I grew up surrounded by death and destruction, so I came to grips that when it’s my time it’s my time. Lord willing my death just wouldn’t be in vain. Many childhood friends of mine have passed away prior to their 18th birthday or very soon after. Many of these friends died as martyrs for causes they deemed righteous, while others lost long fought battles with cancer or even depression (that left them feeling as if there was no other way out).
I can honestly count everyday as a humbling blessing because my work could easily be praised as posthumous. Why was my life spared, while theirs was taken? I have no explanation beyond I am here for a reason and I have a greater calling for my life than to merely exist. I have unfinished business to take care of and I owe it to those who are no longer with us to see this job to completion. I believe we don’t die until we do all that we were meant to. Even if in the natural sense it is perceived as too soon, that life can be used to change the course of history. (Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, etc.)
When I first arrived to prison I was sent to the Washington State Penitentiary in Monroe, WA. Not exactly my depiction of prison with its overabundance of offender change programs. I eagerly signed up any and everything to get out of my cell and out of unit to do something productive with my time. Stress and anger management, I’m there! Alternative to violence, what’s this about? Course in miracles, I can use a miracle! Church, God knows I’ve been the consummate prodigal son!
As I go to check the call-out board (a sheet of paper posted, showing every inmate in the units schedule for the upcoming day) I noticed a flier mentioning a memorial service to be held in the next few days for another inmate. I just seen him a couple of days ago. Now he’s dead? Than it hit me, there is no guarantee I will live to see my release date.
It is often a forgotten fact that tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, whether in prison or out of prison. Than to add insult to injury, take into consideration the subpar medical and dental facilities and the departments primary concern to cut cost rather than provide sufficient care.
While at Monroe it was eerie how often I would see men alive one day and than being carried out on a gurney in the middle of the night. By the time morning came, their cell is empty. By the time the next chain day arrived, someone new was likely to have already moved in. Life on the inside goes on like nothing happened. Barely anyone mentions the event. Who do you send condolences to? What happens to the deceased now? Who collects their body or property? What if there is no one to collect their things?
Now my friend from high schools dad passed away while we were doing time together in Walla Walla or The Washington State Penitentiary. He had a pacemaker device in his chest and was telling the C.O.’s and other staff that he needed to get a new battery to keep his heart beating or something like that. Ultimately Mr. B was seeking medical attention but got the cold shoulder being told he will be able to see his medical provider on Monday. He didn’t make it.
Losing Mr. B hurt! I didn’t know that, that Friday would be the last time I would see him or hear his voice. He told me of the negligence of the staff surrounding his condition as we were clocking out from work in correctional industries. As if he knew something I didn’t know he called me over.
“Baby Boy”, he said in his ever so cool and nonchalant way, “I’ve watched you grow up in here and I just hope that God allows my boys to become as good of a man as you have become. God has a plan for your life but know that you can’t die if you aren’t living and…the only way to live is with purpose…I need to go grab this now (mud?) but I love you, boy!” Words I would never forget.
We briefly hugged then he wobbled off to go collect a bag of coffee a partner owed him. As I stayed back to maximize my time card and talk about plans for the upcoming week, Mr. B’s silhouette gradually grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared from my view.
I wonder if he ever got to enjoy that bag of coffee?
R.I.P. Mr. B