Spare Change

In a recent column, Leonard Pitts writes about Ted Williams, the homeless former announcer who had several days of fame when his golden voice was discovered.

After a few days of goodwill and celebrity status, Williams was detained for a violent argument with his daughter. Soon after, he enters rehab. Pitts is not surprised. He writes,

You don’t get to where Ted Williams got in his life unless you have some serious, as they say, issues — questions of character, dependency and emotional health. It is naive to believe those things can be fixed — for Williams or anyone who faces similar challenges — in a single lightning strike of overnight sensation.

The viewing audience hoped that Williams had been saved from his former life, his slate wiped clean by Jimmy Fallon and hosts of The Today Show. But reality is different from reality TV: what Williams needed was to go slow and steady.

This theory of approaching change slowly is reflected in popular diets: cheat days are built in, allowing one to delay cravings and, to be honest, stay human. We all need balance, and this includes the occasional chocolate truffle.

But if the change you seek has its basis in ethics, it's often recommended you stay as far from the old ways as possible. Recovering addicts, for example, can't go the slow route. One drink and they're hooked again, game over, return to start. Cold turkey is to be preferred over the slow, simmering kind.

I think of my former prisoners: they're immersing themselves in the church culture and trying to stay away from bad influences. Sounds good on paper.

But can this be sustained?

The slow and steady theory can't apply when you've done time for criminal sexual conduct or armed robbery. But does cold turkey work? Does surrounding a bunch of former criminals with kind white people help them steer clear of temptation?

I've witnessed a strong integrity in the men I've met, and have seen the effectiveness of the hard volunteer hours put in by church folk. Yet I know they must struggle, as we all do. They must find a way to stay clean and crime-free while finding an environment that supports their culture and individual personalities.

For many of the men, this translates to finding accountability with other ex-cons, and developing ties to urban churches. As best they can, they're setting up structures to keep them standing upright. I trust this is enough.

In Aristotle's
Politics, he writes of an experiment on patients suffering from mental imbalances. Rather than keep things calm and collected, "a wild and restless music" is played to soothe the "internal trouble of the mind." It works; the patients are restored to health. Augusto Boal, commenting on this experiment in his book Theatre Of The Oppressed, points out that "certain emotions or passions cure analogous, but not identical, emotions or passions."

The cure, in effect, lies in the cause.


  1. I've always believed people can change--just not always in the time frame or exact ways we personally would like them to.


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