My brother Kenneth–aged 22–drowned in the Thompson River in 1988. I cannot begin to tell you how that changed me. Nothing like it did my parents, or my sister, or our youngest brother, 21 years old at the time. They were close. Kenneth and I were just beginning to know each other as adults.
As the oldest by 8 years, I had a lot of tyranny and bad example to live down and make up for. Never got much of a chance to do so. I still see him a lot though. Sometimes in memory, sometimes in my nephews, sometimes in my son.
And sometimes, sometimes in a stranger.
The one about the age he’d be now, had he lived. Suffering a mind that’s bent and twisted all around itself. Bound up in a world almost entirely his own. In and out of jail, feared by many, a wandering, homeless man without family or friend. Convinced he’s a step or two away from the unimaginable wealth his former family and friends have conspired to keep from him. Convinced his ship will arrive, with horns and whistles, bells and streamers flying. All for him.
Another a few years younger, Kenneth at thirty five or so. Father of innumerable children, but not allowed to see them. Bad influence, criminal record, gets nasty when he’s drinking. Locked away from society when he sells illicit substances to get the funds he needs for food and drink and substances to abuse himself. Substances that take away the pain, dull the edge, purchase some collegiality. Substances he owes money for, steals to buy. In jail again.
It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to keep them in prison. Yet they are released almost entirely on their own recognizance.
Into community shelters, or low rent apartments. Into cultures of substance abuse and theft to pay for it.
Into a world without a driver’s license because ICBC wants $1800.00 cash to replace the car you totalled when you stole it and drove it to destruction without a license. When you were young.
Living on what they are given by social welfare, what they might glean from low wage jobs, labouring under the burden of poverty and food banks, of substandard housing, of threat from those who want pay for the drugs. Living on under the table wages.
With so much ‘help’ available from a social system that would rather build prisons than support those they deem undeserving, the wonder is not that they soon break a law, steal some stuff, harm another and return to jail. The wonder is that it takes so long.
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Keith Simmonds is a diaconal minister in the Communities in Faith Pastoral Charge serving Beaver Valley, Rossland, Salmo and Trail.