Nobody was giving him any attention.
He felt so bad that he decided to go buy a drink and a snack, hoping things might change when he got back. As he left his booth, he managed to listen to the assistants of the sales representatives near the drink machine:
“This turned out to be pretty good, we got 45 orders so far”
“Yeah, I sold 25 books and gave out like 50 business cards for these books”.
He felt sick and tossed his drink and snack in the garbage.
He didn’t understand what was going on. Those other prison book representatives did not make any speeches, yet more people flocked to them than his booth. People that never even went to prison was selling more books than a person that did 8 years in prison. Something was not right.
Dejected, he walked sadly back to his booth. On the way, a couple of women walked up to him.
“Excuse me sir,” spoke one.
“Yes ma’am” he answered
“I just wanted to say God bless you for taking the time to help us understand what prison is about. I came here praying to God for some insight and you blessed us all.”
“Thank you, that is what I came to do, or at least try”
“I remember reading so many of your posts on the prison site, and I was so disappointed when they banned you. You were the best writer on the site; I copy and print out all your posts and send it to my husband in prison.” said the other.
“I appreciate that, really” he said, with a small smile.
“I hope you are blessed for what you do for us. I hope you will be speaking tomorrow” said the first woman.
“Well, I have been asked to do that.”
“We’ll be there. You were certainly worth this trip and I am going home with so much more faith in helping my son” said the second as they both gave him a hug and went on their way.
He noticed that one of them had a book just purchased from the other booth…and felt rejected.
On his way back, he ran into a woman who asked him to give her his email address because she had some issues she needed to talk to him about. He boyfriend was having some difficulty dealing with prison and she wanted to know what she could do to help. He talked with her for a few moments, giving her some ideas before exchanging the email address. For a second he felt a little better in helping her, but the failure of his business loomed like a black cloud.
As he returned to his booth, he whispered inside himself:
“I am trusting that somebody buys some of my books. I came here in faith to not only help, but to BE helped. My Lord, is it wrong for me to expect something for helping if I have been looking for a turnaround in my life?
He was questioning where the blessing were that so many people promised him. So many emails and posts on his writings about “God bless you” but so little actually shown. He needed this trip to be successful, he prayed about it, he was determined to give these people his very best in hopes that if one sows, then one can also reap.
He was counting on these people being able to support him, just as he was willing to support them. But nothing was working.
Not one person came to buy a book from him. Several came to ask him questions, but often after that they would go to the salespersons of the other prison books and either order or buy a book. Each time one did that was like a knife in his heart. Why were these people ignoring him, but freely giving support to a book where the author didn’t even bother to speak to them?
By 4:30 pm he had lost faith in the day…he had failed. He came 8 hours on a borrowed car, working extra hours to pay for this trip and over produced his books on the expectation that this was the turn he needed…and it was a big flop. With the 2-day convention ending in about a half hour, he figured to not only pack it up for today…but to go home.
As he took down his booth, depressed almost to tears, one of the administrators came to his booth:
“Everybody is talking about your speech, you were incredible” she said.
“I am so glad I asked you to come speak to us. Lots of people told me this will be the talk of the prison support site. They can’t wait to hear you tomorrow”.
“You ok? You seem kinda distant?” she asked.
“I…I’m fine. Probably worn out for talking so much” he said as he forced a smile.
“I don’t blame you. Just wanted to say God bless you for taking the time to explain some things about prison to us. We really appreciate it.”
“Thanks…” he said as he continued to pack his unsold books.
“Well, I can’t wait to hear you again tomorrow, take care ok” she said as she moved from his booth to the next, making her rounds with the business booths.
He sadly continued his packing and started taking the first of 3 boxes of his books to the car. He came with 70 books…he was leaving with 70. In between packing he was stopped by a prison ministry member.
“Hey, I really appreciate what you did today. There ain’t a lot of guys that talk about prison like you do.”
“Yeah, thanks” he said.
“I mean it. I have a prison ministry in Tennessee and we have been ministering to inmates in prisons all over the state. But it is so hard to get the inside word on what guys go through. What you shared today opened a lot of understanding for me.”
“The Lord’s gonna bless you man, you have been a blessing to a lot of people today.”
“Hey, give me your email, I would like to contact you about writing some posts for our prison ministry site.” he said as he pulled out a business card…
Of one of the prison book booths across from his…
It took a lot of strength for him to give this pastor his email address on the back of the prison book card, all the more reason for him to just finish packing and go home. The two men chatted a few more moments before the pastor went his way, leaving him alone again.
He quickly finished moving his books and while fighting either tears or anger, decided that there is no need to be here tomorrow…nobody cares about him. As long as he was giving free information, he was the apple of the audience’s eye. But he needed this to be a pivotal point to his change in life, he needed to see that if given support, he could help others while making a living for himself. He needed to see this happen, and it did not.
He had failed miserably.
He got in the car, realizing he had not eaten all day, but still not hungry. It would be 8 hours back home, and would probably feel like 8 days. He drove away from the convention center, waiving at several people who acknowledged him by his speech earlier. A couple told him they can’t wait to hear him tomorrow…not knowing that he was not coming back.
It was about 9pm as he pulled into a rest stop off the highway to take a break. He was hungry as he dug in his pockets for loose change and went into the refreshment area. He wasn’t broke but now he was starting to realize that with no sales, he was now going to fall behind in a bill or two, and was going to play catch up for the next couple of months. He was counting on this to work, and was now faced with this terrible failure.
The rest area parkway wasn’t too busy in the nightfall of the cool evening as he came back to the car and sat down with a soda and bag of chips. He turned to the steering wheel with the car door opened…and leaned forward and cried.
“What did I do wrong?” he asked quietly with tears flowing from his eyes.
He dropped his snacks and covered his head over the steering wheel, finally faced with this most dreadful failure. He believed so much that if he could make good, to help others and believe in God, then things would get better. They HAD to, they just HAD to. But now, halfway home, he now realized that these people who claim to be prison support members were nothing but opportunists…looking for some fool to spill their guts for them for free. And he was stupid enough to do it.
“My God, I could not sell ONE book. Not ONE. I prayed to be able to do something that helps people, I prayed to find a business where I could use my talents to help others and make some money, and I did everything I could think of to believe that things would get better.” he whispered through tears.
He was now a broken man, broken in that car in the night, all alone. His dreams of making a difference had come to a crashing end, as he was faced with the reality that people do not support ex felons except by word only. Further, it was clear that a business can cater to prison support members with no real interest except making money, and those same people will flock to them. But a person who has experienced prison can talk for almost 2 hours, answer every question asked but in the end, those same people would not trust him with a single dollar, while spending many dollars with other businesses that may not even care about the welfare of inmates in prison.
“What’s the point of doing right? What’s the point of having faith? What’s the point of trusting when I am going to be rejected for being an ex felon? I stayed in faith when I was continually banned and kicked out of all those prison support sites. I stayed in faith when people make negative remarks on my own sites. I stayed in faith when people promised to support me, but only gave me lip service. I hung in there because I believed that things were going to change for the better. But nothing has changed and these people are as hypocritical as everybody else. They don’t care about me at all, they only care about what they can get OUT of me.”
What had started out as a day full of hope had turned into a horrible day of disappointment and failure. He realized that he would not come home with a million dollars, but he truly hoped to sell enough to get an idea that somebody was willing to support his writings. He needed SOMEBODY to encourage him just as much as he had spent answering emails, writing posts and answering questions at the convention. But it all boiled down to nothing. He gave himself hoping for results, and got nothing in return.
He was a failure…again. After all he had hoped, after all he had prayed for, after all he tried to do, in the end he realized that he is not trusted any more than any other ex felon. For all he had done or tried to do, even after serving his debt and paying his debt to society… he is no better than the second he stepped out of the prison.
Apparently no one cares about ex felons.
“Sir?” said an unknown voice.
He was shocked out of his seat as an older woman stood near . She had somehow pulled up near him without him noticing. She looked old enough to be his mother. He quickly tried to recover, wiping his face and eyes.
“You ok son?” asked the woman.
“It…it’s been a long day…” he said as he searched for his chips.
“Yeah, we all get them from time to time.” said the lady.
“I guess“ He answered.
“You feel like talking about it…you look like a decent guy, not somebody that would cause a lot of trouble.”
“Well, I…I’m ok. Honest.”
“Well, I know we may not know each other, but I just don’t feel right leaving a person who seems to be really stressed out. I…I wish I could have done the same for my son.”
“Your son?” he asked
“Well, I won’t bore you with my life. It’s just that seeing you there crying reminded me of what my son in prison might be doing. Him crying and me not being there to help him.”
“Your son is in prison?”
“Yeah, something stupid, but he admits that and I don’t hold nothing against him. He’s my son and my only son. It’s just that I have no idea what he is going through, and I just don’t have the money to help him the way he needs.”
“Why would he need money?” he asked, now interested in her plight.
“Well, not that he really needs it, but it is frustrating that I don’t have it to give to him. I can’t do a lot of things for him, but a mother ought to still be able to look after her baby, even if he is in prison. And well, just seeing you there, you’re about his age too, and I worried that he might be doing the same thing in prison.”
“It is possible that he could be, but lots of times those guys find a way to make it through”
The lady looked at him with a strange look.
“How would you know? You don’t look like you’ve ever seen a prison.” she asked.
“Well ma’am, looks like I have the surprise on you. I actually have been in prison.”
“Oh my Lord… how long were you in?”
“Eight years. Got out four years ago.”
“I bet you would have been a help at the prison support convention they had in Atlanta today.” she said.
“Really” he said, almost sarcastically.
“Sure. I visit a prison support site online and they have been talking about it for the last month or two. I really wanted to go but I just can’t afford it. I know I’m only about 4 hours away from Atlanta, but it was just out of my finances. I really wanted to go, they said all kinds of people would be there, and one of the best writers on prison issues was gonna be there speaking.”
“You might not know him, but he goes by the pen name Faithone99. I think I read everything he wrote until they banned him for just mentioning his prison book. I think that was very wrong to kick out someone who gave us far more help than anyone else there.”
There was a warm comfort he had, hearing that he indeed was appreciated and respected, but it was also a cruel reminder that neither respect nor appreciation pays bills, and was again reminded of his failure today. Yet, the woman seemed most sincere.
“Yeah, sometimes the hardest thing for an ex felon to do is get his life back…when most people won’t let him.” he said
(to be continued)