Faith in the details

Everyone loves a good second-chance story, one that illustrates the progression from tragedy to triumph. A reader sent us this moving front-page piece in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader titled "A Man Reborn," tracing a man's release from prison after a long term for killing his abusive stepfather. The 3,000+ word piece is complemented with a video to add some color to the package, demonstrating how the newspaper put some effort in giving us a sense of the man's personality. What's missing, though, are some of the details. I've pulled out some of the relevant sections to show where more information could have been helpful.

During his three decades at the state penitentiary, Caffrey grew from an 18-year-old who — he acknowledges now — treated prison as a playground, to a 48-year-old man pursuing a more fulfilling life, one in keeping with his fundamental cheerfulness and a spirituality he learned as an inmate.

What might be the spirituality he learned as an inmate? Who taught it to him or how did he find it? The reporter does a fine job of pointing out the prison and parole details, but we're left with vague references to faith throughout the piece.

As governor, Rounds says he was cautious and took seriously his role of safeguarding the public while making commutation decisions. But he also believed in the second chances parole affords. “You hope they work out,” he says. Ultimately, he decided he had learned enough about Caffrey to let him seek parole. The parole board heard Caffrey’s request in February 2011. In March it granted him parole. On the last day of that month, he was released. He went home with Ar­nie and Arlene Berkeland, a retired Sioux Falls cou­ple who met Caffrey three decades ago while on a church visit to the peniten­tiary.

What kind of church did he visit?

Pastor Dennis Lake of First Christian Church in Sioux Falls met Caffrey for the first time at his suc­cessful parole hearing. “I had heard about him from Arnie (a member at First Christian),” Lake says. The church is one of two Caffrey and his wife at­tend on alternate weeks. “I did his wedding,” Lake says. “Our church has responded well to Tim from the beginning. But my sense of it is Tim would fit in just about anywhere.”

What is the other church that the couple attends? Why do they rotate? Why does he "fit in" at just about any church?

There is something else that has helped Caffrey move forward and sus­tained him during the past four years he sought pa­role. “I accepted God into my life in 2006,” Caffrey says. Trammel sees that as an attribute of a successful parolee. “"A lot of these guys become religious. They have things in their lives that are bigger than them, that make their lives more meaningful,” she says.

The article explores some of Caffrey's Native American roots, but it's unclear what kind of faith they practice. What does "accepting God" mean, especially in light of his heritage? Perhaps this reporter just isn't about getting the details, you might think. But then we read a paragraph like this one:

He talks about this with a miniature pinscher puppy, Talee, snuggled in his lap. The name means Little Boy in his wife’s tribal Delaware language. A cat as outgoing as a Chamber of Commerce ambassador, Wanji, or One, in Caffrey’s native Lakota, leaps on a couch to make friends with visitors.

When it comes to animals, we get the all the detail in the world. Religion? Not so much. It's a feel-good story with a lot of fluff but not a lot of meat.

Image of pinpoint via Shutterstock.

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