Category: Life


You Have Cried…

 

 

You have cried, but no one listened… nobody cared, no one paid attention… your silent screams were loud enough to wake the dead… but in that cold prison cell… nobody cared.

You felt suffocated… unable to breathe… it got so bad but you gritted your teeth… you were close to giving up… yet you were still crying out… hoping someone will realise what you’re all about.

You have cried… and I had listened… spilled everything out… nothing left unspoken, I’ve held you close and I’ve wiped your tears… and you’re a lot better now that you’ve faced your fears.

You have cried, but you’re no longer hollow… there’s somone on your side, that much you know… someone who listens… and understands your sorrow.

You have cried… but you need not cry no more… coz you’ll never be alone again… not today… not tomorrow.

 

Happy Birthday, Steve….

 

 

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Bridge over Troubled Water

In a few days my friend, Steve would be celebrating his 51st birthday.  He’s been heavy on my mind so I thought it’d be a nice tribute for him if I were to talk about my journey with him on my second post in my blog.

Steve is one of the 18 pen pals that I have todate.  Born and raised in West Virginia, he’s now residing in Florida.  He’s no ordinary friend but someone who is special to me.

A son to an elderly sickly mother, older brother to a sister, father to a daughter, and grandfather to a grandson… those are his roles in his family.  His role in society… inmate, convict, jailbird, prisoner… whichever way you want to call it.  One unfortunate drunken night in 1983 had cost 25 years of his life when he and his doped up housemate had a stupid argument over an unpaid US$70.00 electricity bill.  In the heat of the argument, an accidental move of his finger, had ended his friend’s life right before his eyes.  His girlfriend was there to witness the accident and it was her sister who reported it.  Steve was in a daze when the police came to take him away.  He couldn’t believe that his friend was dead.  In court, he was slapped with a First Degree Murder charge and was sentenced Life, with Parole.

Recalling the night when I sat with pen in hand ready to write my first letter to Steve, I was a bundle of nerves.  How do I start my letter?  How do you approach an inmate who’s had blood in his hands?  It took me quite a while to just compose that first line that comes after ‘Dear Steve,’….  Looking back, I can’t remember what I finally wrote on that first line but I remember my pen dancing gracefully on three pieces of paper.  I mailed the letter the next day and as days went by I waited in anticipation.  Finally, after three weeks of waiting, I got a reply from Steve.  A pretty standard intoduction letter.  He told me a bit about his life and his interests, and he sounded like a regular guy.  He was very polite, respectful, and he sounded sincere.

When we first started writing, Steve was barricading himself with a fort of ‘shell’.  He had his guards up at all times and was very cautious with what he says.  He was willing to let me get close enough to get to know him, but he was also careful to not let me come too close.  Instead of explaining his lack of trust, he sent me a copy of guidelines written by the Department of Corrections for inmates to pass on to their family and friends to help them to understand rehabilitated convicts better.  And here’s what’s written on the piece of paper…

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

‘UNDERSTANDING THE REHABILITATED CONVICT’

In the very near future the undersigned will once again be in your midst, dehydrated and demoralized, yet ready to take his place once again as a human being; to engage in life, liberty, and somewhat pursuit of happiness. 

In welcoming your ‘REHABILITATED CONVICT’ back into society, there are certain factors you must take into consideration, certain things to be aware of in making allowances for the past number of months or years he was away; incarcerated.

Being ‘INSTITUTIONALIZED’ may have left him a little strange and skittish.  There are a few things you should know beforehand:

  1. Don’t walk up behind him silently and place your hand on him.
  2. Do not be surprised if he smells his food and drink first, or mixes his food together, then uses only a spoon to eat it with.
  3. Show no surprise if he pulls a small waxed-paper bag out of his pocket and puts food in it ‘for later’.
  4. Try and understand when he asks for permission to use the bathroom, the telephone, to change the channel on the TV, or when he sits on the side of his bed staring off into space doing nothing, or keeps peeking around constantly, always keeping his back to the wall, whispers after 11.00pm, waits for a door to be unlocked and opened for him, or if he takes his socks and underwear into the shower with him to wash them out.
  5. Take it with a smile when he neglects to close the bathroom door and constantly continues a conversation with you.
  6. Be tolerant when he takes a blanket off the bed and sleeps on the floor, with his clothes on.
  7. Don’t ask why he never faces the shower-head and won’t close his eyes in the shower, even when shampooing his hair.
  8. Refrain from saying anything about powdered eggs, instant mashed potatoes, pork (in any form), beans and cornbread, or rice!
  9. Be kind to him if it begins to rain and he doesn’t come in until told to do so.
  10. Try to understand the context of what he is saying when using such terms as: home-boy, road-dog, coppin-deuces, sellin-out, boo-game, bitchin-up, no-heart, runnin-your-jaw, runnin-a-game.  Do excuse his excessive use of profane language; it is an acquired habit.
  11. Always keep in mind that underneath the pale but strong and mean looking exterior, there is a heart of gold, the only thing he has left.
  12. Treat him with kindness. tolerance, and on occasion a gentle word, a hug or a kiss.  You will find that you will be able to rehabilitate that hollow shell of a man you used to know and love, whom prison has changed.  Perhaps you will be able to undo the damage, the pain and anguish he has suffered.  Maybe just help him forget.
  13. Be patient, he’s hurt and in need of a friend.  Love him and he will return that love ten times over.

I was grateful that Steve had thought about sending me the guidelines as it made it a lot easier for me to understand what he’s been going through, his life in prison.  With the help of that piece of paper, I patiently tried my best to win his trust.  I was determined to break him out of his shell.  I did my best to make him believe that hope is still alive.  He had been denied Parole twice and hope was wearing thin in his mind.  He was ready to quit the game.  He had lost all fight in him and was willing to settle at being just another ‘number’ instead of a person with a name and identity.  I couldn’t possibly let that happen to a friend so I began writing pages of letters to him, each filled with words of encouragement, motivation and concern.  I used to write at least four long letters to him each week.  In less than a year, my effort, dedication and determination was starting to bear fruits.  Steve was ‘alive’ again.

It’s been twelve years since I started my journey with Steve and what an amazing experience it’s been for me.  It’s taught me a lot more about integrity, trust, friendship, and life.  Today, Steve is a different man from when I first wrote to him.  He’s got his confidence back and he’s determined to reclaim his name and identity.

Steve’s change of heart has made me realise that everybody deserves a second chance in life no matter what mistakes we’ve made, big or small… as nobody was born evil or bad.  How we turn out or where we end up in life all depends on the choices we make and the roads we choose to take.  We may make wrong choices at times which could lead us through some bumpy roads; or a wrong turn could lead us to a dead end road… but hope is not lost for as long as we keep a positive mind.  Somewhere along the way we’re bound to bump into someone who’d care enough to walk with us to a long, wide highway.  In my journey with Steve, he took a chance in letting me into his wounded soul, and I took a chance in trusting an incarcerated convict.  And in that process, a bond was built, and a strong friendship was born.  This experience is indeed a precious life lesson for me for it has taught me that a little kindness can really do wonders.  And thanks to this unexpected experience, it’s made me a much better human being too.