I got a call on the button (the intercom of the jail cell) to call my mother. I grabbed my phone card from my little blue bible and called her up. My Step-Grandfather was in the hospital and wasn’t doing too well, so I correctly assumed that it was about that.
She told me that they weren’t seeing any improvement in his health. He is hooked up to a machine that
is helping him breathe. He had congestive heart failure and his lungs had filled with fluid, and they took him off the machine and let him pass. His heart beat
for almost 20 minutes before he passed, despite his medical condition, it continued to fight for him as he went.
As I told you earlier he had helped me out with money when I was first sent to jail 5 months before. He sent
me $100 dollars so I could get phone cards to talk to my mother. Without his help I would have had to wait to talk to her until my mother got some money up
to send me, even then it may not have been that much. I was able to get a few needed things on commissary and buy plenty of phone cards so I can keep in touch with my mother. Every time I got on the phone I told my mom to thank Howard for me, and I would try and pay him back soon if I could. I never got to talk to him before his death. In fact, the night before I was arrested, he had sent me a
text message, and I ignored it. I know that sound like a bad thing and I do feel like an asshole, but Howard was always texting people at odd times during the night because he couldn’t sleep. Ignoring him wasn’t something we did to be mean, it became habit. He had a truck, but was prohibited to drive because of his medical condition. He was living at an assisted living home care center and didn’t have many people to talk to. We went and saw him almost every day, but as with anyone with an older family member, it became almost a burden to try and
entertain him 24/7.
It was 2 in the morning when he sent the text.
“Hey, it’s Howard, you awake? I can’t sleep.”
I glanced at it, quick read the message, saw the name, and then just shut my phone.
5 months later I couldn’t have been more sympathetic for Howard’s need for someone. Being locked in a
place, with nowhere to go, no one to talk to, trying to reach out to anyone because being stuck up in a room for long periods can get depressingly lonely.
All he wanted was a fucking conversation and I couldn’t do that. I would rather watched videos online then talk to him. I was then in the same position, trying to reach out to anyone. Hearing the voices of my brother and sister and to hear that they are doing well was literally the fuel that kept my fire burning. My flickering hope and sanity that was on the verge of extinguishing, fuel fed and kept alive by anything I could get from the outside of that jail. And knowing
that I denied that fuel to somebody’s flame kills me, I feel it, I feel the pain he must of felt all those lonely nights he felt like the only one that existed.
After his death it didn’t really hit me at first. I had only known the man for about 3 years, I had no
real relationship (or so I thought) with him. He was the father of the guy my mom married, it’s sad he’s gone, but I didn’t expect to shed any tears for
Until I heard a song.
A cell mate of mine was flipping through the music stations on the TV, when U2’s “Where the streets have
no name” started playing. I pointed at him and told him to stop, he looked at me weird, as if I was insane for being a fan of the song, but it wasn’t the band or the music that hit me, it was the lyrics.
“I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I want to reach out
And touch the
Where the streets have no name”
I fought it as hard as I could, but to no
avail, I started to cry. I had of course announced that my Step-Grandfather had just died, so there was no need for explanations to others in the cell with me.
They all sympathized with it and understood, otherwise it gets really awkward when grown men cry in jail.
I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t angry, the only emotion I could feel was regret. I never got to thank him for what he did for me. In that moment when I realized that, I also was never going to be able to tell him sorry. Sorry for ignoring him, sorry for not taking the 5 minutes out of my day to feed his flame.
He was gone.
Up until I first met him, I was told that he was a real hard ass. That he was an old Jewish man and I needed to watch what I say around him because he could be offended. My mom and stepdad panted quite the picture of someone I still haven’t met yet. When I saw him in the hotel room, he was in a wheel chair, breathing from oxygen assisted tanks, and my step-brother said something I don’t remember at the moment, but I responded with “God your such a Jew”… the room grew quiet. As the room grew quieter, Howard got louder, with laughter. He was one of the most easy going people to talk to. The most un-judgmental old guy I have ever met. We spent most of that night checking out college chicks that were swimming in the hotel pool.
I got on the button and asked if they allowed detainees out to go to funerals, she said it was a possibility, but my lawyer would have to submit a claim, the judge would have to approve it, ect. I couldn’t get my lawyer to talk to me, I was never going to get him to do this. So, I called my Grandmother. Told her to do what she could to get me that pass, for his funeral was in two days. She called one guy, he called another, and without even talking to my lawyer she and my mom got me the release to go to his
funeral. In jail house stripes, I got my opportunity to tell my Step-Grandfather thank you, I’m sorry, and “bye-ya Howard”. There was so much peace on his face,
he laid there in the coffin with nothing else to worry about, he was free.
What hurt me the most about Howards ending
days is what he spent his time doing before his death, and that was write me letters. On 3 small hospital note pages, he wrote me;
I'm sorry to hear you’re in jail. Just keep it cool, you will get out of it. And the ones that cause that problem will pay for it. Not now, but eventually. Love you just like my own. You’re a good kid. You don’t need this in your life,
I’m lying in the hospital wishing I could do something about getting you out. It’s always the innocent found guilty. Just hang in there. One day at a time. Before you know it, it will be over, and they will be found guilty.
I’m in the hospital thinking about you and how you got shafted. I think this whole world is crooked. I
The last letter was never finished.
Howard was the third person I have known on
a personal level to have passed away; the first two being in the last few years. Death was a new experience to me. I was only starting to learn about the effect it had on people. The first death was a good friend of mine’s mother, Lynnette Davis. She was the introduction into the subject. The second being a kind man I had the pleasure to meet in St. Louis, his name was Derrick “Big D” Simmons. He ran a coffee shop and kitchen at a St. Louis Christian College. He showed me the effect death had on a family. Howard was the lesson that taught me the importance of kindness even in the face of death. Howard never let go of it, even in the end he cared so much about a person he had only known 3 years of his
70+ years of life.
I don’t know why I needed all of these “life lessons” in such a congested space of my life, but fate it seemed, was far from completing its lessons…
Part V of my story is coming soon….