Mr. Stiner didn’t pick up the phone. I figured I’d give him a couple minutes and then call him back.
I reclined the driver’s seat of my champagne-colored Saturn, grabbed my phone, and started scrolling through social media posts about New Years parties and resolutions. The gray clouds over East Oakland opened and water began to accumulate on the windshield of my idle ride. I could hear tires screech in the distance. Someone was swinging donuts nearby. A block over? Na, closer. I looked in the rearview mirror — it wasn’t behind me. I leaned over into the passenger seat in order to get a better view of what was happening in front of me. I looked down the boomerang-shaped-block; I could see the tail end of a mid 90’s model Mustang 5.0 swinging & kicking up smoke in the next intersection.
My phone rang:
“Hey! You here?”
“Yeah! I’m out front, in the car. I’ll bring the box in.”
The conversation was brief; the Mustang was still painting the intersection with tire marks as I tucked my phone back into my pocket.
Just as I closed my car door, the front door to his residence opened. The six-foot something, stoic and skinny Mr. Stiner stood on the top of the stairs as I grabbed a bulky box out of my trunk. He saw me struggling with the wide load as I crossed the street, so he took it from me before I attempted to conquer the stairs.
I wiped my feet as I walked into the house. He sat the box on the couch.
The living room was plush: the colors on the walls were vibrant shades of red and orange. The furniture was feng shui’ed to the fullest. And the statuettes were a graceful touch to the overall aesthetic.
Go figure that this guy was in a cell in San Quentin this time last year; talk about “upgrade”.
He gave me a quick tour: pointed out his bedroom, the “meeting room” and the backyard — where the dirt was turned over in preparation for planting seeds once the winter’s series of storms cease.
Some people would call Mr. Stiner’s residence a “halfway house”; but he simply told me: it’s a good place to live. I mean, he did go a little further to explain that it’s a place for people who are transitioning back into society after serving time; a place where people work on Restorative Justice practices, a place were people could have the autonomy to do things like catch the bus to the library when they want.
He told me that the house has multiple residents, including a guy named Troy, who I knew from my time working in San Quentin.
“I think he’s here, let me call him.”
As Mr. Stiner called Troy on the phone, I asked to use the bathroom. I could hear both ends of the conversation through the thin walls:
“I got Pen here for ya!” Mr. Stiner said.
Troy’s voice echoed from a room in the basement, “I’m here, come on down!”
I finished my business, washed my hands and headed downstairs with Mr. Stiner. Troy was sitting at his desk, hovering over his computer and wearing headphones with the microphone attachment — similar to the ones Janet Jackson was rocking in the “Control” music video.
We were interrupting his online lesson, but Troy’s smile said he didn’t mind.
“Maannnnnnnnnnn, I thought you said ‘I got ten($) here for ya!’”, Troy said to Mr. Stiner, as he laughed and greeted me.
We drank bottled water and talked briefly about family, current events and plans for the future. Troy and Mr. Stiner told me about recently revisiting San Quentin as free men, and recording their experiences on a Podcast called “Life Of The Law”.
I half paid attention to the convo, half took in Troy’s room: books, a bike, and a set of weights. A list of short terms goals spelled out his efforts for financial stability… I couldn’t stop looking at the message inscribed on the top of his dresser, just above the the mirror:
“May the road you walk through life be paved with happiness.”
When the conversation took a natural break, I asked if I could have a photo of the words. They were speaking to me!
Next to the message, was a UC Berkeley baseball cap suspended from what appeared to be a hat hook. Troy, a media producer and writer, mentioned how he is looking to apply to UC Berkeley. I told him, as a UC Berkeley grad, I’d do all that I could to see that it works out for him.
In return, he told me a little story about wanting something to happen:
“A man once wanted to be a Writer, so he asked a Monk to teach him how. The man and the Monk went to a beach, and the Monk said, ‘If you want to be a Writer, walk into the water’. Without question, the man walked into the water. It covered his feet, then his knees, up to his waist, and then eventually the water covered his head. The Monk, still standing on the beach, screamed for the man to return. The man came back to dry land, gasping for air, asking the Monk why he had to go into the water to be a Writer? The Monk replied: the only way you really know what you what you want to do in life, is if you’re willing to die for it.”
“I like that,” said Mr. Stiner. I agreed.
I stayed around for a few more jokes with Troy and Mr. Stiner; before leaving I invited the duo to my New Years Eve festivities. Troy agreed to come, Mr. Stiner said he had family coming to visit him. I wasn’t going to infringe on that.
On the way out, I told Mr. Stiner that I hope the items in the box fit him — about 20 pounds of old clothes my step-father was about to throw away/ donate. Mr. Stiner and my step-father have a similar build and taste in clothes, and I figured Mr. Stiner had enough to worry about with transitioning back into society — so making this connection would allow him to cross at least one headache off of his list.
He thanked me and gave me a hug. I stepped back out the door, into the rain, jumped into my car and got back on the road.