When I was younger and more naive, I spent about 1,000 volunteer hours in the Lapeer County Jail tutoring inmates in reading and helping them prepare for their GED test. (Check out my earlier blog in the category My Journey on Feb. 20, 2013, Remembering Jason, in the Category My Journey for the story of another of those experiences.) The turnkeys were less than pleased when I showed up because he/she had to unlock a door, walk me down a hall, unlock another door, and find a place for me to work with the inmate.
Usually we worked in the little room used for lawyer/client conferences. One day, however, the inmate and I were locked in an empty cell in the women’s section because the turnkey had to go “up front.” He said he would come back in an hour to get me. We spent about an hour tutoring, but the turnkey never returned. The inmate I was tutoring (a teen (who I later learned was in jail for a sex crime) banged on the jail bars to get the attention of the trustee (an inmate who was allowed out of his cell to clean, do yard work, or help the cook). The trustee then went up to the locked door and banged on it to get the turnkey to come back and get me. About an hour later I was “released from jail.”
One of my favorite students was an 18-year-old who looked and acted about thirteen. He was about 5’4,” weighed about 100 pounds, and was lost in his over-sized jail clothing. He had deep brown eyes and an impish grin. His name was Ron, and he was the funniest person I ever met!
Ron and I had our first tutoring session in a closet that contained huge boxes of tampons, toilet paper, and other soft goods, as well as a barber’s chair. Ron sat in the barber’s chair. I sat on one box and arranged my books on another. We looked at each other and just howled with laughter. That room was very close to the cell block and the men were raucous that day. After a few minutes of a reading lesson, Ron yelled out, “Watch your language; there’s a lady in the house.” From that time on he was my protector.
Ron was very bright; his reading and math skills were much higher than those of other inmates I had worked with. He was curious and eager to learn. He was probably ADHD which made being locked in a windowless room with at least four others very difficult. He was also a trouble-maker. He played pranks on other inmates who were twice his age and some saw him as a naughty child. They would always snitch on him to the turnkeys who would promptly put him in “solitary” for days. However Ron always carried a book under his way-too-big orange shirt. Most inmates hated solitary and yelled and banged on the door to be let out. He was delighted to be away from the noise and the meanness of the jail cells. Sometimes the one kind and understanding turnkey in the jail let him stay in “solitary” longer than he was “sentenced” to be there.
Early on I learned that Ron’s goal for most sessions was to divert attention from the lesson and just chat. I must admit that I often let him; his stories were endlessly fascinating. He and his two sisters were being raised by a single-parent mother who had given up on his antics long ago. She was happy he was in jail. She never visited him but did put money in his “account” so he could buy toothpaste and snacks and negotiate trades with other inmates for books and cigarettes.
Sometimes the pointlessness of his life got to him. We talked often about goals for the future and the truth found in Scripture that God had plans for good for him to give him hope and a future.
One day I came to tutor him and found out that Ron had escaped! As a trustee, he was washing police cars in the garage attached to the sheriff’s department and somehow just drove away. Even the cops were laughing; only Ron could have pulled that off. And only Ron would then two days later turn himself in. His mother turned him away. He had nowhere to stay and nothing to eat. Even jail was better than his prospects for the future.
Ron was given more time to serve because of the escape, but eventually he was released. If I remember right, he got his GED while still in jail. For years I thought about him and giggled. He had such a great attitude and made every thing hilarious. Then one day I picked up the phone and it was Ron! He said, “I wanted to let you know that I’m okay. I’m working at a Christian non-profit and doing stand-up comedy in Texas. Are you okay?” We talked for a while and he said, “I gotta run; I’m on stage next. Just wanted to let you know I got my life turned around.”
I never heard from him again, but I think of him often. I’m sure that he is making many people giggle . . . and, forgive my irreverence, Peter and John and the rest of the guys better get ready because not too many guys like Ron will come through heaven’s gates.