Never mind the demolition...

...let's remember another Mr. Dandy--School Principal Brian Freedman. He was one of the Educational Manager's rising stars. He always had plenty of advice for us teachers at our academic conferences. 

After a special education meeting near CMU, one of our younger colleagues was approached by Freedman at Bennigan's. Their abrupt conversation went something like this (one name has been changed to respect privacy):

"Hi, I'm Brian Freedman, School Principal."

"Hi, I'm Marvin Shemansky, Human Being."

Here's more news regarding this school principal: 

Prison Legal News

Enjoy my Saturday Flashback.



It’s April 1, 2024. The library called. My book on Social Security is in.  I grab my library card, my house key, and the blue Post-it note, and step outside. I GPS my Garmin watch and walk in no direction, knowing that I’d more than likely put in my usual mileage.

The First Mile

I think about Ray and Rosalie and the Read-to-Me program they volunteered for decades ago at the Macomb Correctional Facility. Back in the late 90’s I rarely went on vacation because my boss believed in arranging for substitute teachers to keep the classrooms open.  I hated the idea and for good reason: the first prison I taught in in Detroit, my students distracted the substitute teacher and stole her shoes. But Ray was different. He was mild-mannered, observant, and unafraid of writing tickets on misbehaving inmates. I liked Ray. Ray was the perfect fit for my classroom. Also, the Read-to-Me program was invaluable. Prisoners would select a children’s book and Ray and Rosalie made them practice reading it, then they’d record these men's voices on cassette tapes which would get sent to their children—what better way to help these fathers stay in contact with their kids.

Somehow, I had lost touch with Ray due to an ongoing rotation of school principals. I remember our last phone conversations. He wanted to know if my new boss—who had already cut the Read-to-Me program—was on board with keeping substitute teachers and whether I would advocate for his return. I told him I’d try. And I did try. Unfortunately, my new boss wasn’t interested.

Our last conversation was muddled in my brain. I’m not sure who called who. Perhaps it was me. But I do remember a conversation about my divorce and my teenage daughter who refused to have any contact with my side of the family. Ray was supportive and we agreed to keep in touch. Yet, the years rolled by. Somehow, I had learned that Ray retired from his public school teaching job. I followed suit a dozen years later.

The Second Mile

I thought about how quickly I escaped from the prison:

  • April 2021, I remarried.
  • October 2021, I downsized.
  • January 2022, I retired.   

I moved to a small city where Ray lives less than a mile from my new house. For whatever reason I failed to visit him and I’m not sure why. 

I pause my GPS. Here I am at the doorstep of a condo. I see an NRA sticker on the window. Ray never seemed like a die-hard right-to-bear-arms kind of guy. I check the address I had written on the blue Post-it note and ring the doorbell.

Rosalie opens the door just a little bit.

“Hi Rosalie,” I say. “Is Ray here?”


“You probably don’t remember me,” I tell her my name, where I retired from, and how I admired their volunteer work at the prison.

“I remember you,” she says. “Do you see your daughter?”

“No.” An awkward silence falls between us.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” she replies.

“Do you know when Ray will be back?”  More silence.

“Ray’s dead.”

I tell her how bad I feel not being able to see him again, “When did he pass?”

I learn that he died in December 2021.  “Ray had Covid,” she says and explains how a doctor came to the house to give him an infusion.  “But it really wasn’t working.” Rosalie’s eyes start to water. “He would have been on a ventilator,” she continues. Then Rosalie adds more to my confusion. “He didn’t die from Covid.” 

I don’t know what to say.

“I left him alone for a while. When I returned, I didn’t know where he was. I found him in the basement. He shot himself.” Rosalie sees the anguish on my face and stops. 

Again, I apologize for not knowing. We agree to meet for coffee sometime. I say goodbye and start my GPS. 

The Third Mile 

With GPS paused, I enter the library and beeline it to the memoir stacks. I randomly select two books based on their covers:

Granger Smith’s Like A River—Finding the Faith and Strength to Move Forward after Loss and Heartache. 

Chip St. Clair’s The Butterfly Garden—"This book gives one the courage to look within and provides everlasting hope in the human spirit.” 

At the check-out, I tell the clerk that I have a Social Security book on hold and give her my card. She finds it and adds it to my collection. 

“Will that be all?” she says. 

“Yes,” I say, “that will be all.” 

I go outside. I start my GPS. I walk home.





A few weeks ago, while hammocking at my campsite, I read Alex Mar’s “Seventy Times Seven, A True Story of Murder and Mercy,” and it has made a lasting impression on me. I thought about the time the school principal dropped off a list of prisoners for me to TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education). When I examined the names my first impulse was circular-filing it and questioning the task: “Why am I evaluating a bunch of 50- to 60-year-old men who are juvenile-lifers? They’re doing ALL DAY!” Instead, I said nothing. I did my job. Over 12 years ago, us corrections teachers eliminated prisoners with life sentences from our class rosters—no more lifers in our prison GED programs throughout the State of Michigan. I had heard about sweeping changes in the juvenile justice system but had no clue as to how it would impact the men I had assessed. Incidentally, only one inmate refused the TABE; a year later, he was within a week of his freedom when he died in his cell from Covid.

Back to Mar’s book: She retells the life story of Paula Cooper, her crime at the age of 15, how the juvenile-justice system evolved during her prison sentence, the life of Ruth Pelke, the correspondence between Paula and Bill Pelke, Ruth’s grandson (who publicly forgave Paula and dedicated the rest of his life to ending capital punishment), Paula’s perps, and so many more. There’s Victor Streib, a professor of criminal law specializing in juveniles charged with homicide. And there’s Watt Espy, a traveling salesperson (security systems, then cemetery plots) who visited courthouses and prisons, cataloging every death sentence carried out in the U.S. (10 years of research, over 13,600 executions). And, yes, like I said, so much more… the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, Paula’s supporters, the victim’s family…

In her prologue, Mar writes: “The act of forgiveness… is more alien and requires something tougher: a belief that none of us is solely defined by the worst thing we have ever done. That each of us remains human, sometimes in spite of our actions. And that sometimes our actions are a response to forces larger than ourselves.”

Forgiveness is not easy. Forgiving ourselves is harder. “Seventy Times Seven…” might help. A definite read.



I stayed for 30-some years. I should have left earlier. Better late than never. Sometimes I think about the other side. See the attachment below from the 2023 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow and former lifer at Macomb Correctional Facility.     



The New York Times describes Jill Grunenwald as "A Stylish and Sparkly Writer." It's on her book jacket above the title, Reading Behind Bars (which can't be seen in the picture above), and I agree with that assessment. She lands a job as a librarian for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) supervising inmates in a low-security level men's prison. The inmates are manipulative--no surprise there. One guy tells her that the previous librarian had him repairing damaged books and that he'd be more efficient if she gave him some tape and scissors to set up shop in his cell. And yes, she falls for it. Lesson learned.

Then there's a recurring incident happening behind the stacks. She sends an inmate clerk to investigate, realizing that part of her job is to catch the culprit herself and write him up. No one should be doing what he's doing behind the books. Grunenwald prepares herself for the next time and follows through with pen and paper.

And here's my favorite incident in Grunenwald's words:

Then there was an inmate who specifically wanted the Oprah Winfrey edition of The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. We didn't have the special edition...but we had an older version of the book. No, the inmate insisted. It had to be the Oprah edition.

"Why?" I asked, curious at his refusal of reading the exact same book with a different cover.

He stared at me. His intense gaze indicated a belief that I was highly overpaid for my position here and had no business calling myself a librarian.

"Because," he said speaking slowly so as to make sure I was able to comprehend, "Oprah rewrites the books and makes them easier to read."

What I admire the most about Grunenwald is that she got out of the prison system early (within two years) and wrote an entertaining memoir that I could relate to minus the violence. If Grunenwald had stayed longer, say thirty or more years, her writing would be darker, with very little sparkle.