Entering a supermarket recently, I met a man whom I recognized from the prison where I work. My recollection of him was rather vague: it was a long time since I had seen him. He was selling The Big Issue, a magazine run by homeless advocates to help homeless people, who sell it on the street on a generous commission basis, on condition that they behave politely and wear an identifying badge. The aim is to give a little hope to the least successful members of society.
I had once vowed never to buy another copy of The Big Issue after appearing as an expert witness in a case in which a seller of the magazine was brutally murdered and left to mummify in a disused building by another seller, after a quarrel over sales territories. But I relented this one time and bought a copy.
The seller remembered me better than I remembered him.
“You know, you done me a lot of good when I was in jail,” he said. “I came to you for help. You said I didn’t need no medicine, I just needed to decide not to come back. You said there was nothing wrong with me. I thought you was very hard, but you was right. I’ve kept out of trouble for four years ever since. You spoke straight to me.”
I congratulated him on his resolve not to return to prison and wished him luck.
As I walked on, I looked at The Big Issue. It was a special edition on how prison doesn’t work.