How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God; who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free.
I spent today with my friend Richard. We have been friends for almost seven years now. The day I met Richard he was in the back of a class I was teaching. He challenged me on several of the points I was making in class and my first impression was I was in for a challenge. His thought provoking questions and subsequent long conversations about the nature of God, the confusion of life, and the struggle to be whole led us down the road to a genuine friendship.
Richard is serving a two year sentence in the Arizona Department of Corrections in Tucson. It has been almost three years since I last saw him. He went back to prison last January. When he completes this sentence in December of 2016, it will mark twenty eight years Richard has spent in custody. He’s fifty two. It all began when he was just nineteen.
It was good to see him come through the door. He came across the room and we embraced like old friends do. For the next four hours we caught up, we cried, we contemplated all the what ifs, and we laughed. I was the first visitor Richard has had this sentence.
Some people may wonder why Richard can’t seem to get his act together. They ask me, “how many times does he have to mess up before he gets with the program?”
I hear others remark, “It’s obvious he has no understanding of personal responsibility; no desire to change his behavior; maybe prison is just where he belongs.”
Those are all pretty natural responses I suppose. They are also pretty easy to make from where we sit. I just know that my friend is my friend and I am proud to call him my friend.
I have a difficult time grasping twenty eight years in prison. I really can’t understand what it must be like for Richard. In some ways he has been institutionalized. He knows all the ins and outs of the prison culture and how to survive it. He sees the corruption and despair every day. He battles the loneliness. I don’t’ know what it’s like to see your friend walk out the door to freedom while you remain behind. I have never experienced loneliness at that level.
The four hours went by quickly. We talked about struggles from the past. We laughed about things we did working together. We discussed the future and direction for the rest of his time and beyond. We waved good bye through the glass.
There are a whole lot of things one could think and say. All I know tonight…is that I miss my friend.