Wild but True Tales from America and around the World: Chapter 1 By Bill Honer

Chapter I: A Practical Joke Results in Freedom for a Folsom Prison Inmate

One Sunday, I was sitting in the visiting room at Folsom Prison with Eddie, a former resident of Dannemora prison, which was where we first met when I was working on a prison rehabilitation project through the State University of New York. Over coffee, Tommy told me the astonishing story of how a practical joke he played changed the life of his prison buddy Joey.

I knew Joey. He was a big man, well over six feet and weighed at least 240 pounds. It isn’t easy having fun in prison. One day, Eddie was browsing through one of the tabloids and saw an ad encouraging those wanting their soul saved to write a woman who was a member of a Baptist church somewhere in Mississippi. “As a joke”, said Eddie, “I wrote a letter to them saying I was asinner and deeply in need of spiritual salvation. Then I signed Joey’s name to the letter”.

“Shortly after that, Joey starts receiving letters from Mary, a member of the church in Mississippi. Her letters became very personal, writing that she was open to having a relationship with him as well as saving his soul. Joey answered her “well I would certainly be interested in having a relationship with you. The only problem is that after I finish my sentence here in California, I’m scheduled to be extradited to Florida to face charges for another crime.”

“Mary wrote back ‘I am going to look into the charges in Florida. Maybe I can help.’ I have no idea what she did, but she managed to have the charges in Florida dropped. They continued writing, with their letters becoming more intimate. Joey then decided to propose marriage to her. Mary accepted and they were married inside the walls here.”

“How soon will you be able to be paroled?” she kept asking him during their Sunday visits. Joey said something like “Well honey, it would really help if I had a job before I meet the for parole board.” Ever willing to help, Mary told him “let me see what I can do.” Within three weeks, she found an employer in Sacramento willing to hire him. Now Joey had a wife, no pending charges, and a job waiting for him. He is going to be paroled in three weeks, go figure.” said Eddie

“That’s quite a story Eddie” I replied. During my previous visit two weeks before, Eddie had grown a full beard, complements of a decision of the California Supreme Court extending sartorial rights to prisoners. Today, the beard was gone. When I inquired why, Eddie replied, smiling wryly, “they wanted to take a picture of me with the beard. I did not want them to have that.” This strongly suggested that Eddie was not seriously considering making any major career changes after his release. As Joey walked by, Eddie looked up and said “Joey, how come you shaved your mustache?” Joey smiled, “I thought it made me look too masculine!”

(Bill Honer is a former government analyst, social worker and world traveler)


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