(Thursday, July 16, 2015; 6:10 PM)
Omar came to the afternoon class running. "Sorry guys, I'm late." He put his Bible and notebook on the table and dropped his pumped up body on the chair. But the fading sun rays, coming through the smaller upper windows, dealt harshly with his eyes - he kept blocking them with his right hand. So he shifted his chair a bit.
"Perfect. Perfect. You know guys, I have to see all of you with no problems," Omar said, leaning back on the chair, both hands on his brown hair.
His eyes lit up when he saw me at the back of his class. He dropped his hands on the table and leaned forward. "Oh my God! Oh my God! You made it, Diego?" The class of about thirty Sing Sing inmates, in black and white stripped uniforms peeked towards the back. I wished to vanish instantly. "That brother at the back has been promising to come for over a year. Let's put our hands together for him, gentlemen and gentlemen. Diego Evans."
They clapped their hands, staring at me. I felt shy and provoked, but I managed to nod with pride and confidence. I wished Omar would not ask me to say something or introduce myself before he started teaching. Life, people reduced me to a shadow and an animal that enjoys isolation. I preferred keeping it that way. No unnecessary attention, please.
Omar said, "As I had promised, guys, this week we shall talk about forgiveness. It's a long subject – we will never finish it, but we will cover the most important stuff. You all know - Sing Sing is my home for life. I will never be released. But, but the good news is this: I am not bitter about it. In fact, I love this place now. I love my cell. I love the officers that look after us. I ..." Almost everybody laughed – a laughter of disbelief. "Come down, men, I will explain, I will explain - the why, the how – I will explain. It's all in the forgiveness teaching..."
Omar started his lesson and talked about forgive this one, forgive that one, forgive that cat. That dog. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. He also connected that nonsense with some guy called Jesus. I didn't buy it. Sorry. Thank you. I regretted why I even came. I desperately longed for the class to end. Considering what I had been through in life, it was useless, ridiculous and stupid to listen to a guy like Omar. He was a good guy, yes. But very naive. He had no idea what some of us had been through in life. I even doubted if he was truly a serial killer.
Whatever he was saying was not different from some echo. I wasn't interested. I shook my head when he said Jesus gives people power to forgive all those that have wronged them. I couldn't believe that guy. He was mocking me, really. I felt glimpses of hatred brewing in my heart. As a prison pastor I respected him as everybody else, but the rubbish he was saying with great enthusiasm and courage made me start hating him.
I never understood how he honestly believed I had to forgive Katie. That girl buried me alive. She turned my kids in to orphans. She rewarded my kindness with evil. She deserved nothing but death. She was number one even on my list. It was all set – she had to be dragged at two hundred miles per hour on the tar. Then her three friends would be next. Those boys were even beating her when I busted them raping her in that abandoned warehouse. Really, what kind of a moron could forgive someone who sent him to prison for thirty nine years for nothing.
Stupid me. I regretted daily why I helped her – why I stopped my car and ran to help the crying and bleeding teenager tied on that old metal workshop table. I wished I let her bleed to death. But the parent side of me wouldn't let me. As I looked at the three boys raping her on the table, taking turns, rage erupted. I felt like they were doing it to my own twelve year old Maya. I couldn't even realize when I stopped the car and ran to them.
I bit my bottom lip when I recalled that those boys outsmarted me. Somehow they cleaned their crime scene very well – and they had used condoms and gloves. The girl couldn't even scream since they stuffed her mouth with her white blouse. When they saw me they ran. I untied the girl, put her on my shoulder and ran like a mad man to my car. I laid her in the backseat and sped to Manhattan Hospital.
I bit my bottom lip again – I almost bled – it felt bad that indeed the three teens outsmarted an old man like me. They called the police and reported a teenager's rape they witnessed. They even said that the man loaded the poor girl in his car, probably to kill her and drop her body somewhere.
When the police car stopped me I thought it was their routine inspections, but they had come to arrest me. But then I was confident Katie would explain to them, but she didn't say anything. And I had to understand - which I did - she was in great, great pain. She was bleeding like she was going to die. The yellowish shirt I took off and gave her to use to stop the bleeding was completely soaked with blood.
The ambulance that came with the police rushed her to the hospital and I was taken to jail. I couldn't believe it when they commanded me to step out of the car with my hands in the air. They even had their guns drawn, aiming at the target. My head.
Shivering due to anger, not fear, I did as they said. I couldn't even speak. One of the four cops swung me, pressed me against my car and spread my legs apart by kicking my left shoe. I almost exploded. Or killed him. But I didn't, instead I sweated heavily. He cuffed me and shoved me in to one of the two cars. It was like I was watching a movie where I was the bad guy.
Omar was still irritating me with his forgive, forgive nonsense. But I was kind of puzzled because the other guys seemed to enjoy his teachings. I shook my head. There was no way I could forgive Katie. In the trial it was presented that nothing that linked the boys was found on the girl. No traces of their DNA. Nothing. They said it was only my hair that were found all over her body. I tried to explain with tears that I had put her on my shoulder and...
No one listened to anything I said. In no time I was sentenced to thirty nine years in prison without possibility of a parole. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe our justice system. I couldn't believe the girl I genuinely helped. Genuinely helped.
Whilst I was with her in the car, speeding across Manhattan, she had explained to me that those boys were her friends. She trusted them. She would loiter around with them when her girlfriends were not around. She said with tears that it was the first time they behaved so animalistic. She said they grabbed her and tied her on the table. Then they stripped her naked and raped her – taking turns. But during the trial she said I was the one that raped her. I couldn't believe my ears. She said I tied her on a table and raped her. She claimed that her friends, the three boys, were right that they saw me raping her from a distance and called the police.
When she said that rubbish in front of the judge, the jury, my wife and kids, my relatives, and the public, I knew I was doomed. The eighteen year blond ended my life before God did. I recalled the saying 'dynamites come in small packages' and felt like a tiny fool. I almost hit the empty chair next to me, but I quickly remembered I wasn't alone in my cell. I shook my head instead.
Omar said, "Diego, I can see you disagree with some stuff in the lesson. Open up, brother, what is it?" The guys turned and flooded me with their eyes. I didn't know what to say. I didn't even know where he was with his boring lesson.
"Um... ah, Pastor...it's...it's impossible to forgive. You make this look easy, yet some of us are in here for nothing. You guys who murdered, raped or did whatever, it's better, you know why you are here. Some of us did nobody nothing wrong, but I will be locked up for thirty nine long years." I said, suppressing an edge to weep. The other guys shook their heads murmuring bad stuff about the bad justice system.
Omar said, "I understand, big brother. I will talk with you after the class – one to one. Don't worry, God will see you through, brother. I promise."
My lips pressed together, I nodded, pretending I was glad he wanted to see me alone. I hated it. I hated I had to get an extra dose of the forgiveness boredom. Omar had to understand that it was not everybody who could be brainwashed – some of us were hard men. We grew up in the ghetto without any form of luxury. I wouldn't make the mistake of letting that rich girl who took my life, live and continue enjoying life. She didn't destroy my life only, but even my wife's and my children's. It was already four years my kids had been without a father for no reason, and my wife without her man.
I smiled a bit, touched by the way Zoey and the kids handled everything. First, they believed I was innocent and they never missed an opportunity to visit me. In an awkward way, I felt the prison thing did have some positives to it. It made me realize what a great wife and true friend I had in Zoey. She was a beautiful big woman with a nice round face - her figure still intact – her brown hair still long, but she wasn't fooling around with other men. When I advised her to move on in the courtroom, she quickly gazed at my eyes and said, "For better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us apart. Help me God." I wept looking at her determined eyes. "You are my man and it will forever be that way. I will wait for you. If it takes thirty nine years, so be it." I wept and kissed her for the last time in the court. Then I wrapped my life around those words. I lived for those words. I lived for her. I lived for my kids.
At lights-off time I put the sweet letter from Zoey beneath the mattress and slid in my bed. Tears of satisfaction caught me off-guard like at all times. I didn't even know how many times I had read that letter. Probably a thousand times in a month. But I wasn't getting enough of it. It carried a timeless message. The powerful parts were not plainly written though. They were nicely encoded behind the words for me to feel and cry. She made me feel a man in a way that surprised me. Honestly, I never thought women like her exist. I thought they only exist in movies or literature. She made me take decisions like I was still with them fulltime. She made me have the final word in whatever she did and in my children's lives and education. Then she concluded the letter with a killer paragraph:
My love, it's an understatement for me to say 'I love you.' I don't love you anymore, but I am you. When you think or look at me, never ever see another person. View me as one of your body parts - like your heart, like your lungs. You can't live if I stop functioning, and I definitely cannot live outside you. Your life is mine. My life is yours. I will always, always be there for you, baby. No matter what.
Kisses. Kisses. Kisses.
I wiped tears, sure that her letters were the ones that revitalized my appetite and will to live. They also controlled my blood pressure better than the Lisinopril I took from the clinic. Ulcers, neck and back pain were things of the past for me due to the power of her letters. Katie, the witch, gave me all those ailments, but Zoey's love in the letters took them away.
I raised my head and scanned my cell, disturbed by an odd feeling. It was like there was somebody staring at me, watching my every move. My cell felt haunted. But I ignored that crazy intuition and fear and tried to sleep, but I couldn't. I ended up cogitating about Omar's stupid forgiveness teaching. But I was glad he even shed a few tears when I met him after the class. He couldn't believe the cruelty that brought me to Sing Sing. When I saw him cry I thought he would understand that there was no way I could forgive those people, but he wiped his tears and said, "Brother, I will tirelessly pray for you. The Lord will give you power to forgive those kids and put this thing behind you." There and then I knew Omar was really, really crazy – he was thoroughly brainwashed. I had to keep a big distance from him. There was no any other way.
My cell suddenly became bright. I removed the blanket over my face, thinking they turned the lights on. But the lights were still off. There was a glowing man standing near the door, inside my cell. He shone like lightning. I quickly pulled the blanket. But it couldn't block his brightness from flooding my eyes. I closed them. But even my eyelids couldn't block his brightness either. My eyes saw him as if they were wide open.
The cell became warm like an oven. Rivers of sweat broke on my skin. My heart hammered my chest so strongly. I thought it was over. I thought death had come for me. I cried feeling bad. Feeling bad I would never see my lovely Zoey and my kids ever again. And they would never see me. In my head I could see the four of them on the couch crying, with no one to comfort them. I quickly decided to talk to death and ask him to postpone my turn, but when I opened my mouth to speak I discovered I had no strength left – I couldn't formulate any words with my mouth. I only mimed inside the blankets.
The big, burning man started walking towards my bed. When he walked I almost jumped out of my skin – it was like an army of millions was marching towards me. I cried so helplessly in my bed. As he drew closer even the brightness and heat amplified. I sweated the more. My blankets were drenched already. Then I sensed him standing next to my bed. I imagined his sword already up, ready to pin me on the mattress.
"Diego," he said.
My stomach burned within me and was hard as a stone. I was shocked he even knew my name.
"Diego," he called again, touching my blankets. I wasn't different from a dead man – I couldn't move – I couldn't talk. His hand was hot as a furnace, but somehow it didn't melt my skin and the blankets.
He removed the blanket. There I was exposed - on the bed like a corpse. "Diego, don't be afraid. The Lord, Christ Jesus, sent me to you."
I opened my eyes slowly. It was as if the sun shining in all its power was standing beside my bed. His brightness was impossible for my eyes.
He stretched his hand and touched my eyes. Then I was able to look at him. He was dressed in a super white rob fastened with a belt of gold. His body was made of yellowish-green chrysolite rock. His arms and legs were made of polished bronze. His face shone like lightning. His eyes flamed like huge torches. And his voice was like violent sea waves. When he spoke the entire prison shook.
He stretched his hand again and touched my lips and my stomach. Strength came back to me.
"Diego rise, I must talk to you," he said.
I said, "Yes, my Lord," and I quickly sat up.
"Don't call me Lord. I am also a servant of the Lord like you," he said. "Diego, the glory of the Lord has shined on you. You will have no difficulty in forgiving those who wronged you. Omar's prayer has been answered. From today onward, serve the Lord with all your strength, all of your soul, and all of your heart. The Lord has anointed you to preach the Good News to the lost in America and beyond. After seven days you will be freed from this prison. When you get home explain this to your wife, because she will be of great help to you as you do the work of the Lord. She is a great woman of the Lord. So start preparing yourself – in seven days you will be out of here." Then he touched my stomach again. My stomach boiled. I thought it would burst.
But I was confused because one of the officers walked past my cell, patrolling, but he couldn't see the brightness. He couldn't see or hear the angel. He couldn't even realize that the whole prison was quaking.
When the angel removed his hand from my stomach I knew I was a different person. I didn't know how, but I knew I was different. Then he disappeared.
The officer walked up the concourse again. That time he stopped. "Why don't you sleep," he asked.
I realized I was still sitting on my bed. Blank. My mind was a formatted hard drive. I said, "Um..I... I'm praying, officer."
He laughed, "You? Praying? Since when?"
I said, "Since now."
He continued laughing, walking up the concourse.
In normal cases I would be furious about the way he snooped in my business and laughed at me like I was an idiot, but somehow I wasn't. There was this powerful measure of peace in my heart. It was so powerful and sweet such that tears of indescribable joy flooded my eyes. I wept for a very long time. For nothing.
Without even thinking about it, I knew I had forgiven Katie and the three boys. In fact, I felt a little embarrassed, because I vividly felt deep love for them. Yes, I loved them. For what? For nothing.
I sighed wishing it was already morning. I couldn't wait to tell Omar that the Jesus he talked about wasn't just a Jewish guy to me anymore. He was my Lord and Savior. I also longed to tell my sweetheart and the kids that in a week's time I would be home, and above all, I finally met Jesus – her prayers had been answered.
I jumped off my bed and danced to the music playing in my heart. It was so sweet and calm.
(© 2016 Mcebo Michael Metfula – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)