'Unless Somebody Steps in to Help...'

Illustration by M.P. Wiggins

TO ENTER la fortaleza where Jhonny Rivas was being held prisoner, I had to hand over my passport and undergo a thorough search, which included squatting naked on top of a mirror laid on the floor. I wanted to turn around indignantly and go home. Instead I faced the two female guards, girls really, one with braces, the other with the acne of a teenager. Por favor, I appealed. They exchanged an unsure glance, no doubt worried about el capitán strutting outside, then gestured for me to put my clothes back on. At the door, I embraced them.

Blessed are those who don’t follow unrighteous rules, for they shall be hugged.

I confess that I often practice my own beatitudes lite. It’s where I often want to stop, at the easier, feel-good variety of activism. But the beatitudes are as morally rigorous as those daunting Ten Commandments, albeit working through positive reinforcement—blessings rather than “thou shalt nots.” If you truly embrace them, they keep pulling you further and further out of the comfort zone of the self that always wants to stop at having done its part.

Which is why I had come reluctantly to visit a Haitian prisoner, whom I had never met. Why at every inconvenient step, I wanted to turn back.

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July 2015
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These Dry Bones

It had been more than a week since the doctors had moved me into the ICU, and more than a week since I had tasted anything liquid.

My tongue was dry and felt like leather. At night, I would watch the machines around me blink. The IV bags hung next my bed and scattered the light across sterile white walls.

I tried not to cry when I could no longer control my bowels. I lay there in my own filth waiting for a nurse to rescue me.

I came into the world unable even to clean myself and now it seemed I would leave it in the same state.

Finally the nurse arrived to help me.

“I’m thirsty,” I told her. “May I have an ice cube?”

She said no.

“Please? My mouth is so dry. Just an ice cube,” I begged.


Oxygen tubes inserted into my nostrils had rubbed my nose raw. I pulled them out.

I felt relief. I watched the numbers drop on the LCD screen. An alarm sounded.

I tried to put the tubes back when the nurse ran in.

“Mr. King, you need the oxygen,” she chided, skillfully replacing al the tubes and checking all the machines and medicines that flanked my hospital bed — all the things that were keeping me alive.