By Andy Christian Castillo
Dear Mr. Castillo.
That’s the way an inmate started his letter to me. The rest wasn’t so polite. The rest was filled with how I violated his trust — betrayed, is what he said. And you know what? He was right. I had.
I published words that made his life a lot harder than it already was. I brought attention to his past, which he would rather forget.
And I felt like lower than a cockroach.
How do you respond to a letter like that? How do you make it all better?
You can’t, that’s how — you take back print.
Tonight, I’m sitting in candlelight, reflecting on my day, thinking about what I could have done differently, or what I would have done differently had I known what I know now.
The clock ticks gently on the wall. Wind sifts in through the window, rustling the curtains. A car passes, disrupting the silence, but not the thick blackness, which envelops everything unprotected by candlelight.
And yet, even in this quiet — this overwhelming peace, I feel distraught.
It’s like this phantom is hanging over me. Telling me that I messed up. I screwed up. I’m not good enough, or I’m too brash, too forthright, too inconsiderate. But, how was I to know? No one told me that there was information in his past that could have repercussions on the present.
No one told me the severity of his actions in light of his current situation.
Earlier, I was driving through McDonalds, because I didn’t have time to eat a real lunch — I know, poor excuse.
While sitting in line, waiting for the crackly voice to ask what I wanted, I felt this wash of peace over me, like a wave. Before that, I felt so miserable. But then, I heard this tiny voice telling me that I was loved, regardless of what I did to mess up.
After that, I started to live in the present, for a little while at least. The past didn`t seem so haunting. Of course, all of that passed. But, I was granted a brief respite.
That feeling of being loved by an incomprehensible being has stayed with me today. And before that, for years.
The good thing about life is that you have a choice about how to respond to circumstances. I can choose how to respond to bad things, just as I can choose how respond to bad things.
In the same way, this inmate had a choice about how to respond to his present circumstances. And he chose to write me an unpleasant letter. From his perspective, I understand that I must seem like a villain. However, I did nothing other than report the facts (of course, that doesn’t make me feel any better).
Regardless, he still has a choice — as do I, about how to respond next.
He can choose what he will do next. His past doesn’t define him, just as it doesn’t define anyone. He is loved just as much as I am, by a God who looks past human errors, straight to the heart. That’s not to say that human institutions of punishment shouldn’t be enacted — of course they should be. But, God doesn’t judge worth based on those institutions.
And God also doesn’t care what other people think of me. The love of God isn’t dependent on that. It’s dependent on God, who is unchanging.
And in light of that, no darkness can overcome me — no matter how thick it is.
Andy Christian Castillo is the Founder of Ver・ism(s). He is a military veteran and student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, pursuing a degree in English. In his free time, he plays music, writes poetry, gallivants around the world, climbs mountains and runs through the pouring rain.