Love Letters


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 LOVE LETTERS  by J. Broussard

 Jimmy Lang had stopped minding the drab emptiness of Joliet prison months ago, had even stopped noticing it.  Life had changed since the first letter from Grace Millanos.  The money he’d scraped together to pay for having his name listed in a “mail-order bride club” had been the best investment he’d ever made or would ever make, as far as he was concerned.

And he’d done it all in spite of the ridicule from Joe Martin, his cellmate.  But then Joe was a lifer, cynical as all hell, too old to even think about what it would or could be like to have a wife and family.  Jimmy was a long way from having such an attitude.  He’d be thirty-seven when he got out, maybe younger if all of his good behavior impressed the parole board.  And Grace would be waiting for him.

Even after her first letter, Joe had sneered.  “You poor, dumb bastard.  She’ll be asking for money, first thing you know.  It’ll be for a good cause—her church or a paralyzed nephew.  She’ll pile it on and strip you of everything you own and all you can borrow.  She’ll bleed you to death.  Just wait and see.”

But Joe had been wrong, wrong, wrong!  Three months of wonderful correspondence had brought never a hint of what Joe had predicted.  It was just the opposite, in fact.  Grace had begun to send him small presents.  They weren’t much.  A homemade bookmark, a small set of pressed Philippine butterflies Jimmy now had on the wall next to his bunk.  Just little things to show she cared.  And she never mentioned she was poor, but Jimmy had read enough about the Philippines to know what Grace’s situation was like.  Even if well educated—which she was—and even if middle class by her country’s standards, she was still living in a family which would be classed as underprivileged in the States.

For what must have been the hundredth time, Jimmy started in on the shoebox full of letters, the exotic stamps on the envelopes still intriguing him, the sum of the letters packed lovingly away in their container.  There had been a few other letters from women in the Philippines, in Peru, and even Russia, but Jimmy had been intrigued with Grace from the start.   And it wasn’t long before the lovely young woman smiling out at him from several photographs had quickly become his one and only correspondent.  He sighed contentedly, stretched out on his bunk, the prison noises faded away; he reopened her first letter.

Dear Sir,

Hello, Perhaps you would be surprise upon receiving this unexpected letter of mine.  Actually, I got your name from World Partners and I read partly of your data.

Meanwhile I would like to introduce myself.  I’m Miss Grace Millanos, 24 years of age, a pure Filipina.  I am 5’2 in height, 101 pounds and slender with a fair complexion, short and black hair.  I am the second child of 10 and I am a nurse here in Butuan City.

I enjoy my profession but I have to work 24 hours duty sometimes, but then I am happy cuz I am serving mankind, especially the sick.

The letter went on for three pages in her small and meticulous hand, describing her family, her city and how much she wanted to come to the United States some day.  But best of all it included the first of many photos of the lovely Filipina.

Jimmy smiled at the ending, as he had many times before.

So much for this.  Hope you would consider me to be one of your many friends.  I hope you will response my letter.  Your hope for friend, Grace.

And “response” he did.  Never a letter writer in the past, he at first cursed the time he’d wasted in school when he could have learned to do more than graffiti.  But he struggled painfully along.  His own productions, with the help of a dictionary and occasional suggestions from an amused but still cynical Joe, began to improve—even to his own critical eye.  And the trickle of letters from Butuan City soon became a flood, as many as two a day, and on one wonderful occasion three of them.

But the highpoint had been the letter Jimmy had waited most anxiously for.  It was the one he expected in reply to what he’d written telling Grace he was a convict.  Expected?  Jimmy hadn’t been sure he could expect an answer.  The six-day turn-around in mail seemed to go on forever.  And then came the glorious, wonderful, overwhelming answer.

Dear Jimmy,

I was very sad to hear you are in prison, not for me, but for you.  I know you are a good man, and please know that nothing has changed.  Every body make mistakes but I know you have learned your lesson and God will help you live a good way from now on.  I pray for you every day, and pray that soon you will come out to the world again.

The last words of the letter sent Jimmy into ecstasy.

Most I pray that someday we could be together forever.

I love you.  Your Grace.

The following weeks were devoted almost entirely to one end, getting Grace to America.  At first it was how, then it was when, and finally it was the endless details and form filling for her at the immigration office.

Jimmy moved on to the letter which had at first hit him in the pit of his stomach, but had finally turned out to be the best one in the shoe box.

My dearest Jimmy,

I have terrible news from the immigration office yesterday.  I cry all night.  They say I cannot come to America without I have a wealthy sponsor.  I know you cannot do anything for that.

But, today, God gave me a way.  Auntie Fe, who I told you owns the dress shop in the City, came to visit us this morning and ask why my eyes were so red.  I was almost too crying to tell her.  And then she told me that she knows a lawyer here in Butuan who can get me to America without that sponsor.  So we called him, and he was so nice.

At this point  Jimmy remembered the pang of jealousy he had suddenly and foolishly felt toward the distant male figure when he had first read those words.

There is a way, Jimmy!!!!  But you have to help me.  He says if you insure you for a very large amount, that will be enough for the immigration office.  Then you can be my sponsor.  Auntie Fe says she will pay all the premiums, so you don’t need worry about that.  Please let me know right away if you will do that.  The lawyer will send you all the papers soon as he hear from you. 

I am so excited.  I am counting the days.

And Jimmy had been counting the days.  The papers had arrived, he had had his signatures notarized as the lawyer instructed him, and he was now covered by a hundred-thousand dollar life insurance policy, the final immigration forms had all been filed, the weeks had somehow passed, and Grace’s arrival was only days away.  Jimmy put the most recent letter back in the box, just as the clatter and noise of the approaching supper hour began to reverberate through the cellblock.

He wasn’t particularly interested in food these days.  The world had much too much else to offer to allow meals to be of much interest, though they had once been the central point of his day as they still were for most of the other convicts.  Yes, the world had changed, but so had Jimmy.  He got along far better with all but the surliest of his fellow inmates.  Even Lohman Larsen, the six-foot-four terror of the prison had begun to treat him, if not with admiration, at least with what seemed to be a glimmer of respect. 

The word had gotten around.  He had someone “out there” who cared for him, and who’d be waiting for him when the gates to freedom swung open.  Few of the long-termers could count on having anyone waiting for them, and fewer yet had acquired such a precious relationship while serving out their time.  Smiling happily, he joined the line of shuffling convicts. 

He never reached the mess hall.

The prison authorities weren’t overly concerned about a stabbing.  It was mostly a nuisance.  They’d try to find the perpetrator, but it was hardly worth the effort.  A report would have to be made.  Forms would need to be filled out.  Some do-gooders from the outside would make noises.  But, as one of the guards commented while rolling Jimmy’s body on to a blanket to be hauled away to the prison morgue, “One less mouth to feed.”

Lohman opened the most recent letter from his ex-cellmate now living in the Philippines; this one smuggled in by a cooperative and well-rewarded guard.  Milton Wells had been an expert forgerer, but swore, once he’d served out his years, he’d never go back to the trade.  In a way, though, he had.

“Short and sweet,” Lohman thought as he once more felt admiration at the meticulous and remarkably feminine hand Milt could adopt at will.  But envy of his former cellmate was his dominant emotion as he scanned the photo included in the letter.  A grinning American type was sitting in a wicker chair, a glass held out to the camera with the frost clearly visible and a half slice of lemon clamped to its rim.  On the chair’s arm a dark-skinned beauty, an arm around her companion, was flashing gleaming white teeth at the camera. 

Lohman reread and savored the letter.

Hi Loh;

By the time you get this, and if you carried out your end of the deal, we should be a hundred thousand richer.  I’ll put your share in the account we agreed on just as soon as I get it.

Let me know when you have the next one lined up.