You Just Don't Know by Angel
"You Just Don't Know" is written by a very unusual author, and directed to an ordinarily neglected part of our population. Angel, the nom de plume of the author, is a woman who is courageously writing her book and
surviving on the very bottom rung of
society, homeless, and for much of the book, completely alone. She spends her days writing letters to the one population in worse economic straits than she herself: the prison population.
She receives letters back from a full spectrum of incarcerated individuals,
mostly men, over three hundred of them, who confide their hopelessness, anguish about wives and families, fear of death.
Some of them have been given very long prison terms, even life sentences. Angel's
correspondence histories cover many years. Some of the prisoners are in isolation, called the SHU. Pelican Bay,
where many of her correspondents are confined, has a population almost half of whom are in the SHU. Some have been abandoned by their families and former friends. She is therefore the only voice
of friendship and comfort which can reach them over years of incarceration
and deprivation of human company.
Angel's approach to offering these prisoners comfort and strength is through a tried and true agent, the Bible.
As this is the most widely read book in much of the world, and as most people, even those who have been brought up in a harsh and repressive religious atmosphere, are able to recognize the wisdom contained in the book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Judges, Kings, and
the New Testament, it is likely to be a successful vehicle for communication which Angel has chosen.
One of her most frequent themes is that
there is always a deeper meaning in every prison sentence, which lies behind the
harsh and frequently unjust decisions
of the court. Angel likens a prison sentence to a bear, whom she encountered once in the woods. near where she was walking. She exited the woods immediately only to learn that an
insane killer was on the loose in those very woods. "I have listened to my inmates' stories, and when looking at them, prison could be considered their Bear, which God has used to save them from lives they were living in the streets, for many were approaching death, yet they did not see it, but God did...." Her responses to the sometimes desperate letters cousel strength, and making an effort towards consciousness of being alive and in the present, and forgiveness,
which can dissipate their anger and despair.
Angel regales her inmate correspondents with details of her own life, such as
the personalities and antics of her dogs .
She confides some of the issues she struggles with in her own life. There is not enough of this: the reader would love to know more of where she comes from, what her own childhood was like, and how she manages to survive. She describes her extraordinary generosity
by quoting the New Testament anecdote
regarding the rich men who tithe themselves in the temple compared with a beggar who contributes a tiny amount but which is her entire posession.
But Angel's gift is more precious than the beggar woman's, as she is giving, not to
a wealthy church, but to a population of desperate souls in need of a ray of hope and a gentle, human touch.