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This I Believe is independently produced by Jay Alison and Dan Gateman with John Gregory and Vicky Merrick. Our new book This I Believe II collecting 75 essays from the series is now available from the NPR Shop and from npr.org/thisibelieve.

 

From NPR News, this is weekend edition. I'm Leanne Hansen.

 

I believe in mystery.

I believe in family.

I believe in being who I am.

I believe in the power of failure.

And I believe normal life is extraordinary.

This I Believe.

 

Our This I Believe essay today was sent to us by an inmate at Kinross Correctional Facility on Michigan upper peninsula. Troy Chapman is serving a sentence of 60 to 90 years for second degree murder. So far, he has served just under 25 of those years. Here's our series curator, independent producer, Jay Alison.

 

For our series, we've received quite a few essays from prisons. Some of them would believe in their own innocence. Troy Chapman does not deny that he killed a man in a bar fight when he was 20 years old. His belief is centered on what he's learned since then. No recording equipment is allowed in the prison, so here is Troy Chapman, recorded by telephone with his essay for This I Believe.

 

When the scruffy orange cat showed up in the prison yard, I was one of the first to go out there and pet it. I hadn't touched a cat or a dog in over 20 years. I spent at least 20 minutes, crouched down by the Dumpster behind the kitchen as the cat rolled around and luxuriated beneath my attention. What he was expressing outwardly, I was feeling inwardly. It was an amazing bit of grace to feel him under my hand and note that I wasn't reaching a life or another creature with something as simple as my care.

 

I believe that caring for something or someone in need is what makes us human. Over the next few days, there was other prisoners responding to the cat. Every yard period, a group of prisoners gathered there. They stood around talking and taking turns petting the cat. These were guys you wouldn't usually find talking to each other. Several times I saw an officer in the group, not chasing people away, but just watching and seeming to enjoy along with the prisoners. Bowls of milk, water appeared along with bread, wisely placed under the edge of the Dumpster to keep the seagulls from getting it.

 

The cat was obviously a stray and in pretty bad shape. One prisoner brought out his small blunt-tip scissors and trimmed burrs and matted fur from his coat. People said that cat came to the right place. He's getting treated like a king. This was true, but as I watched I was also thinking about what the cat was doing for us. There was a lot of talk about what's wrong with prisons in America. We need more programs. We need more psychologists or treatment of various kinds. Some may even talk about making prisons more kind. But I think what we really need is a chance to practise the kindness of ourselves. No receive it, but give it. After more than two decades here, I know the kindness is not a value that's encouraged. It's often seen as weakness. Instead, the culture encourages keeping your head down, minding your own business, and never letting yourself be vulnerable.

 

For a few days, the raggedy cat disrupted this code of prison culture, they've taken him away now, hopefully to a decent home. But it did my heart good to see the effect he had on me and the man here. He didn't have a Ph.D. He wasn't a criminologist or psychologist, but by simply saying, "I need some help here", he did something important for us. He needed us. And we needed to be needed. I believe we all do.

 

Troy Chapman with his essay for This I Believe, recorded by telephone from Michigan's Kinross Correctional Facility. A group is formed in support of Chapman. They contend, because of the changes he's made in the almost 24 years since he committed his crime, his sentence to be commuted. You can visit npr.org/thisibelieve to find out more or / an essay of your own to our series. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Alison.

 

Jay Alison is coeditor with Dan Gateman, John Gregory and Vicky Merrick of the new book This I Believe II, more personal philosophies of remarkable men and women.

 

Support for This I Believe comes from Prudential Retirement.

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