I did say I'd spent time with two offenders on Thursday, didn't I? David was on a different floor from Jaycey. When I asked the officer if I could see him, the officer wasn't sure he'd want to be disturbed again. Turns out I was the fifth person who'd asked to see him that day already. But David stirred from his sleep and came out to talk to the chaplain.
On this floor, there's a table and two chairs that I call my second office--it's right in the middle of things. Not private at all. We're in full view of almost everyone in the section, and right up against the window of the Lower A dorm. If someone wanted to be obnoxious and make faces, it wouldn't surprise me.
What does surprise me is that people generally respect the space. There may be someone sleeping on the cot right on the other side of the window, but the fifteen to twenty guys in the dorm watch TV or play cards or talk together. No one stares at the chaplain.
For my part, I keep my eyes focused on the man in front of me. (This has become easier since the guys have gotten used to seeing me. I don't get the frantic hand-waving from someone who knew me at the prison anymore. They wait until I'm done.)
David had sent a request to see me. His bible study group's leader had been moved to another section and they needed more material. But it was more than that. David wanted to know about Catholics. Why? Because I'd answered questions they'd raised before (How can I become a bishop? Why are there more books in the Catholic bible?) and I'd done it fairly quickly.
He talked a bit about the other people who'd come to see him that morning: a couple from mental health, a case worker, someone checking on his legal issues. (It was only later that I would remember that his dorm on that floor is known as the Suicide Room because everyone in there is on suicide watch.) He told me his other conversations hadn't gone well. He hadn't felt safe. "But I feel safe talking to you. I get these feelings about people, and you're okay. And I'm thinking maybe I could be Catholic because I could be safe." But then, he shrugged, maybe it's because he's a paranoid-schizophrenic that he has those feelings. No matter.
I think often about the line: You may be the only gospel someone will ever read. My prayer is that I may be news worth reading.
David hung himself when he was seven years old. He has tried again and again since then. In his eyes is the hunger to know that he is beloved, worth caring about. He has a couple of people in his life who have begun to show him that. Wherever he may end up in church, I hope he finds a deep welcome, a place where he feels safe.