A Space for Writers of the World
When I was a child growing up in the state of Mississippi, daily I was judged. I often wondered why people whose skin was a different shade than my own hated me so much. Being one of the many who was uneducated, the signs that read “colored” and “white” were sometimes not honored by me. Not because I was protesting, but because I was a mischievous youth. I felt awful when I was at the front door of a department store, but had to go around and use the side entrance in order to shop.
This type of judgment has surfaced one time or another in my life, my entire life. I’ve witnessed such atrocities perpetrated on people with dark skin for reasons that I never comprehended. All I know for certain is that it penetrated so deeply that it made me feel trapped and caged. Judgment bred hatred and animosity, which led to my committing crimes and incarceration.
Judging certain people and carrying hatred towards them is something that I feel I’ve earned every right to, but I choose not to live my life in this manner—mainly because I’ve seen and know the destruction that hateful judging produces.
God alone, who gave the law, is the judge. He alone has the power to save or destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
The photograph was taken in May of 1979. I’m not included, because I was here in San Quentin, the occupant of cell number 1-111, in the East Block. Loved ones in this small, painful photo are my mother and two of my brothers. This special picture was taken at my dad’s funeral.
The black and white 5×7 picture was taken on a sunny afternoon near the edge of the cemetery, where the lawn was unkempt. One of the first things that I notice within this picture is how fragile and proud my mother looks standing next to two of her sons. She is clutching the same little black purse that as a child I used to watch her carry. I’m almost certain it was a gift from my dad.
Looking at this ancient photograph, I honestly believe that this sad occasion was an enjoyable one for my mom, because this was one of the few times that the entire family came together. Just maybe all of her pain would have been temporarily removed if her youngest child, James Vick, had been present.
Since that picture was taken one of the brothers as well as my mom have died.
Another reason this picture makes me sad is because it reminds me of the fact that I was the only family member who did not attend my dad’s funeral. This is more important than the fact that it was his funeral.
It is one of two pictures of my mother. The other one is the picture on her obituary. Over half of the pictures in my photo album are pictures of deceased family members.
I guess this is one of my rewards for being the youngest of the Vick Dynasty.
My first experience with unconditional love was on the night that I spent in the hospital barely clinging to life. My divorce had just been finalized. On top of that, my two children stopped speaking to me. For fifteen months, I had been abusing my body as if I were trying to kill myself. There is a strong possibility that I would have, if I had the nerves. Nothing in the world hurts a man worse or makes him feel less than a man as much as losing his family. On this cold and rainy evening, while in this near-death state, there was no way I could have predicted that, upon my release, my life would be filled with such a tremendous amount of unconditional love. I never would have known that I would now have a life-long desire to spread this type of love over the whole planet.
It was on that night that Chaplin Paul Morarity re-entered my life without any questions or regrets. He understood me better than I had ever imagined or given him the opportunity to do. Paul was a huge man as well as one of the most compassionate people in the world. He stood 6-feet 6-inches and weighed almost 250 pounds. Everybody who came in contact with him left pleasantly surprised that he lived up to the name the “Gentle Giant.” He dedicated his life to rescuing, feeding, and housing anyone destitute. I was one person in the community who thought he could save the world and tested his ability to do so quite frequently. Before he came into my life, I had allowed anger and depression to trap me on the highway of hatred and self-destruction. I was traveling so fast into this abyss while hating myself to the point that I thought I could only find love in a bottle of alcohol or a syringe of heroin. Paul never gave me unsolicited advice, but he often asked me when I was going to stop using. Every time one of our mutual friends would die, he would always let me know who, when, and where.
After several months of listening to his compassionate stories, I decided to start attending and taking an active part in N.A. meetings. Weekends were my idle time and the devil’s playground. Therefore, on every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, I was at an N.A. meeting doing whatever it took for me to try to stay clean. I did things like make coffee, set up chairs, clean the bathroom, and sometimes park cars. At those meetings, I discovered that there were many men and women just like me—and some even in worse shape. The most important things that everyone had in common were that we all were recovering addicts, committed to sobriety, and recipients of Paul’s unconditional love, which kept us coming back.
Additionally, another major event that I experienced with all the comforts unconditional love could fit under its umbrella was education. I used to be numbered among those thousands of men and women on this earth who cannot read or write. This type of disadvantage strikes with such force until it paralyzes you with shame. Trying to fool everyone captivates your senses that are operative, and you become a specialist at deceiving yourself first and foremost. But it was impossible with Chaplin Paul, because he had seen through me just as well as you would a freshly washed picture window. It is ironic how often the un-schooled attempt to try and outwit those well schooled.
I was especially attracted to Chaplin Paul’s speech and mannerisms. These alone would have kept me visiting his office. “How are you doing?” is the way that our conversations would always begin. Then he would allow me to get all my questions out. One day, however, before I finished my snack and left, he asked me, “Which one of the three books on the table would you like?” Little did I know at the time that all the books were the same except for their different colored covers. I picked the red one, and then he said, “I would like for you to keep it.” Later that day, Paul asked if I would color some pictures for the children at the rec center. Here I was, a forty-two year old man with a child’s coloring book, but guess what? It was one of the happiest days of my life that I can remember since being removed from society nineteen years, two months, and eleven days ago.
Today I honestly believe that Paul was created to spread love unconditionally. I am writing this evening as a result of him patiently introducing me to education. Never once did he deviate from his plans and desires for a better me. The first thing that I received from him when I got to prison was a package containing all sorts and types of writing supplies, a dictionary, and a Bible—even though I had very little knowledge as to how or what I was going to use them for. Every week I got a letter from him. The summer of 1997, I wrote him my first letter.
Before Paul died in 2001, I had successfully completed the G.E.D course and was the chairperson at Mule Creek State Prison N.A. meeting. I have been engulfed with Paul’s spirit and unconditional love. Every morning I awake to those kind words that motivated me years ago, “James, keep God first in your life. James, never stop reading. James, never give up.” These words enhance my tenacity to the point where I know that with serious application, I will walk out of prison with an A.A. degree to assist me with my new beginning to a new world. I want to become like Chaplin Paul. I want to radiate unconditional love.
James Vick, #K34819
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974