April 25, 2020
Saturday, 7:00 p.m.
Letter #494: The Chocolate-Covered Friend Experiment
Moving to a new prison less than three months ago—then moving to a different building within a few short weeks—had its challenges. It seemed that I was separated from everyone I’d just been serving time with and I was separated from even those guys who rode on the bus with me. I didn’t land on the same yard as either James or Benji, both of whom I’ve known since first coming to prison a dozen years ago, which was just another indicator of a now-obvious fact: God was intentionally getting me alone—away from what I was used to, and getting me to be around guys who aren’t at all similar to what I’ve been used to for most of my term.
But God was looking out for me in a powerful way A kind and generous family contacted my mom and donated $60 so that she could send me CHOCOLATE! The only instructions: use it to make friends. Oh my! All of my taste buds began salivating, a clear desire on their part to make friends with me. Technically, we’re already friends, so I let them help me choose the chocolate items from one of the catalogs from which we can order up to 464 oz. of products once every quarter.
The package arrived with lots of healthy items in it that I usually like to order along with crazy-big bags of miniature candy bars. I made sure they hadn’t spoiled in transit, because I instinctively knew that you can’t expect to make any friends if you’re using foul-tasting chocolates as bait. Gratefully, I found each variety to be in excellent condition, so I felt confident enough to begin utilizing them for their intended purpose: making friends.
Because I had so much chocolate, I knew that I needed to reach out to more than just one or two guys to possibly be my friend. There were two reasons for this: one was that there would be nearly no challenge to making a friend if I were to bury the man in an avalanche of chocolate, and two was that I was encouraged to make friends not make friends fat.
So, here in no particular order (except that I have carefully determined the most effective order to make for the kind of witty yet poignant tale that my discerning readers expect) is a small sampling of my attempts at making friends with the not-so-small advantage of using small pieces of chocolate to, as it were, tip the scales in my favor, so to speak.
- I shared some with my “dormies,” the guys who have to put up with me living with them, day-in, and day-out. Instead of doing it as a group, I chose times when I happened to be alone in our eight-man dorm with just one of them and blessed them with a couple of chocolates. It paid off big time for me when I got between two of my dormies to try to stifle a fast-brewing fight. Because both sides considered me a friend, they listened to me and chose to not fight. I then used the chocolate to soften each as I met with them separately.
- Of course I had to give some chocolate to my new friend, Pete, the one who’d asked, “I don’t look like a murderer, do I?” In this instance, the chocolate was the primary factor in Pete labeling himself my friend. Well, chocolate and the fact that I listened to him.
- I used the small chocolates to say a simple “Thank You” to guys who helped me: one guy manages our waiting list for the phones on days when phone calls are free; one guy gave me his rare, bright yellow wash cloth when I asked him for a cleaning rag; and one guy said I could use his workout gloves until I go home.
- After a lifer who is just in his thirties spent time with me, telling me his “war stories” about horribly tragic conditions on Level IV yards at other prisons, I went back to my locker in my dorm, retrieved some chocolates, and gave them to him. He’d expressed how different I was than my bunkie who recently paroled—a selfish individual who never seemed truly interested in anyone but himself. I told him that I’m still learning and growing, too, thanks to the Lord. When his dormie asked me if he, too, could have some chocolate, I claimed that the first guy had agreed to hand-wash all of my clothes for a month in exchange for chocolate. He immediately shook his head no, saying as he walked rapidly away, “Nah, Bro. I ain’t tryin’ to do all that!” I laughed, then gave him a few chocolates.
- I told one lifer that a nice church family had bought chocolates for me to make friends with. He said, “Since we talked that one time, I’ve considered you a friend, so I think I’m ineligible … ” I told him I’d make an exception, and thanked him for being my friend.
- Walking up to four guys playing cards at a table I said, “Do you know what’s better than playing cards with friends?” (At this point I slammed four chocolates on the table) “Playing cards with CHOCOLATE!” How could they disagree?
- One guy in an adjacent dorm to mine used to laugh SUPER loudly at his television at all hours of the otherwise quiet day or night. When he was moved from the building to make room for more guys at elevated health risk for COVID-19 I went to the guy who took his place. With chocolates in hand, I asked him if he would—for a few chocolates—please laugh loudly at his TV that night. I wanted the guys in his dorm and mine (who were SO relieved to be rid of the hyena!) to think we’d gotten stuck with yet another obnoxious laugher. He declined. I gave him chocolate anyway.
- A guy I recognized from a prison I was at many years ago began getting close to me. A declared agnostic, I gave him chocolates … and I offered to pick him up from prison when he leaves in nine years. Overwhelmed, he asked, “Why are you so kind? You were raised that way, weren’t you?” With tears, I told him how my dad and mom demonstrated loved to me and to many, many other prisoners. I told him that God gave them love for others, which is why he is the first one I’ve offered to pick up: God has given me compassion for him.
So not having friends with me turned out to be … a sweet experience, after all.