Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Giving a voice to a natural teacher

This blog belongs to Reginald Wheeler, but Don Ray is writing this first entry as an explanation as to how this came about.
I'm a journalist. In 2005 I was working for a legal newspaper. My assignment was interviewing and writing profiles of Southern California judges. One notable profile I wrote was about Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kelvin Filer. Judge Filer reaches out to young people who are at risk -- young people who weren't fortunate enough to be born into a community-minded family like his.
In the profile that I wrote about Judge Filer, I tried my best to paint a picture of that remarkable family. Here's a link to the story I wrote about Judge Filer: Judge Kelvin Filer Profile.
Reginald Wheeler found the profile of Judge Filer while he was doing legal research inside a state prison in San Diego, California. Wheeler immediately wrote to the judge to ask for any help he might be able offer -- help in his attempt to earn a parole.
Judge Filer gave me a copy of the letter and encouraged me to write to Wheeler.
I did, and I learned about a foolish, young street thug who robbed a man of his watch and a few dollars -- more than two decades ago.
Wheeler insists that he deserved to go to prison the crime. But because Wheeler forced his victim to walk to a less-visible spot along side an apartment building, the judge sentenced him to what seems like an eternity. The prosecutors played the "kidnapping" charge and put the young man behind bars for what could be a lifetime.
From everything I've learned, Wheeler has been an honor inmate for most of the time he's been behind bars. And, yes, he's hoping that publicity can help him secure a parole.
He calls me occasionally and he seems to do more listening than talking. He cares about my life and my family and he always asks about them.
This week he called and listened while I complained about how busy I was. I mentioned that my wife was showing concern that I was working too many hours and, just maybe, I was not paying enough attention to her or our son.
Reginald lectured me -- pleaded with me at times -- about not neglecting my family. Then he gave me a lesson -- from prison -- about how I should pause for 30 seconds before I decide what to do in any situation. He said that he'd be a free man today if he had thought 30 seconds before he robbed that man.
"It's almost been one year for every second I didn't stop to contemplate," he said.
Then he gave me even more advice. I'd never heard this advice before, but I knew it was important advice.
"Don Ray," he said, "when you don't know what to do, you should then start thinking about what NOT to do."
It was simple, but brilliant. I don't know if it came from within him or if he learned it from someone else. It didn't matter, however. It was brilliant.
That's when I offered to post to a blog whatever wisdom he wanted to send my way.
We both hope that you'll make the time to read what Reginald Wheeler has to say. He has no expectations of you -- he wants only to prevent others from ending up destroying their lives and the lives of others.
Please consider writing to him or posting your comments on this blog.

Don Ray