I know his prisoner ID number by heart. The address of the prison, even the postcode. I know the sound of his voice when he calls. The guessing game – will it be a happy call, an anxious call, a disastrous call.
I met him in thick snow in Manchester, wore hiking boots with a suit and felt silly next to Fancy Lawyer in killer heels. I walked through the grounds which has seen one of the biggest prisoner uprisings in recent memory and was surprised to see primary-coloured flowers planted in neat rows beneath the barbed wire.
Then we were face to face. Him looking broody in the red bib and he shook my hand, not meeting my eyes. I had to ask him to stop shouting when he got angry. Ever since, he would always stop himself when he realised and laugh at himself.
I saw him on that day when I was sick and he was so worried in Milton Keynes. He teased me for being a baby about a cold. He wrote out his story in a beautiful hand as prison guards watched through the thick glass.
I read official reports about his childhood. Bullied; truant; drugs; crime; women; a baby; fear; ‘threats-to-kill’. And yet trying to understand him through these dot-to-dot words would be as fruitless as trying to taste a cake by reading the recipe.
That other day when he yelled. I lost my temper. The prison phone chips run out – the line cuts dead and hollow anger hangs in the air and I am ashamed. He called and ‘I’m sorry’ .
I only really realised I knew his number, that string of letters and numbers, off by heart as I wrote the last letter. The last letter – how long will it be before I forget his ID number? Longer still, but how long until I forget his name? I resolve to keep giving him over to You in prayer as I leave the firm, but how long until that wanes? Knowing me, not very long.
And then…‘I know his number. I know his name’, You said. You, who will never forget. Whose fierce passion will never wane.
His name is engraved on my hands. When he was given his new name, the string of letters and numbers, that etched itself on my hands too. Because I bought his life at a price that day – and I will pursue him, will follow him, relentless. Radaph. Whatever new names he acquires, the names of shame, of suffering and of indignity, I will take them on too. I will engrave them all onto my hands. Every day he is worth it. I Love him.
Thank you, Jesus. You take his name, my name of shame and call us son, daughter.
We cry out to you.
We cry out for rivers of cleansing to wash through the mess and devastation and unending cycles of pain. We cry out to you for hearts and families torn apart. We cry out again tonight for Love who offers hands – bloodied and etched with our names of shame – to take hold of ours and draw us outside into freedom.
Tonight this, for him I pray.
One thought on “on last letters”
Oh Naomi, I love this. You have such a gift for bringing us into the story with you and sharing your own heart for the people you meet. “Whatever new names he acquires, the names of shame, of suffering and of indignity, I will take them on too. I will engrave them all onto my hands.” This is simply beautiful.