18 May 2011

The People That You Follow

It is not uncommon for me to receive letters from prison. On a pretty regular basis, inmates waiting release send requests for information about our agency's services in order to create a constructive plan for their reentry into society. I always respond. I love letters, and even though these are purely of a business nature, I always add a sentence or two conveying a message of encouragement, and of hope.

A few weeks ago, I received one such letter, though it was unique: Michael Layton had no release date. He is in prison for 'life'. He told me that he has been petitioning for release, and that it's helpful to present a plan during these petitions that shows his efforts to be a contructive citizen if he is ever granted release. He was hoping our services would be part of that plan. I informed him, gladly, stunned by the thought that Mr. Layton had been in the same building since I was born. As usual, I added a concluding paragraph in which I told Mr. Layton of my respect for his efforts and his persistence.

And then he wrote back:

"I just wanted to let you know that for number one just you responding made my day and number two I appreciate the letter and the information also. Thank you for reading and responding to me because for a minute i was beginning to feel dead inside. Also, thank you for choosing to care. There are men in the Bible that has done things that were morally wrong yet God used them to do great things. For some reason some people don't know this or they do and they still don't believe people can change. You hosever are not of the world and I wouldn't be surprised if you had enemies just from letting your light shine.
I sent you a poem that I wrote whil reflecting on my past. I don't know if you could find any use to this but I wanted to share something with you.
Peace, Michael"

He gave me permission to post his poem:

"The People That You Follow"

The people that I followed were not out for my best interest
But at that time "I thought they were friends" so I listened
To "whatever they said" and I did what "they wanted"
Even when it came to doing wrong I was on it.

But my concience told me, "I should have left them"
"But I ignored it cause I was trying to impress them"
"Cause I wanted to fit in and be accepted by them"
"So I began to prove myself worthy in the eyes of them."

So they started small with like, we dare
You to jump over such and such fence and steal the pears
I went from that to stealing out of corner stores
And gocery stores then that gor bored so I began to do more.

Because my appetite for doing wrong grew quick
So by the time I became a teenager I was addicted
To being just like "the guys" even though inside I cried
Cause to be honest I wasn't that type of guy.

I was wearing a  mast I don't know what else to tell you
Scared to take it off cause I didn't want to be a failure
So I wore this image that was far from who I was
And eventually that image had me involved with drugs.

I fell for "anything" because I didn't have integrity
My will to choose was compromised incessantly
And in the end I was in a bad position, "in prison"
And the people that I followed lost interest.

I wish you the best, Mr. Layton, wherever you may ever be.

11 May 2011


I stood, and focused all of my attention on Cassandra. I tried to soak in the volume of her joy, every animated detail of her face as she spoke to me, and her Jesus. I wanted to memorize the moment, to really remember the fullness of human change and movement.

I wanted to remember the words she chose to describe the last few years of her life. She talked about the "chains" of her years of streetlife, the "heavy" boredom of days upon days in the same doorway, the "itch" for another high. She let her 5 ft frame (and 1 ft weave) rise and fall in her recollection, and her her arms wind through her reminiscence. Her eyes widened, her scarlet-red shirt and her shirt-red lipstick portrayed and punctuated her elation.

But it was simple. And most of her explanation was a prayer. She was not speaking to me, but allowing me to eavesdrop on her praise. Because she had her own apartment, and she could sit and soak in her own tub, and even though most of the rooms were empty, her boundless presence filled them for now, and filled them well.

I can't capture all of Cassandra in this moment the way I would like to, and I'm thinking about this as she speaks. I think about the privalege it is to stand so close to the joy of someone else, and to invite it in.  I write this blog to pass on what I'm given, but I'm afraid that today, my words are not sufficient.