Does it really matter who receives an act of charity, or is the important thing the act itself? In December 2008, one of the greatest acts of kindness ever to have been done for me in my (then) 53 years of life was a sham – it was an act of charity I tried to reverse, yet could not due to the circumstances. Nonetheless, so profound was that act of charity, I need to share it and tell the results of it, for that act was not the sham – I was.
I had been released from Texas’s penal-slavery prison system on October 1, 2008; just 6-weeks after hurricane Ike had devastated the Texas Gulf Coast. Although I had requested to be released to my hometown of San Angelo, or to Lubbock where I, also, had friends; for some unfathomably insane reason the Parole Board ordered me to a “multiple use facility” (MUF) halfway house in Beaumont – which lay in Ike’s destruction zone!
Beaumont was still in the process of initial recovery – tarps were still being spread over torn roofs; debris (and an occasional body) still being cleared away; and, even The National Guard was still handing out free MRE’s to anyone who showed up at the distribution site. Probably 50-65 percent of the area businesses were “closed for repairs”, and almost all the rest had reduced their workforce until business picked up again. Only clean up and construction companies were hiring; and, they were only hiring day laborers and temp-help for the duration of the clean up and rebuilding. There were a lot of illegal aliens in Beaumont at the time – it was like vultures drawn to a carcass – nonetheless getting one of the day jobs or temp jobs was super easy! Literally walking down the street I would be asked, “Hey – you want some work for today — $10 an hour!?” (Sometimes even as high as $20-$30 per hour, depending on the work —- one guy in a pick-up offered us $100 per hour to do ‘Body recovery” along the coast; this entitled combing through coastal brush for debris piles and victims of Ike.) I might have earned thousands of dollars in a single month, but –
Again, for some unfathomably insane reason, the “Beaumont Center” had a rule that prohibited residents there in from accepting any day labor or temp jobs! Such insanity, the first thing a recent release must do is get some kind of work to get cash. We are literally penal-slaves in Texas’s prisons – Texas and Georgia are the only states left that do not pay their prisoners — and are only given $100 release money. When we pay for our state ID ($20.00), and buy food during the Greyhound ride, we barely have enough left of that $100 to buy some socks, underwear, and change of clothes; so day labor is crucial during the first few weeks… more so in a hurricane destruction zone where such is the only work available! Yet, my parole officer upheld this insane policy! So – I absconded – went over the fence (literally) of the MUF, and walked the 23 miles to the Louisiana border. By the time I was missed, I was across the Sabine River and out of State.
A Baptist church pastor in Orange, TX, saw me limping along (I had fractured my right foot going over the 8ft fence) and said, “leaving Ike’s zone?” “Uh, yeah,” I answered, “the place I was staying… uh… “ “Yeah,” he said, “I know. Come on in and have some breakfast.” After the church fed me, Pastor Knight and the Orange County Christians organization went 50/50 and bought me a $150 bus ticket to Tennessee – where a friend (who shall remain anonymous) bought me a ticket to Baltimore, MD. These acts of kindness, while laudable, are not the subject of this essay, though, because charity from churches, charity organizations, or friends is not uncommon. The incredible charity happened in Washington, DC, after a chance meeting on a commuter train –
The minister of a Unitarian Universalist Church in Baltimore had bought me a round-trip ticket to DC on the MARC train so I could go visit a friend there (a gorgeous transsexual college student and activist I have been pen friends with while in prison). As I sat on the commuter train with my backpack at my feet, a man about 30-35 boarded and sat across from me. Dressed in a decent suit, his eyes and bearing literally said “FBI” (or some such). “Tourist? “ He asked me, nodding at my pack. “Not exactly,” I said, “more like vagabond!” “Ah,” he smiled, “You’re from Texas!” “Yeah,” I said. “Me too,” he offered his hand, which I shook, “originally from there, anyway – Michael Samhel.” “Logan Diez,” I returned, “you don’t have much accent.” “Been here in DC since I graduated,” he smiled, “I work as a strategic planner at the Justice Department – FBI,” he confirmed my initial judgment. “Unemployed,” I shrugged.
We were quiet for a moment, and then Michael said, “were you in Ike?” “No,” I replied, “I was near Dallas when it actually hit, but was living in Beaumont until last week.” “So – you’re basically homeless?” “Yeah,” I answered, not, obviously, including that I was a parole absconder. The train pulled to a stop at DC’s Union Station and I stood – “Listen, Logan,” Michael said, “Would it offend you if I give you a little help?” “Uh – no, I guess not,” I said. “Hey, great – just walk with me to the ATM, okay.” “Sure,” I said, and did. I politely waited some distance away as Michael withdrew some cash – and, as gentlemen do, I tacitly palmed the folded bills from his hand when we shook hands, and pocketed them without looking at them. He gave me his card and we parted company.
My friend, Jamie, met me in front and, after a hug, I said “Let me buy you lunch at that Subway – a guy just gave me some money!” “How much?” she asked. “Uh – let’s see,” I pulled the folded bills out… “Wow!” $300 in twenties! I sat down in shock – then pulled out my cell phone and dialed Michael’s number. I insisted he let me give him back most of the money – he refused. “Don’t sweat it,” he said, “I can afford it – besides, we Texans need to take care of our own.” The enormity of Michael Samhel’s charity toward a complete stranger, fellow Texan or not, amazes me still – and he deserves full praise for it, G-man or not.
It doesn’t matter that, had he known, I was an absconder with a Texas Parole Board “retaking warrant” on me, he would have been duty bound to arrest me and cart my ass off to the D.C. jail – who I was wasn’t really the important thing to Michael, nor do I believe our being fellow Texans really decided the matter. Michael Samhel’s act of kindness would have been done regardless of what state I had come from – his kindness was from his heart, not him geographical roots.
For all my peeves against the corrupt bureaucracy in D.C. and Police State Nazis who abuse their powers – Michael Samuel’s selfless act of kindness toward a total stranger proved to me there are still good and honorable men and women in the rank and file of our Nation’s Government.