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My Tucson: Desperation and disconnection

A call from Pima County Jail in Spanish leaves columnist regretful and wondering

A cry for help: Pondering who was on the other end of the line of a telephone call from the Pima County Jail.

A cry for help: Pondering who was on the other end of the line of a telephone call from the Pima County Jail.

Casey and I were settling in for the night when the phone rang. It was not all that late, but we had decided to retire early.

I asked, “Shall we answer it?”

“You get it,” she said.

Fumbling in the dark, hello?

Ésta es una llamada de la carcel de Pima County – a recording in Spanish, but I wasn’t listening in Spanish. I thought I understood enough to know it was someone calling from the county jail.

Si esta llamada está equivocado, llame al numero . . .

My Spanish was good enough to understand that yes, indeed, this was a call in error. I chose to hang up.

“Who was that?” Casey asked.

Some call from the county jail.

“Was it a reverse the charges?”

I don’t know, I guess so.

In the silent darkness I wondered who and what this was about. Who do we know who is a monolingual Spanish speaker who might be in jail?

The phone rang again. Fumbling for the light switch and phone. Ésta es una llamada de la carcel . . . I was now prepared to listen in Spanish.

After various instructions and number pressing, the final request was that if I wished to accept this call, press 7. I did.

Bueno. ¿Que número quieres? I asked.

He replied, not answering my question but asking, ¿Quien habla?

No voy a decir. ¿Con quien quieres hablar? (I’m not going to say. Whom do you want to talk with?)

Jorge Perez, he replied.

No hay nadie aqui con este nombre. ¿Que número quieres? (There’s no one here with that name. What number do you want?)

Está equivocada. (It’s a mistake.) And he hung up.

“Why didn’t you speak English?” Casey asked. “He would have understood he had the wrong number.”

I don’t know; I didn’t think of that.

I turned off the light but was wide awake. Who’s in jail? Does he get another call? Or was that it? Will they let him make another call?

Could I have been more helpful? A call from jail is pretty desperate. Could I have asked him more questions? Could I have asked him if I could call Jorge for him? Why didn’t I just say, How can I help you?

I thought of Michel Quoist’s poem The Telephone.

I have just hung up; why did he telephone? I don’t know . . . O! I get it . . . I talked a lot and listened little.

Forgive me, Lord, it was a monologue and not a dialogue. I explained my idea and did not get his; Since I didn’t listen, I learned nothing. Since I didn’t listen, I didn’t help. Since I didn’t listen, we didn’t communicate.

Forgive me, Lord, for we were connected, and now we are cut off.”

I felt so regretful that I hadn’t responded, didn’t reply with help, and now there’s nothing I can do, even if it was a mistaken call.

Perhaps in the mysterious divine order of things, it was not a mistake, only my mistake.

I didn’t sleep for a while.

After 10 years working in Mexico, Punch Woods directed Tucson’s Community Food Bank for 25 years, retiring in 2003. He now volunteers with nonprofits and enjoys country life with wife Casey. E-mail: punchwoods@q.com



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