Friday, July 25, 2008

Hopeless...at the End of A Sheet

I could tell as I pulled myself from the cobwebs of the morning...that haziness that fogs my mind as it moves from the peacefulness of sleep to the reality of life in this place that something was different. It was much noisier than usual...not that being noisy was unusual in itself. This place was always noisy. That's why I had the soft rainbow colored earplugs tucked snugly in my ears. But it was unusual for there to still be so many men in the unit. Why weren't they at breakfast?

I've never been much of a morning person, and with the schedule here being so restricted, it made the most sense to me to try to sleep as late as I could and still get to breakfast in the morning. So my routine was to wait until about a half an hour after I heard the first P.A. announcement in the morning and then get up and wander over to the "chow hall". The first announcements usually started around 6:00 AM and they started serving breakfast about 6:05. Our unit was in the top five for chow rotation this week so everyone should be gone.

Our cube was tucked around the corner, so I didn't have a clear shot at the clock that hung above the officer's desk in the front of the unit. I slowly swung myself down from my upper bunk, my body screaming from the pain in my feet and shoulders from sleeping on a four inch thick mattress on a sheet of cold steel. I pulled my glasses on and peeked up at the clock. It read 7:05! What was going on? Had I just missed breakfast and everyone was back in the unit for some reason? That sometimes happened if there had been a fight on the compound somewhere and they had us locked down.

I pulled my khakis on and my flip-flops and wandered up to the front of the unit.

"What's going on?" I asked one of the men leaning against the wall. He just nodded his head and said he didn't know, but there seemed to be a long of action going on upstairs. He said there had been a lot of officers going up and down the stairs.

There are three separate dormitories here... three two story, cement block squares that are made up of four living units in each one. We're in building one and my dorm, or unit, is 1B. The unit upstairs in 1D and I have come to know quite a few of the men who lived up there. I couldn't imagine what might be going on. It seemed a strange time to have a "shake-down", but I never put anything past the people who run this place.

Another twenty minutes passed, and we were finally sent to breakfast. The talk in the chow hall was much more hushed than normal, at least among the English speakers. It seemed that everyone seemed to want to know what was going on and why breakfast was so late.

"I heard someone committed suicide in 1D", a young man at the table next to me told the men sitting at his table.

"Do you know who it was?"

"No, but I heard that they found him in back craft room. I guess he waited until after the 1:00 count and then took his sheet with him, blocked the door and hung himself. That young Mexican C.O., you know the one they say dances in the strip clubs when she's not working here found him is what I heard. Guess she's really messed up right now."

Suicide! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Why would someone here kill themselves? This place was hell, but there were a lot of places that were a hotter degree of hell than this place was. My mind raced, hoping that it wasn't anyone that I might know. I couldn't fathom why someone would do that. One of the men in our morning Bible study lived in 1D and I would ask him as soon as I could.

An hour later found me in the Chapel, working in the office when J.J. (from our Bible study) came in.

"Hey J.J., what happened in your unit last night? I heard guys at breakfast say there was a suicide."

J.J. came over and sat down across the table from me. I could tell from the fatigue in his eyes that the rumors were true...someone in his unit had taken his life.

"It was Bobby", he said.

"Bobby?" I asked, disbelief in my voice. "Not Bobby who comes over to here every night at dinner rec move? It couldn't be him, he's getting out in six weeks."

"Yea it was him. He got a letter from his wife a couple of weeks ago that she wanted a divorce. I guess he didn't think he could go out there and not have her there waiting for him. He had a couple of kids to...it's just so hard to believe."

I just sat there, my body growing numb. I didn't know Bobby as a close friend, but I knew him. Every night, he would come to the Chapel at the 4:45 rec move so he could sneak into dinner and then go down and watch the games in the rec yard. He was a quiet kid, probably in his late 20's. He was attractive and had the kind of smile that made you want to smile back. I would occasionally see him going into the Catholic mass on Wednesday's but didn't really know where he was in his faith and relationship with God.

I could feel tears welling in my eyes, but the sobbing didn't come. I'd learned to keep my emotions pretty well bottled up, but my heart was broken. Here was a young man with a crumbling marriage (most marriages in this place didn't survive) and young children who had completely lost hope. And he did what many people do when they don't believe they have anything left to live for...he died. Only he didn't just die...he took his precious gift of life and ended it at his own hands.

As I sat and thought about Bobby and depth of the despair that he must have found himself in, I couldn't judge him. While I've never contemplated suicide, I did know what it felt like to not want to live any longer. I remembered those weeks and months after I was arrested and Paula was gone the desire I had to just die. I would be walking on the icy, snow covered roads around the condo complexes and think it would be OK for an oncoming car to slip on the slick roads and run over me. It would be OK. Or if a wayward bullet from the hunters up in the mountains to find its way through the window of the condo and hit me in the head, that was OK by me. I knew what it felt to be without hope. I knew what it felt like to lose everything...and everyone...that I loved.

But I also had found an incredible gift during those months before going into prison. I'd found a relationship with One who is the giver of hope to all who will accept His gift. And as that relationship grew over the weeks and months, I came to trust Him and hear His voice and receive His promises. I heard His voice as He told me I would survive this Hell I found myself in on that cool spring day. And I heard Him that morning. I could hear the pain He felt at the death of this young man. I could feel the moistness of His tears that he wept because Bobby had accepted the lie of the enemy that life isn't worth living...that when it seems that all is lost, there is no other source of hope.

Bobby was gone. Nothing could ever bring him back. I have to believe his wife was heart broken, possibly wracked by feelings of guilt. The thought of two young children never seeing their father again was heart wrenching. But Bobby had lost the one thing that we can't live without...and left his life at the end of a sheet.

1 comment:

Deb said...

Brilliant writing. A hotter degree of hell - wish I'd thought of that one myself. And your title and last line - really, really good.

This makes me even more grateful that you found Hope.

Again, the stories you tell about the people who shared that space with you are unbelievably compelling. Thank you for sharing.

I love you.