After my meditations, I gathered up the institution issued items I needed to return and ran, in my tee-shirt and shorts (don’t forget, it was February 4!), over to laundry to hand them in at the 5:50am time I’d been assigned. Then I ran back, in my tee-shirt and shorts, to the housing unit to say my final goodbyes and grab the few things I was taking with me. I had to be at the processing station at 6:10am for release to my wife at 9:00am. I couldn’t figure out why I had to be at processing at 6:10am if I wasn’t leaving until 9:00am. How could processing take almost three hours? I was told processing consisted of signing a few forms, once again having my fingerprints taken (I was fingerprinted so many times while in prison it’s amazing I have and prints left), being given a prepaid debit card with whatever money I had left on account, being given a small amount of cash intended to buy me food along the way and get me a taxi to the halfway house and finally, being released to whomever was transporting me to my destination. Three hours for that?
Change isn’t always actually change at all.
Seems Mother BOP wasn’t done taking bites out of me. When I arrived at the processing station, I was given forms to sign, had my fingerprints taken and then a bus itinerary was laid in front of me and I was told that travel by bus was the warden-approved mode of transportation. Next, they said I would leave the prison at 7:10am for a 7:50am departure. No wonder I had to be at processing at 6:10am, in their minds they had only one hour to get everything done.
I explained how I worked with the secretary to arrange transport with my wife and how my wife had driven SIX HOURS the night before because it was February and who knows what the weather will do and by coming the night before AND staying at a hotel, she’d be sure to arrive by 9:00am to pick me up (when the secretary and I were discussing my wife picking me up, she told me in no uncertain terms that at 9:00am I would be turned out whether or not a ride was waiting for me and if no ride was waiting, I’d be a curb sitting guy in a tee-shirt and shorts in early February who still had to be to the halfway house by a designated time so it was vital that my wife be there by 9:00am sharp). I then pointed out that I was wearing a tee-shirt and shorts and that a SEVENTEEN HOUR bus ride in February while wearing a tee-shirt and shorts would be pretty uncomfortable. I said I’d heard that the prison provided traveling clothing and asked what was available. Their reply was, “that’s only for people who would go out naked because they have no clothing but you have a tee-shirt and shorts so you’re on your own.”
To the credit of the guards processing me, they worked hard to change things and make me whole again. They called the secretary, my counselor and even the warden, but at 6:10am, who is in their office? No one. In their efforts, the guards discovered that the personal auto travel request forms had been appended to the end of the bus transport request instead of replacing it. Therefore, when the warden reviewed the travel request on-screen he probably never saw the personal travel request because he’d have had to scroll down and why would he do that when the bus request was sitting there in front of him. This boils down to an error on the part of the secretary as she should have deleted the bus request and replaced it with the personal auto request. A simple mistake I know. People are human and these things happen. Looking back, I wish I’d recalled the words of Job:
“If I say: ‘I will forget my complaining,’ I will lay aside my sadness and be of good cheer.” [Job 9:27]
Though the guards wanted to help me, ultimately, they did not have the authority to alter my travel plans. When it comes down to it, only the warden can do that because he’s the decision maker and he’d signed off on the bus.
What to do about my wife who would arrive at the prison nearly TWO HOURS after I’d left for the bus?
While en route to the bus station I asked the driver about the availability of a phone at the bus station so I could call my wife and tell her that the BOP had yet again imposed itself upon us. The driver said that no, there was no phone at the bus station but there was a phone at the police station across the street (okay, think about this for a moment – no phone at a bus station to accommodate incoming passengers who might need a taxi or some other form of transportation to get them to their final destination? Not everyone has a cell phone – I didn’t. And on top of that, after leaving prison, my first stop was going to be a police station? God does indeed have a sense of humor; dark as it may be at times.) The driver was kind enough to take me directly to the police station. Upon entering the police station I was told by a very friendly desk officer that the phone had been removed months prior. His recommendation? Use the phone at the bus station. I had to remind myself of my motto yet again.
How would I reach my wife? I had only one choice: beg. When I finally arrived at the bus station, I walked into the waiting area and said, “I was just released from prison 30 minutes ago. The prison screwed up my transportation plans and I need to let my wife know what is happening. Can I please ask one of you to let me use your phone so I can call her?”
That’s what I heard.
And then God spoke to me through a man sitting there. They said in unison,
“I got you man.”
This gentleman had recently been released from prison himself and he knew what I was facing, and he reached out to help me. He sat next to me, quietly, reassuringly, and as a calming force while I used his phone and tried to reach my wife repeatedly. He kept telling me,
“It’s okay. Take your time. You’ll get through to her.”
I called many times and even sent several texts at his suggestion. But no response came. You should know that my wife is proactive and on top of things. In her desire to assure she was at the prison when I was released, she arrived an hour early. So, while I was calling her, she was already inside the prison office asking where the heck I was and being told I was already gone on a bus. Imagine her shock and dismay!
Meanwhile, the ticket agent was announcing last call to pick up tickets for the bus I was to be on so I had to relinquish the phone, get in line and wait to check in. Amazingly, this kind spirit took it upon himself to redial my wife over and over and over while I stood impatiently in line. When she finally picked up, he called out to me,
“Hey joe! I got her! It’s jane!”
Truth is, he had us both.
After an emotional talk about the issues for my transport, my wife and I hung up. After hanging up, I sat and thought about all the times we made plans to do something pleasing that would bring some measure of joy only to have those plans shattered. This was such a time. Today, as I wrote about those painful hours, I wondered what wisdom could be found in scripture. I searched and found these words:
“Even in laughter the heart may be sad, and the end of joy may be sorrow.” [Prov 14:13]
I handed the phone back to the man and asked if he would be insulted if I gave him a few dollars in thanks. He looked at me in a way that suggested that yes, he would indeed be a bit insulted and he said,
“this is out of my heart.”
I thanked him profusely and explained what it meant to me to have his kindness. I explained that after more than four years of having a number instead of a name, that by his calling me joe and sharing his humanity, I once again felt like a real person; someone of value. I handed him $5 and said, “please consider this my way of buying you a morning Starbucks; maybe the caffeine will brighten your day as you have brightened mine.” He laughed, thanked me and we shook hands. Then he was off and down the street. I never asked, and he never said why he was even there that morning. I was sad to see him go. He was an anchor in those moments.
I’ve written before of what I think of as “Earthly Angels” and that morning, God brought me yet another one. I do believe in coincidence, but I do not believe this is what I encountered that day. I once wrote in a posting about why prisoners are special to God and why they are called out for release in the Bible so many times [Ps 68:6,7; Ps 79:10,11; Ps 146:6-8; Isa 24:21-23; Isa 49:8-10; need I go on?]. Perhaps the kindness this man extended is demonstration enough to suggest that mankind should indeed think sincerely about how those who break the rules are kept in exile – and for how long. Again, scripture comes to mind:
“…And Jesus replied, ‘…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” [Matt 19:18,19]
Oh yeah, one more thing about this man that assures me of his status as one of God’s Earthly Angels…his name is…
Of course it is.
Coming up: I arrive at my destination – well…eventually.
Until next week, be well and God’s blessings upon you.