My Neighbor Is A Convict

An ex-con lives 50 feet from my front door.

He has been my neighbor for two years and I never spoke to him until last month.

Richard* (not his real name) has always seemed slightly odd. He keeps to himself and I rarely see him outside. Every now and then I watch him climb into his old, rusted-out truck and drive down our dirt road. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of him walking to the mail box. If I happen to be outside when he is pulling his trash cans to the curb, I always wave. But the truth is, I didn’t even know his name.

I could tell he was uncomfortable around people. I could say that the reason I never went over and introduced myself was because I wanted to respect his privacy, but really I was just too busy to be bothered.

Last month Richard wandered on to my property. He held an empty leash in one hand and seemed a bit confused. I thought it was strange he was roaming my property looking for his dog when one quick glance was all he needed to realize there was no dog to be found. I watched as he walked up my gravel driveway. I quickly called my kids to come inside.

driveway

That evening I was unloading groceries from the back of my van when I heard his voice directly behind me. Startled, I jumped and turned around.

“Have you seen my dog?” he asked.

“No.” I replied. “Your dog isn’t here.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Richard said. And he continued to stand there in the rain. He shuffled his feet and looked around. His eyes were a little glazed. He seemed unaware of the water dripping from his unwashed hair onto his dirty t-shirt. It was disconcerting. I grabbed my groceries and hurried inside.

Later that night my doorbell rang. It was Richard. I opened the door with a feeling of unease.

“I just saw you down at my house. What were you doing there?” he said.

“What?” I asked him. “I wasn’t just down at your house.”

“Yes you were. I saw you down there. I knew it was you right away. And you were wearing that same brown shirt.” I glanced down at my pink t-shirt.

“Richard, I wasn’t just at your house.” I said carefully. “I have been inside making dinner. Maybe you saw someone else.” I firmly closed my door and clicked the dead bolt into place.

The next morning we awoke to sirens and lights. Two police cars and an ambulance were outside of Richard’s house. My husband walked over to see what was happening. No one would give him any information besides the fact that Richard was being admitted to our local hospital.

Later that day, my husband called the hospital. He was connected to Richard’s room. Richard’s sister answered the phone. After explaining we were concerned neighbors, his sister told us what had happened.

It seems Richard has an ongoing medical condition and he had been attempting to self-medicate with a special home remedy. This home remedy had caused disorientation and hallucinations. He was being admitted to the hospital for a day or two while they cleaned out his system, and then he would be released to go home.

Then Richard got on the phone. He apologized to my husband for bothering us. He said he now realized he had been acting odd. He hoped he hadn’t scared us. And then he told my husband his story.

Richard was recently released from prison. He had been in prison for more than thirty years. He shared all of the dirty details from his past; his family, his history, the specifics of the crime he had committed. You don’t go to prison for thirty years for something minor. Richard’s conviction was for something major.

prisoners

My husband pressed the phone to his ear and listened. He said all of the right things. He encouraged and he calmed and he told Richard that when he was released from the hospital, we would come over and check on him.

And when my husband hung up the phone, I did a google search for “houses for sale” in other parts of our city.

I am not proud of this, but it is the truth. I searched the MLS listings for new homes. If one of the search criteria could have been “not next door to Richard,” I would have entered those words. My gut reaction was that I did not want my kids to be living near an ex-con.

Richard came home from the hospital the next day. My husband went over and invited him to go out for lunch. These two men, from the opposite side of the tracks in every way possible, went to our local diner and talked. They had a cup of coffee. They got to know each other.

And I googled prices for “installing a fence around your property.” Yes, I really did. Complete with electronic gate.

no trespassing

The next night my husband loaded up our leftover dinner and carried it across the driveway to Richard’s house. He sat down and visited with Richard while he ate. And then he came home and told me that Richard said I made the very best chicken pot pie he had ever tasted.

I googled “when your neighbor is your BFF.”

Okay. Not really. But I was starting to soften.

You see, the more we learned about Richard, the more we realized that he was just another hurting person: scared, lonely, unsure of his place in the world. He sounds an awful lot like most of us, doesn’t he?

Richard is truly remorseful for the things he has done. More than anything, he wishes he could go back and un-do his past. He beats himself up for the mistakes he has made. This also sounds like a lot of us, doesn’t it?

After getting to know Richard, it was obvious we were more alike than I wanted to admit. We are both broken people, a little bit weird, making a lot of mistakes, and hoping others will still like us for who we really are.

The following weekend was Easter. You guessed it–my husband invited Richard to church. Richard eagerly accepted and showed up at our home ten minutes early. We loaded up the van–my husband, six kids, an ex-convict, and a woman with a heart condition–and we drove ourselves to Easter service.

We sat side by side in the second row, all nine of us desperately needing to hear the message our pastor preached that day. A message about God’s abounding grace for sinners.

Thank God for grace. God saw my google searches and my sinful heart and He loved me anyway.

Last night I pulled our dinner out of the oven. Three perfectly-browned, fragrant and delicious chicken pot pies. I wrapped one of them in foil and walked it across the driveway to Richard’s house. He saw me coming and stepped outside onto his porch. He smiled as he walked to meet me halfway.

Blessings!

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20 thoughts on “My Neighbor Is A Convict

  1. 28winks

    I’ve got tears in my eyes. All I can think about is Shawshank Redemption. And how most ex-cons have no idea what to do when they are released. I’m so thankful Richard has you guys. ❤️❤️❤️

    1. putnam97 Post author

      Do you know I have never seen this movie in its entirety? Only bits and pieces. I think it might be time to sit down and watch it.

  2. Sharon McCurdy

    Thanks for sharing this neat story, everybody needs somebody…..can I get your chicken pot pie recipe????

    1. putnam97 Post author

      Ha! Nothing gourmet. I go for quick and easy. It is one of my go-to recipes for an easy dinner. Filling: one bag frozen peas and carrots. One can corn. One can cream of chicken soup. One can chicken broth. Shredded chicken. Fill a frozen pie crust and bake. Children cheer! Everyone is happy.

  3. Jen Bryant

    Your heart never ceases to amaze me. You lead by an extraordinary example. Thank you for your kindness, your openness and above all your love for Jesus Christ.

    1. putnam97 Post author

      Thank you, Jen. That is a huge compliment as my number one goal in life is to let Jesus’ love shine through me. Blessings to you today!

  4. Mark Ramsey

    We are all so quick to judge, when all sins are an abomination. He has paid his debt and you are amazing people for setting down the judgment and embracing this hurting soul. Jesus loved the unlovable, thank you for being Christ like and loving this man for who he is and not judging him for who the world has labeled him.

    If we all “got what we deserved” there would be no one in the presence of God. Thank you again for your amazing hearts.

  5. Denise Van Zile

    Thank you for sharing your honest reactions, and how your dear husband led in grace as you beautifully followed him and the Holy Spirit in sharing the love of Jesus. It reminds me of 2 books: A Man Called Norman, and Same Kind of Different! God bless you, Scott, and your dear family!! Someday we Will meet in person!

  6. Karen in California

    Natalie, this is Karen Erickson, Paul’s aunt. Thank you for this post. I read it with tears streaming down my face. I can so identify with your reaction to Richard’s presence. My reaction would have been close to yours. Praise God for people like Scott who are so quick to obey. I’m praying for courage to reach out more…to see a person’s soul before I judge their looks or actions. My thanks to you and Scott today for being good teachers. And glory will go to God on the day when Richard says “yes” to Him!

    1. putnam97 Post author

      Amen and amen! Richard has since come to church with us again. Pray for his heart! And mine:)

  7. Casey Ruzicka

    Thanks for sharing this. We have experienced living next door to the not-so-ideal-neighbor but moved recently. Your honesty was refreshing and I admire your husband’s willingness to get know the man beyond his label. If we all were known by such labels, right?

    Blessings to you and your family!

  8. Julie

    Thank you for this article…I loved it. We often are too quick to label people, and are highly influenced by the news which reports primarily the bad and rarely the kind acts taking place. Based upon that imbalance of input, we are seemingly drawn to the worst possible scenario.

    I am in a unique position as a pastor’s wife, who’s husband is drawn to serve the outcasts of society (and too often the church as well). How many churches visit prisons to minister, see men find salvation while behind bars, but won’t allow these same men to be in their church once released. Too many to count. I can’t help but think of how deeply that wounds God. 65% of our congregation are felons. Yes, they did horrible things. And yes, they are forgiven. Hard words. But God’s grace is generous like that.

    It was hard for me, as I’ve always been drawn to children’s ministry. But I’ve come to see that many grown adults (in the justice system) never had a parent that functioned well, held a job for any length of time, or nurtured them. So, in a way, it is a different kind of ‘children’s ministry’–social workers call it re-parenting. We call it living like believers among hurting people. It is difficult. It is messy. It has lots of setbacks…but it is glorious. God is good. All the time.

    1. Natalie Gwyn Post author

      Re-parenting. Yes! I hadn’t thought of it that way but God has called me to re-parent both my adopted children and my neighbor. Different branches of the same ministry.

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