June 8, 2014
Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Letter #334: Birthday Bash
I had planned my birthday celebration for months, saving up and purchasing sweets, food, and supplies, and prayerfully making a list of my ten guests. Exactly three years ago on my birthday, June 4, I arrived at this facility, in handcuffs, which made partying rather difficult. One year later, I threw my first party with ten guests, and each year I’ve invited the same group, guys who are my closest friends here. Due to so many paroling, just three of the ten have been to all three parties.
First, I sent out invitations, letting the guys know where and when and to bring no gifts, but come hungry. Very hungry. This party is my thanks to my friends, and they are the guests of honor. I procured the huge Multi-Purpose Room for that night and tried to meet with our Unit Manager to get permission to have food in the room. He was never available, so I just prayed for favor that night—and had a back-up plan, just in case.
Everything came together smoothly. Joe and I cooked for hours the day of my birthday, but I also had enough time to talk to or leave messages for thirteen of my awesome family—all of whom, I am certain, would’ve called me if I’d had a phone. Or even a telegraph.
By 5:30 p.m., Joe and I had everything packed up into four huge laundry bags. The rover officer who works out in the rotunda area outside our pod walked by during count, and I asked him to please let us into the Multi-Purpose Room early, since we had a big dinner to put on. He said he’d leave it unlocked; so, incredibly, everyone was in the room—with food—before 6:00. With count time next at 7:45, we had plenty of time to eat and party.
While Joe and three-year party veteran Cesar built the burritos, I pulled each guy aside individually and prayed for them and their families. I’d figured it could be emotional for me, but holy smokes! I really care about these guys. I’ve prayed for them for years—I’ve known many of them for four to five years. I’ve seen families and marriages restored, and I do care about them. So, yes. I cried.
Gratefully, we’re all close friends, so I was hugged and thanked, then immediately mocked for it by class clowns, Brent and Joe, during dinner. It was absolutely hilarious. Scoop chips were spread on a plastic tablecloth, and nacho ingredients were poured over the top, so everyone could dig in.
After dinner, I split the guys into two teams of five, racing each other to put together two twenty-piece puzzles, one piece at a time, each. Next, to everyone’s shock, I pulled out a paper soccer ball my friend Benji made. Complete with Nike logos and hot pink spots (yes, my choice of color. Don’t hate.) it looked WAY better than the sponge soccer balls for use on the prison yard.
With the two teams facing each other at opposite ends of the room, I placed the beautiful ball in the center, marked off goals, and said, “Go!” The guys rushed the ball, kicking it back and forth. By the fifth or sixth kick, the ball began leaking miniature candy bars. Half the guys stopped playing, turning into little boys collecting chocolate. One more kick sheared the ball in half and scattered candy everywhere.
The best soccer player there, Juan, paused for a brief moment. The rules of the game fought with his instincts, but not for long. He picked up the half of soccer ball remaining and ran with it into a corner. We had to pry it away from him so everyone got the same amount of candy.
To close out the night, I laid out a dessert bar, where everyone got to decorate their own honeybun, cupcake, brownie, and cookies with peanut butter, Nutella, and M&Ms. A diabetic nightmare, most of us brought it home to eat over a few days. I sent everyone off with a stamped envelope filled with ten different sheets of notepaper for letters home to their families, after we’d played a rousing game of “St. Peter, St. Paul.” Four of the guys will celebrate their next birthdays with family, but I’m already planning for next year.