Being that it is Christmas time, it is quite normal to see people from all walks of life come out of the wood work to buy gifts for their loved ones. Or unloved ones if you mainly buy your presents out of guilt or to keep your ass in the clear. Either way, when it comes down to last day before, you pretty much can't order anything online and have it before Christmas. You have to go to a physical location. Maybe it's possible with Amazon One Day shipping but I wouldn't know because I was raised in the middle of nowhere.
It's kind of funny though, generally most people coming in the store today were men, and I felt like I already knew their story. The time got away from them and they forgot Christmas was coming up. I'm not going to lie, I've had it happen to me before. But I did lie then and say I ordered it and "the shipping was delayed".
Slick like a greasy dick.
I got to meet some interesting characters today. A lot of people I spoke to were nice, but some of them were kind of rude. However, one guy really stuck out to me and I kept thinking about it for the rest of the day.
So I was out in my area, doing my normal duties and a man asked me for assistance with a heavy power-wheels-type-12v-car thing. He was probably about 28, slightly taller than I was, white, donning neck and arm tattoos and short hair. He was dressed mostly in comfort gear like sweatpants and a hoodie, but he didn't seem "trashy" by any form of the word. Just a normal guy, trying to be cozy.
I grabbed a cart to load it up on because the thing is enormous and it is physically impossible to get it out of the store without one. I had a lot of work to do but something attracted me to this man. Not in a gay way, he just seemed interesting.
As we waited in the checkout line we got to talking. He said this was his first year back home for Christmas in about 8 years. Assuming he was in the military or something, I asked him where he had been.
"I was in prison, man."
This did surprise me, but it didn't necessarily scare me. I asked him general questions like "Is it really as bad as people say it is?"
"Prisons here are like mickey mouse prisons"
I really don't know what that meant, but I didn't focus too much on it. He had shifty eye movements while at the same time facing away from me. A friend of mine has Schizophrenia and his body language reminded me of him. At this point I chose to go a different route than I imagine most people take. I didn't want to give him any inclination that I was concerned for my safety or that I thought differently of him because of his past.
It was not because I was afraid, it was because of ideology. Treating someone like outcast literally helps no-one. Unless it's what they want. Then you're denying them pleasure.
It was about a year ago now, I suppose, that I saw Sam Quinones talk about his book "Dreamland" at my local auditorium. One thing that really stuck out about what he said is about addiction recovery. He said one of the best ways to kill addiction was mostly about community. It really does make sense though, when you think about it. People who are lonely, and don't have the eyes of the public on them are more likely to fall into addictions because they won't be judged. They're easily forgotten and feel like outcasts. They feel like they're not a part of society and society wouldn't like them anyway if they were a part of it. Maybe that's why people withdraw so much when they're addicted to drugs. Maybe it's not a conscious awareness, but a subconscious motivator to continue addiction.
I decided right then and there that I was going to apply the same logic to this man before me. I am not going to treat him like any less of a man because something that happened in his past. I told him:
"I don't know what happened before you went to prison, but just don't fall back into that life again."
To me, it seemed like it was finally getting back together for this man. He was picking up a ~$200 Christmas gift for his daughters (he had 6), on top of spending $300 on other items for Christmas. He must be doing alright because I can't even walk into a store and plop down that amount of cash. He was buying bologna as well, which really makes me think.
In my mind, and I don't know if this is true, I see the same scenario that's played out in Hollywood quite often about ex con's returning home and finding there's a disconnect between father and daughter. Was this man subsisting on a diet of bologna sandwiches alone?
It really just made me sad, and I felt for the guy. I did not look down on him, but I did feel sympathetic to his situation. Imagine coming back home after 8 years and the world basically passing you by. There's reason why it's hard for people to reintegrate back into society and it's because the world changed so damn much while they could barely watch it happen.
He tried to scan some cheese, probably to go with his bologna, and the register said that he required an associate to verify his transaction. It took some time but the lady came by and helped out. She noticed he had a bag with pre-paid self phones in it and in the spirit of doing her job, asked to see the receipts. He was visibly annoyed by this. He said he paid for them but she still needed to see them to verify that it was true.
He had the receipts and when she walked away he told me: "She was pissing me off about the goddamn cell phones." I replied simply that she was doing her job and was not singling him out. I assumed he was angry because he got the idea he was being treated differently being an ex-con.
I helped him out to his car to load it into the back of his suburban. We talked about his daughters and how the odds are so low that he had six kids and all of them are female. There were a bunch of arts and crafts items in the back, probably for his daughters. We loaded up all of his stuff and soon he was on his way.
I really could not get this out of my head, replaying the scenario a hundred times. I talked to many coworkers about it and that felt the same way I did, that it was a good thing he was getting his life back on track.
I hope I was able to brighten his day a bit. I have never been to prison and I can't imagine what it would be like for 8 years of my life to disappear slowly. I didn't list all of our conversation here but in the rest of our talks I treated him with respect and dignity, something that I believe a person in that situation needs. Treating him like an outsider would only have agitated him and possibly inched him back into his old life. I don't know his name, I really don't know much about him other than what I've already said, but for some reason I felt strangely drawn to helping this man.
I hope he continues on the same path he is on, and I hope you choose to try and brighten a stranger's day even if they may be a little bit off. Sometimes just lending an open ear while waiting in line can mean the difference in a good and bad day for someone. Warm their hearts. Give them compliments without an ulterior motive. Just be nice.
It may not mean much to you but it could mean the world to them.