wearing a bulky sweatshirt in midsummer ; attempting to disguise how out of shape he was. His new associates weren’t targeted by the elements of predationand neither was he, though he never quite understood why. /came to know Sean when he was assigned to the garment factory, where the misfits already working in my depart ment stepped all over one another to tell me what bad news he was. They were right. He sometimes worked with, but mostly against, us. There were daily confrontations . involving matters of delegated authority. All he wanted to do was work the clip-boardinspecting and folding the endless daily quota of pants and shirts annoyed him no end. In what the shrinks call transference, he aimed hii resentment at any nearby older male, and I found myself blamed for the mistakes made by somebody else’s daddy. The day finally arrived when I told everybody except Sean to leave the room. When we were alone, I said if he had something to get off his chest, he should do it then. He surprised us both by launching an ill-timed roundhouse punch. I stepped in close and let the .combination of gravity and physics help me put him on the floor. His expression of fear, surprise, and helplessness shamed me. I told him if he couldn’t fit in, it would be best if he went to yet another department to work. He got up and, his face a crimson mask, wordlessly began folding pants. As the others came back to work, Sean and I pretended nothing had happened, but it had. I don’t understand it still, but it was like one door slamming shut while another one opened up. He became a good worker, often staying when the others had gone. He talked and I listened. He never said anything I hadn’t heard before. It’s not unusual for fathers to abandon their sons, for mothers to be illprepared, for grandparents,. uncles, aunts; and family friends to try to help and only make the wounds worseuntil the street and the others cast off there become a kind of home. By the time his mother had remarried and again remarried, Sean was convinced that he didn’t fit in a new house with a new step-father and step-siblings. It’s a given that there’s always a surplus of children whose dysfunctional behavior would never have happened had they ac cepted the fact that theirs, were lives of worth, value, and purpose, I know this by heart because despite the best intentions of others, I grew into one of those kidsincapable of self-love, regardless of the love at home. He didn’t come to work one day and nobody knew why. He didn’t show up the next day nor the day after. Finally, some of the people who lived on Safe-Keeping told me he wasn’t coming out of his cell to eat, shower, or work. They said he’d been accosted on the yard by somebody who was trying to force him to “choose a man.” His stand-up friends had melted into the twilight and drifted away. On a unit as lax as Eastham, a convict can get where he wants to go. I went “outof-place” and walked up on Sean as he lay belly down on dirty sheets, reeking of nervous sweat and exhaustion. I told him I knew what was going on and talked about the utter certainty of him losingeven if he could find the courage to fight for what had not yet been taken from him in prison. “Just get me a shank and I’ll stab the sonofabitch!” he , said. I couldn’t be a part of that and told him that if I had less than a year to discharge, I’d go back to segregation and wait everybody out. He worried about what everyone would say, and that we wouldn’t be able to talk anymore. I told him they were saying it anyway and we didn’t have too much time to talk because he was going home soon and I wasn’t. We could stay in touch by writing, if staying in touch was that important to him. /never saw him again because he took my advice. He went back to segregation, we kept in touch, and our friend ship grew stronger. He never knew that I’d written his folks in California, who had made the common mistake of cutting all communication with him once he’d messed with Texas and picked up some time. I told them their son was the same age as my oldest daughter. I urged them to write and let him know where they stood and told them that nobody could leave prison and erase the past, but that each ‘of us has the power to begin anew. I was shipped from Eastham a week before Sean was discharged. I wrote him from my new location and told him I’d pulled a slick one, getting off that miserable farm before he did. I never expected to hear from him again. The first post card came from Hobby Airport in Houston, then another from a layover in Las Vegas, then several more after he’d made it home again. He’s changed again, to judge from the photographs beside a shining new motorcycle leaning from its kickstand in the driveway of .a home designed to make anyone believe that dreams come true. He’s lost his baby fat and has acquired a California tan, on those beaches where an uncompromising, uncomprehending ocean stretches into a gray background that seems to go on forever. His last letter said he wishes I were there, that he feels weird that he’s out and I’m not, and that what happened to him in Texas seems like somebody else’s life now. I don’t know how to answer him. I don’t know how to tell him that I, too, wish I were there, more than I can say. And I don’t know how to tell him that he should be wary of a certain kind of forgetfulness, of willful omissionthat seeks to hide from us the necessary truth. Philip Brasfield is a contributing editor for The Other Side magazine. He was imprisoned in 1977, and his prison writing has been widely published in the U.S. and abroad. He is again eligible for parole in early 1997. He writes from the Hughes Unit near Gatesville, Texas. Pick up your FREE copy at over 200 locations in Austin & Houston. For further information call 512.476.0576 or 713.521.5822 MARCH 14, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER .31
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