Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lesson Learned

Yesterday after work was just like any ordinary day. Got on the DART, rode to Union Station, got on the TRE with some time to spare. It was empty when I got on and found a spot that is my favorite place to sit. 2 seats side by side, with a third one against the wall. I use that to put my purse and bag and a place to prop my feet up to read. My time on the train is MY time. I am rarely interrupted, I am listening to my music while either reading or playing a game on my phone. Sometimes I nap. I cherish this time because I can just "be". Those of you with kids know what I mean.
I am listening to my music, sending a text to Jason, when a tall large man with strange old-fashioned glasses on, asked if he could sit by me. My first response in my head was "really? This train isn't even half way full. There are plenty of seats to sit alone". I think I even looked behind me as if to show with my eyes that there were other seats. But you know me, I don't say what I think and I said "um, sure". He sits, and I noticed he had a bag of items in an orange plastic mesh bag. It looked exactly like those bags that hold firewood that you buy at the grocery store that sit outside in the front. I thought it was odd, but hey, I'm on the train. I see a lot of odd things.
One thing on the train and airplanes that everyone knows, if you have ear buds in or have your nose in a book, you leave them alone. Not this man. I heard him talking but didn't know it was to me because I was listening to my music. I took an ear bud out and said "excuse me? I didn't hear what you said". He started asking me lots of questions about how to load music on my iPhone, where he can get one, does he need a computer for it, how much do the songs cost, etc. After I answered all of his questions I put my ear bud back in and continued to read. I think he said something to me again but I didn't look to see if he was talking to me or someone else. I just wanted to read my book. The same thing happened again. I was starting to get annoyed. I wanted to move seats, but did not want to be rude. So I thought I would act like I was getting off at the next stop, then walk to another part of the train to sit elsewhere. I just really wasn't in the mood for idle chit chat. I talk all day at work, I like silence.
I don't remember what started the next time he talked to me, but he later started quizzing me again about my phone, the cost, the carrier. I thought "what's with this man? It's not as if cell phones are new" As I answered his questions, I heard him say a word that I didn't catch earlier. Incarcerated. I let it go and listened to him some more, not wanting to be rude. I then just asked him, "have you never owned a cell phone?" and he said "no, I told you before, I was incarcerated and just got out of prison". Now before you freak out and think "Alli, why didn't you get the hell out of there?", hear me out. I then felt just horrible for thinking all of the things I did about this man I didn't know. I clearly judged him. Then it all came together about the bag with his belongings, the glasses, the clothes he was wearing. Again, I felt horrible.
I then let my guard down and listened to him some more. He was very well spoken and talked about his past, why he was in prison (was in Huntsville for drugs), and what his goals and plans are. He had my ear and I just listened intently to his story. This was a man that was in jail for 10 years, got out and went back to where he felt safe: his old friends. Fell into the same habits and problems, then went back to jail. This time, state prison for 7 years. I asked him questions I was curious about. He told me about how they do nothing to reform them and prepare them for the real world when they got out. How crooked the Warden and Chaplains are. Here he was in his early 40's, dropped off in Dallas with $50 and a handful of condoms. Really. He said the most they were told about was safe sex (hence the condoms) and were given pamphlets about other resources. That is what the state of TX gives when they are released. Isn't that sad?
He talked about how he had been sober for 5 years, how it is easier to get drugs in prison than on the streets (awful!), and what he did for himself to prepare for the real world. It was heart breaking, yet inspiring to hear about what all he did for himself. Not relying on other's to initiate it for him. I told him to surround himself with supportive people and those that only want good for him. He then said "that's why I asked to sit by you". My heart just dropped. I tried to not show the shock in my face. I was just speechless. I then said "I am glad you did". After more talking, my stop was coming up and I told him how much I enjoyed our talk, wished him the best of luck, and told him he CAN succeed...my version of a pep talk to someone I barely knew, but I truly wanted him to do well. I wanted to just hug him. Instead, we shook hands. He said "It was a pleasure speaking to you, Miss Allison".
When I got to my car, I just sat there and cried. Cried for how I judged a man before knowing him. Cried for what he said to me about why he chose to sit by me, and how at first I was annoyed to not get to sit alone. How selfish of me. How judgemental of me. I learned a good lesson and was reminded to take the time to see the good in others. It's there. I will never forget my talk and lesson I learned with L. W. I hope I never forget him.


Angie S said...

Wow...I have chills. Great story Alli! Thanks for sharing.

Becca @ The Texas Darlings said...

That was a good lesson for all of us- one I needed to hear!!

Thank you for taking the time to share it with all of us!


Lisa Marie said...

What a great lesson learned, thanks so much for sharing!!

Amy B said...

Oh Alli...I'm having a hard time holding back the tears on that one. I have a big lump in my throat...only because i know i would have done exactly what you did in the beginning...you have made us all think twice the next time we can make a difference in a strangers life...

Allison said...

Wow! What a great story. Thanks for blogging about it.

Btw, I really want to ride the train with you. You have some interesting experiences.

Emily said...

wow, that is sweet. It is a fine line though, b/c we have to be "street smart" and have our guard up b/c there are bad people everywhere. I'm glad you were so kind to take the time to listen to him. What a story..... and that he was just drawn to you. God had a special treat for you that day! :)

MiMi said...

I have so many things to say here:
First: you can read and listen to music at the same time?! You are talented, that would confuse me.
Second: cool that you ride a train. I know, dorky, but I live in a small town and I don't think Oregon even has a train like what you ride. Well, okay, maybe in Portland.
Third: How sweet that he said that was why he wanted to sit by you. Wonderful! So nice. I can't believe he was in the can for 17 years, no wonder he didn't know what a cell was. So sad.
I hope he does well too.
Now I'm gonna say a little prayer that he makes it.