Sometimes in life, you meet someone that has an incredible impact on you without them even knowing it.
Midway through my stay at Camp Wayside, a busload of new campers came in. One of these people was a short fifty-something-year-old man with a receding hairline. He looked like an accountant or a teacher. He walked into the barrack and looked incredibly lost and scared. I walked up to him and introduced myself and told him some of the rules of survival. He told me his name was Tim and he did some teaching and counseling in the Bay Area. At the time it seemed vague, but I didn’t pursue it.
A couple of days later we were walking to lunch and Tim confesses to me that he is a Priest from San Francisco. I asked him why he didn’t tell me when he came in. He said he felt he would be ridiculed or targeted and the biggest reason was that he was here. He felt that a man of God isn’t a man of God if he is in jail.
I ask why he is here. He explains that prior to becoming a Priest, he had a drinking problem, but he was able to extinguish it. And go on to become a man of God. Great, I say. But a month before he landed in Wayside, he received a phone call at his church that his parents had been in a car accident and they both died in a collision with a truck. Father Tim immediately drives down to identify the bodies and make funeral arrangements, and to settle the estate. Turns out his sister was a district attorney, and couldn’t get away to help.
I listened to Father Tim as he told me his life story; he was filled with sadness and guilt. The loss of family, and his feeling of letting down God. Then he told me that after everything was settled, he packed his car and headed back towards the Bay Area. Halfway home, he passed a liquor store, he stopped and went in and bought a bottle almost every kind of booze they had. Three-quarters of the way to Frisco he was pulled over for weaving up and down the highway. He was tanked. He didn’t mention he was a Priest or that his sister was a district attorney. He waived his right to an attorney and asked for the harshest punishment the law would grant.
He was sentenced to six months to a year. His sister had no idea what happened to him. He vanished. He called his church to tell them he had to face punishment.
I, kind of, took him under my wing. No one else knew he was a Priest. I told him I was going to let people know. At the time there were a few younger inmates that were bullying him; they always look for the weakest in order to look tough.
I explained to Father Tim, that as he is being punished here, he could do a lot of good, start a bible study group or counsel some of us. The guys at Wayside were receiving divorce papers or break-up letters daily; I knew he could help people through this. After a day or so he agreed. I told him maybe he was here for a reason.
I sat in on a couple of his study groups; his understanding of the Bible was astounding. The one lesson that sticks out in my mind was: the meek shall inherit the earth. Father Tim explained how the word meek has changed its meaning over the years. Meek used to mean faithful, now it means shy or bashful. So the term really means the faithful shall inherit the earth.
Father Tim got so comfortable in his ability to counsel that he forgot he was in jail. A race riot between the blacks and the whites broke out in our barrack, Father Tim started walking back to where the riot started, and I grabbed him and said what are you doing? He said I’m going to talk to them, this is silly. Then I saw three or four black guys coming towards us, I pushed him against a wall, and I took a few shots to the head, then I just shielded Father Tim until the chaos stopped.
After a month or so Father Tim received a visitor. He was surprised; no one knew he was here. It turned out one of the clerks in his sister’s office had run across his name when they were filing. So, she rushed up there. She said she was bailing him out. He said no, he did wrong and had to pay. They went back and forth like this for another month or so. Finally, she took the case to a judge, the judge recommended rehab, and then have him returned to his church. When he was packing up to leave, he apologized for leaving me there. It’s that last time I ever saw Father Tim.
In a place where every street corner junkie is a minister, it was comforting to talk to the real deal, if only for a couple of months. Every other person in the system lies about their crime, but Father Tim wanted to stay. I was proud to know such an honorable man.
– Last One To Die, 2011