I have a friend who calls every day from prison. He tells me the weather. He tells me where he is in the books that he is reading, and he tells me how the injuries he has gotten are healing. He is Yupik, and he is now an officer of the Native Culture Club in his institution. He is 20 years old. His family cannot afford the cost of a phone card but he can call me at my office and I talk to him for less than ten minutes every day. The rates for the private phone calls in and out of jail are extremely high, most families cannot afford them or if they can they ration the calls for special occasions.
I cannot talk about what led him here. But he is a man of faith. He is a happy man who also carries his sorrow in his heart. Once two years ago I was with him at a time of extreme crisis, and I didn’t know what to do. He had tried to kill himself by pounding his head against the wall of his cell, and he was hyperventilating in the tiny visiting cell where I was allowed to see him cuffed to the wall.
He looked at me with almost inexpressible pain in his eyes. “Will you say the Lord’s Prayer with me?”
“Jesus.” I said, not meaning to, and he scowled, “I’m sorry… I mean… I’m not sure I… you know…I’m not really a church person…” I was a sputtering waste of space.
“That’s okay…” and he put his head down as if all the energy in his body were passing out of him, and he started crying in a way that I could not bear.
“All right…” I said, “Yes… let’s say it together.” I put my head down toward his.
“Our Father … who art in Heaven… “ I started out… hoping I could just follow him through the rest of it.
But he was breathing so hard and crying so hard, that he wasn't picking up… I had a fierce brain freeze.. Holy Crap… what if he were depending on me? Shit, shit, shit!
“Hallowed be thy name”
I was not going to remember the next line. What the hell is going to happen? Not only is my guy freaking out, now I’m messing with sacred forces. I’m on very thin ice here.
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.
On Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Jesus…. trespasses or debts… trespasses or debts… I don’t know… is there something else? Water? Something… I am going to blow this.
“Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our ….
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,"
I am done. That is it......
"Fuck...... A..... Duck......." I think, but thankfully do not say.
The length of chain rattles on the bar bolted into the wall in utter and useless silence then he clears his voice so we can finish together.
"And Deliver us from evil
For thine is the Kingdom
And the Power and the Glory
Forever, and ever.
A deep and pleasant silence eased like warm wax between us.
“Play Ball!” I said softly:
He smiled at me sweetly. Energy back in his eyes, he reached his big hand out and cupped it around my head pulling my forehead next to his. Why was I crying now? “That’s the National Anthem,” he said, his laughing breath on my face. “You don’t say, ‘Play Ball’ after the Lord’s Prayer.”
“Oh,” I said, wiping my eyes, “of course,” just as the guard came in, to separate us and to make sure I was safe from this monster.
on a ripe berry
just across the wall.