For Whom the Bell Tolls
“Therefore do not send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” So wrote the English poet, John Donne.
For centuries it was a common occurrence. The village church bell would ring out, announcing to all the townspeople that one of their own had died. Someone from each family would often be sent to know for whom the bell tolls.
Flash forward to nowadays. We are frequently “immune” to the deaths of others. Or, at least we can think we are. Especially if we don’t personally know those who died.
I’m often asked to describe some of the characters I got to know while teaching at the Bristol Jail. I taught nearly 2,000 men over a 24 year period. And I shook hands with maybe 10,000 or more altogether, going through every cell block as I did each week, inviting each soul out to my adult education (GED) class or to my (very informal) Bible study class.
Most readers will never have the privilege of knowing those inmates as I did. I realize that. And I’d like to remedy that fact a bit here in this particular column.
I’d like to share with you about the lives of two relatively young men who both very recently passed.
You might say they lived hard and died young. You might say that about a lot of the men I taught at the jail. Not to speak badly in any way. Just as a fact of life.
I helped Will Mounce and Eli Mayo both earn their GED (General Education Diploma) while at the Bristol Jail. For readers who may not know, the GED is a “high school equivalency” degree for those who did not finish standard high school. It is not an easy test. I found that in many ways it can be quite difficult to pass. Any inmate who wanted to attain such a degree usually had to study hard and long to pass the independently administered official GED test.
Therefore I spent many hours, face-to-face and one-on-one, with each man who sought to attain their GED. I saw more than 300 men earn their degree during my time at the jail. Each of these men left the jail armed with a much better chance at gaining meaningful employment upon their return to society.