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Retief to Sign Books for Bitner Scholarship at Local Credit Union

Published on April 17, 2012

Area bank customers can cash a paycheck, meet a national author and donate to a worthyGlen Retief cause—nearly all at once—April 26 at 5 p.m., when Glen Retief launches the paperback version of his memoir, “The Jack Bank,” at Service 1st Federal Credit Union in Shamokin Dam. Retief, a Sunbury resident and assistant professor of creative writing at Susquehanna University, will donate all book sale proceeds from the event to Susquehanna’s Brandon Bitner Memorial Scholarship Fund, in honor of the Mount Pleasant Mills teenager whose 2010 suicide reportedly resulted from antigay bullying.

Recently chosen as a finalist for the prestigious national Lambda Literary Award, Retief’s critically acclaimed “The Jack Bank” explores the psychological effects of adolescent bullying. At age 12, Retief was tormented for being gay at a whites-only, militaristic boarding school in his native South Africa. His memoir looks at the damage done, as well as how he survived adversity to become a human rights activist, writer and professor.

“The book is important reading for parents, educators, psychologists, trauma survivors and others trying to understand how to help young people at risk of serious self-harm,” Retief said.

According to brandonbitner.com, a website maintained by Bitner’s family and friends, Bitner’s last request in his suicide note was that Susquehanna Valley communities learn to take bullying seriously. Established in 2010, the Bitner Scholarship supports one music student each year at Susquehanna University, where Bitner, an accomplished violinist, played in what was formerly the university preparatory program’s youth orchestra. Susquehanna’s Department of Music recently presented three benefit performances of the comic opera “Die Fledermaus” to help fund the scholarship.

“I’m honored to work at a university that has responded so conscientiously to Bitner’s challenge,” Retief said. “My book seeks to do exactly what Brandon talked about in his final message to the world, so I can’t imagine a better cause to support.”

Retief’s choice of Service 1st for his paperback signing is a nod to the book’s title. “The worst bullying experience described in the book occurred when a 17-year-old hallway supervisor invented something called the jack bank,” he explained. “‘Jacks’ is South African slang for beatings.”

The young antagonist offered Retief and his schoolmates the chance to volunteer for jacks in advance, and have them entered in a ledger, where they would earn “interest” in the form of additional, theoretical beatings. When they later misbehaved, he told them, they could avoid punishment by drawing upon the jacks entered in their accounts. What ensued was a session of sustained beatings among a group of boys establishing “accounts,” some of whom would never actually do anything to merit punishment.

In his memoir, Retief uses the jack bank as a metaphor for how violence often earns compound interest when people invest in it. In other words, he said, hatred begets more hatred. “But the good news,” he said, “is that virtue can also earn dividends. So the moral of the story is: be careful what you bank.”

To this end, Retief said Service 1st is the ideal place for sharing his message. As a member himself, he appreciates the credit union’s efforts to put its money to good use, such as starting a fund for two members who recently lost their house in a fire.

“It’s really great to have a financial institution that’s willing to get behind an initiative like this,” Retief said.

The book signing will be held at Service 1st Federal Credit Union’s branch location at 3054 North Susquehanna Trail, Shamokin Dam. For more information on Retief, visit www.glenretief.com.


Karen M. Jones


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