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Old 08-14-2019, 09:34 PM
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Default My friend has one day to live

This is going to be long. Feel free to go get a snack before you start reading, or just skip this thread entirely.

I got a call this afternoon that caught me off-guard. More precisely, I got a call from an unknown number that I sent straight to voicemail, as is my habit. Fortunately I remembered a couple of hours later to check my messages - sometimes I don't.

The call was from someone on the legal team of a death row inmate that I've been corresponding with for several years now. This is not wholly unprecedented. I've been contacted before by some of Steven's other friends, most recently one that wanted my help procuring a prison-approved word processor for him to write letters with (not an easy search, once you see the draconian restrictions the prison required), as arthritis made manuscript somewhat painful for him. Also, Steven always told me that if anything unexpected ever happened to him, he would make sure that one of the lawyers that work with him would contact me and let me know (because how else would I find out?). Steven has suffered from some pretty unfortunate health problems in the past year or two, so I've half-expected a call like this in the past.

She was calling to tell me, nothing like that, but rather that Steven had spoken with her, and asked her to call me and make sure I knew "what was happening this week." I've known for some time that, on paper, Steven's execution was scheduled for some time this month. But I never knew the exact date, and somehow, the past two weeks have flown by at double-time and I failed to notice the month was already half over. Turns out the date is tomorrow. As I say, I was caught off-guard, and then caught off-guard at how off-guard I was. Looking back, I supposed that I assumed that something would happen to delay the event. Some eleventh-hour clemency, or a last-minute appeal because some drugs are expired. Something. It happens in the movies.

I've lived a somewhat charmed life, inasmuch as I haven't really lost a close friend before. Well, I've lost many friends over the decades, to be sure. But never to death. The closest to eternity I've been is that I've seen two out of three grandparents pass away. But they all lived full, rich lives, to an old age, and died of causes that we would call more or less "natural." One grandmother I was particularly close to, and losing her was certainly hard. I miss her to this day. But there was never any surprise about it. She was nearly 80, carrying a few kinds of cancer, and when her time came, she seemed very peaceful about it, as befits a saintly, salt-of-the-earth woman like her with a sure-thing ticket to heaven in her pocket.

A granny is not a "friend," I suppose is what I'm getting at. We expect at some point to lose our ancestors to time's ravages, I think. That's the circle of life. That's the way of the force. I don't know if we ever expect to lose our friends, our peers. Steven is technically old enough to be my father, but I've never thought of him as an "old man." He's a peer, a cohort. I'm trying to wrap my head around why this call, which should have been long-anticipated, finds me so unprepared, and that's my best guess as to why. Maybe time will reveal other reasons to me. If nothing else, I think knowing that somebody is going to die is a much different headspace than knowing not only that, but also the exact place, date, and even time of day.

If you want to, you could hit google up right now, and find out exactly who I'm talking about. There aren't (I assume) very many people being executed in the 50 states tomorrow, so Steven should be very easy to find. I would gently ask that you not. For one thing, just finding him on google would also make it pretty clear who I am, just based on the location, and there's a reason I'm posting this with an alt. But more than that, it would please me to think that, when you picture this person in your mind, you picture the person I describe. Google would certainly show you half a dozen links to websites and news articles detailing exactly what crimes this man was convicted of, and I can almost promise you, your life is better without that information. Not because the details are grisly (and to be sure, some of them are). More because the person you would read about no longer exists, and bears no resemblance at all to the friend who has been a quintessentially gracious presence in my life since 2014 or so. That's the person I want to eulogize. The criminal? I never met him, and as far as I'm concerned, he was dead and buried long, long ago.

Steven and I were introduced through a "prison pen pal" ministry that I felt moved to take part in those several years ago. We exchanged letters for some time, every week or so. He recommended a book to me, which I started and never finished. When he found out I was an actuary (well..."ish"), he got excited, and told me he had some questions about algebra, that had always puzzled him but that he'd never gotten a handle on. As it turns out, it's quite difficult to teach high school math through snail mail. For me it was, anyway. Our math lessons didn't last long at all. Besides letters, Steven also sent me several pictures he either drew, painted, colored, or "etched" in some kind of gold-foil type paper I don't even know a name for. He's pretty talented, to my untrained eye. You won't see his work at the Lourve any time soon, but his art is plenty attractive enough to put on the fridge or give as a gift. Much better than I could achieve, even if I worked at it. He mostly sent me pictures of flowers and birds. I gather that's mostly what he drew.

Here is a sampling of his work. Please don't let the poor quality of my potato phone fool you, it looks much nicer even in person. I'm going to share what he wrote in the card as well. I have an envelope somewhere stuffed full of all the letters he's sent me since we started corresponding. I can't find it now, which is somewhat distressing, but it will turn up. Anyway, what he wrote in this card is as fair a representation of our discourse as the image linked above is of his art. For context, this is actually a birthday card he made and sent to my wife (with my permission, of course!). He's generous like that.

Quote:
Dear [wife]

Hello and God's blessings to you and your's.

Thank you for sharing [NMS] with me. He's a genuinely good person; I truly enjoy his friendship!

This place can be difficult without a friend to help you through. [NMS] has been a source of strength and understanding more than once already.

Prayerfully you'll enjoy this little card. It's not much...but I wanted to experiment with (lines) and see what I could come up with. It's a work in progress.

Happy Belated Birthday! You could choose to look at it that I'm not late this year; just the first for next year [drawn smiley face]. Perspective!

Blessings and continue to shine!
Steve 2016
I hope it goes without saying that I'm sharing this particular text because it's the only missive from my friend that I can find at the moment, not because it's so complimentary of me. If I can be painfully real for a moment: I read those words now, and the last thing I think is what a good friend I am. I more reflect on how, in a lot of ways, Steven has been much more "present," or "there" for me over these years than I have for him. Emotionally, at the very least. He has always been open about his feelings, his pains and struggles, and effusive in sharing his joys and gratitudes with me. All things that I struggle with daily, and I can't say I feel I returned the favor. Humbling. Just as an example - a year after he sent this card, my wife and I were in counseling, and six months after that, we were divorced. I almost didn't tell Steven. I certainly didn't share what kind of pain I was in. But he always shared with me.

He also prayed for me. He told me so every time we talked. Steven is a Christian, as you might infer from the religious language I quoted above. To be frank, when we first started talking, I myself was not. I have, to put it mildly, a pretty fractured relationship with the church, and honestly, up until this year, praying wasn't really something I made time for regularly (or "ever," for practical purposes). I didn't share this with Steven, either. I've always been fond of the idea of the gospel, so that gave us plenty of common ground to talk about, despite the fact that, for most of our friendship, my level of belief was pretty drastically less intense than his (another thing I never disclosed to Steven). Now, having very recently made an effort to return to the fold myself, so to speak, I wish I had spent more time praying for him. It's probably not a stretch to say that Steven is partially responsible for some of this "calling" I've felt to come back to Christianity and sit through church with arms open instead of crossed. If we're keeping score as to who the "good person" is in this story, my unequivocal recommendation is that you cast your mental vote for Steven.

After a year or so of exchanging letters, Steven and I began talking on the phone. I'm not the greatest conversationalist amongst even my close friends and family, so I was more than a little apprehensive about starting up a regular phone chat with someone I hadn't met, didn't really know a ton about, and wasn't sure what kind of common ground we even had. As it turns out, Steven was a real pleasure to talk to. His spirits were uniformly high (except when he was suffering from the health issues I mentioned above), and he had a wonderful sense of humor, full of compassion but with a bit of a mischevious streak, which I can appreciate. We swapped more than one "dad joke" with each other, and he was even able to tell me a couple of jokes that I had never heard before! There aren't many people in this world I can say that about. I've heard a lot of jokes. He is a politics junkie, and not to get political, but he had a very low opinion of Trump, which gave us a lot to bond over. Sometimes he would call me right when I was in the middle of some or another contentious, troll-ridden discussion in our own political subforum, and I would talk him through the highlights, and get his take - which was usually more reasonable and compassionate than many of the posts I had just read. Often more informed, too. He didn't have internet access, but he did have a small TV in his cell, and watched the news a lot.

And speaking of that - do you know how hard it is to explain the Actuarial Outpost to somebody who has been in prison since the mid 80's? I mean, think about the looks you get trying to explain this board to your non-incarcerated non-actuarial friends and rivals. Now imagine trying to explain it to somebody who has never seen a computer in real life, and only has a shadowy notion of what "the internet" even is.

I could go on for quite some time telling you about this friend of mine, that has come to mean so much more to me over the past four or five years than I ever would have guessed. I could tell you about the Bible verses he shared with me, or the stories of his time in the Army, stationed in Germany very near the Berlin Wall, when it stood. Or about his health struggles, which might have very well been caused by the truly abysmal food that inmates around here are given to eat. Or his considered, firm opinions on the private prison industry (spoiler - he's not a fan).

But maybe to close this eulogy, I'll just share something he specifically asked me to share with you. There was an AO discussion about the death penalty a few weeks or months ago, I forget how long, and Steven called me as that thread was going on. I talked him through some of my own thoughts, asked him his, shared some of the other thoughts that I read here. I asked him, if he felt comfortable, if he had anything he wanted me to share with the Outpost. Maybe his perspective would be interesting to some people here. His response was simple, so simple as to almost be trite. He said, "Well, New Moon Shine, you just have to make a choice, I think. You have to choose death, or you have to choose life." He didn't really elaborate, so I can't say I know for sure exactly what sentiment he meant to embed in those short, simple words. But I think I grok it. And now you've heard those words, and you can think about them, let them sit on your mind and in your heart for a while, and see if there's anything for you to grok there, too.

I certainly don't want to open a discussion about the death penalty here. I have my own opinions, but I don't want to evangelize them. I'd be lying if I denied that part of the motivation for this thread was to put a "face" of sorts to the concept, and encourage people to strive to think of the condemned as real, vibrant people, not just stats in a book or names in a court transcript. But that's not the real reason. The real reason is that I'm hurting, and I'm distressed, and honestly, I don't have a broad social circle of friends to talk to about this, and I'm now about to lose a friend who was, in the final analysis, probably a better listener than anybody in my life right now. So instead of sharing with him, I'm sharing with you - because who are you all, really, but friends that I haven't met in person, much like my friend Steven? I thought about not. It would have been easier to not share any of this, to keep it to myself, as is my long-held habit. But I feel like at least trying to share a little of this, and inviting those who are willing to mourn with me, is the least that I can do, to make up for all the sharing I didn't do when I had the chance. Because I think sharing is life, and I want to choose life.

Prayerful blessings.

Last edited by New Moon Shine; 08-14-2019 at 09:38 PM..
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  #2  
Old 08-14-2019, 11:43 PM
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Wow, that is some heavy stuff!! I promise you I will NOT google the grisly details.

I hope Steven finds peace in the next plane of existence.

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Old 08-15-2019, 12:03 AM
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Well that brought me to tears. That was a lovely tribute.

I'm sorry you're losing your friend. It sounds like he turned into a good person, despite whatever awful thing he might have done in the past.
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Last edited by ao fan; 08-15-2019 at 12:16 AM..
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Old 08-15-2019, 12:15 AM
Westley Westley is offline
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You know, all you can really do is hope that, over the course of your time here, there's more people whose lives were better for having you in them, than there are whose lives were worse. So this seems like an obvious +1 on that front.

And the price for that is often some pain and anguish, because that's the cost of investing yourself emotionally in a way that allows you to help other people.

Sorry for your loss. Hugs.
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Old 08-15-2019, 10:02 AM
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Thanks for the kind words, all. Thanks also to the people that read without commenting. Just knowing this thread has been open over 200 times is a comfort in itself. Small blessings, friends. Small blessings add up.
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Old 08-15-2019, 10:04 AM
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tl;dr
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Old 08-15-2019, 10:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by New Moon Shine View Post
I thought about not. It would have been easier to not share any of this, to keep it to myself, as is my long-held habit.
Thank you for not doing so, and for sharing your experience.
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Old 08-15-2019, 10:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ao fan View Post
Well that brought me to tears. That was a lovely tribute.
'I will not say: do not weep; for
not all tears are an evil.'
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Old 08-15-2019, 10:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BG5150 View Post
tl;dr
Surely you had enough attention span to read the 7 whole words in the thread title. And surely you had enough self awareness to know it would take a true f**king dbag to contritely dismiss the entire post out of hand.
Just in case you did have that self awareness, allow me to tell you that you, sir, are the f**king dbag here.



(yes, I'll take my infraction points and understand this will be edited. Sorry to the mods for the inconvenience)
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Old 08-15-2019, 10:25 AM
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Just for the record, I'm a big proponent of dark humor, and if that's what BG5150 was going for, then I appreciate it in that spirit. If that's not what he's going for, well, that's not my business to assume.

To perhaps lighten the mood (or perhaps not, depending on your tastes!), I can't find a link to the original thread, but if any of you want to know the single most ****ed up, but also most darkly, wrongly hilarious comment that might have ever been made on the internet, google "I also choose this guy's dead wife." Or, if you can already tell that's not going to be funny to you...definitely don't.
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