312 | Presto! Chang-O!

January 12, 2014
Sunday, 10:00 p.m.
Letter #312: Presto! Change-O!

Dear Family,

“Something queer is going on … ” This is how a book about Fletcher the dog getting kidnapped starts out. I loved that book, and even though the meaning of “queer” has certainly changed since I was a boy reading that book, I still can recall the odd feeling I’d get seeing that phrase. Today I’m definitely wondering why so many crazy things are happening in my life: am I Fletcher, and have I been kidnapped?

It all started when my cellie, Joe, moved in. You may recall that he looks every bit like his chosen prison “handle” or nickname: Lunatic. We hit it off immediately, and he kept telling me how much he wants to change his life. He watched everything I did, and he told me he wanted to start going to church with me. Then he asked me a few nights ago if we could read the Bible together.

At first, he’d showed me his Odinist cards—something like Tarot cards he uses every day. I’d been polite, trying to understand him, but this request to read Scripture together came with no strings attached. We began by reading a chapter of Proverbs together every day and commenting on how we could apply it to our lives. Then, we each pray, asking God to work on us and to bless those we love.

Then, Joe asked if he could join my community choir. Ha! I checked his ability to match various musical tones—moderate—and agreed. However, I warned him that he’d get laughed at in our pod once his buddies found out. He said he didn’t care what they thought, that he just knows he needs to change and prepare to be a better man and father.

Friday morning, he came to “programs” with me to listen in on our brief choir practice then our performance for inmates and outside guests from the U/U congregation in Tucson. He was amazed at the choir stuff, and the sweet U/U guests welcomed him warmly despite his crazy appearance. The performance solidified for him that he needed to join the choir. First practice of the new semester? That afternoon.

I was pulled into a meeting (wow, that sounds important, right?) with our unit manager, so I arrived to choir practice late, to find not only Joe, but four of his friends! They’d laughed, he told me later, when he got dressed to go to choir, but seeing his determination, they chose to join him.

Gratefully, our awesome choir sponsor, Sister Peggy, loves people no matter what, so she welcomed them and won them over in no time. By the end of two hours, we sounded decent, and the guys were hooked, vowing to practice during the week and bring others with them the next practice.

Crazier than all of this is how Joe lets me know what everyone is saying in the pod—about me, about anything. He’s had guys say they want to run into my cell and steal my belongings, but he’s stuck up for me. He’s single-handedly been responsible for turning guys who never talked to me into friends of mine.

One guy who gets out in five months even set a time to meet with me about his “Exit Strategy”—his plan post-release. During that 2½ hour one-on-one private meeting, he told me how he was angry at God for his dad and mom dying since he came to prison four years ago at age 18. Now he’s reading the Bible and is addressing the heart issues that led to his incarceration.

Joe isn’t perfect, but is anyone? At least he’s decided to change his ways and begin a new way of life. At least he’s done making decisions that keep him incarcerated. He’s trying to stop hating, swearing, fighting, and every other evil you can think of, and he’s ready to practice being a man of character and integrity. You can say he’s singing a different tun now, which isn’t queer at all.