A fateful day for Chen Kewei; why George Orwell’s 1984 now tops the 2017 Best Seller lists; and the future of Religious Liberty; this week behind These Stone Walls.
A few times a year on These Stone Walls, I feel compelled to add a post script to some of my past posts, so I wait until I have enough to warrant a post of their own. If you have been reading these pages over the last few months, then you know that life here has taken a sharp downward turn for your friends behind these prison walls.
With no space to keep copies of past TSW posts, and with no online access, I must rely only on memory when I refer to anything I have written in the past. I compiled a list of titles, and it now comprises six pages. With that list of titles in hand, I want to add a post script to a couple of my blasts from TSW’s past.
Some readers are aware that our friend, Chen, was moved to another part of the prison in early January. We didn’t see it coming, but every prisoner knows that the dreaded words can come at any time, and for us they came just after the morning prisoner count on January 4: “Chen, pack your things. You’re moving.” An hour later, he was gone.
The worst part of such events in prison is the lack of any and all information. It was a full day before we were able to learn where he went, but more on that below. I wrote about our friend, Chen in a few posts over the last year, most notably in “Time in a Bottle with Jim Croce and the Twang Brothers,” and more recently last fall, “For Pornchai Moontri, A Legion of Angels Victorious.” That latter post has a great photo of Pornchai and Chen and their teammate, Chi Chi holding their championship softball season banner which we proudly post again here.
Yes, that’s me standing off to the right. I was there in my official capacity as team pep-talk coach and TSW Sports Writer. A month after posing for that photograph for the intramural softball championship, Pornchai and Chen’s team went on to an accomplishment without precedent here. They also defeated seven other teams to become the intramural prison football champs, and they did it without breaking anything vital. The team was going to gather in late October for a photo of the football championship, but it would have basically been the same photo of the same players so we just skipped it.
Our friend, Chen, played on both teams. Pornchai-Max Moontri taught him how to play both sports, but more importantly, Pornchai taught him how to BE a sport. Pornchai was Captain and Coach of both teams through both season championships, and Chen was voted “Most Improved Player” of both teams.
You might recall from past posts that Chen came to the United States from Shanghai, China on a temporary student visa at age eighteen. That was three years ago. Having never before ventured far from home, Chen was entirely unprepared to comprehend the nuances and rules of political correctness on a co-ed college campus. The details are unimportant, but Chen was to some extent “Shanghaied.” It’s a term we’ve all heard, but its origins are murky.
To be “Shanghaied” is an English language colloquialism, meaning that it comes from an anecdotal account once told and repeated, but it has no literal meaning of its own. It has its origin in a real event that actually happened in the 19th Century when the Chinese trade port of Shanghai opened to the West in 1842. An American or British sailor was tricked into boarding a foreign vessel in that port – perhaps not even a Chinese one. Once aboard, the unfortunate sailor was forced into serving as a crew member. Thus, he was Shanghaied.
As a colloquialism, to be “Shanghaied” now refers to anyone who has been duped or tricked into captivity. Chen was Shanghaied, and for that matter, so was I.
Chen was given a three-to-six year sentence, but he spent the first year isolated in a county jail before being transferred to the state prison at age 19. Pornchai-Max and I met Chen “by chance” shortly after he arrived here. We then reached out to help keep him off the heavily traveled “road to perdition” as I described the path upon which this prison is rapidly descending. A prison officer also became concerned for Chen, and moved him into an overflow bunk just outside our door. When we were all relocated eight to a cell on perdition’s highway, we managed to get Chen moved in with us.
The only English Chen knows is the little that he has learned in prison, and it’s strictly phonetic. One day he asked me why Americans say things like “Cheese and Rice” when they are angry or frustrated. “Cheese and Rice!” Give it a moment to register. We knew right away that Chen would not fare well here on his own.
So Pornchai and I had to work quickly to find ways to soften the blow for Chen when he was suddenly moved. Pornchai works in the prison gym where he helps with a weight training program, and he was able to get Chen enrolled in it. I was able to get volunteer status for Chen in the prison library each afternoon. So we see Chen every day, and most of those lurking in perdition’s shadows know that Chen is not alone. I’m sorry to put it that way, but it IS that way.
In early January, Chen was Shanghaied again. He was moved into a one-size-fits-all program that he was supposed to be admitted to at least eighteen months before his minimum sentence of three years which he reaches on March 24. Chen cannot possibly complete this program which has taken no account of his language barrier.
Like Pornchai, Chen has already been ordered by a federal judge to be deported from the United States, so both will be handed over to Homeland Security immediately upon release. Chen will be sent to Shanghai, and he had every reason to expect that this would happen when he reaches his minimum sentence on March 24. The program into which he was placed a month ago, and the New Hampshire state court, could keep him Shanghaied for up to three years longer, but what would be the point? Chen has not seen his parents for three years and just wants to go home.
Chen has been granted a hearing scheduled before a New Hampshire judge on March 13 at which point the Court will determine whether his language barrier disqualifies him from that program. If the hearing is successful, Chen will be turned over to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement later in March to begin the long process of going home.
So please remember Chen in prayer for the success of that hearing on March 13. And if you have the stomach for it, also read my post about another one-size-fits-all for-profit fiasco: the ICE deportation of so-called “criminal aliens.” Pray that Chen will be spared the nightmare my post describes. Pornchai too, when his turn comes.
GEORGE ORWELL’S NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR
It seems a very odd thing, but I wonder if you have noticed that a book written in 1949 reached number one on Amazon’s Best Seller lists over the last few weeks. It’s George Orwell’s classic but chilling novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s an interesting development, and it occurred as a direct result of the strange and unexpected U.S. presidential election. That fact is as strange as the election itself.
Still ringing in my mind is the question posed to Donald Trump by FOX news anchor, Chris Wallace in the Fourth Presidential debate: “Will you accept the results of this election?” Of course, everyone, including Chris Wallace, assumed Hillary Clinton’s inevitable victory. So the same question was not posed to her. When Donald Trump hesitated in his response, Mrs. Clinton famously retorted, “Not accepting the results of this election would be a direct threat to democracy!”
I am not writing a defense of Donald Trump. I don’t have a defense of Donald Trump. But I do have a defense of the Americans who placed him into office in accordance with the United States Constitution. I believe that one sentence sealed the fate of the Presidential Election of 2016: “Donald Trump’s supporters are a Basket of Deplorables!”
It is expected that presidential candidates will be on the front lines for any manner of critique and attack, but attacking the voters has consequences. The biggest consequence is now sitting in the White House. Donald Trump won in 2,600 counties – that great, vast field of red that stretched across the nation on Election Day. Hillary Clinton won 500 counties – the blue, heavily populated urban coastal centers around New York, Boston, Los Angeles – what some of the Deplorables came to refer to as Hollywood’s self-proclaimed “Adorables.”
The fact that George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four subsequently landed on the Best Seller lists is a testament to the extent to which that end of the political spectrum has lost its sense of self-awareness. I cringe now every time some Hollywood figure uses an entertainment soapbox like the Golden Globe Awards to enlighten us lesser folks on political thinking.
The very news media that is supposed to be reporting the news is openly holding the Vice President in contempt, not for his politics, but for his Christian beliefs. The bold fact that Vice President Pence addressed the annual March for Life – which most in the media would prefer not to even mention – is somehow a black mark on America.
THE FUTURE OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
So how does George Orwell enter the picture? The President’s campaign manager and Senior Advisor, Kellyanne Conway – who also addressed the March for Life – appeared on Meet the Press and used the phrase, “Alternative facts.” She used that term in defense of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. In reply, The Washington Post accused the White House of trying “to discredit the news media’s critical role in our democracy.” From my perspective, the news media had already done that without the President’s help.
In his novel, 1984 (I’m going to use “1984” because I’m tired of typing “Nineteen Eighty-Four”), George Orwell imagined a totalitarian state in which “Big Brother” is always watching. In the novel, the term “Alternative Facts” describes the state’s “Ministry of Truth” which uses lies to rewrite history, and it imposes those lies on the masses. Just those two words – “Alternative Facts” – spoken by Kellyanne Conway launched 1984 onto the Amazon and New York Times Best Seller lists as readers of the left scramble for more ammunition.
I, too, wrote of an analogy between the White House and George Orwell’s 1984. But my analogy was an observation about the previous Administration after the Presidential Election of 2012. Its perhaps unfortunate title was “Electile Dysfunction: Accommodations and the Advent of 1984.”
I thought my title was rather clever because it described both the arrival of George Orwell’s “Big Brother” from his novel, 1984, and it also described a story that really took place during Advent in the year 1984. You can read it for yourself, but to make the story shorter here, I committed a political sacrilege for both Church and State during Advent in 1984 when I mentioned from the pulpit the fact that a local public school teacher asserted his right to acknowledge Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Christ. It’s a sad but revealing account of the extent of Big Brother’s real agenda and reach.
It’s a great irony that the left, and the leftist news media, would trigger sales of 1984 in response to the current Administration which actually seems to be getting Big Brother’s nose out of business, the business of faith, and various other American enterprises. The Wall Street Journal’s Joseph Rago seemed to agree with me on the irony when he wrote “Big-League Brother Is Watching, Say Orwell’s Unlikely Fans” (WSJ, Feb. 2):
“Yet if Americans who buy 1984 actually read it and think about it, maybe the irony will be that U.S. political fevers start to break. Any literate person can recognize that the analogies between Mr. Trump and Big Brother are, not to put too fine a point on it, preposterous.”
So it’s a really good sign that the current White House is now working to embrace a religion agenda that would make it perfectly okay for me to address from the pulpit, without accusations of committing political heresy, that it should be okay for a public school teacher to mention the Birth of Christ at Christmas.
At the National Prayer Breakfast last month, the American President said that his Administration…
“…will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty… I will get rid of and totally destroy the  Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”
These are not exactly the words and goals of George Orwell’s Big Brother at the dawn of a new totalitarian state.