Who’s Calling Me from Prison?

Last month, I started getting messages on a phone number I rarely used. Same female voice, same words. It sounded like “f— you.” Could also have been “thank you” or “press 2.” All through the Christmas season, even though my outgoing message explained who I was (and wasn’t), they kept calling. The ringer on this phone, which was connected to my cell phone company and which I used only to make long distance calls, wasn’t loud enough to hear if I wasn’t in the same room. The reception was terrible out here in the woods, but I was stuck on a two-year plan that the company wouldn’t let me out of. Anyway, I kept getting those messages. Finally one day, I answered it in time to hear “This is the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. An Inmate is trying to reach you. Press 1 if you will accept the call.”

I didn’t know anybody in prison, didn’t even know where that particular prison was. If I could reach a human, I could explain that they had the wrong number. As I hesitated, the computer hung up on me. The next day, I got a different recording that asked me to punch in my authorization number, which I guess I would have had if I knew somebody inside. When I didn’t respond properly, the computer hung up again.

Another series of F.U. messages followed over the next week until on Christmas Eve I got a message with a name, Joshua D., and an 866 number. I wrote it down. They’d been preaching at church about mercy. Should I call Joshua to wish him a merry Christmas and tell him he’s calling the wrong number?

I didn’t call. The phone stopped ringing. No more F.U. messages. But I couldn’t throw away the note with Joshua’s number. I pictured a young guy in prison clothes, eyes filled with sadness and anger, nobody to talk to at Christmas. All I really knew about prisons was what I saw on the screen. Orange is the New Black. Chicago. That movie about the nun who opposed capital punishment. In those pictures, the criminals were always good people who got into trouble. Even the murderers and drug dealers loved their mothers and sisters, right?

I kept thinking about Joshua, wondering if he was waiting anxiously for a call from whoever I was supposed to be. I looked up Coffee Creek. It’s near Wilsonville, Oregon. Did you know you can Google prisoners online and get their vital statistics, charges and status? You can. After much clicking, I found a Joshua D., age 32. He was charged with possession of controlled substances. He had a shaved head and bags under his eyes. Status: released.

So, that’s that. If this had gone on longer, I might have called. The reporter in me would be too curious to let it go. But now we’ll never talk.

My two-year contract for the lousy landline finally ran out. Last week I disconnected that  phone and that number. But I keep thinking I hear it ring. I still want to know if she was really saying “f— you.”