January 2, 2014, was a festive day around the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp. Why? A number of prisoners were released from this facility, including two from our dorm. The former inmates were released to halfway houses or sent home to their families. For these inmates they got the ultimate New Year’s present. Their New Year is truly a happy one. There was a lot of handshaking, backslapping and hugs for these men as they prepared to leave the prison. I heard one inmate say to his parting friend, “It has been good knowing you. But I don’t every want to see you again in a place like this!”
There were lots of smiles as inmates said their last goodbyes. One of those leaving was an inmate who occupied the cubicle next to mine. (In the federal prison camp, there are no jail cells. We live in a dorm-style environment with bars. Most cubicles house two or three men). This elderly inmate was headed home to his family in Alabama. He was liked by all of us. Watching people bidding him farewell reminded me of someone who I cared about, someone who will not be going home to his family.
It is a sad memory of an inmate whose last name was Mejias. Mr. Mejias was my cellmate during the first five weeks or so after I arrived here in Dorm D. During my first two weeks I was at the camp, I was confined to a wheelchair. I have an arthritic condition that made walking impossible for a while. I was transferred from the camp holding area on April 4, 2013. About a week after my arrival I was put into a cubicle with a little old gray-haired guy from Puerto Rico. His name was Mr. Mejias.
He immediately took it upon himself to look after me. Mr. Mejias told me one time that it was his job “to look after my new cellmate.” He took his job seriously. Especially when he found out that I had never been in trouble with the law. Did not have a prior criminal record and had never been to jail or a prison before.
This 70-plus-year-old explained the dos and don’ts of prison life to me. Mr. Mejias showed me around the prison compound. And asked some of his friends to look after me and to help me whenever possible.
The prison uses a public-address system to call inmates to meet with their counselor or case managers. Mr. Mejias always heard when my name was called. That was amazing, because no matter how hard I listened, I never heard my name being called over the public-address system. He even accompanied me to my first meeting with my case manager. He did not want me to get in trouble. Apparently I had missed two or three of her call-outs for me. He wanted to explain to her that I was new and unaccustomed to their system.
During the few weeks we roomed together, I learned he had been in prison over 20 years for a white-collar offense. He was not a murderer, not a serial killer, not a rapist nor some type of violent offender. He was just a regular guy. I never did understand why he was in prison. But I know it made me wonder what kind of system gives basically a death sentence to people accused of non-violent offenses.
He also had a son serving in the U.S. Navy and pictures of his grandkids who he had never seen. His family had planned to visit him during the summer of last year. But he never will see them. One afternoon in May, this nice little man collapsed outside the prison cafeteria. He died a short time later. I never did find out what killed him. The people who knew him were shocked. I was shocked, too, and I shed some tears for this kind little man who I had come to regard as a dear friend.
During one of our last conversations, I asked him how he had survived 20 years in prison. He still had at least three more years to go. Mr. Mejias said that he “prayed and prayed,” and he advised me to pray, too.
So on the day when many prisoners were celebrating their release from prison, my thoughts were with one special man who did not make it. I know that one day Mr. Mejias will be in heaven with Jesus our Lord and Savior.
I read Psalm 145:14 and thought of him: “The Lord upholds all who fall and raises up all who are bowed down.”
Goodbye, Mr. Mejias. Thank you for being a friend. I know you were put here, at this prison camp, to make sure I got off to a good start. You also provided help during my greatest moment of need. I will never forget you.
I guess in a way you got your release earlier than the inmates who were released on January 2, 2014.
I am currently serving 46 months for Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud. Questions or comments can be mailed to: Bernard Addison/ 44863-074/ FPC-Atlanta; Dorm D/ P.O. Box 150160, Atlanta, GA 30315. You may also email me at email@example.com. Your comments will be forwarded to me at the prison camp. I will respond to any request for comments or to any questions.