A Card and Short Note Kinda Guy

Tales from death row: Justice for Rodney Reed


By: Caitlin Adams

A new relationship is a blank canvas.  What gets painted on the canvas can be a complete surprise. I have been and continue to be completely surprised by the canvas that is my friendship with Rodney. I had no idea that our shared, yet separate journeys in the face of death would bring so much life affirming grace into my life. Thank you, Rodney, Sandra, Julie; all the folks at CEDP: Lily, Randi, Marlene, Mark; and all the other abolitionists and activists I've met along the way for the beauty you each bring to the canvas.

When Rodney and I began our correspondence we sent letters via snail mail. After two months or so, Rodney, told me about Jpays and I started sending several email/Jpay letters a week. This was a big plus for me, as I was past the point of being able to hand write letters and typing them and then printing them was also getting complicated. Six months into our developing friendship, I was able to begin visiting Rodney. This was when I first learned that Rodney  was a "card and short note kinda guy". A guy who prefers to do his talking face to face, at a visit, where he is always full of news, stories, rememberings, and questions. At first, I experienced all sorts of feelings about Rodney's not so fond feelings for letter writing. In other words, I didn't like it!  I attempted to cajole him into writing letters. Heck, I even played the "Lou" card several times, hoping to elicit "sympathy" letters.  Yep, I really did. Observing these feelings was also personally very enlightening as I learned more about myself, my expectations, my notions about expectations, my ideas about friendship. 

After a month of weekly visits, I began to subtly experience what it was like to really be heard by Rodney. I would, visit after visit, listen as Rodney would recount obscure detail after obscure detail from my, by this time, daily scribblings. Some fact, some minuscule comment that I barely remembered writing, he would bring up in our conversation. He never seemed to miss a thing or for that matter, forget anything. This happened week in and week out and over time, this growing sense of, "holy cow, this guy really reads every word I write and some how carries, values, and holds each of them inside,” began to really impact me. I began to notice that I cared less and less that Rodney wasn't a letter writer. And as this happened, I began to notice I was writing more and more.  Now, daily Jpays are two pages long!  Of course, me being a rather constant observer, this wasn't lost on me. The scarcity of words back from Rodney, oddly, was comforting after a while—no analysis, no judgment, no expectation—just a "hearing". I didn't need to explain me. I didn't get what I had wanted-letters-I got something so much more precious. I began to cherish the space in which I was being heard by Rodney. In that space a freedom grew in me that allowed me, not so much to "write" to Rodney, as to put me on paper. No censorship, no editing, actually, not much thought at all—just me as I am in any given moment. 

The amazing fruit of this "heard space," I profoundly experienced at our last visit, Monday (11/26).  Rodney was telling his mom and me about how he had repaired his broken reading glasses. He was able to fix the broken arms by using paper and then attaching the paper with thread pulled from a hand towel.  I experienced one of those surreal moments of awareness; there was no chatter in my head, no commentary going on, no formulating what I was going to say next. This awareness was happening in the background, as I kept my attention fully focused on what Rodney was saying. I simply was truly present and hearing each word Rodney said. I was really all there!  The thought that I was learning how to listen, in a new and more complete way, came to me later as we were heading home. I started to pay more attention this week to how I was "hearing" - other people, myself, even non-human sounds. I began to realize I was becoming a "hearer".  I, who has a mind that incessantly chatters--here, there and everywhere--had begun to experience stillness and presence. I've been and am so very blessed in my life, with incredible "hearers," all of whom have and are helping create the fertile soil that is leading to this fruit continuing to grow and ripen. I bless and thank them all.

Another very important awareness hit me, just suddenly and viscerally, one day as I was thinking about 5000+ days locked up in hell: strip-searched every time you leave your cell, strip-searched every time you go back into your cell, video cameras recording you 24/7, every piece of mail you send or receive is read by strangers, every visit you have with family or friends could be videotaped or audiotaped, what you eat, when you eat is all controlled—if I was Rodney, I wouldn't be fond of letter writing either. The only privacy he has is in what he doesn't share, what he doesn't write.  I knew then that it would be okay with me if Rodney never wrote another word to me -- ever!

Rodney once wrote in a card, that even though he was a "card and short note kinda guy" that each word he wrote carried more love, respect, friendship, solidarity than "all the leaves on an old oak tree in spring". What I want Rodney to know is that all his "hearing" has helped create an entire orchard.  Namaste, my friend. 

"With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing." 

~ Catherine de Hueck Doherty 

"From a good teacher 

you may learn the secret of listening. 

You will never learn the secrets of life. 

You will have to listen for yourself." ~ Rachel Naomi Remen