Hope Remains

A story from prison

by Nancy Hastings Sehested
(excerpt from an upcoming book of stories from work as a prison chaplain)

            As I greeted the men at the door for the midweek Christian service I was surprised to see Blake, a regular in the Wiccan group.

            “Chap, I didn’t come for the service. I came to see you. I gotta see you now.”

            Ushering him into my office, he started talking even before he sat down. “You got some time? Oh, hell, it doesn’t matter. This is life or death. I wanna kill a guy.”

            Accustomed to such impulsive threats I simply asked, “Anyone in particular?”

            The gap in his front teeth made a runway for his tongue to push his words through. “Yeah, a guy on my block. He called me a liar and a snitch. I gotta stand up to him. I gotta keep my good name.”

            Blake’s good name was usually associated with words like annoying and mouthy. I told him it sounded like his mind was already made up.

            “Well, I started thinking about it,” he said. “I got six years left and if I do this guy in, even if I just beat him up real bad, I’ll get more time. And I got plans once I get outta here. So I figured that I’d come see you first and see if you have any ideas.”

            “Can you just avoid this guy?”

            “No way. I hear his lies about me and I just wanna smash him.”

            “But you haven’t yet. That’s good. What does your religion tell you?”

            “This got nothin’ to do with religion.” Blake anchored his arms on top of his crossed legs. “Oh, I see what you’re tryin’ to do. You want me to say that Wiccans believe in ‘respect all life.’ You want me to say that my religion says ‘don’t hurt anyone.’ But Chap, that’s just not practical. You can’t believe what we’re up against in here. If I don’t stand up to this guy then everybody’ll think I’m weak. No can do.”

            “Why do you give a flyin’ fig what that guy thinks about you? Blake, didn’t you tell me that you liked reading The Lord of the Rings? Remember when they were going into battle and they were sure that their enemy would destroy them? Lady Galadriel said, ‘Hope remains while the company is true.’ You got some buddies to hang in there with you. Let that guy go. I’ll bet you can come up with something.”

            He jumped out of his chair and headed for the door. “That’s it!” He stomped one foot and then the other, chanting, “Hope remains while the company is true.” I wasn’t sure what I’d just witnessed, and can’t say I held out a great deal of hope for him.

            The next afternoon Blake returned with news from the front lines. “Chap, I talked to my buddies. Then I sat up all night thinking about it. I even thought about some stuff I did in the past and how I made things worse. I didn’t wanna do time in lock-up over this guy. So when the canteen opened I bought two cups of coffee and a bag of chips. Then I asked the guy if he wanted coffee and we sat down at a table. I opened up the bag of chips and said, ‘Hey man, why don’t we just lay this stuff down?’ He just kinda smiled and kept drinking the coffee. Then he ate all the chips. And that was it.”

            “That was it!”

            “Thanks, Chap. Just thought you should know.” He left with a wave, and saying again, Hope remains while the company is true!

Nancy Hastings Sehested previously served as chaplain in a maximum security prison for men. She is also co-founder and co-pastor of Circle of Mercy Congregation, Asheville, NC. ©prayerandpolitiks.org