I witnessed an awesome display of giving last night. Lee Craven, the 20-something chef at Madidi
, a restuarant owned by actor Morgan Freeman, used his talents to prepare, transport, and serve a Thanksgiving feast to about 50 inmates at our state penitentiary (movies: A Time to Kill
and O Brother! Where Art Thou?
). The event was sponsored by a faith based initiative program in which inmates are working toward an associate degree. The teacher of one of the classes (my pastor) wanted these men to have a real Thanksgiving meal. Lee volunteered to take care of everything. He and the pastry chef from Madidi put together an awesome meal -- all the traditional dishes but with professional touches. Most of the inmates went through the line three times (I'm talking about heaping platefuls -- have you ever seen inch-thick turkey slices?). I've never enjoyed so much watching other people eat.
Our church had donated the money to pay for all the ingredients, but Lee refused to be re-imbursed (the money from our church will go instead to buy books for the prison library). Lee went way beyond the second mile.
He is a superb young man, who has distinguished himself in his profession. He has cooked in some very celebrated places and for some very celebrated people. He was recognized in New York this summer by the James Beard Foundation as a Rising Star of American Cuisine
and earlier this month his cooking was featured in an episode of Rachel Ray's Inside Dish
. I doubt, however, any meal he's prepared or will prepare will surpass the Thanksgiving meal he served to inmates at the state prison in Mississippi.
What a privilege it was to have been able to witness it!
A personal note: After serving the meal I had the opporunity to sit and talk with several of the inmates. I listened to them sing. They talked about their faith and their sense of community even within the prison. Many of them, I was told, will never see the outside of the prison again. I had a lot of misconceptions and prejudices shaken last night. I realized my attitude toward these men has been one of apathy (and worse). True, they are where they are because they have done wrong things and have debts to pay, but I couldn't help thinking several times, "there but for the grace of God...."
What a humbling way to start my holiday season!
Happy Thanksgiving to each of you!
A society is generally as lax as its language.