Letters - 28 May 2021

From Denzil to Language


As a follow-up to the article in the 16 April issue about Denzil, we regret to say that Denzil died alone in his cell on 17 April, just a few weeks before he was due for release on 11 May. He knew he was terminally ill with a diagnosis of cancer, but he was so hopeful to at least spend some time outside, and he had many plans. Julia Richardson sensitively led his Quaker funeral on 10 May at Boston Crematorium, when many of us were able to watch via webcast. Denzil’s daughter, who never had the opportunity to get to know her father, was able to attend. She was grateful for the opportunity, and we hope she is now able to see her father in a positive light. Maybe some bridges with the rest of his family will be built as a result. 

We knew Denzil when he was a prisoner at Shepton Mallet prison. We feel he was yet another victim of our punitive criminal justice system. At least, in his own words, Denzil was able to adopt a positive attitude towards life and to use his time in prison to his best possible advantage. We all experienced Denzil as one of the kindest, most gentle of men, without any trace of malice in him. An example of his kindness was when we were forbidden to take biscuits into the prison for our Meeting for Worship on the pretext that we were trafficking, and Denzil took it upon himself to bake us cakes and goodies. He had been hoping to develop his baking skills on release. There was a naivety about him that belied his deep beliefs. He had an enquiring mind and spent much of his time in prison exploring other faiths. He had the ability to cut through the complexities of life to the very essence. Denzil would have benefited from therapeutic treatment and early release, when we feel he would have become a productive and valued member of society.

Shepton Quakers, Somerset

Overseer alternatives

Meeting for Sufferings has asked us to find an alternative for the word ‘overseer’ – a word with overtones of supervision, hierarchy, and officialdom, from its use in plantations, mills and factories.

Some Friends may be reluctant to spend time on this. Some are regretting the change at Friends House where rooms lost numbers and carried names instead. Certainly we need to tread warily. Words may change over time, gathering nuances as they are adapted to new usage. Esher Friends soon found they were rejecting one suggestion after another. It is helpful to start by working out some guidelines. First name the task and not the attributes of the task holder – as with clerk, treasurer, trustee, warden. Second eliminate all nuance of age, gender, hierarchy, superiority. Third choose simple basic words, long-rooted in the language and free of nuances.

With the help of guidelines it becomes clear why some alternatives to ‘overseer’ are unacceptable. We want our words to reflect our values and our Quaker life – and to be simple and strong.

Christine Cannon

You need to login to read subscriber-only content and/or comment on articles.