Bill Littlefield gave up public radio to teach in prison

“Make sure you stay busy,” is the singular most predominant piece of advice people who are about to retire hear.

Bill Littlefield, who used to host NPR’s “Only a Game” program heard it and complied.

His friend runs an education program at a medium security prison and for years tried to get Littlefield involved. But he resisted until he had time. And in retirement, he wanted to stretch his comfort zone; prison was outside his comfort zone.

He helps prisoners write their own stories and learn public speaking, so when they’re out and looking for a job, they stand a chance. Sure, not a good chance — things being what they are — but chance, nonetheless.

“The young and not-so-young men in my class are intelligent and thoughtful guys,” he wrote Wednesday on WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog. “They are exceptionally supportive of one another and grateful for the time and energy donated by the people who come to work with them.”

When they gave their speeches, the students critiqued each other honestly and fairly. Nobody mocked anybody.

And no wonder. Their arguments were logical, persuasive and well presented. One guy made an excellent case for allowing men who’d been convicted of crimes to serve in the military, rather than spend years behind bars.

Another argued that the justice system would work more effectively and more fairly if prosecutors were held responsible for their errors and oversights. After that presentation, a man serving a 55-year sentence gave the presenter a deep, bass “Amen.”

Then there was the guy who argued in favor of chocolate at every meal.

When one of the men in the class was released on parole during the semester, the others seemed genuinely happy for him. I didn’t hear any resentment, as in, “Why not me?”

After the semester, he got a thank you card.

“I hope you ain’t dead in 10 years,” one of the men wrote.

Maybe making a difference can prolong a life.

  • Nick Hansen

    Bill Littlefield is the man. Miss him on Only a Game, but glad he’s staying busy.