Joseph Daniel, a prisoner and friend of These Stone Walls, set out to honor his mother on Mothers Day, and it became a moving tribute to the bonds of maternal love.
Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Joseph Daniel with an Introduction by Father Gordon MacRae.
Titles often make or break a post. Over the years since These Stone Walls began in 2009, my friend, Joseph Daniel, has helped me with choosing some creative titles after proofreading the text of my posts. Joseph was referred to as “Joseph L” in his widely acclaimed guest post entitled, “Against a Brick Wall: A Young Man’s Survival in Prison.”
He had all sorts of cool titles picked out for that one, but I insisted on choosing the title for it. Several readers responded to it with accolades for Joseph’s writing skill. So when Joseph recently asked me to read a Mothers Day letter he wrote, I knew this was something I wanted to share with others. I asked him to consider treating his letter to his mother as a guest post.
Joseph agreed, but again I told him I would insist on my own title. Like many prisoners, Joseph wants anonymity when he writes. It’s because he is trying to shed his links to the past, and to the streets, and I understand that. But when I learned that his middle name is “Daniel,” I could not resist choosing the title for this post.
My title describes not only where he lives, but where I live as well, and in this lions’ den, Joseph Daniel has been among the best of my friends. I wrote a science post back in 2012 entitled “E.T. and the Fermi Paradox: Are We Alone in the Cosmos?” My friend, Joseph, then age 24, appeared in its first paragraphs:
“This story begins with Joseph. Some of you might remember Joseph, the friend and fellow prisoner I wrote of in “Disperse the Gloomy Clouds of Night.” Joseph came into this prison at age 18 with a “rep” that was difficult to climb out from under in the .gang culture of prison life. A young, street-tough African-American man, Joseph comes from an existence entirely alien to the world of my priesthood. My sole exposure to it has come from two places: television and prison, and the latter is a world I have never been prepared for.
In this world, Joseph is not an alien. I am. It’s an odd thing, the diversity of human life and experience. On the surface, Joseph and I are about as different as two human beings can be, and yet we are now the best of friends. For our two disparate worlds to communicate required finding some common ground that was not easy to discover.
I once described to Joseph what it was like trying to communicate when we first met. I said I felt a little like Mr. Spock on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise trying to open a channel to the Klingon Battle Cruiser hovering nearby.”
“Daniel in the Lion’s Den” is a chapter in the Book of Daniel (6:1-29) in which the young prophet violated a law of the Persians and was thrown into a lions’ den. Daniel miraculously survived intact, but changed. The metaphor is not lost at all. With admiration for Joseph Daniel’s writing skill, and for his ability to survive the lions’ den, I share with you his moving tribute to his Mother.
TO MOM FROM YOUR SON, JOSEPH DANIEL, IN THE LIONS’ DEN
Several years ago, I heard a story about a young Indian boy. In the story, the boy lived in a village and there was a girl with whom he was in love. He desperately tried to win her over with all types of romantic gestures, but his feelings were never returned.
Months had gone by when finally this young man approached the girl and asked her what he could possibly do to win her heart. Fed up with his persistent gestures, she decided to give him what she thought was an impossible task. She told him, “If you really love me, then I want you to bring me the heart of your mother.” She had told him this in hopes that he would leave her alone for good.
Days went by with him thinking of the girl’s request. Finally he came to the conclusion that he could not live without having the object of his love, so he went and took the heart out of his mother’s chest. After committing this horrible and egregious action, he took off running toward the girl’s living place to show her how much he loved her.
While running to her house, he tripped and fell headlong into the street. Suddenly, emanating from the heart that he was holding in the palms of his hands, he heard his mother’s voice say, “My son, my son, are you hurt? Please be careful to watch your step. You need to take care of yourself and know that I always love you.”
In that story we see an example of the power and definition of unconditional love. We can see that in spite of the horrible things we may do as children, a mother’s love supersedes and covers all.
I have not been the best of sons to you, nor have I always brought you honor. I know that I have not always made you happy with my decisions. There have been times when I have inflicted deep wounds and unbearable pain by my actions, and yet through it all, you have remained the anchor of my life and have loved me unconditionally.
You have always had my best interest at the center of your hearts. You have nursed my wounds, and eased my pain, and shouldered my burdens as if they were your own. It is only from experiencing this form of love from you that I have been able to pass it on to others.
I have always searched for perfection, or what I consider to be perfection in everything around me. Yes, I am a perfectionist, and that has led to many disappointing and frustrating endeavors. I’ve sought after perfect scores in games I’ve played. I’ve tried to write perfect papers. I’ve achieved perfect grades. I’ve tried to make perfect choices.
But it was only recently that I realized I have had perfection surrounding me the whole time. I need not look any further than the unconditional love of my mother, for nothing is more perfect than that. On this Mother’s day, I wish you the absolute best and hope that one day you will reap the rewards that you justly deserve for being the mentor that I was given, the friend that I needed, the mother that any son could ever hope for.
I am forever and always your loving son.
Note from Fr Gordon MacRae: Please share this post on social media. Most prisoners are more than the sum total of their sins. I thank my friend, Joseph Daniel, for writing this with me. You may also like these other tributes to Mom on These Stone Walls:
- Mothers Day Promises to Keep, and Miles to Go Before I Sleep by Father Gordon MacRae
- Loved, Lost, Found: A Gift for Mothers Day by Pornchai Maximilian Moontri & Father Gordon MacRae
- Evenor Pineda and the Late Mothers Day Gift by Evenor Pineda & Father Gordon MacRae
- A Mothers Day Letter from Dante’s Purgatorio by Carlos Perez & Father Gordon MacRae
- Why You Must Never Give Up Hope for Another Human Being by Alberto Ramos and Father Gordon MacRae