Word choice not intentionally rude

By David Stevens: CNJ Editor

I get a lot of jail mail.

Most of it’s from mistreated, misunderstood innocent people, of course, whose purpose for writing is usually beyond my limited intellectual capacity.

But a letter last week from Bernardo Baca III caught my attention because it was not 83 pages long, it did not address the Curry County Adult Detention Center’s food quality or temperature control and it did not ask for an investigative reporter to uncover the truth of anything.

Baca’s letter was written in complete sentences in discernible handwriting and got right to the point.

He was mad about a blurb in the paper that seemed to compare prisoners with critters:

“Zoo animals and inmates must be watched and fed, even on a day traditionally set aside for family gatherings,” read the tease for an upcoming Thanksgiving story.

Baca’s response leads the letters on this page. His final comment calls for an apology or an explanation.

The explanation is that newspaper reporters are also human and sometimes we choose our words poorly.

And we are sorry if we implied that jail inmates are equal to zoo animals. I know that was not our intention, but I see where someone might get that idea.

I appreciate Baca’s feelings, as well as his gift for communication.

• • •

While most letters from jail are not memorable, I’ll never forget the correspondence I had with Kenneth Glenn Milner, the “Friday the 13th killer” from Panhandle, Texas.

I initiated the communication near the 10th anniversary of the bloody night of July 13, 1990, asking if he might answer questions or at least share his thoughts about the events.

His response came a few weeks later in an envelope with maybe 25 pieces of paper — but only one word: “No.”

• • •

Do you believe in miracles? I do. I saw the Houston Astros play in the World Series this year.

Please consider this my annual call for miracles that you’ve witnessed. I’ve been asking for miracle stories about a decade now, and I’m always amazed by what follows.

Somebody always gets mad, complaining that Jesus’ resurrection was the last true miracle and since we’re not writing about that, the newspaper project trivializes God’s power.

Somebody always claims the sunrise and a baby’s birth is a miracle.

Somebody always tells a story about prayer healing a disease and they consider it a miracle.

And a bunch of people tell stories that seem hard to believe, which, of course, might qualify them as miracles.

I don’t pretend to know what constitutes a miracle. I prefer the storyteller make the distinction between coincidence and divine intervention.

One of my favorite miracle reports came from a 1996 incident near Claude, Texas. A woman was taking her three boys to wrestling practice when a pickup truck zipped past them on the highway, then hit a ditch, went out of control and landed on a railroad track.

The woman stopped and found the pickup driver unconscious and the vehicle disabled … and a train bearing down on them.

She began to tug at the man in hopes of dragging him from the pickup, but his hands were “death locked onto the steering wheel,” she said, and she couldn’t move him.

Just moments before the train slammed into the pickup, another man appeared and helped the woman drag the unconscious driver to safety.

Tammy Craig said the next few minutes were a mass of confusion, but when she looked around for her fellow lifesaver, she said he was gone.

“I even asked the boys if they saw him get into a vehicle,” Craig said, “but there wasn’t a vehicle for him to get into. The boys said they saw him, but they never saw where he went. They say he was an angel.”

If you’ve experienced any miracles — or whatever you want to call them — like that, I’d love to hear about it.

David Stevens is editor for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. Contact him at 1-800-819-9925 or by e-mail: david_stevens@link.freedom.com