Bed Time Stories


I have this file (the old fashioned kind) in which over the years I have kept articles that caught my attention. I got it out last night after I read about the minister who suddenly found his car descending into a sink hole. I recalled reading a terrifying story about a man somewhere who heard a loud sound out his back door, ran out to see what it was, and promptly fell into an enormous sink hole that had suddenly opened up in his back yard. As I recall, his body was never recovered. It made the story of the minister’s little six foot deep sink hole sound like nothing. This was a sink hole of truly mythic proportions.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate the article, but I did find other articles in which I had found something worth saving. This one, for instance:

BEDTIME STORIES HELP INMATES BE KIDS AGAIN Martinez, Ca. (Reuters) It is bedtime and 38 inmates recline in their beds in the toughest unit at juvenile hall, listening to Judy Garland sing, “When you smile, the whole world smiles with you.”

The music is piped over the communications system by Betty Frandsen, who visits twice a week with 15 volunteers who read bedtime stories to some 180 delinquent boys and girls in a juvenile jail in this San Francisco suburb.

Frandsen, 60, started the program last summer in the belief that bedtime stories can soothe the beasts that rage inside troubled souls.

Of the 38 young men who listened to her recitations one recent evening, 12 were convicted killers, one was accused of beating an 80 year old grandmother and another was charged with rape.

“I forgive every child in this place. I don’t care what they did,” Frandsen said after saying good-night by name to each of the boys over the intercom.

“When you are under 18 years old, you are a baby, and you are not in control of yourself,” she said.

Frandsen had just finished reading from “Bo knows Bo”, an autobiography of baseball and football star Bo Jackson.

The inmates have the option of turning Frandsen’s readings off in their individual cells, but most do not. Instead, they listen silently as she reads short stories by John Steinbeck, articles from Sports Illustrated magazine, and various poems.

“They love poetry,” said Frandsen, who recently picked a John Keats poem that begins, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

“Winnie the Pooh” by A.A. Milne is also popular, she said.

“I read it one night and the next week I went back to the oldest boys unit, and the first thing someone said to me was, “are you going to read ‘Winnie the Pooh’ again tonight? It reminds me of my stuffed bear from when I was a child at home.'”

Counselor-guards at the juvenile jail say story-reading eases young minds that are usually crowded with tortuous thoughts ad bedtime.

The young offenders, interviewed on the condition that they not be fully identified, said the stories give them respite from their worries.

“It makes me forget about being in here and think about other things,” said Amara, a spirited 17 year old incarcerated for escaping from a group home for juveniles, said the lock-up was calmer when Frandsen was there.

“It’s bad sometimes. There’s fights and riots and stuff,” he said. “The stories make us calmer. Usually people are kicking on their doors and stuff, but when she comes, everybody gets quiet.”
Emma Jean Hunter, a counselor in a girls’ unit where another volunteer reads, said the program made her job easier.

“The program is like a tranquilizer for the kids,” Hunter said. “It helps calm them down. Some of these kids are in here for battery or assault with a deadly weapon or have witnessed murders.”
She said bedtime stories help the youngsters get “back in touch with being that little child.”

When it comes down to it, maybe the solution to this violent society we live in is something as simple as bedtime stories. Give people the experience early on of consistently feeling truly safe, loved, cared for, and I suspect the likelihood that they will turn to violence later on falls dramatically. And maybe it’s never too late for a little remedial work in helping an oversized kid feel safe and secure.

In this hurried society we live in, time for slow moving but crucial activities like bedtime stories often fall by the wayside, and the detrimental impact on the individuals who make up society is beyond measure.

Last night I had the opportunity to go over to Jean’s house, where six month old Kathryn just arrived last week from Guatemala to begin her new life with Jean as her mother. Baby Kathryn wants to be held pretty much all the time. God bless her. There is nothing more important in this world than making a little child feel safe and loved.

This evening I went to a picnic for the players and parents of Bobby’s soccer team. The picnic took place beside a lovely, little lake, surrounded by woods. As darkness was descending, and everyone was leaving, Bobby wanted to go back to the lakeside to sit quietly on the diving board, for no other purpose than to simply take in the beauty of the stillness. Stars appearing. Woods reflecting off the now still lake. Crickets singing. Gentle breezes. My first reaction was to harangue Bobby about dawdling, but then my better angels pointed out the preciousness of the moment. We sat together in silence for ten minutes or so, the only words we spoke commenting on how lovely it all was. This is not behavior I normally see from my son; I am grateful to God I had the good sense not to squelch this mystical sensibility with the impulse to hurry on down the road.