I write this essay from federal prison. My number is 14620-023. Like many of the other essayists, I too have been interviewed by NPR on air for professional efforts and accomplishments made in the interest and benefit of society. For a time, certain members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives called me their “golden boy.” Other members of Congress sent notes telling me they “trusted me completely.” Now I live in a cold 6×9 cement cell in Colorado, also, ironically, for having “lived my life for others” in an attempt to help millions of Americans have a better life.
Although I am in prison, prison is not in me. Tolstoy’s dictum is true because I have experienced it first- hand. My days are filled with service to men who genuinely need help. Accordingly, I am truly happy in spite of my circumstances even though I painfully long for my wife and children every single day. By living for others, I have helped many inmates through very difficult and dark days. The “continuum of difficulty,” for lack of a better term, at one end has involved mentoring young men through the GED process, helping to repair family relations, and such. At the other end, I have offered love and comfort to the suicidal to the point in which they (as there have been many), because of that love, came to know that life was worth living.
One essay in “This I Believe” which I particularly enjoyed was that of Dr. Azar Nafisi (pgs 171-174). She was fired from the University of Tehran for refusing to wear a veil. She taught her students about Huckleberry Finn and his friend, the runaway slave, Jim. She says, “Huck was told in Sunday school that people who let slaves go free go to ‘everlasting fire’.” As Huck and Jim lazily floated down the river,
laughing, singing, and talking, Huck concluded that his relationship with Jim, the human being, was more valuable than the worry about “hell fire.” So, Huck said, “Alright, then, I’ll go to hell.”
I found my own “Jim” in prison. His name is Frank Banashley, Sr. He is Native American Apache. His family calls him Wakado (pronounced walk-uh-doo). For the past year, I lived my life for him by writing his story and having it published in a book, called Quinny, which is named after his son. Wakado and Quinny went to prison protecting each other after a tragic self-defense related death of a childhood friend. Wakado took the blame for Quinny to prevent his son from receiving the death penalty and has now spent twenty years in prison. Wakado has twenty more years to go. He has lived his life for Quinny, his son, and so many others. I believe in Wakado. Now, I will live my life for him until he is set free from the false slavery and imprisonment in which he finds himself, even if it means happily passing through “hell fire” to help him.