Charles: Three Hours From the Federal Penitentiary #183

This past Tuesday morning Sally Jo and I boarded a United jet in Portland for our flight back to Albany, via Chicago. Our seats were aisle and center, and while we were getting settled, a 5’ 10” solidly built black man came for the window seat.  He was obviously uneasy.  When I sat down he was telling me how expensive a hamburger was in the airport – and coffee too.  Then his questions began: “Could he get food on the plane? (It is expensive, but don’t worry.  We have 4 granola bars.)  What was the screen on the seat in front of him for?  When should he put on his seat belt?” I asked if he had flown many times, and he laughed.  “Three hours ago I was in solitary confinement at the Federal Penitentiary.  I’d been there for 3 years – a room about the size of a bathroom that had a sink, toilet and bed.  I was in there 23 hours a day – the food was awful!!”  I asked why he was in the penitentiary.  “I got caught after 10 armed robberies – banks.  After being in the Pen for 10 years a man came after me, and I stabbed him with a table knife.  I did not really hurt the man, but it was considered a violent act – and into “the hole” I went.”

Three hours before, a trusted prisoner had dropped him off in front of the terminal building with his plane ticket to Chicago.  The prison had provided him the clothes he was wearing, $30 cash, and then he showed me his bright yellow prison identification card, and a debit card issued by Chase bank with his picture on it for non-prison identification.  There was $3.00 in the account.  He also had $60, earned before he was sent into “the hole”, building solar panels for government use.  During the next 3 ½ hours I learned to appreciate Charles – who was articulate, did not use profanity, and was very knowledgeable about national and world affairs.  I also learned much about prison life – like the fact that in his cell he had books, paper, something to write with, and a radio – that was it!  .  Charles did not seem bitter – he knew what he had done.

“Do you want to hear one of my poems?  I already had one published!”  Sure!  Then with rhyme, and the rhythm of rap, Charles recited his poem.  He began with creation and continued with how Satan came to be, man’s struggle with disobedience to God, man’s fall into sin, the story of Cain and Abel, and more – all in the Old Testament.  After perhaps 10 minutes he abruptly stopped.  Sally Jo and I listened, fascinated.  It was beautiful…well done, I don’t know how best to describe the experience.  Theologically and sequentially he had it right.

As I reviewed the events of the New Testament, Charles added some details.  I told of Jesus birth, His growing up years, His baptism, and His miracles.  I told of the triumphal entry, the response of Jewish leaders, and the crucifixion. Charles reminded me that a criminal hung on each side of Jesus.  When I began to tell what happened when Jesus was crucified, Charles asked for my legal pad, and made some notes.  After telling about the darkness, the curtain in the temple torn from top to bottom, the earth quake, and the resurrection, he smiled.  “Thanks. I didn’t have a good ending for my poem.”  I then talked about the significance of Jesus life, death and resurrection for each of us.

Charles told how, when 10 years old, he was sent to a Juvenile Detention Center run by a Methodist church, and about Miss Nancy, who had taken a special interest in him, and kept up with him.  (He would get in touch with Miss Nancy as soon as he could.) He told how he went to a Baptist Church.  When I asked if they had an excellent black choir…he got excited – he loved music!  Then he sang to us a chorus he had learned in Sunday school.

Charles would like to publish a book of his poems.  I told him about the inter-net resource bible. crosswalk and gave him our son Dirk’s church number, explaining that Dirk would help him if had trouble using it.  I also gave him our home number.  Charles used my cell phone to call the people who were meeting him at the United Arrival area.  They     had two hours to get him to the half-way house.  We showed Charles where he should go to meet his car, and then gave each other big hugs.  As we parted, he said he would call us in a couple weeks.  I think he will!

Perhaps you have been the “Miss Nancy”, or the choir member, or the Sunday School Teacher, or the person in the plane.  Someone who will be remembered,   because you are living In Partnership With God.

“The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives”  Psalm 37:23.

Leave a Reply