Orphan Survival Stories Index |
THE BIBLE PAGES
It was Sunday Morning and I began to worry when my friend Wendall LeRoy Archer did not show up at E-block. That was the cellblock where I was assigned while incarcerated at the Federal Prison at Lompoc, California. The night before, we had gone to the theater to see a movie titled, "Born Free."
It was strange how a movie about lions could have such an impact on me. It was amazing to me that a human being could identify their situation with that of three lion cubs.
I do not think it was the "being free" part that mattered to me. I had never been "free." I had spent all those terrible years in the orphanage, never having the right to speak unless spoken too. Never had the right to get a drink of water, or use the bathroom without asking permission. The "freedom" part meant very little to me. I guess it was the having to survive against all odds, which made me start tearing up during the movie.
Just as I was about to head out of the cellblock, Wendall walked in.
"Damn good movie last night," he said as me approached me.
"Yea, still a little numb here. Not sure why though." I told him.
We headed to the library, which was about halfway down the quarter mile steel corridor. Hundreds of prisoners marched past us going here and there, voices were echoing off the steel walls as they talked. In the distance, you could hear the slamming of cell doors as prisoners were being released for yard-time.
When we arrived, I opened the door for LeRoy to enter the library. I walked in behind him, and saw there were about twenty inmates sitting in the small room. Many were studying for their GED, while others were reading for pleasure.
"An hour of free time to get one's mind off the present day situation," I thought to myself looking about the room.
"What’s your pleasure?" asked Wendall. He pointed to a far wall that was full of books.
"Not for me." I told him. "Hell, I ain't read a book since the sixth grade."
Just about then, the library door opened and Wendell’s eyes got huge. I turned around and looked toward the door. Standing in the doorway was three Mexican gang members. Three or four men got up from their seats and moved against the wall, waiting for a chance to leave the room. One of the gang members motioned his head, and the other two moved out of the way clearing the doorway. The four men walked rather quickly out the door, and began running down the corridor.
"Is there a Bible in here?" asked the large Mexican inmate.
No one said a word.
The three of them walked over to the wall of books and began dumping them off the shelf to the floor. The commotion stopped when one of the men held up a Bible. The leader took the Bible and sat down at the wooden table near the doorway. He reached into his shirt pocket and took out what appeared to be a pouch of tobacco. He opened the Bible and tore out a page. He began rolling the tobacco into a cigarette, using the Bible page as a cigarette paper.
Several of the men stood up in shock.
"You got a problem?" asked the Mexican man, pointing his finger at each of them.
"That ain't right and you know it," said one of the men.
The gang member, never taking his eyes off them, reached over and tore out several more pages from the Bible. The room remained quiet for several minutes without anyone making a move or a sound.
I looked over at LeRoy and he looked at me. All at once, he slid back his chair and he too stood up. I sat there wondering what was about to happen. Then several more of the men stood up. With my heart beating ninety miles per hour, I also stood up. One of the men at the far back table walked over to the where the three men were sitting. He reached down and he picked up the Bible, along with the three or four torn out pages. He stuck the pages back into the book. Slowly, he walked over to the bookshelf and placed the Bible onto the shelf. Then he returned to his seat, sat down, and began to read to himself. The room remained very silent. Almost everyone in the room was staring at the three men. No one's eyes moved from them. I watched as the larger man looked at his two friends. He gently motioned his head to one side. The three of them got up from the table, and they walked out of the room.
By the next morning, news of the incident had spread throughout the entire prison. That incident was "the talk of the town."
I am not sure how the word came down, but it was put out to the entire prison population; Anyone caught defacing a Bible or religious pamphlet would suffer the wrath of more than just the guards.
I tell these stories because these were the kind of men I knew and hung around with when I was in prison. They were men I was proud to call my friends.