I listen to The Moth podcast each week. The Moth is a show of true stories told live. Today’s episode was told by Michael Vonallmen, an ex-inmate who spent 11 years in prison, wrongfully convicted. While in prison, he meets another man, spending life, who he thinks is also being wrongfully convicted. Michael is released from prison after 11 years, and after 16 years, he is cleared of all charges, as the person who actually did commit the crime was found. Michael vows not to forget his friend in prison. He tries, with the help of the Innocence Project, to get his friend released. With the crime taking place in the 1960’s very little evidence is available and the Innocence Project does not succeed before Michael’s friend is near death. Michael was the only person to visit his friend in 30 years, so when his end was near, the hospital called Michael, as his name was the only name ever on the visitor’s list. Michael had to make the daunting decision of whether or not to keep his friend on life support. The doctor explained that they could insert a breathing tube and a feeding tube, but then he would be confined in this bed until he died. The word confined made the decision for Michael. He knew he could not be the one to confine him any longer. On the day they “unplugged” his friend from any support, the guard left the room. For the first time in decades, he was not imprisoned. They knew it would be just a matter of minutes before he died, and they watched the numbers on the monitors. The numbers slowly declined. Michael didn’t know what to say. First he went to prison mode, and he said, “You won’t have to listen to those screws any more.” The numbers continued to fall and Michael said, not knowing where the words came from, “I love you.” And the numbers went up. They went up again. And they stayed there for several minutes. Michael knew he was going to die, but he also knew for those few minutes, he was free. “Being loved was freedom.”
I wept as I listened. Being loved is freedom. It always has been. Now some may say, oh, they are just prisoners. They broke the law. This is not a judgement for them, or any of us. But we need to think about this. We need to think about how we imprison people every day. We exclude them. We hide them. We forget about them. We do this regarding people’s race, and religion. We do it with people’s gender, and preferences. Life styles. We shut people out because of their looks, the amount of money they make, the cars they drive, the neighborhoods they live in. We tell people they aren’t included because they aren’t pretty enough, they aren’t smart enough… you just don’t belong. We lock people out because we are afraid. We have all done it. And maybe we have all felt it. I pray that I never do it, or feel it again.
I want to be the person who frees you to be yourself. I want to be the person who is welcoming. Unjudging. Kind. I want to unlock those doors. I want to love. What a glorious gift Michael has shown us. “Being loved was freedom.” He gave that freedom to another. And those few moments were everything. What if we all gave each other that – just those few moments… I want that – for all of us. No laws can truly make people free. We need them, but we have to do the rest. Only we can make us free. We can give each other that freedom. We can give each other that respect. We can love. And then we truly will be free.
All we have to do is be good to each other.