The other day, while walking down the hallway here in my prison housing unit, I noticed something odd lying on the floor.
I stooped to examine it, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it was. It was tan in color, the size of a large cashew, banana-shaped, and had a thin tube sticking out of it with a bulbous attachment hanging from its end.
I picked it up, and after examining it more closely, I realized it was a hearing aid.
I looked up and down the hallway, no one. I looked in the nearest cell, no one. I wracked my brain trying to recall if I knew anybody who wore a hearing aid; I came up blank.
A young kid they call “Two Guns” came wandering by. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing to my hand.
“Hearing aid. Any idea who it belongs to?”
His face bunched up. “Naw. Fuck ’em. If it was that important to ’em, they wouldn’t’ve lost it, would they?”
I laughed at him. “Life’s not that simple, young buck. Imagine if you couldn’t hear… or better yet, anybody in your family wear a hearing aid?”
His brow drew down in thought. He finally nodded. “The pastor at our church uses them.”
I grinned. “Okay, now imagine this is his. What would you do?”
He glanced around, making sure we were alone. “I’d give it back to him.”
“Because he needs it.
“Right,” I agreed, “but there’s more to it than that. Put simply: it’s the right thing to do. Never feel ashamed for doing what’s right. And if any of these assholes in here tell you otherwise, they’re the ones you say fuck ’em to.”
He smiled sheepishly. His teeth were perfectly straight and white, which is unusual for prison. “You’re a cool dude, Jerry. Thanks.”
“No problem,” I said, and headed off to locate a man in need of mechanical ears.
It didn’t take long. I rounded a corner and spotted an older, balding gentleman frantically searching the filthy tile floor just outside our piss-scented bathroom, where three or four plastic patio chairs sat for people to stack their clothing, towels, and hygiene products while they showered.
As I approached, he turned to see who I was and our eyes momentarily locked. His were welled up; I saw pain and loss there as well. My heart instantly ached. I held up the hearing aid just as he was about to resume his search, and his eyes lit up. He smiled and stood a little straighter. I literally watched the tension melt from his body.
“Oh, God, thank you so very much,” he said, accepting the hearing aid. He fitted it behind and into his ear, then scrubbed away the tears that had begun to trickle down his cheeks. “Thanks. Really. It took me three years to get these.” He turned his head so I could see the hearing aid in his other ear as well. “There’s no telling how long it would have taken to get a replacement, and that’s if they ever gave me one at all.”
“No problem,” I said, voice catching in my throat. I then looked away, because as I age, I’ve found that shedding tears comes easier to me, and feels more natural, yet it’s still very much frowned upon by our fine brethren here behind bars.
He then went his way and I went mine. But that moment has stuck with me for a couple of reasons. For one, it felt great to help someone. I’m not a good enough writer to accurately capture the hurt and pain his eyes radiated when I first walked up on him. But let me tell you, I’ve been doing voluntary suicide watches here in prison for a number of years, and I know mental anguish and hopelessness when I see it. He was hurting, badly. Then, when I showed him his hearing aid, a joy sprang into his eyes that no simple appliance should have invoked.
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Knowing that I was the instrument of that joy, that my help could make someone so happy, made me happy. Made me feel needed.
It’s been awhile since I’ve felt this way, though I have experienced it a number of times in my life. A couple stand out, once when I saved a drowning child and handed him back over to his parents, and another time when I performed the Heimlich Maneuver on a half dead guy in the middle of a prison dining hall, against the orders of several corrections officers who were willing to stand by and watch him die.
I know, how do I compare saving a life to giving a man back his hearing aid? I tell you that so you’ll understand the unnatural depth of relief and gratitude I saw in his eyes.
I also tell you so you’ll understand the next emotions that assailed me: shame and anger. Shame that our society finds it okay to make a hearing impaired man wait three years for something he needs so badly; and anger at a system that forces a grown man to cry because he fears he may never be able to hear properly again, simply because he misplaced his state-issued hearing aid.
So sad. So pathetic. No matter that this man is a convicted criminal, we should all be ashamed of ourselves. All of us!
Jerry Metcalf is serving 40 years in Michigan for second-degree murder.
If you’d like to contact Jerry Metcalf directly, please write to:
Jerry Metcalf #251141
Thumb Correctional Facility
3225 John Conley Drive
Lapeer, Mich 48446