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.

May Music Meme -- Day 3

A song that reminds you of summertime. Hearing everyone's favorite Cubbie blue monster singing the stretch fills my heart with sunshine. (Play along! Click here for prompts.)

Sunday Stealing


1. What is your favorite song lyric? Why? "You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches on ahead ..." Because now that my friends and I are all in the fourth quarter of our lives, it's poignant to realize we've known one another longer than we have left, and important to treasure our 30-, 40-, and even 50-year histories. Amazingly, Paul McCartney wrote "Two of Us" when he was only 27.

2. Who was the worst teacher you ever had? My English teacher in freshman year of high school. We were studying Romeo & Juliet and I wondered aloud why they didn't just run off together. She was so annoyed with me. "Because then there wouldn't be a story, would there?" That's the attitude that will make young people love Shakespeare!

3. What were 3 things that scared you as a child? (1) Richard Speck. I was 8 years old the summer he killed 8 student nurses. Even after he was arrested and sentenced, I was sure he was going to escape. (2) That my cat, Tommy, would sneak out and be lost forever. (3) Guns.

4. What are 3 things that scare you now? (1) Being in a plane crash. (2) Outliving my retirement money. (3) A second Trump term.

5. Would you rather have the power of time travel or the power to see the future? See the future.

6. Money, power, or good looks – which would you rather have an unlimited supply of? Money. I think the other two would follow.

7. Are you jealous of anything? Oh, sure. I try not to indulge those feelings, but they're there.

8. What makes you feel most loved? When my friends reach out.

9. Do you believe in soulmates? Yes

10. What is something that made you laugh the most? I love all of Animal House, but especially Tim Matheson as Otter. 


11. What were 3 of the happiest days of your life? Falling in love, seeing Sir Paul at Wrigley Field, watching the Cubs win the World Series.

12. What is your biggest flaw I have no discipline whatsoever

13. Who would play you in a movie about your life? Sally Field. I'm sure this honor will mean the world to her.

14. What is something you experienced that you have no explanation for. Faith. For me, that's a big component of believing in God. I don't have to be able to explain it all. I have  faith. I know God is there and I know He loves me.

15. What is the saddest book you ever read? Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larsen. There's as much love and good intention as there is heartache in this true story, and that's what makes it so tragic.

16. What is your dream home like? See that kinda mid-sized building, center left? The one that's just behind the Drake Hotel's pink neon sign. That's Chicago's Palmolive Building. It's an art deco beauty. If I lived there, I'd be in the center of everything and I'd get to gaze at the Lake all the time.

17. What creature/insect would most creep you out if you found it crawling on you? A bed bug. Because they seldom go anywhere alone.

18. What’s your preferred Monopoly piece? The Scottie dog.

19. What was your most embarrassing moment? So many to choose from. I have definite Lucy Ricardo tendencies. For example, last month I tried to dial into a meeting but accidentally called 911 instead.

20. Could the earth be flat? OF COURSE it's flat! And the Covid19 virus is just a tool used by fascist governors to take our civil rights. Why listen to
immunologists when the misinformation is so much more pleasant? Science is for suckers. Reopen America NOW!