Trial and Punishment – and Life

 

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is bitter sweet – –

Regular readers will probably know that I visit once a month with inmates in the local Federal Penitentiary (what a strange word!). I started doing this four years ago as part of the Prison Visitation and Support organization (PVS).

When I started I inherited two inmates from my predecessor and continued to visit with them, as is PVS policy, until they were moved to a different facility, as is the Department of Prisons policy to discourage close relationships between prisoners.

One of my guys was Bryan (not his real name) who was originally from Oklahoma (except he wasn’t). I visited with him for three and a half years and we got on well and always had lots to talk about. He was in for life – a real life sentence with no parole. Like anyone in that situation he needed some hope and for him that was continual pursuit of a successful appeal against his sentence. Our monthly conversations always ended up with his latest attempts to conduct convoluted conversations with folk ‘outside’ about his latest appeal.

Out of curiosity I googled his name and easily found details of two previous unsuccessful appeals. I was horrified to learn the details of his case. He had been the ringleader of a drug gang that had gotten into an argument with another one and folk had been murdered in various particularly gruesome ways. He never denied that folk had been killed but always talked of how corrupt the courts and the state justice system was, and how he’d been ‘framed’.

Notwithstanding all this I still found him to be a straightforward and easy guy to talk with. He was part Native American who helped organize a sweat lodge in the penitentiary and went to great lengths to stay away from any trouble.

Just about six months ago I went to my regular visit with him and he was much more depressed than I’d ever seen him and assumed he’d had a ‘knock back’ on his latest appeal attempt. But it wasn’t that. He had been having some problems with his throat that affected his voice and it had been determined that he should go for tests and diagnoses to see if he had cancer.

A month later we met again and he was euphoric – he had just gotten back the day before from hospital where he had had the tests and shortly after had been given word that he was clear – just an infection!

Then I had a visit here at the bookstore from the local Native American who oversaw the sweat lodge at the penitentiary. He knew that I visited with Bryan and wanted me to know that the diagnosis was premature. He had been given wrong information and the tests had actually confirmed that he did have throat cancer and it was beyond effective treatment.

By the time I went back he had been moved to a prison hospital and I never saw him again, but there’s a website where you can track the whereabouts of any inmate in the system and I checked on Bryan regularly just to make sure he was still in the facility.

Yesterday I did that and read this – deceased 01/10/2018

I don’t understand why I should feel so sad about Bryan’s death when I have lost quite a few close friends and family over the last couple of years. Folk who lived pretty blameless lives and certainly were never responsible for killing anyone. I know Bryan had done wrong, that he wouldn’t be considered “deserving,” but perhaps everyone deserves someone to mourn them, or just someone to talk to, even though they cause others to mourn. There are many reasons why I visit for PVS, but the main one is because even the worst humans are still human after all.

Maybe there’s a kind of justice in the way Bryan was given real hope and then had it torn away, but I miss him and wish he was still battering away at yet another appeal. RIP.

 

10 Comments

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Trial and Punishment – and Life

  1. Linda P. Tulley

    Jack–your final comment reminds me of something Bryan Stevenson said in his book, “Just Mercy,” “None of us is as bad as the worst thing we have ever done.” You are probably familiar with his work–he is an African American lawyer who has represented many people on death row, some of whom ended up there “justly” and many of whom did not. I admire his work, as I do yours. I think of what Jesus said about visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Linda Tulley

  2. Cathy Rickey

    With so much focus on politics and global issues, how easy to forget individuals and their trials with life-and-death issues. Wouldn’t our efforts be much better focused on caring about people- regardless of who, what, where, why they have problems…they deserve someone who cares and someone who mourns their loss!! THAT is what Christianity is about. Thank you, Jack for this important reminder.

  3. Elizabeth

    I agree that these prisoners need visitors and a listening ear. Its good that you visit them and also that you mourn them…I’m so sorry.

  4. Sue W.

    Bless you, Jack, for holding Bryan in your heart.

  5. grannysu

    A touching, disturbing, sad and yet oddly hopeful post.

    • Jack Beck

      Hi Susanna – I suppose only hopeful because that is what ‘lifers’ always seem to have – hope that somehow they’ll eventually get out. At least ‘Bryan’ is now out! Hopeful, maybe for me too – “there, but for the grace of God”.

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