I borrowed the book The Stamp Collector from the library because I thought it might be another cute book about collections, and in a way it is but its also much darker and more relevant than that. The story starts like a folk tale with the city boy who loves stamps and a country boy who loves words, but the city boy becomes a guard and the country boy a prisoner. The pictures of the book are stunning explorations of contrast, most with one or two dominant colors, and everywhere stamps and postmarks. (The postmarks in themselves look somewhat ominous, like government stamps on every picture certifying something about them. Not necessarily approval.)
The stamps are the city boy’s ticket to dreaming about far away places, or as the book says “it holds a secret message; it is a clue to buried treasure. The stamp is the key to another world – one that is new and full of adventure. And stories.” Later as a guard he breaks the rules and gives the prisoner some of the stamps that came with letters the prisoner is not allowed to receive. Then each stamp is a symbol of support coming in from around the world for the prisoner; a little light, a little sign he is not alone or forgotten.
The book brings to my mind three issues: being circles of support for people in general, the freedom of speech and the press, and supporting those in prison. I want to write a bit about each of those.
Being Circles of Support
When I am feeling lonely or alone I have this image of myself surrounded by a circle of friends and family – people I know care about me. There are times in my life when I feel that circle is larger and stronger, and other times when I feel it has too many gaps, and is stretched too far with too few people. After reading my kids the story The Stamp Collector I find myself thinking of how I can help to wrap others in a circle of caring too.
In the book the stamps and letters assure the imprisoned writer he is not alone, but the writer himself is an inspiration to many other people. I remember long, long ago reading something somewhere about the idea that all the good people in the world are little lights, lighting up the world, and that there is not enough darkness to estinguish the person’s light no matter what happens to the person his or herself. How can we be lights? How can we have courage and bright light to other people’s lives?
Freedom of speech and the press
Some of the proceeds from the book are being given to PEN Canada, so I wanted to check out that organization. Their webpage describes themselves thusly:
PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada.
What kind of stories, I ask my children, do governments try to hide people from? What kind of stories do you think people might get put in prison from?
I’m hoping the Canadian government doesn’t put people in prison for what they write, but I know that freedom of expression is getting eaten away at here too. Artist Franke James has a comic-essay about that. Then too parliamentary employees are being asked to sign a life-time ban on speaking about their work, so maybe that would lead to prison time at some point in the future, and scientists are being limited on what they are allowed to report to the public.
While I was debating what I would write about the book if I did a review of it, I found a story online about a protest outside a prison in Lindsay, Ontario. The prisoners in question are migrants, who overstayed their visas in Canada and/or have had whatever legal status revoked because of some crime. They are kept in maximum security, because they are supposedly going to be deported, but they cannot be deported because no country will accept them, or it would be too dangerous, or for some other reason, and as a result they are stuck there, waiting, in prison. They are asking for a 90 day limit on detentions pending deportation.
On September 16, nearly 200 migrant detainees in Lindsay jail began protest actions that have captured widespread attention. Detainees have gone on hunger strike — two of them for 65 days — refused to enter their cells, boycotted their detention reviews and organized other political actions. In retaliation, immigration enforcement has deported some key strike organizers, moved others into prisons across Ontario and locked up hunger strikers in segregation. Yet, strike actions are continuing. (source: rabble.ca article by No One Is Illegal)
There is a webpage, End Migrant Detention, that has addresses for a few of the detainees in Lindsay. I invited my children to draw pictures and we sent some letters with pictures to a few of the people, hoping to bring some encouragement. I note also that one of the people speaking out publically in support of the locked up migrants is John Greyson, a Canadian filmmaker who was for a while imprisoned in Egypt, and whose name shows up also on the PEN Canada page. His name is like a light or a stamp, a token of someone who was supported during his time imprisoned and at also inspiring and working for others.