30 May 2007

What was that song?

Coming home from work last night, I found myself listening to a version of "Amazing Grace" done to the tune of "The House of the Rising Sun." After the day I had today, it was fitting.

As soon as I came through the door of my office in the morning, the phone rang. The officer at Major Control (the hub of all security issues for the prison) called to report that they'd verified with the medical examiner that the brother of one of our offenders had killed himself. Would I please notify the offender?

Well, that's part of my job (and not ALL of it, though if you have been reading here recently, it may seem that I only write about death, death notifications, grieving relatives, and boxes of tissue) so I started the round of phone calls that would get this man to my office.

When he got to my office from his laundry job, I gave him the highlights as I knew them. His girlfriend had called with the message that his brother had killed himself. The prison officers had confirmed that news with the medical examiner. His question threw me: Which brother?

Oh great. That piece hadn't been passed on. I had his sister's number handy, so we called her. When I put him on the phone, she started talking and he kept trying to break in, finally almost yelling, "Which brother? WHO died?" And then he broke down sobbing.

His name is Norman and he's in his middle 50s. His brother Bob was older, recently retired, recently had to put his dog to sleep, still broken over the divorce, and the brothers were tight as kids. Norman cried a long time. Bob will be cremated. Who knows when the service will be, or if it will be.

One of the chemical dependency counselors told me today about a man who'd been using meth for 18 years. He's 25. Do the meth math.

Another man, Little John, dropped into the chair in my office and asked, "How do you get over grieving someone who has been gone four years?" "What kind of games did you play together?" He said they used to dig through garbage cans to look for metal to sell. John told me about the family, five kids from five fathers, all born in the bonds of marriage. Most of the dads drank heavily. Both John and his brother used drugs extensively. The brother died of AIDS and a host of other things.

At the opposite end of the day, we celebrated the volunteers who come in to work with the men in a variety of programs. Some have been coming in for over 25 years, through illness, family upset, and every kind of roadblock a prison can throw in their way. They are great and grand people. I am so very grateful that they share this work and find joy in it.

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