Sunday, August 13, 2006

My Brother and Simple Things

Among my acquaintances, I have the singular experience of being related to someone who has done time in federal prison. It was a sure conversation-sparker when I used to start sentences like, "My brother who's in prison says ..."

Thankfully, he's out now, and regardless of whether he did rob those banks, he's a good brother, and he is a constant reminder to me of how many things I take for granted. For example, I got an e-mail from him this morning that read in part, "Also, I have not been contacted by the DNA people."

How many people do you know have to worry about having their DNA sampled against their will? He's actually party to a potentially precedent-setting lawsuit regarding the matter. In short, after he went to prison, our obscure East Coast state enacted a law requiring all convicts to submit a DNA sample before their sentence could be considered complete.

Somehow, he served his time, paid restitution, finished his years of probation and received an official letter declaring his obligations met -- without ever having submitted a DNA sample.

His opinion is that the law shouldn't apply to him because it hadn't been on the books when he went to prison. Also, it constitutes unlawful search and seizure -- they have no reason to believe he's committed any other crimes.

And so it goes, and I get e-mails like the one above, and I am reminded that I am safe and sound in my home, and my DNA is locked up tight inside this body of mine, and if the doorbell rings it's going to be the takeout delivery guy, not someone who wants to make off with my DNA, thankyouverymuch.

He spent nearly seven years in prison, beginning in 1994. You don't realize how much changes in that time.

The internet took off, for example. DVDs arrived on the scene. Cell phones appeared. When he got out of the pen, it was like emerging from a time machine.

Now that he's completed his probation, his life is nearly back to normal, despite the beatings, stabbings and broken leg that took their toll.

He called me not too long ago, excited. "I can VOTE," he said. "I am going to SPIN this election! I'm going to VOTE!"

Not long after, he called my sister and left a message that he wanted to tell her what he had done that day for the first time. When she called him back, he said in the manner of a proud little boy who had hit a baseball for the first time. "I recycled!" he said.

Recycling is another concept that grew in popularity while he was "away at college" as he likes to put it. He doesn't have pickup recycling where he lives, and he had finally taken the time to seek out a recycling area.

One day at work he called me and left a message that he wanted to tell me about something exciting that had happened to him. I called back, and he said, "Guess what I got in the mail today?" I had no idea. "A summons for jury duty!" he cried. As you can imagine, when he filled out the enclosed questionaire and disclosed that he had been convicted of a crime, they sent him further correspondence saying, "Your request to be excused has been approved." He was crushed. "I didn't ASK to be excused," he said in another phone call. "I wanted to be on a jury!"

And so I am reminded that things I take for granted -- which I even consider inconveniences and annoying social responsibilities -- are actually privileges. And I try to adjust my attitude to remember the simple, silly things in life.

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