Last night I found myself accidentally watching a documentary on BBC3 which has left me with some profound feelings, so I wanted to share it – it also links to one of my previous posts about the prison system in Britain. It’s part of the channels Crime and Punishment series, and this installment featured several young men in American jails, who have been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
It was a very disturbing film (and my only complaint is that I could have done without the stylised mortuary shots of the victims, which was very voyeuristic). The young men talked of their crimes and how they felt about themselves and their future. Some had experienced that long dark night of the soul in which they had confronted their inner demons, taken responsibility for their actions, and finally understood why they were in prison. Others had not. But one story in particular made me cry.
Sean Taylor was sentenced to life imprisonment for shooting dead an innocent bystander caught up in gang violence. In prison, he continued to live the life of a gang member, viewing the world through that narrow prism and getting into constant trouble with the authorities. But Sean was fortunate. An older inmate decided to look out for him, and every day would approach him and ask him a particular question. Here Sean leans forward and shares the question that was to save him:
“What have you read today?”
So Sean started reading. And it opened up his eyes to whole new worlds, made him delve into his own inner self, and make the tremendously brave decision to change his life. Through reading, he discovered Islam, and this showed him another path. He gathered his fellow inmates together and told them he was no longer going to be a gang member – he was going to live a better life, even though he was incarcerated, and he would help anyone else who wished to do the same. His transformation was to change not only his life, but the lives of many others. And the State Governor was moved to commute his sentence to parole.
Now Sean lives back in his home community, working with young people to try and stop them from getting involved with gangs, and to steer them away from lives of violence. It’s impossible to know how many lives his actions have actually saved, but his brave effort to pay back society for his own crimes were admirable. He spoke as an intelligent, committed and articulate man, and his story moved me greatly. I am inspired.
Proof, if any be needed, that reading can change lives.