Kindness, Freely Given

My daughter says that when she walks close to our pastor – one of the most insightful men I’ve ever heard speak – she feels his spirit in the air around him.  What she feels in the air around him, I feel in his words.  Sunday he spoke of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.   There is no side of the fence that can sensibly argue with trying to grow that kind of fruit.

When you see it – that fruit that is grown in people – it’s awe inspiring really, like the view from a mountainside with the clouds barely lifted.  I recently read something that a woman in Pennsylvania wrote.  Her name is Susan.  I see the fruit the Spirit grows in her words.  This is what she had to say about a simple act of kindness.

I live on a hot, busy, city street.  My cement porch sits right on the sidewalk, and many people without transportation walk by on their way to grocery stores, the drug store on the next corner, pizza shops, mini marts and yes –  to work.  There is a Triangle Car Wash two blocks away that hires people who are eligible for work release from the local county prison.

Last summer and this summer I put ice chests on my porch filled with free bottled water and snacks, like crackers, breakfast bars etc. – no strings attached.  I got numerous, heartfelt, Thank You notes, so I know this is needed and appreciated. This morning as I headed to my part time job, I passed a young man in worn clothes and sneakers, no electronics in his ears or hands!  –  so most likely from the local prison located 1.5 miles away, and on his way to that job I mentioned.  I think they serve prison breakfast fairly early, but I honestly don’t know what folks on work release are able to do for lunch…

I always say good morning and wish people good day, which they can’t hear if they have electronics in their ears, and then I said to him, “Hey, there’s free cold water and snacks on that porch down a little ways if you’d like.”

He gave me a big grin and thanked me, and as I pulled my car out of my parking spot and looked down the street, I could see he had stopped at my porch.  Yay!

Why am I telling you this? Not for any accolades, but because years ago, when my little girl was caught up in Heroin addiction and lost in another, even bigger, city 35 miles away, I would pray, “Please, Lord, may she meet good people, kind people who will help her,” and she did.  Some were barely able to help themselves, but they were good people who knew the right thing to do, and eventually she was able to get into recovery and have a baby boy and marry and find a job as a Recovery Specialist and celebrate 19 years in Recovery. That is why I do this, so that others I may come in contact with will meet good people, kind people who don’t turn away or look down upon them, and maybe that day, the day they found respite from the heat on a cement porch, will be a good day for them, and the good days will add up into a lifetime. We need to be there for each other in whatever way we can. Blessings, everyone. and as I have written on the note on the porch, “Freely given, please pass it on if you are able.”

That is what life’s all about really.  The first time I visited a prison, there were several things that struck me.  The coldness of the bars and the paint chipped walls was one.  The condescending treatment of inmates and their visitors by staff was another and something I didn’t anticipate.  The gratefulness and joy on the faces of men in that room, regardless of their situation – that was so apparent.  Their gratitude for a bit of companionship from the outside, air conditioning in an otherwise non-air-conditioned facility, a smile, a microwavable frozen hamburger from a vending machine.  I sat next to the person I went to visit, treating that visit as if it were taking place in a fine restaurant, ignoring the scowls of officers and the ants and the harsh lighting.  I reached over after a time and grabbed his hand.  I just knew he needed human contact.  That moment was priceless.  I will spend of the rest of my life reaching out my hand.

This country needs more Susans.  Argue politics all you want, but there is nothing that compares with the value and importance of simple kindness and compassion.  It needs to be worked back into our corrections system.  Words to live by, “Freely given, please pass it on if you are able.”

Henry’s Pleas For Help Were Ignored Before His Death

Henry Stewart was in jail awaiting trial for violating the terms of his early release on a shoplifting conviction when he scrawled the following words on an Emergency Grievance Form.

“I have black out two times in less then 24 hr.  I keep asking to go to the emergency room.  I don’t know what cause the blankouts. I do know that my tororance are low plus I haven’t had a meal that I come eat.  I can’t hold water down or food.  I don’t know many emergency grievance I have written with same reply.  Wait on your (me) appointment.  I know about what my blackouts leading to seizure.”

The paper is then signed, dated and followed by the words:

“I need emergency assistant right away.”

Those words are written more boldly than all the rest, as if Henry wanted them to stand out.

The form was returned to Henry Stewart the next day, August, 4, 2016, after being signed by Sgt. Whitehead.  It read the following:

“Mr. Stewart, not only have you been refusing your […] medication, but while conducting meal pass this morning, you were witnessed walking to the top tier and sitting on walk-way.  You’ve also been further evaluated off-site by specialists.  In addition, you will receive a follow-up by the provider.”

Henry Stewart died in jail on August 6, 2016.

The Hampton Roads Regional Jail made a statement after the death.  In it, the Jail Superintendent David Simmons said, “Typically, the inmates Hampton Roads Regional Jail receives have acute and/or chronic medical issues or significant behavioral issues.  Inmates are transferred here because they have pre-existing medical and mental health issues with little or no treatment prior to incarceration.”

The statement goes on to report on the professionalism and training of its staff, and how the “public should know that Hampton Roads Regional Jail has a huge medical mission and works daily to serve the complex medical needs of its inmate population.”

It was at this same jail that Jamycheal Mitchell died of starvation about a year prior to this death.  In that case, the jail investigated itself and cleared itself of all wrong doing.

The medical examiner in Norfolk reported that Henry died from a perforated gastric ulcer due to chronic lymphocytic gastritis, H. pylori positive – a complicated ulcer that created a hole in his stomach in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail.  The manner of death is listed as ‘natural’.

According to witnesses, the day that Henry died he collapsed and starting foaming at the mouth.  Inmates who saw that happen tried to get help from jail staff, but were told by an officer, “I am busy right now.”  The lawsuit that has been filed claims that Henry asked for help from as early as mid July, and his weight when he was received by the jail was 167 pounds, and it was 132 upon his death.

Henry’s mom was close to him.  She visited him regularly before he was transferred to Hampton Roads, and they wrote each other a couple times a week until a couple weeks before his death when his letters stopped coming.  After his death, she said “Don’t nobody know what a mom go through, honey, when she loses one of her children, and I done lost two.”

REFERENCES

Associated Press and Staff. “Jail Issues Statement about Inmate Who Died Days after Seeking Medical Help.” WVEC. N.p., 01 Sept. 2016. Web. 17 June 2017.

Daugherty, Scott. “60-year-old Died in Hampton Roads Regional Jail Because Staff Ignored Him, Family Suit Says.” Virginian-Pilot. N.p., 05 June 2017. Web. 17 June 2017.

Kleiner, Sarah. “Hampton Roads Regional Jail Inmate Denied Request for Medical Help Two Days before He Died.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 17 June 2017.

Mechanic, Allison. “Family Files $40 Million Suit after Man Dies at Hampton Roads Regional Jail.” Azfamily.com 3TV CBS 5. N.p., 06 June 2017. Web. 17 June 2017.

A Mother’s ‘Life’ Sentence

There is a mom in Florida going to visit her son this week.  His name is Bubba, and he lives in a Florida prison.  He’s spent the last twenty years behind bars.  Bubba had a drug habit as a young man, and he resorted to robbery to get his next fix.  He had a gun, but he never pulled it on anybody.  He was given a life sentence for his crimes.

Life.

I don’t know Bubba’s history.  I have no idea how he found himself with an addiction so powerful, he needed to steal to feed it.  I DO know that so many of us or someone we know is, or has been, just a few circumstances away from that same place.  Let’s face it – most of us have come closer than we would like to admit to some form of trouble, and we just didn’t get caught.   People make mistakes.  People have weak moments and clouded judgment.  Sometimes jail can actually be a place where a person can temporarily be protected from making more bad choices.  But ‘life’?  Really?

Don’t we owe it to each other to show a little more compassion than simply throwing people away?  Life – you stay behind bars until you die.  That’s what it is.  That’s what we have become comfortable with, what we accept.  I don’t want to be a party to this.  Silence is not an option.

These are the words of a mother who’s boy went into prison in his early twenties, has been there for twenty years, and is sentenced to die there.

Talked to Bub late yesterday.  It is amazing how positive he is, living with his life sentence.  He is such an inspiration!  I learn from him all of the time.  He told me about the A.M. worship service – OVER 200 inmates!  He said the music was great, and the sermon was ‘brimstone and fire’.  Bubba likes that kind of preaching, no whitewashing.

I asked him about the food, and he was so happy to have DECENT food!  ‘Mom,’ he said, ‘the biscuits are bigger than your fist.  I had more butter and jelly on my plate than I have had in the ENTIRE last 5 years, SEASONED potatoes and grits that were actually cooked the way they should be cooked.’  He also had eggs AND a banana.  He traded his eggs for a second banana.

This may seem like small stuff, but believe me, it isn’t.  He has gone months without fresh fruit, and had years of eating only for survival, not because the food had any quality, taste, or nutritional value.

We talked again – about him getting transferred to the Faith based program.  I told him about all of the prayers and positive words from everyone.  He said, ‘Mom, it really is a miracle.  You’re not supposed to be considered until you have been DR (disciplinary report) free for a year. I had four months to go.’

Bubba has already witnessed major changes (for the better) in the short time he has been here, not only from the inmates’ respect for one another and each other’s property, but from guards as well.  He was also excited about the walking track.  He said if he walked it three times, he could walk a mile.  That’s major!  He had already walked it once with an elderly inmate, about seventy, who has dementia.  Bub said, ‘Mom, he can remember some things from fifty years ago and then not remember where his cell is.’  I know Bubba’s heart went out to him, and I know Bub will do what he can for him.  That’s just the way he is – always was…

He was also telling me this place has football, basketball, and softball (most places don’t allow any group sports).  He was super excited about that, especially for the softball.  I reminded him that his dad was very good at baseball and was expected to get a baseball scholarship.  Bubba only knew Gordon as his dad, and he cherishes that, but I know in my heart – or at least I feel – that had Bubba not lost his father, he would not have suffered the traumatic things he did as a child.  Billy would have been there to help me protect him, before Gordon came into our lives…

We talked about his current roommate, someone like Bubba who has a heart for God, and we laughed about one of his most recent roommates, someone who had been convicted of cannibalism…  Bubba rode that one out pretty good.  When we talked about that character, he would laugh and say, ‘Yeah, I sleep with one eye open’.  That same inmate was bragging on all of his ‘accomplishments’ when bubba first came into contact with him in their shared cell, showing Bubba newspaper articles about his crimes, etc.  I’ll never forget what Bub said when I asked him how he handled that.  ‘Mom, I just told him MY GOD watches over me.  You have your articles, I’ve got MY BIBLE.’

Bubba has been through more than anyone should ever have to endure for the crimes he committed.  He has paid his debt to society.  Anyone who knows and loves him can agree to that, and I believe with all my heart that my son will one day come home.    But for now, we at least have ‘biscuits bigger than your fist, more jelly and butter than I’ve had in five years and fresh fruit’, fellow inmates who want to do their time serving God and not Satan, a great ministry throughout the entire prison and not just during service, a track to walk, softball teams, and clothing – yes, clothing.  There have actually been times when clothing has not been provided.  And, most of all, a new sense of Hope that comes from the Faith that keeps your spirit alive, trusting God’s grace and mercy to answer prayers.

And, how I hope those prayers are answered.  For Bubba.  For his mom.  For a country that needs a better sense of what’s important.  Throwing people away ISN’T okay.

This mom told me one more thing.  She told me about the ‘sick’ feeling she gets after a visit with her son, when she walks out the prison doors and leaves him behind.   She said that feeling sticks with her, “It never fully goes away…  When you eat, when you sleep, when you’re with someone, when you’re alone.  It’s always there, in the back of your mind, in your heart, in every breath you take.”