January 6, 2013
Sunday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #258: Doorways
Today marks Epiphany on the calendar, a day that passes most people by without a thought, while some religious groups celebrate it as “Twelfth Day”—the supposed day when the Magi visited the Christ child. In our family, it was like the Magi visited us, since we always waited to exchange gifts on this day, to reserve Christmas Day for worship.
Well, no wise men visited me today, that’s for sure. The idiocy, crassness, and aggression in my pod of 120 guys is at a crazy level. Depending on how you look at it, you could say I didn’t choose the best neighborhood to live in … and my new next-door neighbors are true gems in the rough.
I know you’ve been in these awkward situations before (tweet me with hashtag #myinsaneneighbors to discuss it), 😉 where you are WAY too close to someone who makes you feel horrible, who hates you, or who is odd. I have a trifecta of awkward living next door, and by next door, I mean 24 inches next to the opening of my door: his door opens facing mine.
This is particularly awesome because our “unlocks” are always at the same time, so we both need to come out or go in at the same time. He moved in a few weeks ago with his cellie, both of them your typical gang member tough-guy types, still holding on to the politics of being in a gang, though they have to leave the gang behind when in protective custody.
When I introduced myself to him, he gave me his cheesy gang name, which had something to do with crime, like Killer, Poison, etc. Sometimes these little nicknames are from childhood and sometimes from past experiences, but the worst are based on appearance: Happy, Stretch, Floss (he had a big gap in his teeth).
Well, my neighbor’s first real interaction with me came when I’d opened his cell door to hand his cellie something he’d asked me for, just before going back inside my cell. At the next hourly unlock, Killer opened my cell door, stepped inside, and used profanity to explain to me how he felt about me opening his door. I apologized, which he didn’t know how to respond to, so he just repeated himself three more times. I found something to say but was relieved when he left because I was bored out of my mind.
A couple of days later, during an unlock, I watched as another inmate yanked open his door to ask him something. Unfortunately, as I watched to see if he’d blow his top at the other guy, our eyes met, which I instantly knew should not have happened. He made sure he reminded me of this at the next unlock, telling me four times how he doesn’t appreciate that [deleted expletive], except that he left in all the expletives.
I apologized again and eventually he left my cell. Two days after Christmas, I was standing outside my cell as he approached, I asked him how his Christmas was. Apparently it was too awkward to answer my question, so he stared me down and kept quiet—the silent killer, like the plague.
A couple days later, I offered him some of the fresh vegetables from my kosher diet: a bell pepper or an onion? He said no thanks, so I thought we were getting somewhere by killing the killer with kindness. Silly me! He’s now started calling me a name that isn’t my nickname but does have something to do with my crime.
Honestly, I didn’t feel so great about it. I’ve rather enjoyed the relative peace here in Arizona, and now this guy is acting threatening. Friends of mine who heard his comments counseled me to tell staff so that the guy could be moved out of my pod, and I tried to think of which authority to tell. And suddenly, a real epiphany struck me: my Shepherd who watches over me already knows, and these words are nothing compared to what He faced and what He is capable of handling! He is my Defender, so I’ve asked Him to bless the man who is cursing me.
Now I’m excited to see how God works on him to change his heart. He’ll have to open the door himself, of course.