The Jailer & The Criminal
The Jailer & The Criminal
The jailor sat constant in is metal chair behind a metal desk, alone, silent, thinking of what once had been better Christmas Eves. They all had been better. They all had come before his loss this last year that left him without his life’s work, his family. To choose this night shift, this night of all nights, only meant different scenery for the lonely jailer.
Across the dimly lit room sat the jailor’s only charge tonight. The criminal slumped forward off his bed, staring at his feet, detained and kept. He was familiar with the gray concrete. Ignorance, a 35 year string of bad decisions and the worst kind of mentors a boy could have had turned him into an expert in gray, dank slabs.
In a place so finely drawn by desperation and misery and on a night like this, designed as it was to demand that memories be honored, the two simple and defeated men defied the demands of the day. They were blanks. They waited on nothing. They anticipated nothing. And by midnight, both sat alone, head in hand, with a common thought neither knew how to shake or explore. What Godly task had they failed?
The criminal looked up from his floor. "Why are you here," he asked?
The jailer didn’t have an answer and he wasn’t surprised by the question, either. He had been asking himself the same thing. The jailer stared back at the criminal behind the bars who met his stare with silence and no apparent expectation.
The criminal placed his head back into his hands.
Finally, "I wish I weren’t," the jailer replied.
A smile cracked across the criminal’s face. He knew the feeling.
The criminal began to wonder if the pitiful old jailer would even be here had it not been for his crime when the jailer added, "It’s not because of you."
The concrete walls absorbed their words and thoughts as the two men retreated back into themselves.
Both men were in their mid life and both now believed that far less than half remained before them. The jailer had once been a cocky, self possessed, happy man who liked to dress well, play ball and take road trips with his family. The criminal, though always one, had earlier been generous with his ear, a caring man who was genuinely taken with innocence and always believed his future would look different from the present.
Both men dwelled on far better times.
"It’s Christmas," the criminal said. "I didn’t get you anything."
"But I know you wanted to, so it’s OK," the jailer said with a smirk.
The criminal, now wrapped in a government issued, stiff blanket stared back at the jailer through his bars. He laughed. He now recalled saying the very same words to his own father one Christmas. And he had meant it. Just having his dad home that morning was a surprise and delight that would tide him over for days on end. It was a strong memory. And the criminal finally understood why the jailer was here with him on Christmas.
By the time morning had broken the jailer had heard the criminal’s story of a father returning on Christmas and much more on life among careless people, as well as a tale about saving the game with a tremendous catch on a Little League field. The criminal has sat and listened in awe at the jailer’s description of an horrific and senseless accident on the road to the beach, as well as a longer story about a beautiful but poorly acted second grade play.
The two had forgotten it was Christmas. Between them, on the floor, two plastic glasses sat half filled alongside a bottle of red wine the jailer had taken from the beneath the tree in the break room. The bottle had a tag reading, "Merry Christmas, Sam!!". Sam wouldn’t miss it. Something different had happened to both men that night. Something unexpected. Something very simple.
"So what will you do today, Tony? It’s Christmas."
Tony looked back into the locked cell, smiled, picked up his glass off the floor, drained it and said, "I’m going to church, Hugh. And I’m going to pray for more nights like this."
"I will too."
Tony buttoned his coat against the cold morning breeze and began to walk. He thought about the criminal Hugh as he headed toward St. Ignatius. It was going be the first time in months he’d been inside a church.
Hugh laid down on his government issued bed. The jailer’s room was quiet again. Hugh closed his eyes and thought about Christmas. But his mind wandered back to the night of conversation and wine. Hugh smiled. And he hoped Tony would pray hard. He hoped for more Christmases.