A Gift of Life

Hi all! I’ve been away from this for awhile. It has been a year filled with blessings and with sadness. I am one year into a new home and have successfully personalized it to suit me. Yes, I am blessed with having had the ability to do that. I am blessed with the parents I had, the education I’ve received over the years, and with friends and relatives who have meant the world to me. Not everyone has as many blessings.

This summer I was gifted with an experience to which some might cringe. The man I knew for about 15 years, who had been in prison for nearly 40 years and whose health was failing much of the time that I knew him, died. But, I was able to be at his bedside the day before that happened.

The warden’s office had alerted me the previous day that the doctor had said it could be days to weeks that my friend had left. I was given permission to visit and we set a time. Efficiency and kindness cushioned the entire visit from beginning to end. I was greeted with friendliness at the front desk – something that doesn’t always occur for prison visits. I was escorted to my visit through a maze by a kind and thoughtful officer. When I arrived at the room, another officer updated me on how quickly my friend had deteriorated. This man, too, was kind. He told me he had known my friend for many years, and that this one was a difficult for him. Then he left me alone with my friend.

I have to describe my entire experience as a gift. Merely knowing this man for 15 years was a gift. While the relationship began with letter-writing, I eventually visited him, and accepted phone calls. We had a connection that was special. I once knew a psychology professor who could pick up on dis-ease and angst as soon as he entered a room. It was like that with us. We could tell from each other’s voices whether something was bothering either one of us. I learned a lot about this man, how he came to be in prison (his fault) and how he continued to be in prison (NOT his fault, in my opinion).

I learned FROM him as well. He told me he used to be angry, but that he had changed.  I believed him. In his letters, in his phone conversations, gentleness and kindness were always present. He would help others around him as much as he could, and often take on distasteful jobs to help, jobs that other men there shunned. He was staunchly Catholic, taking his religion very seriously. I know that I could see Christ at work in him. I would like to think others could as well.

While at his bedside, I talked to him and prayed with him. He was no longer speaking and he didn’t open his eyes, but I know that he knew I was there, and I know that was what he had wanted. In much the same way as he accepted his incarceration, I believe he knew his time had come. My understanding is that he died peacefully the following day.

It has been nearly four months since then. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought “I wonder if he’ll call tonight?” before realizing the reality. I feel extraordinarily blessed to have known this man. Yes, he was a prisoner, but he was every bit as much a role model, a friend, and a comforter. He had sought a commutation numerous times, but – in spite of his deteriorating condition – the Parole Board continued to refuse to recommend it.

Well, he is free now. I’m proud to be able to have called him my friend. I will never forget this man. His life made a difference to me.

My respect and congratulations to Woodland Center for hiring staff who care, who are comfortable enough within their roles to show compassion and humanity – both to the prisoner/patient and to the public. Would that all facilities have such fine staff and provide such thoughtful care!

Moving Forward

Perhaps there is some value in lengthy incarcerations. Recently I heard from two new friends who remain behind bars. They seem to know their own direction…but they have been in prison for years. One observed of some around him that “they hold in anger and resentment” and “wear every injustice.” The other wrote “Hating someone will kill you just as fast as over-drinking every day.”

These men have ridden themselves of anger. They are looking forward to the chance at a better life. They have discovered a sense of purpose, a desire to be different than they were before they came to prison.

The words that these men wrote resonated with me because I know another man who does not live in a prison surrounded by razor wire…though he might as well. He lives in his very own prison of anger and resentment. It has sapped his strength for anything productive. He is frozen in time, imprisoned in his own hell from which he has been unable to escape.

We are all prisoners in some way. All too often we get stuck in attitudes and behaviors that are unproductive. Friends, relatives, and mentors often help to direct us to more positive ways of living. What if we never knew anyone who valued us enough to show us the difference?

Whether you are behind the sliding door of a cell, or isolated from society by personal choice, YOU could be the person who could make the difference in another’s life. YOU have value. YOU are worth it. YOU are a child of God and there is a reason for you to be here. Don’t ignore your potential. Move forward!