All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

He ain't heavy, Mister!

I still remember seeing a drawing in a magazine when I was a little boy. I’m sure it was a reprint, but the message stuck with me. It was a drawing of a little boy carrying a still younger lad on his back. The caption was: He ain’t heavy, Mister, he’s my brother. 

That drawing and that phrase made history. Fr. Edward Flanagan of Boy’s Town spotted it in a magazine in 1941, and obtained permission to use it for promotional purposes. It also became a popular song. 

As I’m reviewing the astonishing year-end figures of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, that phrase comes to mind. 

We hear and read about prisoners fighting, killing each other, attacking each other, raping each other. I’m not making light of it, or denying that it happens. But there’s another very decent code that I have seen behind bars, actually reflected in this beautiful quote. 

I first discovered it in 2003 when my friend Maurice Carter experienced a severe Hepatitis C episode in prison. His bunkie, Jerry Talison, was finally able to find our telephone number. He called Marcia, who is a Registered Nurse, and together the two of them saved Maurice’s life. 

Some years later a group of prisoners in Jackson contacted me to ask if I could help one of their fellow inmates. Old Bill was 80 and dying, but had no friends or loved ones on the outside. He just didn’t want to die in prison. We arranged to have him released to a beautiful hospice facility, and his final weeks on earth were heavenly. 

Readers of this column will remember an item that I post every year from a prisoner who had been on death row in Texas, “What’s in the Brown Paper Bag?” A touching story. 

The theme I’m stressing here is prisoners caring for prisoners. And here’s why. 

HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS signed up more than 2,000 new clients in 2021. That’s more than 6% of the current Michigan prison population! It represents a 17% increase over last year! 

How does that happen? Simple. One person in prison discovers that HFP cares, and the word spreads. At least 5 times a day some incarcerated person will email us, not with a request for help, but with a message: I have a friend who needs help. 

Our pledge for the New Year comes from the book of Hebrews: “...remember those in prison as if you were together with them...” 

We’ll be there for them with a cup of cool water.

They ain’t heavy. They’re our brothers and sisters!



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