Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Heart Has Its Reasons

Just when I was beginning to think that the Wall Street Journal is becoming bad for my mental health (think economy), Colin McGinn reviews Eric G. Wilson's book, Against Happiness, a treatise against the happiness movement.

In America, if it's not happy, it's bad. So I'm glad to see that book get the attention it deserves. I think.

Then today, Kevin Helliker writes this wonderful piece, the one we're about to discuss. Front page story, deservedly.

Now quickly, for I've got a date for the movies. (Juno, if you must know; the previews made it out to have heart).

Mr. Helliker's WSJ story, The Heart Has Its' Reasons, has so much heart.

Toby Phalen Young, 48, a "goody two-shoes" all her life, business professional, dog-trainer, philanthropist, prison-volunteer, married with children, arranges inmate John Manard's escape from prison. And runs off with him.
Mr. Manard's age at the time, 28.

Ms. Young met Mr. Manard in the prison. A community leader, she had designed and executed a program for inmates at the Lansing penitentiary to teach inmates with exempliary behavior to train animals. The prisoners saved strays that would otherwise have been exterminated. These "best" prison inmates vied to have the dogs stay with them in their cells at the facility. No question, the dogs made the prisoners kinder, gentler people.

The program achieved a certain notoriety, and Ms. Young became something of a household name in penitentiary circles in the Midwest. People came from far and near to her pet adoption fairs to rescue well-trained, loving dogs.

Prior to this she had held a six figure job at Sprint. When the cellular company suffered a failed merger with MCI, Sprint killed her project. She bounced around after that, and suffered an illness. Recovering from thyroid cancer she determined to do something more meaningful with her life so she started a dog rescue/adoption program. A friend told her that cell-dog programs in prisons seem to be catching on, that they seem to reduce inmate violence.

Toby Phalem Young found her niche.

The prisoners loved her. She walked freely, unafraid in the prison hallways, interacted with inmates, no guards to protect her, not usually. At one point she did receive a threat, and Mr. Manard shadowed her. He found her engaging, and they got to know one another. He marvelled at her innocence, how she had never even dated anyone but her husband, had never been drunk, never smoked, never had a traffic ticket. They talked of her unhappiness, how her husband, a good, solid man, couldn't show affection. Mr. Manard, who is well over six feet tall, good-looking, lean, and strong, couldn't believe a remarkable woman like Ms. Young could see anything good in him. But she did. And she fell in love, too.

One day I'll talk to you about how important seeing the good, especially in children, really means.

John Manard, at 17, had received a life sentence for his involvement in a car-jacking that left one dead. He didn't pull the trigger or even hold the gun. Felony murder in Kansas assumes guilt all around, fair or not, all suspects share the sentence. So he was incarcerated. Mr. Manard became a model prisoner. He earned his high school diploma in prison and taught himself several musical instruments. He read poetry and books.

The story's got everything, violence, sex, love. An unhappy marriage, an unhappy ending. Yet hopeful.

Ms. Young, who will complete her sentence in May, is still in the Leavenworth Detention Center, separated from her flame at Lansing Correctional Facility, is the one who quotes Pascal, by the way:
The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.
What's marvelous about Mr. Helliker's telling is that he doesn't buy into the reasons that most Kansans proffer to explain how a truly straight arrow falls in love with a convict and then runs off as an innocent Bonnie with Clyde.

The town people who know her, unwilling to believe Ms. Young would do this, blame her bad judgment on a mid-life crisis. They blame Mr. Manard, who supposedly conned her, didn't love her, used her to escape.

The couple, you should know, were caught within days after the escape, lovers at a honeymoon cottage in a small town in Tennessee, shopping.

Mr. Helliker says that the reason Ms. Young couldn't stay in her loveless marriage, the reason that she couldn't continue with the status quo, the reason she let herself fall in love, is that she never complained. Her father, who suffered severe burns in a fire that burned off his ears and nearly killed him, chose the most painful ways to heal, crawling on his belly at a job to stretch the skin.

She learned from her father to suffer in silence, to be strong.

Oh, my. We could have helped her, couldn't we? For all we know, had Ms. Young asserted herself, told her spouse that she needed more, insisted that he give more, that that marriage didn't have to end this way.

But I don't think so, actually. I think that her husband's petition for an emergency divorce only days after her arrest, says it all about that marriage.

And the real victims, let's face it, are the pets.



Anonymous said...

If the program was stopped, I think everyone loses. It's a shame. I work with the SOS PenPals program, or at least I will be shortly. I have met the dogs and the inmates who train them and have been very impressed with both.

The Merry said...

What a fascinating story! I'm supposed to be doing Good and Useful Things right now (read housework) but I stopped by for a moment and got sucked into reading the whole thing. I do hope they kept the program going in any case.

fdglpbzt - the word verification of the day, which pretty much sums up my attitude toward housework as well.

cordeliadarwin said...

Here's an NPR piece on the Wilson book, too. Just saw it and thought I would pass it along.

  Bring them home, the Homeland Concert There's not much to say. Wait, I take it back. There's SO much to say it is too much. There ...