July 19, 2015
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #392: Why Me?
A few weeks ago, on one of the two days a week we have to walk to eat in the chow hall, I returned from having a very pleasant lunch to find that my house had been ransacked. Are you shocked? Is it because I so casually referred to my place of imprisonment as “my house?” Or because I claim to have had a “pleasant lunch?” C’mon, people! Focus here! You should be shocked that my … fine, my cell … was ransacked. Are you with me on that? Good.
I’m sure that where you live, you have some expectation of privacy. You don’t have uniformed officers peering in your window at all hours of the day. Or night. And, members of law enforcement can’t show up uninvited, go into your house, and confiscate any or all of your belongings, unless they have received a search warrant due to overwhelming circumstantial evidence that you are running a meth lab. (I’m telling you, excessive power consumption tips them off every time!) Well, returning to an empty cell with no probable cause for the search and seizure was pretty confusing to me.
Everyone in my pod who had returned from lunch before me was talking about the special super-cops from our gang and drug enforcement unit who had descended on my cell (figuratively, not from the ceiling). Nearly every single item I own was gone. And, since I teach so many classes and have various interests, from business books to construction paper, public speaking courses to choir music, I have the prison cell equivalent of a doomsday prepper bunker.
Everyone asked me what they took and why, so I just said they’d taken everything but my cellphone, which I’m trying to get rid of, real cheap, if you’re interested. Yeah, not everyone found that too funny, most of them wondering how I was able to joke immediately after all my stuff was taken, especially when it usually spells bad news whenever this particular group of officers has to get involved.
Truth is, I didn’t have any idea why they’d “hit my house,” as we call it. One guy suggested that possibly some “hater” had “dropped a dime” on me, and I suggested that he freshen up his vernacular, since no one had dropped currency of any denomination into pay phones for years. And if someone had “called the cops,” then for what? I have a clear conscience. I’m not trying to do anything that could get me extra time here, pleasant though my lunchtimes may be. (Possession of a cellphone alone can add a year to your sentence!)
And sure, I have my share of “haters” here who could try to stir up the authorities against me, but I don’t live in a “what if?” world of hypotheticals and “could bes.” Because the squad left no paperwork indicating their objective nor a receipt for the boxes of personal property they’d seized, I was left to just try to clean up my cell and assess the damage.
They took five years of my Day Planner System, a kind of daily journal of activities, goals, and accomplishments that I really hoped to have back, but most disappointing, and irreplaceable, were all my personal letters I’ve received these past seven years. Not one to cry over spilled milk, I gave the meaningful letters to the Lord and left their fate to Him.
Later that day, a lieutenant with the squad who knew me well came and returned some of my items on a cart. Books, class curriculum, paper; it was all there. Missing was the important stuff. Then, an indication of why this was happening to me: a long-time friend of me who briefly spent time in a different state prison system just got approved to visit me, and the Powers That Be asked that my every shred of correspondence be gone through with a fine-tooth comb.
The lieutenant was almost apologetic, saying he would try to return my belongings as soon as possible. I assured him that I knew he had every right to take as much time as possible, and that I looked forward to getting my items back eventually.
Days passed, and the seized items threw off the cadence of this weekly letter (since my recently completed and typed ones were taken), my correspondence (since recent mail was seized), and even birthday cards and phone calls (since all my addresses and phone numbers and birthdates were also taken). It was like losing my cellphone except that I don’t have a cellphone. Really, I don’t.
Eventually, all of my property was returned, but not before the lieutenant asked me some probing questions about my “emails.” Who receives them, what’s the purpose, etc. He said he’d found my archive folder and read through a bunch of them, saying he particularly enjoyed reading one about me being strip-searched. By his squad. I told him he was welcome to go to my website and sign up for the weekly email blast, so he wouldn’t miss any future episodes, and to save us both the time and hassle of him and his buddies cruising over to my pad to hang out and take stuff. He thanked me, appreciating my light-hearted take on everything, then told me to “keep doing what you’re doing,” since it is benefiting both inmates and staff. Hmm. Cool.
In all, I’m so blessed to have everything returned, and I’m blessed to have God’s favor upon me. “What can man do to me?” Anything God allows.