02 November, 2010

Remembering... and Thankful!

It's funny the things that can suddenly pop into one's mind.. things that have long been forgotten, suddenly come into focus with vivid detail. It's funny how the slightest thing; a song, a sound, a smell... practically anything can trigger memories. That happened to me just a few minutes ago. I was finally getting ready to get out and vote today, and was writing a check out and when I wrote the date, the connection of this date and the election triggered a powerful memory for me.

It was October 24 of 1982, and I was a prisoner, in transport from Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro, Illinois, on my way to Vienna Correctional Center.  November 2 stands out to me because because it was election day, and that day  and the next day the radio talk shows were all abuzz because there was a huge controversy in the election for Governor of Illinois.  The election was very close and "miraculously" several ballot boxes were found in the trunk of a car in Chicago that pulled the victory for Jim Thompson over Adlai Stevenson.  That's another story, but that is why I recall the dates so well.

Anyway... as with most prisoner transports, we did not drive a straight line, but rather bounced from prison to prison dropping off and picking up various inmates along the way. The day began as usual, but along the way, we started having trouble with the van that I was on, and the Department of Corrections made the decision to take us to Menard Penitentiary in Chester, Illinois to spend the night while the van was repaired. That in itself was so discouraging because I had formally been an inmate at Menard and when I was moved from there to Hillsboro, I swore I'd never go back to that dreadful place.  Pulling up to the gates of that place, my heart was in my throat as I simply did not even want to see that place again. Fortunately, they decided not to take us into the main prison, but rather took us to the adjoining farm run by the prison and fed and housed us in the barracks there.  That made it a bit more tolerable. It was only going to be one night and we'd be back on the road the next day, but still, I was uneasy being back at Menard. It was a little before noon, but I had hardly slept the night before because I was told that evening I was shipping out the next morning and I had to "bunk my junk" (pack). When we hit Menard, it was lunch time, and I ate and went to lay down to catch a short nap. I remember being awakened by some strange sound, jumping up startled by something I heard. The guard who was with us became angry at me and cussed me out (I had woke him up as well). I laid back down, but hardly slept. You know when you have that feeling that something was terribly wrong? I had that feeling, and it would not go away.  I laid in my bunk and prayed silently, asking God to calm my nerves and help me to rest. 

When I woke up, I knew something was wrong. Bad wrong. There were guards, and cops swarming all over the place. I could hear helicopters flying overhead and could hear the dogs barking. The guards would not tell us anything. Hours passed and we had not had supper, and they were pretty well ignoring us... which itself said something was wrong.  After a couple more hours, they came in and began asking each of us if we had seen or heard anything. I told them of waking after hearing a strange sound, but that I did not know what it was.  Turns out, that just through the door next to my bed, in the next room of that bunk house, literally just 8-10 feet from where I was sleeping, an inmate, serial killer Bruce Davis, had taken an ax and murdered the guard and had escaped in his car. It was thought that I heard the murder, and one of the guards indicated that my jumping out of bed and our guard screaming at me had probably kept the inmate from killing anyone else, as he instead fled out a the other door. Those who know me know I have super-sonic hearing... probably the reason why I was the only one who heard anything from the next room. Because of this murder and escape, we were forced to spend several more days at Menard as all efforts and man power was focused on finding the escapee. Trust me, none of us slept that second night, and by the time we left a week later, we were all ready to get to our new "home" in Vienna.

It's amazing... it's been 28 years since that week in 1982 (October 24 - Nov 2) ... yet in an instant, triggered by seeing the date and the fact that it is election day today... all those memories and emotions flooded my being and for a few minutes, I relieved the anxiety and fear... and the thankfulness I had that day of Oct 24. Thankfulness?  Yes... because I've always thought, "what if that man had come through the door next to my bed when I jumped up and planted that ax in my skull, just as he did with that guard?"  I'm thankful that God was watching over me and the other men there. I remember the absolute relief and joy that washed through me when we loaded back on that van that took us to Vienna. 

Been a wild journey... but the Lord has been with me... and I am so thankful!

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