Reconnecting with a young man behind bars

By Dalyn Montgomery

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, July 31 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

An LDS church towers in the background in Philadelphia.

Dalyn Montgomery, www.brohammas.com

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There he was on the back row, grinning from ear to ear. It had been years since we had seen him, and it took a minute for my mind to register who he was. I rushed to greet him the first chance I got. “How are you, where are you staying these days, how are the kids, what are the kids up to now, it's great to see you, how long has it been …?”

We peppered him with friendly questions, and he answered with his unwavering smile. He said he had been to Iraq a couple of times and was just passing through. He just wanted to drop in and say hello. For a brief time he was a rock star around here, one of our success stories. Now we were greeting the prodigal, nicely asking good-intentioned questions while leaving the nagging ones alone. This was not the time.

He gave us updates on his children. The oldest was doing something, I don't recall, the next was still in town working, one daughter had a little baby now and was living out West, and the youngest, the one we all thought had been the sweetest, was locked up.

This was the sort of brief and pleasant encounter where you talk and details are avoided. We all say we will keep in touch and hope to see each other again, but for some reason phone numbers and emails are skirted. At the end of the day, we were happy to have seen this man but had no way to find him again. We would just have to wait for him to pass through again.

This wasn't an unusual encounter. We meet people, we like them, they leave, they pass back through, perfectly normal. But my wife couldn't shake the news about that youngest kid. Locked up? Jail? Him? It hurt her to think of the kid she remembered, so young, well-mannered and sweet, now in jail.

She spent that evening online doing a statewide prison search for his name. He wasn't that hard to find.

“We are going to see him,” my wife announced in her familiar authoritative tone. I have learned that when I hear this tone, the only thing that can be done is to start making arrangements, so we did.

Visiting was only allowed on Thursdays, before 4, so I had to take a day off from work. We scrounged around to find a baby sitter and headed off for prison. It had been at least four years since we had seen this young man, maybe more. He may not even remember us.

We first met him and his family in church. His dad was a widower trying to raise four kids by himself. His oldest was struggling and got sent off to a youth detention center in the Poconos. The middle two kids were up and down.

Then there was the young one. He was good.

The dad would load the three kids up in the van and bring them to activities every Wednesday. He would sit and keep them in line on Sundays, but he was tired and lonely. Then he got a girlfriend.

The girlfriend grew into something that was more than casual. She had kids of her own, and when he moved in with her, things got bad. There was not room for two families in this one house or in the relationship. The dad sent his own kids away. He didn't just farm them out, he gave up legal custody. The kids were old enough to know what this meant and what it implied. Some friends from church tried to legally adopt one of the middle kids, but she ran away. The youngest, the one we were going to visit, had gone to stay with a grandparent. He was probably 12. This is about where we all lost touch.

Sitting in the prison waiting room, my wife looked over and asked, “Is it bad that I'm really hoping he is in here for drugs?” I knew what she meant. The online prisoner search will tell you where a person is but not why that person is there, and there could be lots of horrible reasons to be there. Eventually they called our names and we were allowed back to see him.

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