Saturday, November 17, 2007

So Much in Common

The Rescuer
by Howard Parnell
Washington Post Magazine
November 18, 2007

Howard Parnell wrote this article about a touching relationship that developed in the late 1970s between his grandmother, Ruth Jones, and Edward King, a man sentenced to 20 years in prison for assault and robbery. Ruth Jones was a well-educated social worker from Richmond who began a written correspondence with Edward King in 1978. He was an inmate at the Powhatan Correctional Center.

By the time he went to prison at age 21, Edward was already a father, had been in and out of trouble since he was around 15, and had served time in several juvenile detention facilities. His education was so spotty that he could barely print his name, but by the time Ruth Jones began taking an interest in him he had been taking classes in prison and could read and write on a third grade level.

What I noticed about the history of their relationship is that Ruth Jones did not come on like gangbusters, getting in his face and telling him how to "improve" himself. She started out by just recognizing him as a human being, writing him letters about gardening and kite-flying and other safe topics that might remind him that there was a world on the outside to be enjoyed. Later, she began to encourage him to think about life after he was free, telling him to keep hoping and never give up. As Ruth's grandson, Howard Parnell, read through the collection of letters many years later, he noticed that Edward got more responsive and articulate as the friendship continued. He wrote once that he kept Ruth's picture in his Bible and looked at it every day.

Eventually, Ruth and Edward met face to face, which solidified their friendship. Edward became eligible for parole in 1980, and Ruth helped him find a job. He spent time at the home of Ruth Jones and her pediatrician husband. However, Ruth and her husband were already well into their 80s by this time, and eventually they lost touch with Edward when he moved out of the area. After Ruth's death in 1991, her grandson took custody of the box of letters between the two and a memoir about the relationship that Ruth and her daughter had written.

The years went by, and Howard made periodic attempts to find Edward, to no avail. Eventually, though, thanks to internet search engines and a couple of lucky breaks he found Edward, living in southeast D.C. The years since 1980 have not always been smooth for Edward, but he has never returned to prison. He spends a great deal of time now talking to kids on the streets, telling them to stay out of trouble and find alternatives to crime as a way to spend time and make a living. His troubled past has been redeemed by sincere effort to live an honorable life in the present.

Edward King gives Ruth Jones a lot of the credit for the fact that he has been able to stay away from crime and live a productive life. The last line of the article, he says "Me and Ruth thought the same about pretty much everything. We just had so much in common." It seems unlikely on the surface that Ruth and Edward would have anything in common, but when we look below that surface, perhaps we all have more in common than we initially realize.

It's inspiring to think what a difference any one of us can make with just a little bit of effort. In this week of Thanksgiving, let's all give thanks for the people who helped us along the way, and prayerfully consider how we can return the favor for someone else.

Reverent Reader


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