Here’s an interesting dichotomy: The sheriff, who is a purported proponent of charity, prohibits acts of charity among the inmates in his charge. It’s a rule—one I recently broke. I gave food to someone who was hungry. It wasn’t much, just a snack. Of course, this doesn’t make me a saint (not that there would be any confusion—many misguided souls believe I’m the devil incarnate). Who wouldn’t spare a little food for someone who was hungry? No brainer there.
Yet true to the adage “No good deed goes unpunished,” my random act of kindness resulted in “restriction,” meaning no phone calls (except legal) and no canteen. The latter is where the crux of the irony lies. I chose to give food to someone who was hungry, and for that I was punished by being made to go hungry—on Thanksgiving, no less. For giving. Because my giving was in violation of a rule that at first blush seems absurd.
The rule was not created arbitrarily, however. Some inmates pass weapons or drugs. Others use canteen as currency, offering it as payment for pills, tattoos, and other unmentionables. Almost invariably, a fight breaks out on canteen day over someone failing to pay their debt. (You wouldn’t believe the drama that can escalate over a 75-cent bag of chips.) The rule was put in place to curtail, if only somewhat successfully, security risks such as these, not to keep hungry people hungry. But rather than split hairs and run the risk of showing bias, it’s a blanket rule that applies equally to everyone (in theory, not so much in practice).
Well, I can’t let someone go hungry if I’m in a position to help. I just can’t. I don’t like feeling hungry, do you? I love food. (I’m munching on a green apple as I write this.) Does this justify my breaking a rule? That would depend on whom you’re asking. Any officer with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), if going on the record, would tell you that breaking a rule, even one classified as “minor,” such as in this case, is never justified. Writer Martha Beck offers us a different perspective. In this quote, she very eloquently explains the state of my heart:
If everyone kept all the rules, we’d still be practicing cherished traditions like child marriage, slavery, and public hangings. The way humans become humane is by assessing from the heart, rather than the rule book, where the justice of a situation lies. Sometimes, you have to break the rules around you in order to keep the rules within you (my emphasis).
I’m not a ruler-breaker by nature, but I sometimes go against the grain, even when it chafes. As the reality settled in that my giving in this instance would not lead to receiving, as karmic law says it should, but would lead to a loss, the seeming poetic justice gave me pause. It was like anti-karma.
The Hearing Sergeant came to see me about the incident two days later, just as SRT (Special Response Team) was picking me up for court. Half-jokingly, one of the officers asked me, “What have you learned from this situation?” I’m sure this wasn’t the answer they were expecting, but the lesson was clear: “No charitable acts at Estrella.”