222 | The Sniper in My Cell

April 29, 2012
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #222: The Sniper in My Cell


Dear Family,

I’ve had an interesting week. Geez, I immediately regret writing that, the same way I regret writing one of my big letter f”s when the letter of the alphabet I’d intended to write was instead a humble, diminutive letter such as o or a. There is no simple means of recovery for this, so I typically decide upon a word that uses an f where I’d wanted the o to be.

I write—in pen—as I compose the letter, with no chance for white-out (I have correction tape, but using it is a sign of weakness to me). This practice produces unique challenges and brings an intrinsic honesty to the process.

In an email or text, I could type, “You are a total idiot,” and then hit that glorious re-winder of all bad things—the backspace key—and type instead, “Hey, what’s up?” or some such nicety. I don’t write first drafts or plot out what I plan to write, so mistakes and regrets are inevitable. (None, however, is as grievous as the mistake made in a recent letter, in which I wrote an entire word in an incorrect place and couldn’t fix it. I’d already written a page and a half and had to … rewrite it all—from the beginning.)

I mean, to me my week was “interesting,” but to make that judgment for all is a bit pretentious. I don’t like someone telling me that he is about to tell me “a really funny joke.” Gracious! It’s a joke! It had better be really funny. Or at least somewhat funny, so as not to waste my time.

These people are the same sort who top any story of yours with “Oh, that’s nothing. One time …” Really?!? That story I just told is NOT, as you claim, “nothing” to me! The variant of this behavior is this annoying phrase: “Well, I’ve got something funnier that happened to me! One time …”

Here’s the deal: just tell your dumb little story, and why not let me make the decision as to whether or not I think it is funnier, weirder, or more amazing than mine. I can be the judge of that, thank you.

So then I start off this letter with just such a statement, ruining a perfectly good sheet of paper. I decide, instead of deleting that sentence, to simply act as if I never even wrote it. I figure I can just tell you about my week and let you determine whether or not you find it to be “interesting.”

Maybe we find similar things to be interesting. Maybe not. If you find eating fruit or traveling by car to be interesting, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but neither of those things filled my week. (Besides, I meant “interesting” only in the “peculiar” sense of the word.) Here’s what happened …

Knowing Phillip was leaving, I asked the guy who had agreed to be my next cellie—a guy who paroles in October—if we were still on for the move-in. He’d just changed his mind (after six months of saying “yes,” he just decided to say “no.”)

I figured that I’d better find someone quick. I immediately thought of Mitch, a friend who is in my Business Class and just joined the choir. At church last Sunday, some random guy I’d never seen came up to me and said he was moving into my cell as soon as my cellie left. I mumbled an “okay,” since I was about to begin the service (he’d approached me at the keyboard). I looked up and saw Mitch in the congregation. I mouthed, “D-o  y-o-u  w-a-n-t  t-o  b-e  m-y  c-e-l-l-i-e?”

I’ve had lots of people (all males) ask to be my cellie … but Mitch hesitated. After the service, though, he agreed.

The next day, I spoke with my correctional counselor, Mr. Roberts, about the move. He approved it, after questioning me privately about how well I know Mitch.

Another staff member also approved the move, but then we hit a snag. Ms. Cully, my case manager, said that she had a list of guys waiting to transfer to our unit, and she’d already put in the paperwork for me to get the next guy on the list. (Doesn’t it sound great? Would you want to have a say about who spends time with you in your bathroom?)

I’d tried so hard to get Mitch approved, but God gave me a real peace about letting go. I told Cully I’d do whatever she wanted me to do. “I try to be as compliant as possible,” I told her.

Phillip left early Wednesday morning, and by that afternoon, I had a new cellie. Sentenced to do just two years, he’s had such “exemplary” behavior that he’s added ten years to his sentence. After more than ten years of prison, he’s finally paroling in December. He goes by “Sniper” and, though he’s not the cellie I would’ve picked, I believe God wants him here. My life is in His hands (God’s, not Sniper’s), and I’m grateful He does all things interestingly well.