May 8, 2016
Sunday, 5:00 p.m.
Letter #434: Don’t Touch Me
Happy Mother’s Day! The night I first arrived in the dorm and introduced myself to my “bunkie,” Jose, he was very accommodating and helped me get all my belongings organized. The next day, he acted really friendly, patting me on the shoulder or sidling up next to me and nudging my arm as he talked about nothing in particular.
I didn’t think much of his uncommonly close behavior until he told me on Day One: “I know we’re gonna be great friends for a long time. When I leave, I’m gonna send you money and packages, and I’ll write to you often.” Yeah, that sounds great, except that my creep meter was going off the charts. I knew he thought I had a wealthy family, and since he has done 29 years in the Installment Plan (six prison terms), he’s burned all of his own family connections.
I may have believed his intentions of friendship if he hadn’t been such a poor actor and if he hadn’t kept touching me. Later that first day, Jose reached out from his bottom bunk to where I was crouched, getting something out of my storage bin. He touched my leg as if to get my attention, then said: “You know, Holmes, I like you. I hope you don’t mind … I’m kinda a toucher.” What?!? Whatever that is, I definitely mind, but I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t want to be mean to the guy. Jose is about to be transferred to a facility that handles inmates who are elderly when he turns 65 on June 19. And I figured I could bear with him until then, even his constant repeating of the same stories and the calling me “Holmes,” an old generic term similar to calling me “Dude.”
Well, the touching didn’t stop. In fact, it became worse. I found myself constantly aware of where Jose was, so that I could avoid him. However, it seemed that no matter how hard I tried to steer clear of him, he’d find some excuse to pat me, nudge me, or even bump into me. The more he did this, the more upset I became. He was so obviously manipulating me, and he thought he was so slick I wasn’t noticing. Oh, I was noticing all right. I knew I had to do something: say something, establish boundaries, whatever.
I decided to write Jose a letter. I figured it would give me the chance to be very articulate in what exactly I didn’t like, with examples, and what I expected to be changed, while giving Jose the chance to read and digest what I’d written before responding. I hoped my words would <ahem> touch him, so I chose them carefully at first.
As I wrote, my own conscience began to chime in, prompted, I believe, by God’s Holy Spirit: “Doesn’t feel very good, does it?” I prodded myself inside. “You don’t like it when someone, for whatever weird reason, is trying to touch you, do you?” I sat, pen in hand, stunned at the words in my head. I could’ve made them go away, could’ve thought about something else, could’ve claimed that Satan was trying to condemn me for things I’ve already been forgiven for. But I kept questioning, “How do you think you made others feel, those who couldn’t speak up for themselves?”
I thanked God for the opportunity this moment of clarity was giving for me to feel true empathy for those I have harmed. I was King David, addressed by the prophet, Nathan, and I was upset over someone else’s sin, condemning that man. Then, the tables were turned on me, and I was flooded with a deeper understanding of how my sin affected others. I thanked God for His forgiveness and asked Him to bless those I hurt. Then, with renewed passion and courage, I finished the two-page letter to Jose, picturing what my victims would say to me if they could. The words flew out of my pen onto the page, ripping into Jose with sharp but accurate points about his aberrant behavior. No malice, no anger, just calling him to account for his actions and asking him to stop.
Well, it went horribly. Jose stopped me from handing him the letter and went on the offensive, claiming I have some sick agenda. I told him that I needed to address him on something serious and he called me names, telling me I should just come out with it then. “Well,” I said, calmly but firmly, “I don’t appreciate it when you touch me.” Jose, who’d been lying on his bunk at the time, instantly sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, throwing back the covers. No more friendly guy. Here was the real Jose I’d seen under all that façade, angry and manipulative still. “What are you saying, Holmes?” he snarled at me, a small old man trying to defend himself from the corner I had him in.
I was unaffected by this clear show of aggression, as he was giving all the signs he was about to attack me. “I’m just asking you to stop touching me,” I told him plainly. This elicited a fresh barrage of swear words and accusations. He began to really lose it, mocking my facial expressions and hand gestures, claiming I was being threatening of him. “No, Jose,” I calmly replied, “this is why I wrote you the letter, because a letter doesn’t have facial expressions or hand gestures you can mock.” I pressed in and actually thought to myself, “Say to Jose what you’d want your victims to say to you.” I have never so passionately spoken in my lifetime as in that moment. I know what I went through was nothing in comparison to what I put others through, but I let it affect me as if I was them.
Jose never responded correctly and the next morning acted as if nothing had happened, though he never so much as accidentally brushed past me again. I don’t care if he ever understands or changes, anyway, because this was never about Jose in the first place. This was God taking me to a deeper place of repentance.