Sunday, May 03, 2020

When every choice is of consequence

I've now received four letters in all from Darius, the lifer at Western Illinois Correctional Center that I correspond with through my church's penpal program

His letters are difficult because his life is difficult. His cell is 11.5 x 8 ft. It contains a bunk bed, a set of book shelves, a sink and a metal toilet. Metal is key. First of all, the sound of anyone in the cell block urinating carries, and secondly, it takes quite a few flushes before a grown man's solid waste finally makes its way down. Darius and his cellmate are in that little room 10 to 16 hours each day.

He would prefer I email him because my messages would reach him faster, but I won't. I refuse to share my personal information. He addresses his letters back to my first name only, c/o the church, and that's fine. I don't worry about him getting out, but I do know that every bit of his correspondence -- electronic or otherwise -- is reviewed by corrections officers. I have heard horror stories about some (naturally not all) of these men and don't want them to know too much about me. Also, Darius has to pay for each email he writes or receives. Yes, he has to pay for paper and stamps, too, but that's still cheaper for him than email.

He has been living like this for more than two decades.

When I write back, I keep his situation top of mind. I'm careful about everything I say. For example, when writing to anyone else, I'd mention something about my setting -- "I have the windows open so I can hear the kids playing outside." Nope, don't want to say that to Darius. It would be cruel.

I don't want to mention how hard sheltering in place has been for me, since I can go to the store, for a walk or to pick up carry out. And I do go out every other day. These are choices he does not have.

I have not forgotten that Darius is where he is because of what he did. He killed two people. I don't think that's a debt he can ever fully repay to society.

But I didn't join this program to see criminal justice done. I write to Darius for two reasons:

1) It's wrong to judge someone's entire life by his worst moment -- no matter how bad that moment is 

2) Christ said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

And so I answer each letter. It's not so much that it feels right, because honestly, it no longer does. In fact, it's downright uncomfortable. But I know it's the right thing to do. I understand that each of us needs to feel a personal connection, and so I'm here to for Darius.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think I would have considered how the ordinary everyday things (like an open window or birds singing) are not the same for him.