Afraid of the unknown, I dreaded my trip to death row but, it was “the visit” that provided the final catalyst, propelling me toward the future that held ultimate freedom. I learned that our lives can be affected and changed through unimaginable circumstances, and in places we would never guess possible, even in a place of death.
On the drive home from death row, my ultimate freedom from the past came on a rural, dirt road somewhere in Kansas. All I could think of was Ellis Unit in Huntsville, Texas and how everything David had written about prison life had become a personal, tangible reality to me. My tears that had always been reserved for the four of us and our lost childhood flowed onto death row and included the men and boys I saw there waiting for their “day certain” to die. In my sorrowful state I made a wrong turn and I became lost.
Too consumed by the degradation of humanity I was immersed and drenched in for thirty-two hours, I wasn’t bothered by my error. Stopping on the side of a narrow, maintenance road I was completely alone surrounded by wild sunflowers and tall, ripe wheat fields. Except for the fall hum of the cicada, it was silent; there wasn’t a breath of wind in the air. I stood in the warm, Kansas morning light letting the sun absorb the chill from my soul, put there by the cold, ugly place I’d just come from.
I thought of David’s letters as he wrote of the “One” he turned to for help in releasing him from the horrors he’d endured as a boy, restoring him to a human being and a man. How he looked to the only “One” with unlimited access to death row, able to walk him through the days and give him strength to hold on through thirteen years of living in a 5×9 cage.
I thought of Mrs. Hagan and the words she spoke to me and my brothers so many years ago, “God loves you kids and so do I.” I never doubted Mrs. Hagan’s love but over time I’d come to believe God’s love was only meant for the well dressed and pretty, not us, the Long kids. This time I “heard” her and I listened to her with an open, less inferior heart and allowed myself to believe we were lovable. In the middle of Kansas, on the side of the road, I asked God to please take back the girl who first met HIM at the Upper Bay Baptist Church. I relented and asked for stronger shoulders than mine to take over and bear the weight I had tried to carry alone for so long.
Before my next breath, I felt the touch of HIS hand, I received on the spot approval, there was no waiting period required and I was bathed in the sheltering cover of the refuge I once knew. The shelter that hushed the inner turmoil and lifted me above the turbulent times, giving me the strength to bear the years of growing up. The wrong turn was the right turn. In my state of lost hope and loneliness I found peace and solace again bestowed upon me in the loving reminder that we are never alone, even in a 5×9 prison cell.