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The Rev. Dr. Jim Watkins and Roxie

“Roxie, I’m so glad your surgery went well. It was glad the doctor kept you overnight. It seems like you are getting close to being your old self. I’ve had hip surgery too. The rehab will be important.”

“Jim, since you’ve been through this, will you help me with rehab?” “Sure, be glad to.” “It is good when humans and canines, canines and canines and humans and humans can connect with each other.”

“Roxie, It is. There is a fancy word for that connection, empathy. In the human community, part of the connection is understanding that other people are much more like us than we thought.”

“Why don’t more of you humans have empathy for one another? It seems that is a major problem.”

“It is Roxie. In my opinion, a reason there is so little empathy is that we humans make a lot of assumptions about one another. Assuming leads to stereotyping. We assume we know everything about someone just because of a life situation, ethnic background, appearance....”

“Jim, I never thought I would say this to you. To help me understand empathy, tell me a story.

“Okay, One of the churches here I was pastor was close to Stone Mountain Park in the Atlanta area. Not many people know the Stone Mountain Correctional Institute, a medium security prison, is next to the park. The church developed a prison ministry. The main thrust of the ministry was helping ex-offenders have a chance to make it when they reentered society. One of our success stories was Dave (not his real name). He had grown up in a suburb of Atlanta. He was sailing along, doing well in school. And then he discovered drugs. Dave went to prison for armed robbery. He was sent to Reidsville, Georgia’s maximum security prison. When finishing his sentence, he was transferred to Stone Mountain. A friend who served a congregation in another part of the state, heard about our prison ministry. He invited me to come to a family night supper and share the details of the ministry. I asked if it would be OK if an ex offender who had been through the program came with me. He thought it was a good idea. I invited Dave to go with me.

On the way to the church, I asked Dave if he would be willing to do something different -- switch identities. He would be me and I would be him. I called ahead to my friend and filled him in. When we got there, my friend went up to Jim (Dave) and greeted him like an old friend. In turn, Jim (Dave) introduced him to Dave (Jim).

The members of the church knew an ex-offender would be part of the program and had me pegged. During supper I sat by myself. Jim (Dave) had a lively discussion with those who sat with him. After supper the program began. Jim (Dave) described the program. Then he turned it over to me to tell my story (his story). I did. Drugs, robbery, arrest and trial. The awful time in the maximum security prison. Tme at Stone Mountain. Getting involved in the prison ministry. After release having a job, a place to live. a support group ... helping other ex-offenders.

Questions were asked by the audience. We had agreed that we would not make anything up. So, when a person asked Dave (Jim) a question that I had no idea the answer to, I said, ‘I Don’t know, why don’t we ask Dave?’”

“Wow Jim. But, what does this have to do with empathy?”

“ Those folks learned that an ex-offender is a human being just like them. Hopefully, their experience that night led to other experiences where they connected with people they never thought they could connect with. As a fitting ending. As Dave and I walked back to the car. Dave was surrounded by well wishers. On the other hand, a fella came up to me and asked if I was sure I had never been in prison.”

“Ha. Part of my rehab will be laughing at humans.”

“Roxie, will the doctor allow you to have chocolate stout?”

The Rev. Dr. Jim Watkins and Roxie live in Pawleys Island. His column is published twice monthly.