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A Convict & his Teddy Bear

The office was located alongside the westside of Savannah adjacent to M.L.K. Jr. Blvd. and I recall it was a small one-story house that they turned into a business. It was a rough area of town with Spanish oak trees surrounding the building and a broken down sidewalk that lead to the front door. It was daytime, later in the afternoon, although I cannot recall what time of season it was or what year, maybe 2007 or 2008? My gut instinct wants to say it was in the late summer, early fall, in 2008. At the time, I had to drop off something at a social worker’s office. All of her clients were men on parole⁠—previously convicted convicts (felons) going through a mandatory counseling program⁠—part of their ‘rehabilitation’ back into society and to fulfill requirements of their probation. All of the clients were men on parole, except one: me. I was her only client that didn’t have a criminal history⁠, and in fact⁠, I was her only female client that was voluntarily in counseling and paying out-of-pocket.

When I walked in that day⁠—I saw a grown man in his 30’s that was very built, muscular, wearing a white cotton muscle shirt, covered head-to-toe in tattoos with not one spot of visible skin left for ink except his face. At least 6′ 4″ or taller with dreadlocks, he had on blue jeans, and I noticed he was holding something in his hands: a teddy bear. The teddy bear looked older. It was clean⁠—but it looked older in design and very small in his gigantic hands. Tattoos don’t freak me out, nor make me think someone is a criminal. But, his overall vibes and appearance just did not strike me as a man that carries a teddy bear in the daytime. Since he was in the waiting room, I looked around for a child. Thinking maybe he had brought a child’s teddy bear for them to play with, but I didn’t see a kid. When our eyes met, he looked sad. Since I didn’t want him thinking I was judging him for holding a teddy bear, I smiled hello with my eyes. He smiled back. We never spoke.

Suddenly, the social worker walked out, and she greeted me but did not say my name. I handed her a check and then left abruptly. Two weeks to a month later, whenever my next appointment was. Before I started to talk, I asked the social worker a question, “I know I’m not supposed to ask this, but I cannot help it: why did that man in the waiting room last week have a teddy bear?”

She inhaled and looked at me sternly with a deep thought as if she were questioning whether or not she would answer that question.

“I asked him to bring something from his childhood, anything that when he looked at it or touched it, he felt something happy and could remember a happy time in his life before he got into crime and went down the wrong path.”

Staring at the floor, I looked at the ceramic tiling, and I felt sad because it must’ve been a long time ago since he felt happy to bring in a teddy bear. Little boys tend to outgrow teddy bears at an early age. They might keep them in their room or the closet, but they usually move on to other toys they like playing with.

It’s easy to get trapped in other people’s pain, and I couldn’t imagine what kind of road he’s walked.

I replied, “That’s very sad. I guess the silver lining is that at least he can remember a time that he felt happy and hadn’t completely forgotten about his teddy bear.”

Then she changed the subject and asked about me, and I cannot remember anything else from that appointment. Sometimes, out of nowhere, or at least I think it’s at random⁠—this man, this convict, crosses my mind. Every so many years, I think of that social worker’s office⁠ and I wonder how he’s doing. I try to remember to say a little prayer that he’s stayed out of jail and is back on the right path to living a good life.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

– Anton Chekhov

Savannah, Georgia was and is a beautiful city. I’m glad I got my Master’s degree and B.F.A. from Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). It will always be home and I love to visit. However, there was a lot of hardship and poverty in that city. A lot of crimes and a lot of ghettos. Many broken homes, segregation. Lost kids without the love, guidance, shelter, food and support they need. Watching it all from afar, I could see how kids could get wrapped up in that life and have a hard time ever escaping the vicious cycle. I felt powerless to fix anything, and I hope to go back someday with a campaign to help the schools and families in need, in hopes of giving future generations an easier chance and a better shot at success. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but without enough money to survive, it can be an unfortunate and tragic life. A never-ending struggle to survive and keep your head above water.

Anyway, I only saw this social worker for a few months, not even half a year, that’s all I needed. Certainly, it was a strange dynamic as I most certainly did not fit in there amongst male convicts, most of which had been in jail the majority of their adult lives. Then again, “Beauty and the Beast” (La Belle et la Bête) was always one of my favorite childhood books by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. And I did grow up with all boys, all military and lots of masculinity (good and bad). Some of which were beasts and monsters of men. Other men in my life were like heroes of men that loved me, kept me safe from harm and taught me how to be strong in a man’s world… It’s a very Americanized, modern belief that all men that love you will treat you right: friend, family member, or lover. [Clearly, I don’t just mean romantic love, I mean all forms of love.] Sadly, that’s simply not true. Sometimes, people just don’t know how to love the right way, the healthy way. Sometimes, people love you but they don’t love themselves and they’re so damaged and in so much pain. They’ve become lost, broken and they hurt themselves and others in their path like a tornado that’s out of control. Sometimes people become a product of their environment and are clueless how to break the cycle and choose differently. Like being programmed at birth with the wrong software and having to deprogram everything you know… It’s not an excuse to tolerate that kind of pain or jaded love from another, just that, it’s an explanation. Our society lives in this fantasy, fairytale that love never involves pain, and that’s simply a lie. In a perfect world, love would be that simple.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”

– Bob Marley

I really admired this man at the social worker’s office for being brave enough, humble enough and strong enough to face his demons and try to heal his life. Few men can do this, especially when life has derailed you and beat you down so far off the desired path. However, it is possible to change and heal your life.

One of my best traits is I always strive to look for the beauty in life—even when it’s looking hopeless and even when it’s hard to see any Light. I can find beauties in myself and others in dreary times. I am accepting and tolerant and kindhearted about people’s pasts and who they used to be. At the end of the day, unless someone did something so unspeakable like Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer, at which point that’s between them and God in the afterlife. We all deserve a second chance. We all deserve love and forgiveness. It’s about who we are in this present moment, not where we were or what we did. It’s about how we’ve tried to grow, change, improve our lives and better the environment for those around us. At times, I’ve been told I am too nice, too tolerant and too understanding with others and I allow men I love(d) to push the boundaries too far, and that’s true at times because I can lose sight of myself that way… And while I have things to learn. I’d rather be too forgiving than too self-righteous and merciless. I’d rather be too optimistic than too pessimistic, too romantic than too realistic. Life will always knock you on your ass and reality will slap you in the face if you ever start to forget and live in a fantasy. I just wish we all knew how to love more. We all need loved ones, friends, family and cheerleaders to keep rooting for us, even when we lose at life. But first, we have to start with loving ourselves, which is no easy task. Because if there were more self-love in the world, there would be a lot less anxiety, hatred, jealousy, fear, anger, depression and sadness in the world. A lot less broken hearts.

“I’ll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don’t know
I’ll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you’re home

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you’re twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
‘Cause I see you

I find it hard to believe you don’t know
The beauty you are
But if you don’t let me be your eyes
A hand to your darkness, so you won’t be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you’re twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
‘Cause I see you

I’ll be your mirror.”

-Nico and The Velvet Underground

Published by Nicolette Mallow

‡ Nicolette Mallow is an Artist: writer, dancer, vocalist, thespian, model, and (amateur) photographer. Writing is Mallow’s strongest artistic skill. Internationally published in the United States and Europe, Nicolette has obtained 110+ publications thus far. Mallow has interviewed an extensive list of talent and collaborated with companies and PR teams from Texas Monthly, National Geographic, Prevention Magazine, HBO Films, The Hollywood Reporter, SXSW, The David Lynch Foundation, Cine Las Americas, The University of Texas at Austin and more. Presently her portfolio entails 12 national awards or scholarships, including both individual and group projects. Working with Press and Publicity teams from companies like Sunshine Sachs, Fons PR, Frank PR, and CW3PR — Mallow can liaise with publicists, entrepreneurs, and their brands. Since 2005, for 17 years, Nicolette Mallow has covered numerous press, corporate and red carpet events as a (dyslexic) writer. Mallow has interviewed talent far beyond her years, including Jimmy Chin, Greta Gerwig, Bob Roth, Dr. Travis Stork, Joan Lunden, Larysa DiDio, Lauren Handel Zander, James White, Jay Roach, Naomi Whittel and Roc Chen. Once, she was a public speaker for a national business conference. Her career is diverse and transcends a vast array of industries, but the focus is always on the arts. Nicolette Mallow does enjoy all forms of writing, but her favorite writing genres to create entail editorial, arts & entertainment, literary journalism, travel, magical realism, nonfiction, technical and promotional publicity. Over time Nicolette has attained Press Credentials to events like Texas Film Awards (hosted by Austin Film Society), The Mexic-Arte Museum, Austin Film Festival, Euphoria Music Festival, and The Blanton Museum of Art. She also wrote for Savannah Magazine, a radio station operated by EMMIS Communications, District newspaper, and the Thinkery (formerly Austin Children’s Museum). In her spare time, Nicolette creates a magical realism novel and turns her nonfiction memoirs into short story novellas. Obtaining two degrees from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), she has a Master of Arts degree in Arts Administration (a graduate degree now recognized as Creative Business Leadership) and a B.F.A. in Writing. Born and raised in Texas and NYC—Nicolette Mallow is also a world traveler that lives for art and loves to learn. “L’art Pour L’art.”

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