When Joanna first started to communicate with John Lee, well before she became involved with his case and well before she adopted him and took his freedom as her cherished cause, she was barraged with warnings. Little could she imagine that he was beset with almost identical warnings. Here is part of the story…
When I first met John Lee, it seemed the whole world set out to warn me I was being played, I was a bleeding heart, a dupe for some evil person who wanted to manipulate me into something, it was not clear what. What I didn’t know at the time was that John was being warned about me as ferociously as I was about him. This is how he told it to me:
The guys on the block all laughed at me when I showed them the newspaper with the piece out of the book you’d written and said I was going to write to this woman. I was going to try to get her for a pen pal. They didn’t pay attention to the piece out of the book. They just looked at your photo.
“You think a woman like that going write you? A white woman like that? You crazy, man.”
I said, “If I don’t try I’ll never know, will I?”
They said, “Man, you a fool. That sort of woman, she don’t care nothing about you.”
I said, “How come she wrote this book about this slave then?”
They said, “She white, man, white. You jest a black man settin on your ass in prison.”
I said, “At least I keep on trying to reach out to society. At least I keep on trying to find myself a friend. Not like you damn cowards, too afraid to try because you’re frightened of rejection.”
They said, “How you going write her anyways? You ain’t got her address.”
I got pissed then. I said, “Well then, I will get it.”
See, I’ve got this friend in here, first white person I’ve ever been friends with. I got mad love for that guy. He’s one of the few whose family keep in touch with him, so I got him to write a letter to his mother and his mother looked you up in the phone book and sent back the address and then I wrote that letter to you.
Then I sat back and waited. I didn’t tell nobody, but I did not expect an answer, not deep down in my heart.
So I was real surprised how fast you answered. Dear Mr. Conaway. No one ever called me Mr. Conaway.
When I told the other guys, you should have heard them. They told me all kinds of stuff.
“That woman might be using you for her own gain, man.”
“Man, you done lost your mind.”
“Damn man, that woman’s white, man. Man, that woman could be trouble.”
Some of these guys are real bad when it comes to whites. I even had one of the guys real close to me said, “You better be careful, man. That woman might be using you, man.”
I think he’s changed his mind now. I think you did that on your own. You changed him without even knowing it. He was lying in bed one day trying to sleep with the blanket on his head and I ran into his cell and said, “I got a letter. I got a letter from that writer, man.”
He said, “Man, you better be careful, man, with those people, man.”
I said, “What you mean, man?”
He said, “Man, all right man, you know she’s a writer, man.”
I said, “Man, what you talking about, man?”
He said, “All right, boy. She could be using you.”
And guess what I told him? I said, “Well hell, I don’t got nothing to lose.”
He looked at me, just laughed. He said, “Man, you crazy, man.” And he put the blanket back over his head.
So I went ahead and walked off and got my paper and pencil and went down to the table and started writing you back. But don’t think I heard no negative stuff, because I did.
Even one of the correctional officers too, he told me, “Boy, you keep away from those white people. Those white people, they going lynch you, ain’t going do nothing for you, just leave you standing on the corner like a fool.”
So don’t think you were the only one. You caught it in your world. I caught it in my world too. About the only guy who didn’t do that was the white guy got me your address.