Monday, April 8, 2013

Inmate No. J12360D1107 "Using All The Crayons!"

The letter commenced with the kind of flattery with which I’m becoming accustomed and eventually led to two surprises.

She’d checked my book out of the local library, said it was a delight and she just had to buy two signed copies -- one for her and her husband and one for a man she described as a “penpal.”

I did not know my book was available in the Adams Memorial Library here in Latrobe. That’s very cool.

But it wasn’t until her second e-mail that the big surprise was revealed.

And this surprise was a real killer in every sense of the word.

Turns out her penpal’s a pal in the pen.

He’s serving life sentence in a Florida penitentiary for murder. He’d bludgeoned another man -- his roommate -- to death with a sledgehammer.

“I know he’ll just love your book,” she said. “You both have the same sense of humor.”

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. A sledgehammer, too, but that goes without saying.

I’ve signed close to 500 copies of “Use All The Crayons!” in the past six months. I’ve signed them for teachers, rabbis, real estate agents, golf instructors, waitresses, drunks, whores, plumbers -- you name it. The whole rainbow of occupational humanity.

But this is the first murderer for whom I’ve signed my name in crayon -- I used the sunny Mango Tango in case you’re interested.

Here’s what I’ve written in most every book: “Never for even a single instant forget how many happy colors your life adds to the lives of those you love. Remember, together we can all brighten the world!”

People seem to love it.

I thought long and hard as to what I should write to Inmate No. J12360D1107.

There was the conservative option: “May this book be a constant reminder that your heinous misdeeds have consequences and may you rot in hell. And be sure to ‘like’ ‘Use All The Crayons!’ next time you sneak onto Facebook at the prison library!”

I could have gone bleeding heart liberal: “I pray to our forgiving and non-denominational Lord that this book will add some happy colors to your drab existence and that the courts will re-visit your case to ensure your chump public defender wasn’t too drunk when he tried your case. And be sure to ‘like’ ‘Use All The Crayons!’ next time you sneak onto Facebook at the prison library!”

I ended up going with a modified version of my standard, telling him that it is within his power to brighten the world. The problem is his world is mostly confined to a 6- by 9-foot cell.

It’s all rather disconcerting.

I guess I’d rather send him a book from over 1,000 miles away than go to the prison and wash his feet the way the pope recently did.

Or would I?

Once you’ve done the duty, there’s no real downside to washing the stinking feet of a murderer.

He’ll likely say, “Hey, thanks! My feet have never felt so clean. Come back anytime. I’m sure my feet will need another good scrubbing next time you’re in the area.”

Giving a man imprisoned for life a book that purports to be about the joys of living cheerfully under trying circumstances is fraught with pitfalls.

What if he hates the book?

What if he’s cooped up in there some night just before light’s out and reads the essay on page 70 where I brag about using fraudulent return address labels with “Rev. Chris Rodell” to score better treatment?

What if he takes offense and thinks, “Gee, that’s not very ethical. I’m going to bust out of here so I can teach Rev. Rodell a lesson . . .”

The only thing worse would be, gulp, what if he likes the book?

What if he has some pull with the warden and convinces him my message would be beneficial to the prison population at large? They could invite me to speak and I could become popular with convicts, sort of like a Johnny Cash with crayons.

What if my for so long elusive niche turns out to be prison ministries?

Prone to pampering, I don’t think I’d like that.

I don’t want to go to state prisons in Florida. I want to go to The Breakers!

I don’t want people putting their hands on me to search for contraband. I want them to give me Swedish massages!

Well, for now, it’s out of my hands. The best I can hope for is the exact same hope I have for every single person who gets his or her hands on the book.

I hope it makes bad days better.

I can’t help but wonder how Inmate No. J12360D1107 will react to item No. 456: “Few people get through life without making at least one really bad mistake. The best way to deal with it is to forgive yourself and then do something Biblical. Atone.”

In my heart, I hope he has atoned and will one day find peace.

And I hope one day he sneaks into the prison library and “likes” “Use All The Crayons!” on Facebook!

Here are 10 other items that would make me mental if I was serving a life sentence in prison and some jerk-off writer sent me his stupid crayon book . . . 

2. Learn to say “Thank you!” in three different languages. Example: “Yakoke!” means “Thank you!” in Choctaw; “Arigato!” in Japanese; and “Efcharisto!” in Greek. Remember, always say it with a smile.

14. Learn how to tie a balloon into the shape of a simple little horse. Then be sure to carry some slim balloons to the next party or family gathering where children will be present.

36. Enjoy at least part of a warm summer night outside in the nude and away from the prying eyes of prurient neighbors. Be sure to invite someone you love.

41. Just bending your neck and glancing up at the clouds doesn’t count. Lie flat on the ground in a grassy field on a warm spring day and stare at the sky. It is one of the most serene and liberating feelings in the world.

90. Wear unusual underwear. Always. Most days no one will ever find out, but you just never know.

153. See a movie solo. It feels very liberating.

166. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the shower by yourself or in a choir surrounded by joyful voices – sing! Sing! Sing!

219. With your sweetheart as a willing accomplice, sneak a bottle of wine, two glasses, and a corkscrew into a long matinee.

387. Never make the mistake of sipping life. Sip wine. Gulp life.

417. Float down a lazy river on an inner tube.

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