These are the times that try men’s souls. Thomas Paine must have foreshadowed COVID-19 when he wrote these words. My soul aches, but I do not display it publicly. Those I mourn would want me to put on a brave face; trust me, I know.
The agonizing loss I endure stains my pillow with salty teardrops. I steal moments of privacy in the quietude of late-night, then I bawl. I’ve experienced death, sometimes it has a profound effect on me. I was unprepared for the flurry of furious blows that this pandemic, COVID-19 would bludgeon me with.
I am old enough, strong enough, and mature enough to handle and accept death and loss, but it is the memories that seem to uninterruptedly tug at my heartstrings. This is the case with the loss of three warriors that I have had the honor to call friends. James “Baldy” Scott, “Big Spank,” and “G-Jones.” Their memories have impacted and affected me deeply.
When I was quarantined for the virus myself, I received the horrible news about Big Spank. The news hit me like a ton of bricks and made me take a pause to count my blessings. Spank, as he was called by many, was soft-spoken, but his words were loud with guidance. I met him at a reckless moment in my life. He showed me that despite my situation, I was not the chaotic nature of my actions. He put his arm around me, walked and talked with me, and reassured me that the mountain was not mine alone to climb. The tears stream down my face, but I hear him say, “It’s gonna be okay.”
Through him, I met James “Baldy” Scott. Baldy, now this old man was as smooth as Tennessee whiskey and his personality was as warm as a glass of Brandy, to quote Chris Stapleton. He seemed to always be unnerved by all the constant chaos around him. He was the epitome of unscathed, in my opinion. We shared a love of baseball, softball, and football. Most importantly, he had a way of calming me. I guess it was because he had traveled the road I was headed down. I received the news about his demise from his cellmate. Ironically, I had made an inquiry about his well-being hours earlier. I was devastated to hear later that day that the same man who had kicked cancer’s ass had died. The tears stream down, but I can hear his voice saying, “Keep playing the hand that they dealt you, eventually it will be the best hand at the table,” an inside message we shared.
G-Jones, I met this fogey when I arrived back at Stateville in 2017. His ability to talk smack and tell it like it is drew me to him. On a walk to the healthcare unit from the cell house, I learned all of the dos and don’ts and ins and outs of Stateville. This all happened in a five-minute trek. G-Jones was worn down and long-in-the-tooth, but he had the resilience of a prize fighter and the mouth of a young Muhammad Ali. If you listened and let him talk long enough, nothing or nobody could whip his ass. If he thought you could be the one, he’d talk enough shit to sway your thoughts on winning. He loved life, lived life the way he wanted, and changed lives, mine included. The tears stream down, and I hear him saying, “Dry dem tears up, I’m gon’ be O.K.”
In a place where you can seemingly grow numb to pain life throws your way, I’ve learned to accept that some pain is for growth. Some people are placed in your life’s path at the right time. Many of them you meet halfway, but then there are some who meet you where you are. These people leave the most lasting impressions. Sadly, when they go on to sit and sup with the Creator, you realize that for that moment, they walked with you and even sometimes carried you on your journey. I do not cry for these men and mentors out of sadness or sorrow, but the tears are joyful. They are for the memories I am blessed to have, the brotherly love we shared, and the immense honor I had to call them “friend.” The tears stream down.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.