Most days I eat my lunch outside. There’s a break room with a vending machine and microwave and everything, but I bring my own chips because the machine don’t carry the ones I like and I don’t need to nuke my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anyway. And the break room always smells like bleach. Whole place actually smells like bleach most of the time, but other than that, it’s not bad as far as jobs go.
There’s a nice bench that I sit on when I eat. It’s made out of wrought iron and looks uncomfortable as hell, but it don’t hurt my back or butt at all. Plus it’s right next to this table where two of the fellas that live in the nursing home play dominos all of the time, and they don’t mind if I watch. They don’t play the same way that we used to on the inside, though. They’re real quiet and don’t slam the dominos down or keep score or anything.
It’s funny, watching them play, almost makes me miss being in. Crazy, huh? Spend ten years of your life locked up, dreaming of freedom, and once you get it, you sit around missing the times you had. I guess good memories are good memories though, no matter where you make them.
I hope you got some good memories. I’m sure you do. Probably none of me, though. That’s ok. I wish it was different but I understand. You were only five when I got locked up. I don’t remember much from before I was five, so maybe you don’t either. I kind of hope you don’t, because it will give us a fresh start. I wasn’t a good person back then. I hope I am now.
Your mom says you’re doing great in school and have lots of friends. I think that’s one of the hardest things about being out so far. Inside, I had all sorts of friends. Like Preacher and Demetrius, the guys I used to play dominos with. Preacher wasn’t his real name. We just called him that because he was real loud and was always saying “Jumping Jesus Christ”. Except when he said it with his thick southern accent it was long and drawn out. Like when he’d slam the domino on the table and shout out “Jump-in Ju-eee-sus Ca-rist boys, thats a-nudder fi-deen for me.” I would crack up every time. That’s why they called me Giggles. Everybody gets a nickname on the inside. Except Demetrius. He was just Demetrius. He was in for killing a couple of folks. It’s funny, he was a bad man but a good friend.
My friends from school--because being locked up at twenty, that’s all I’ve ever really had, school friends and prison friends--were always guys I had something in common with. Girls. Cars. Fights. Drugs. Whatever. Inside it wasn’t like that. Preacher and Demetrius and me, we were all complete opposites. Preacher was white and loud and his hair was long and scraggly. He was about sixty and so short and wiry that it looked like you could fit two of him in his jumpsuit. He was doing eight years for burglary. Demetrius was black and bald and thick. It was like his muscles had muscles. He didn’t talk much, and when he did, his voice was real soft and low. Like thunder off in the distance. I don’t know how old he was. Probably in his late forties, I guess. We were like the weirdest Three Musketeers ever, an old white thief, a big black killer, and a young vato drug dealer. But it was all good. And now who knows, I’ll probably never even talk to those guys again.
I don’t even really know how to make friends anymore. Most of the people who work at the home don’t really talk to me. I think they get a bunch of ex-cons through here, and most of them don’t last long before they screw it all up and get thrown back in. And I’ve been trying to stay out of the bars and stuff. I don’t need any of that temptation.
I went to church last Sunday. The sermon was all about how only God can judge somebody, but when I was talking to the preacher afterwards and told him I just got out, I could see the worry in his eyes. Made me miss my friend Preacher even more. I think he could show them all a thing or two about judging folks. It is what it is, though. Guess I better get used to it. But I don’t want you to feel bad for me. I’ll be okay. I promise.
I can’t believe you’re going to be fifteen next week. It’s funny, when I was in, time seemed to drag on forever. Probably because I wanted it to go fast. Like when you’re waiting for Christmas. But now I realize how fast life really goes, and if you spend your time looking forward to the future you miss what's going on right now. I don’t want to miss anything that's going on now anymore.
Fifteen can be a pretty tough age. Remember to be a kid, okay? You don’t need to be a rush to grow up. You’re going to get there someday, and when you do, you’ll probably wish you had a chance to go back and be a kid again. I know I do. And remember to be safe out there. Make good decisions. I know I don’t have the right to tell you how to live your life, seeing as how bad I messed up mine, but try to learn from your mom’s and my mistakes. Not that you were a mistake. Far from it. Matter of fact, you’re pretty much the only thing ever in my life that I’m proud of. Hopefully someday you’ll be proud of me too.
Anyway, I hope your quinceanera is amazing. Your mom says you look beautiful in your dress, and I believe it. I wish I could come but I understand why you don’t want me there. I would love some pictures of it though. Maybe we can have dinner next weekend? For now, I’ve got to get back to work.
Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal