“You are crazy to do this for a prisoner!” my former best friend screamed at me as I was trying to return my U-Haul rental van on a hot June afternoon. She and her 4 kids had helped me move from Victorville, California (in the High Desert) to Bakersfield, California (in the lush Central Valley)–to be close to my fiancé, Jose. She was not happy with me for a long, hot weekend of packing and unpacking–with no restaurant treats, a too-small budget, and a cheap motel (at least they gave us a free Continental breakfast).
“You volunteered to come,” I reminded her. “I can write my books anywhere, and most places need an English teacher.”
“Well, just stay away from me!” she yelled before getting out of my life.
Not everyone thinks I am crazy for loving Jose, a prisoner in a private prison that contracts with the State of California. He was born in Mexico and lived most of his life in California, where he got involved in a gang and then was arrested, tried in court, and given a too-long sentence. We met when I was teaching the GED course in an Adelanto prison. He was my student, new to class, who gave me a Christmas card, a New Year’s card–and his whole sweet heart. For weeks we secretly exchanged love letters and sometimes met alone in the classroom to talk after other students left. I wrote him into my new Selah book. I got caught with 2 of his letters, was fired on Valentine’s Day, and then was banned from visiting him. For 4 months we did not see each other. Faithfully, he sent me cards for Valentine’s, my birthday, Easter, Mother’s Day. He drew them with his own hand, with bright pencils that brought the color back into my life.
He called me at 11:30 p.m., 6 weeks ago, excited to tell me about his transfer. His voice was calm and strong, like baritone music. I thought that, as long as he spoke to me, I could never be afraid or sad. No longer would only write each other letters or talk on the “monitored and recorded” telephone! We chatted excitedly, both nervous about having our first hug and kiss. I could not imagine how it would be to walk, sit, and eat together for hours on Saturdays and Sundays, in the prison’s Visitation room and courtyard, but I felt elated as if in a lingering, long-awaited dream.