By Lydia Wylie-Kellermann
I wrote this as a children’s book for Isaac during the Poor People’s Campaign. He was very concerned about why Grandpa kept going to jail when we were also teaching about how we dont believe in jails and prisons. So, I wrote this to try to explain it to him. We printed it out and he and Cedar and Ira and their friend helped illustrate it as a birthday gift to my dad.
Why is Grandpa in jail?
We don’t like jails. We think they shouldn’t exist.
If people make bad choices, there are better ways to help them be better.
Paying attention to what they need.
Locking people up for years of their life only….
Takes them away from their families.
Makes people feel lonely.
Takes them away from the sun and the trees.
It is a broken, sad system.
So, why is Grandpa in jail?
And he went there purpose?
You see, people just keep going.
Going to work. Buying things. Watching TV. Sleeping.
Going to work. Buying things. Watching TV. Sleeping.
Going to Work.
But people are hurting…
Some people don’t have houses.
Some people don’t have enough food to eat.
Some kids don’t have books in their schools.
Some people are being killed by guns.
Some moms and dads are being taken away from the kids and sent far away.
Some people are being kept out by walls.
People’s bodies are hurting.
People’s hearts are hurting.
People’s spirits are hurting.
But people keep going to work. Buying things. Watching TV. Sleeping. Going to Work. Buying things.
How do we scream at the top of our lungs
So that people will look around and see what is happening and see each other.
So that people can stand in a circle and ask
How do we fix this?
How can we love one another?
How can I be better?
How do we say STOP with our voices?
We speak and we speak. We use our words again and again.
We listen and we listen. We use our ears again and again.
But sometimes people make our voices quiet
And refuse to listen.
So, we have to say STOP with our bodies
With everything we got!
Because we are beautiful people
Alive in our bodies.
So sometimes we have to use our bodies.
Sometimes laws are bad laws.
Sometimes rules hurt people.
We shouldn’t follow those laws.
We should break those rules,
So we can change them.
And there won’t be bad laws anymore.
And sometimes, the law isn’t bad,
But life keeps going on
And no one is paying attention.
So, we put our bodies somewhere
And we break a law
And make a big surprise
To stop people from just going on.
From sleeping, going to work, buying stuff, watching tv, sleeping.
To say, we gotta stop.
We gotta pay attention
We gotta listen
We gotta imagine
We gotta be better.
So what did Grandpa do?
He blocked a building and said no one should go to work until we talk about why people are poor.
And what did Grandma D do?
She went inside the government where people were making decisions about the rest of us and she sang. “Somebody’s hurting my people and I wont be silent anymore.”
And what did Tommy do?
He went on grass where you aren’t suppose to go and put a cross in it to help us remember those who have been killed.
And what did Lindsay do?
She hung a picture on a building where you can’t hang pictures of our governor that told the truth about the hurtful things he had done.
And what did Joan do?
She stood in the doorway of a building where people are deciding to hurt the earth in order to make money. She said no one can go inside until we make decisions to love the earth.
And what did Shiprah and Puah do?
What did Jesus do?
What did Harriet Tubman do?
What did Alice Paul do?
What did Dorothy Day do?
What did Rosa Parks do?
What did Martin Luther King Jr do?
What did Daniel Berrigan do?
What did the Water Warriors do?
What did the Homrich 9 do?
What did Liz McAlister do?
There are so many stories. There are so many teachers.
Sometimes after people act with their bodies, disobey a law,
Sometimes people talk.
Sometimes people listen.
Sometimes people change.
Maybe it gets in the newspaper.
Maybe people change the laws.
And sometimes no listens
And nothing changes.
And that is hard.
And maybe nothing changes
Or at least not right away.
Sometimes it takes a long time.
Sometimes it just becomes a story you tell your grandson.
But 30 years later, maybe that grandson grows up
And he remembers that story
And he meets other people who remember the same kinds of stories.
And they get together in a circle
And say “how do we fit this?”
“How do we love one another?”
And they stand up for justice
With their bodies.
And that times something does change.
And there is a little more love in the world.
But whether it works, or not
Is only one part of why we do it.
It is still good and right
To stand up with our whole bodies
And say “stop hurting one another.
Love one another.”
That is always important
Even if no one listens.
Because that love and that voice
Is what keeps us alive
It is what makes us human.
And I want to be human with you.
As you get older,
There will be more and more rules and laws to follow.
Most rules are made to keep people safe and living healthy.
But sometimes laws only keep one group of people safe,
And they actually hurt another group of people.
With each rule you come to,
You will have to ask
Is this a good rule?
Does this keep me safe?
Does this keep everyone safe and healthy?
Is this about love or hate?
The voice inside you that will help you answer that question
Is called your CONSCIENCE.
That is the most important voice to listen to in your whole life.
So make sure you listen to it and honor it.
Take care of it. Let it know you are paying attention.
If you believe that a rule will hurt someone,
Don’t follow it.
Even if that rule comes from me,
Or a police officer
Or a teacher
Or the president.
So, my lovely child,
That is why Grandpa went to jail.
Because he wants this world to be more filled with love
For people to be strong, beautiful, healthy, and alive with joy.
We all want that.
So sometimes, we speak
Sometimes we listen
Sometimes we dance
Sometimes we sing
Sometimes we plant gardens
Sometimes we break laws.
And you, my child, you amaze me.
I love the way you see this world.
The way you think and ask questions
The way you notice how your brother is feeling.
The way you give your money away.
The way you are in awe of the worms and the trees.
You have a big beautiful heart.
Keep asking questions and breaking rules.
Learn the stories of people who love this world.
Follow your conscience
Even if you are alone.
Be the beautiful human you are
in this beautiful world.
Fill it with love.
12 thoughts on “Why is Grandpa in Jail?”
How beautiful, Lydia. Will you publish it?
This would make such a wonderful children’s book to be shared more widely. I would love to print out a copy myself, if I have your permission. In the meantime, I do hope you might consider having it published.
Thanks to you both for this! You absolutely have my permission to print it out. And I will happily look into the possibility of publishing. Thanks for the encouragement. – Lydia
Another note of encouragement: Amen to publishing this bold, beautiful, visionary love letter to Isaac!
I absolutely love this. I was arrested for civil disobedience in the #PoorPeoplesCampaign and have a 4 year old son who was worried about me getting arrested. I am going to share this with him tonight. THANK YOU!
Thanks Kirk! I am so glad to hear this. It is always a gift to connect with others who navigate parenting and justice work and the gifts and complications that go along with both. Let me know how it goes with your son! – Lydia
Reblogged this on itellyouarise and commented:
We will teach our children justice. This is a beautiful story by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann for her son… and her Dad. If you are thinking, why go to protests? …why resist? the answers are here.
Beautiful story. One that all people should read. Get it published!
Beautiful story, Lydia. I do hope you publish it.
I hopefully wait and pray for Isaac to teach our kids! Thank you, Lydia, and everyone you named, for teaching him.
We are reading this in my high school Christian Morality class to illuminate the idea of conscience!
Lydia, you have inherited your mother’s gift for touching hearts and souls with powerful word images. This is beautiful and important and should be published. Thank you for sharing!