've come to believe that shielding young men from their responsibilities is necessary to save them from a bad ending, that coddling them from consequences is somehow necessary to help them navigate a supposedly unfair world.

They don't seem to realize if you convince a person they aren't responsible for their actions, you've also convinced them they have no power, no ability to change their world. And if you've convinced them they're powerless, you've also convinced them they are purposeless.

"In this age, which believes that there is a shortcut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest," author Henry Miller said.

It took sleeping next to a murderer every night for several months to awaken my brother to that reality.

Issac J. Bailey is a columnist for the Myrtle Beach, S.C., Sun News. Comment by clicking here.


09/15/04: Tiny miracles remind us of life's choices
05/04/04: What about the rights of dads-to-be?

© The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.