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Bobby is almost invisible. Most of society has forgotten him. I haven’t, because he is my brother. Bobby didn’t start out life being invisible or being my brother. The change started when he went to county jail, and then prison. He was convicted of a terrible crime and sentenced to life plus ninety years (three thirty-year sentences served concurrently). We (members of his family) believe he is innocent and are in the midst of a complicated legal fight.

Bobby became part of my family when he married my cousin. I knew him, though I didn’t know him well. I actually didn’t know my cousin well, either. We were raised in different states, and both she and Bobby are younger than I am. Bobby’s incarceration led my cousin and myself to connect on a much deeper level. It started with a simple conversation where she asked to talk. I became her mentor, though I’m not sure when we started identifying me as her mentor. We talk on a weekly basis, which has been our practice for four years. She no longer feels like a cousin, but a sister.

It took longer for Bobby and me to change our relationship from cousins to brothers. The big break-through happened when he started receiving e-mails. This was not effective when he had to use the community computer but started working well when family was able to get him a tablet of his own. There is a cost per e-mail, and all e-mails are reviewed (which slows them down). Even with this, it works a lot better for me than hand-writing letters. I received my first e-mail from Bobby on September 18, 2018. Our practice is to alternate e-mails and try to answer each other’s questions. I have received forty-two e-mails from Bobby, with another forty-two e-mails being sent from me. In addition, we convey information when he talks to his wife on the phone.

When did most people quit seeing Bobby? For sure when he entered prison. Perhaps even while he was in county jail. No one from his work has ever initiated contact, and it has been surprising which family members have had no contact with him. Other unexpected family members have stepped up for Bobby. Family members are the only ones outside of the prison who “see” Bobby, although a few neighbors still ask about him. What does Bobby want? To know people care.

A person doesn’t have to go to prison to become invisible. I’ve seen it happen when someone goes into a nursing home. Sometimes it happens if a person becomes a shut-in, or they have a health condition which doesn’t allow them to be around many people. Even becoming a caregiver can make a person invisible. For sure people are harder to see if they become homeless. What if they have legal issues with gaining citizenship? These are only a few ways people become invisible. I wonder how many of our invisible brothers and sisters would like to know people care?

At church on Sunday I talked with a member who is involved in community theater. He told me some of the people from the theater are singing with Alzheimer’s patients. What a great way to see people who are usually invisible!

As Christians, and as United Methodists, do we care enough to look for those who are invisible? Sometimes I think we are so focused on our own issues, we don’t have enough energy left to truly see other people. This applies to the ones who are easy to see. How about the people who are hard to see? Do we even care? Maybe the best people for us to start looking for are the ones we already know who have disappeared.

Your brother on the journey, Mark

Further thoughts: Does Jesus ever give up on anyone? I have a college friend who is also in prison. He was sentenced to fifty-five years and has served a little over sixteen years. I confess it took me a long time to write my first letter to Mike. My last letter was sent a couple of years ago. I didn’t hear back and didn’t follow-up. The thought occurred to me he might have been moved, but how could I find out? My cousin/sister pointed out it is easy to get the information. All I needed to do was a search for the state and “DOC”. She was right, I had the information in less than a minute. Sure enough, he had been moved to another prison. It’s time for me to write a letter so he knows he hasn’t been forgotten! Speaking of Mike, did I mention he was an ordained United Methodist Elder, and a military chaplain? He was convicted of murdering his wife in the parsonage. I wonder if Mike has become totally invisible to society, and to the United Methodist Church?

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