This is a true story that happened many years ago.
Sally Brayton is the fantastic wife of Greg Brayton, my musical partner in Coldwater, Michigan and she works at the Woman’s State Prison there in town.
Through Sally, I made arrangements to visit the prison and do a general assembly for the women inmates.
In the past I had done a half a dozen talks at prisons and I always felt that I learned something on such visits.
The prison had a nice big assembly room and every seat in the auditorium was filled. After my introduction I began my speech and it was going just fine. Of course, there were guards standing right up front and at all of the exits and it all seemed rather intimidating.
Somehow I reached for my glasses which I had sitting on a little table on the stage and I dropped them. One of the lenses just popped right out and when I picked them up I noticed that one of the screws that helps hold the lens was also gone.
I simply looked out at the audience and asked, “Who will try to fix my glasses for me?”
One of the older women who was sitting in the front row raised her hand and I walked to the front of the stage and signaled for her to come forward and take the glasses.
Three guards came rushing forward to protect me from that sweet old lady.
I negotiated with them and managed to hand her the parts.
She sat down and examined the glasses and said, “A screw is missing.”
One of the other prisoners sitting in the front row said, “I see it on the floor.” And she stood up and tried to approach the stage but those three guards appeared again and stopped her.
Either those guards were not paying any attention to what was going on or else they were over trained in field combat. Anyway, again we negotiated. The girl retrieved the screw, handed it to the other prisoner who was working on my glasses and went back and sat down.
I went back to my speech and a couple of minutes later the lady signaled me that she had my glasses fixed.
We negotiated again with those three guards and she gave me my glasses. I thanked her and asked her name.
“Bonnie,” she said, “Like in Bonnie and Clyde.”
The audience laughed.
“Yeah, I’ve read about you I said,” playfully. They laughed again.
“Thank you Bonnie. Without those glasses I would not have been able to read my notes. And I wouldn’t be able to read a poem I had planned. In fact, you just saved me a real mess because without you I could not have gone on. Let’s give Bonnie a nice round of applause…No, hold it. I want you all to join me in giving Bonnie a standing ovation. Everybody up.” They all stood up and I led the applause.
Bonnie just stood there looking out at that audience with the darndest look on her face. She was absolutely dumbfounded.
Later I found out that Bonnie was one of their most uncooperative prisoners and she was serving a life term for murder.
Later I gave Sally a book autographed to Bonnie and she told me that Bonnie had really changed for the better following that meeting.
How many people go through their entire life without ever receiving a standing ovation? Far too many, I bet.