Sunday, February 21, 2016
The Last Day
I was awakened by the sound of keys jangling in the hallway. It was 5:45 AM and I knew the guard was coming to get me. He entered my cell and I acknowledged him and got down out of my bunk. I opened my locker and took my bedding and my boots and carried them down to the laundry room where they would be collected and distributed to a new convict. I went back to my cubicle and got my possession…all crammed into a thick black garbage bag. It’s amazing what a person is willing to take out of a federal prison. I went grabbed my mattress and my bag of belongings and went up to the door and waited for the guard to open it. As he did, I carried the 50 pound bag of belongings and the mattress over to “R & D” (receiving and discharge) and entered the door. I was tossed my mattress on a stack in the hallway and guard took me to a cell where there were about 5 mexicans who were being discharged today as well.
We waited in the cell as slowly the men were discharged, with a guard coming and taking them away. I sat there silently, just watching and thinking what was going to happen next. At around 8:00, a guard came and took me to another office area and I was fingerprinted and had my DNA taken for the federal DNA bank. I was then put in handcuffs for the 30 feet walk through the sally port and taken through the main offices. A guard took the handcuffs off and said I was free to go. I took a seat in the waiting area where I had arrived 3 years ago and waited for my pastor, Cal Carpenter to arrive. He was flying me home to Tacoma where I would begin a new life. I expected Cal to be there at 8:00 but he was about an hour late. I picked my bag up and went outside and sat on the warm concrete, just enjoying the California sun without a barbed wire fence keeping me inside.
The warden walked by and said hello in a voice I had never heard her speak in before. It was friendly and she smiled at me and said good luck. I honestly think she meant it. A little while later Cal arrived and I put my stuff in his trunk and got in the car. We prayed before we left and then drove out on I-5 to Los Angeles. About 30 miles down the road, he pulled into a truck stop for breakfast. I was wearing grey sweatpants and white t-shirt as we entered the restaurant. We took a booth in the back and I grabbed the menu and took a look at real food. I ordered a ham and cheese omelet with hash browns and coffee and we visited as we ate our breakfast.
As we got back in the car and got back on the freeway, Cal opened a compartment between the seats and handed me an envelope that my ex-wife Paula had sent for me. It had $700 in crisp bills and my driver’s license in it. We completed the trip to LA and Cal pulled into the Hyatt Regency and we got out. He said the large red suitcase was mine and I grabbed my garbage bag and put in in the suitcase and went in the hotel. Cal went to the desk and grabbed a key and said he had gotten me my own room because he thought I could use some quiet to rest. I went into the room and it was the most beautiful hotel room that I had ever seen. The bed was a king and the mattress was more than 4 inches thick. The sheets were soft and silky and I was exhausted. Cal had tickets to a Dodgers game that night so we agreed that we would leave to eat at about 4:00 and I went back to my room and crawled into bed. I think I was asleep in minutes and it was hard to get out when my alarm went off. Paula had also bought me some new clothes to wear…cargo shorts and some short sleeve shirts and I took a shower and put them on. I went down to Cal’s room and we went down to the car and went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner.
We ate dinner and Cal asked me what I was planning to do for work and I said I didn’t have a clue. He mentioned one of the men in the church might have something for me but that didn’t work out. We finished out dinner and headed to Dodger stadium for the game. We had seats on the first base line 2 rows back and we sat and had peanuts and soft drinks as we watched the ballgame. It was a warm night and the park was about half full. We left during the 9th inning and went out to the parking lot to find the car. Call pressed his remote and the horn honked and we saw some headlights flashing and went to the car.
We arrived back at the hotel around 11:30 and headed to our rooms to go to sleep. I once again crawled into my bed and nested into the soft mattress and sheets. It felt far different from the steel bed frame I had been sleeping on for the last 3 years. We woke early and headed to the airport and got in line. My suitcase just made the 50 limit so we didn’t have to pay any extra fees. We worked our way through security and waited in the arrival area for our plane to arrive. As we loaded on the plane, I was thankful for friends like Cal who had stood by me during my incarceration. I thought about my time in prison as I read my Bible on the flight. How much I had been changed by prison and in a good way. I thought about the friends I had made there and how they would do. I prayed for them and asked God to protect them.
We had a nonstop flight and it took about 2 hours to make the same trip that had taken 24 hours in a greyhound bus 3 years earlier. As we flew into SeaTac airport, I wondered what life would be like for a convicted felon with no marketable skills (since I had lost my ability to teach). I couldn’t wait to find out.