Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Long walk to freedom

Not my usual post, but back in December I saw Invictus with my wife. You know, the movie with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, and Matt Damon as the South African rugby team leader. The movie was ok, or possibly even good, although I have since learned from my brother-in-laws that the rugby really is not good (fake). But I think it had nice moments where you could feel especially Mr Freeman really seemed to be one with his Nelson Mandela character. Of course, if that really was what Mandela would be like, we do not know. But I think you get the point.

But coming out of the movie, I really was wondering how a person being jailed for more than 30 years could have so much forgiveness, and grace. I told my wife that maybe I should read Nelson Mandela's biography, if he has written one.

Come Christmas and I got a paper back copy of the book from my wife.

I was mostly surprised that it was not the kindle version as I would have expected, but a 600+ page long paperback.

I have never really read any biographies or auto-biographies for that matter. I do read a lot of fiction, and especially science fiction from authors like Greg Bear, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, David Brin, Orson Scott Card, and occationally also some from Stephen King, William Gibson
and Tom Clancy.

In the beginning of the book I was a little annoyed with all the people that got mentioned all the time. It felt like it was an attempt to not leave out anyone that might have played a role in his life. I did not think that really added much to the book. But it was captivating enough to keep going, and maybe after about a third of the book, one was hooked to finish it. I must say that Nelson Mandela really "sacrificed" a good part of his life for a bigger cause. Not something many of us can, nor want, to do. You really got a sense of what he had been going through, and towards the end, felt part of various emotional highs and lows that came. I would absolutely recommend the book. Don't give up in the beginning, it is more rewarding after a little (was for me at least).

There is one particular quote that I felt had a real point. Maybe a third into the book he writes:

"It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones"

Now, I have never seen a prison from the inside and I have no desire to, but living in California, it is impossible to not know that our prison system is at a point of failure. Occupancy rates are twice, or more, to what they were built for, and there is little effort (or maybe I should say funds?) to really fill the time served with preparation for a better inclusion with society after they come out. I guess it is not fair to compare the political prisoners of South Africa during the apartheid with "normal" criminals here, but still. I guess there seems to be no solution to that problem coming soon. Anyway, that is not really the takeaway from the book, there is more than that.

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