Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thoughts from prison on Cry the Beloved Country

From The Nation, Joseph Cooper on teaching Alan Paton's classic to prisoners:

After reading Cry, the Beloved Country, a particularly thoughtful and articulate 41-year-old inmate wrote, "I can't begin to express the quiet storm that stirs inside me every time I find myself comparing a father-son story with my own."

This inmate went on to write:

"It's an almost indescribable emptiness of being disconnected. More often than not, the father-son relationship is one I can't relate to, for the father-son relationships in so many books and movies somehow resolve themselves favorably. And that resolution is something I can't relate to--it's the opposite of what continues for me, it's the opposite of my contact, my lack of contact.

In Cry, the Beloved Country, we read of Absalom's plea, his consistent plea, that though he did commit the terrible crime, he did not intend to commit the crime. Those words echoed my plea eighteen years ago.

But that is where the comparison stops: Thankfully, I did not receive Absalom's sentence. Sadly, I did not receive the compassion he did from his father.

Though brief, the interaction between Absalom and his father is actually fascinating despite the prison setting, despite the dire circumstances--maybe all the more fascinating because of the setting and the circumstances. Their reunion stirred feelings and thoughts--sadness and regret. I didn't really want to be reminded of my particular snapshot of a father-son encounter. But at the same time there was something between Absalom and his father that I've longed for just an ounce of. It was the love and the concern Stephen Kumalo still had and showed for his son, Absalom, even though the father had been so disappointed and hurt by Absalom's conduct in Johannesburg. For me, those scenes are as profound as the Pacific Ocean. Stephen Kumalo was there for his son, and that is what matters most, despite--especially since--Absalom had fallen so far from living the life his father had hoped, expected."

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