Tuesday, February 3, 2009
New Clothes for Mary
I met a new friend tonight, I’ll call her Mary. Samuel, her street husband, asked me into their lives about a month and a half ago. ‘My wife, Mary’s, getting out of prison on February 5. Will you help me get her some clothes together? She’ll be coming out with nothing.’
Samuel, whom I met through my good friend, David Timothy (AKA SoupMan), is probably my closest friend on the street. I’d trust him with my life. And when I tell you I have good reason to trust him — that that trust has been put to the test — you can believe it. When I tell you, also, that he would be tough enough to defend it — you can believe that, too. He’s one of the people who represents ‘street law’ among the homeless people who know him.
My friend, David, his wife, Shana, and I went to Samuel’s camp tonight in order for me to make the final arrangements to meet him at Dawson State Jail on Industrial Boulevard with Mary’s new clothes this Thursday, February 5, the day of her planned release. I was then going to drive them back to their house, a series of cardboard boxes under a bridge. Over the past month and a half since we began planning this, Samuel has asked me at least a dozen times, “Now, you haven’t forgotten about the clothes for Mary, have you?”
When we got to Samuel’s camp tonight, it was empty. Someone walked by and told us he was staying at the nearby motel for the night. We offered this person a coat and blanket, and he agreed to go into the motel to tell Samuel we were there.
Samuel came out of the motel courtyard waving his arms, doing a kind of ‘happy dance’, and came running to our van. In his wake was a pretty woman with long, thick, beautiful brunette hair. The next few minutes were a blur.
David got out of the van to greet and embrace them, and, as I opened my door, Samuel flew around to my side of the van and flung his arms around me where I still sat. “She’s here, she got out early, this is Mary, this is Mary!!!” and Mary began to hug me, too. Then, a ‘Group Hug,’ and I realized we had Mary’s head in a grip so tight it was like a wrestling lock! We were laughing and shouting, a pretty spirited reunion for people, two of whom had never met. Everyone was talking at once. “I told you, I told you,” he said to Mary. “This is Karen! I told you she’d come.” We introduced Mary to Shana, David’s wife.
I explained to Mary that I had mentioned her situation to my good friend, Kathy Hodgin, at Salon on the Square in the Bishop Arts District, where I get my hair cut, and that she and her customers had collected a new wardrobe of clothing for her from all her sizes Samuel had given me at Christmas: everything from top to bottom, even sunglasses and a suitcase, and that I was picking these up tomorrow. Hearing this, she burst into tears. “I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe they’ve done that for me. I have nothing, absolutely nothing.”
Samuel moved to the back of the van to talk to David, while Shana, an avid animal lover, went to check on Cinnamon, Samuel’s sweet and faithful dog. Mary and I began to talk. It did not feel like we were strangers. “Are you glad to be out?” I asked her. “Oh, I can’t tell you, just can’t tell you. 180 days, no fresh air, never being outdoors. Imagine.” I said I’d always assumed prison inmates get to go out into some sort of yard every day. “No, never, not for six months, no sunshine, no outdoor air. I was supposed to get out Thursday, but today was my 180 days, and they couldn’t keep me any longer. Huntsville called Dawson and said they had to let me go today.” “Were you at Huntsville for a while?” “In the beginning, then at Dawson. While I was in there, I earned my G.E.D.! And I can type forty-five words per minute! I want to get a job.” “Fantastic!” I told her, “I’ve known some other smart people like yourself who use their time inside to get their skills together.”
She confided to me, “I really want to make it this time. I want to do right. Please, please pray for me. Do you know where I can get a job? I have a felony, a non violent one. Nobody wants to hire you with a felony.” I told her about a job training/ placement program at a local nonprofit that might be able to help and offered to take her there, and she agreed.
She talked about what a good, long-time friend David had been to her. “He even came to visit me in jail before!” she said, “and he put some money into my account so I could go to the commissary.” “He’s truly a great friend,” I agreed, “I think we should call him Saint David, don’t you?” “Yes!”
More words tumbled out in a rush as she looked down and struggled to control her emotions, “My dad died while I was in there,” she said, and her voice broke. I asked, “Did you…get to go out to…?” “No, no… you don’t get out for things like that.” Unsure if I should hug her at such a personal moment, I took a risk and did, and she cried against my shoulder. I told her, “You surely need to let yourself cry plenty about that one.”
Then tears turned to laughter as she described her walk to the homeless camp from Dawson after her release. “I didn’t have a way to let Samuel know I was out today, so I walked here. I just showed up and said, ‘I’m here!’” “Oh, my gosh, that must be seven miles!” “You should have seen me!” she went on. “At the jail, they gave me a dress that was much too big — it hung down almost to my ankles and had big yellow flowers on it!” We were laughing. “When I got here, Samuel was in shock that I showed up two days early.”
“The women at my friend’s Salon, who got you the new clothes. They’ve not, you know, been involved with homelessness before.” She nodded. “They just really wanted to support you. We all want you to feel that people have your back.” She looked down and began to cry again, this time with joy. “I can’t believe all of you have done this for me. I just can’t believe it,” she said. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
I’ve known Samuel for three or four years, and I’ve never seen him like he was tonight having Mary back with him. He was giddy with laughter, alternately crying, talking up a storm, practically frolicking like a pup. A man who is tough enough to keep order on the streets, brought to his knees by love.
There was a tremendous feeling of celebration, of new beginnings, around the van as we all stood in the dark and talked, our gathering lit only by the light from the motel courtyard near by. We made plans for me to bring Mary’s new wardrobe, which was waiting packed and ready at Salon on the Square, to her at the camp the next evening. David, Shana and I said our goodbyes and reboarded the van, pulling away as Samuel, still talking excitedly, followed us down the driveway, shouting his thanks, while Cinnamon trailed along behind him, and, farther back, Mary stood waving.
Such incredible joy. A family, reunited.