- Faith & Family
When every inmate is sitting up on their bunk during the afternoon count procedure, sergeant Bates, a very large Black correctional officer, uses that time as an opportunity to preach to inmates whether they want to hear what he has to say or not. After blowing his whistle and demanding attention from the whole dormitory, he once quoted from the book of Proverbs 14:13 which states: “Even in laughter is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.”
A sometimes comical and often dramatic character, Bates also has a profound way of translating scripture. This time, his delivery was rather awe-inspiring, almost dismal when explaining how you never can really tell what a man is going through judging by his outward appearance. As he further explained it, throughout the day, the face of the human soul may display a smile bright enough to illuminate the whole room, but under a blanket of darkness is dimmed by a pillow soaked with tears. Alone and away from the rest of the world, the mask is then removed, revealing untold grief in private.
Some people are able to conceal pain more than others. Even when vexed by a wounded spirit, they can still manage to laugh out loud in the public eye. Some have spent years building an internal levee strong enough to prevent a well of tears from gushing out in a flood.
The exterior of those who refuse to be read like an open book can lead observers into believing that everything is fine. There are no signs of sorrow to be seen and friends, family members and associates are clueless as to the intense emotional suffering occurring below the surface. Similar to a mirage, happiness is an image thrown forward, but standing far off into the distance where visibility is impossible to reach are naked feelings of pain and misery.
A cheerful conversation shared by two people can hide the fact that one of them has been sadly tormented by the loss of a dear loved one for many years. A pleasant moment with a co-worker at the office water cooler can muffle the screaming presence of severe depression until the shocking news of an apparent suicide is reported days later. And then there is the once placid prisoner who suddenly goes haywire, stabbing another prisoner to death without giving even the slightest warning.
Bates made it a point at the conclusion of his sermon to caution everyone on how we treat others. “Be careful,” he said, “you might pull a wretched spirit from out of isolation, from out of a hidden corner of the heart where it has laid hopelessly in fetal position, weeping in silent desolation.”
By Arthur Lee Hall, Jr.
Miami Times contributor