Monday, December 15, 2014

A Little Out There

He is wiry. Compact, thickly muscled, and what in other days was called jaunty. His nappy hair he wears braided. He tends to carry an expression of amusement, of some joke he knows that no one else has gotten.

He also has a far-off look in his eyes.

I guess he is what many would call mentally unstable, part of why he is in prison, most likely.

Prison is, after all, where we put many of our mentally ill after the Reagan Era terminated funding for their care in hospitals.

I don't know what brought him to the writing workshops, but he has become one the regulars for the last several years. He sits across from me, and nods a lot. He writes odes to God and says he sees things most people don't.

He is also impulsive, and quick to take magazines or dictionaries that I offer. Sometimes the other inmates don't appreciate that, so I have to be careful about how those resources get distributed.

A week ago, he very ceremoniously presented me with a letter of sorts. He said, "Give this to your wife. I know she will like it." He was adamant about this.

What he did not know is that M. is struggling. She is going through a dark night and looks for comfort in soulful music, poetry, and close friends.

"You give this to her," he said again. "She'll know."

Now, you may be thinking something like "This guy is a wing-nut, half-a-bubble-off-plumb, bonkers, not-playing-with-a-full-deck," or other off-the-rails expression. And you would be correct. But consider some of the following.

Last spring, before I took a hiatus from the workshops to work on the house in New Mexico, Mr. L. took me aside as I walked to the guard house and sally port. He looked straight at me, hard. "Now, you listen... You have some kind of truck, right?"


"Well, you need to careful. I'm just telling you. You need to be careful driving that truck. Because there is a lot of trouble out there, and some gonna come to you. So you drive slow and careful."

As I turned to leave, he stood there and spoke to my back. "You be careful up there. You and that truck. You drive careful."

I didn't think much of it, but did remember that he seemed to know when I was coming to the workshop. He told me that he could "see" me coming down the road, from miles away. He knew, even when the guards told him otherwise, that I was coming to meet the writing workshops. "They said you weren't coming, but I knew you were. I told the guys so."

When I returned to the workshops at the end of summer, Mr. L. was first in line and made a bee line to me and asked "So, how's your truck? Is it bad? You look OK."

I had said nothing, but had been in an accident, been T-boned in Gallup in an intersection. The truck was nearly totaled.

"You gonna fix it? Can you fix it? Everything OK? You need to be careful about that front end."

Remember, I still had said nothing. The truck had been hit right at the front wheel. The impact knocked us into the oncoming lane. If I had been going any faster, the collision would been absorbed by the door, behind which Megan sat.

"It's going to cost a lot, but the truck will be fixed," was all I said.

"Is your wife OK?"

"She was a little shaken up, but she is good," I said, as other men filed in and Mr. L. took his place across from me at the table. He spent the day nodding in assent, smiling when he caught my eye, as the other men read their work.

That was six months ago. Since then, he keeps checking in, following me to the guard house after the workshops. He has not offered up any more warnings or advice beyond "I knew you were coming today. I saw you."

I kept all of this in mind when I presented Megan with the card. She opened it and found a hand-drawn heart surrounded by flowers, all if it intertwined, all of it on a manila file folder transformed into art. This came from a man who has no "official" access to paints, Exacto knives, brushes, or markers.In fact, those things are contraband.

M. found the card soothing, lovely, meticulously crafted.

I put the card on the mantel with the other Christmas cards.

I'll have to ask Mr. L. about it when I see him next.

His eyes will likely be looking through me to something distant, either here or out there over the horizons of his mind.

1 comment:

  1. Startling, beautiful portrait in real time, Erec. To know someone unknown (and there may be more) is wishing Megan well, warms all of me. Your love for Megan is constant, consistent, and all encompassing. It is an inspiration to those who know you, and those fortunate enough to know you well.
    Thank you for spending the writing, teaching, friending time that you do in prison, especially with folks suffering from mental illness, (talk about adding insult to injury...), that is inspiring, too.
    "There but for fortune...."
    Much love to you and family.