Fried Chicken

I was driving. I was hungry. I had to pull over because I was about to eat my own steering wheel. The Tennessee autumn was in full swing. I had a long way left to go.

I found a meat and three in a strip mall. Lots of trucks in the parking area.

You can trust a place with trucks in the parking lot.

Everyone knows that if you see a throng of Fords and Chevys in a restaurant parking lot, the said establishment has exceptional fried chicken. If you see Cadillacs and Buicks, they will also have excellent congealed salad.

The server behind the sneeze guard asked what I wanted. He was tall, gaunt, wearing a hairnet. His neck and arms were painted in a gridwork of tattoos.

“Chicken of meatloaf?” he said.

“Chicken,” said I.

Fried chicken is a dying art in America. I was raised fundamentalist; fried chicken is my spiritual mascot. Fried chicken is holy food. And it is the only dish I don’t mind eating cold. Next-day chicken, straight from the fridge, is better than Christmas.

The server selected drumsticks that were roughly the size of a James Patterson paperback.

“You want veggies with it?” he said.

“Does the pope go in the woods?” I said.

The list of side dishes was plentiful: Mac and cheese, fried green tomatoes, squash casserole, turnip greens, butterbeans, pintos, great northerns, zipper peas, cornbread salad, slaw, tater logs.

And don’t even get me started on the sweets. You had peach cobbler, lemon meringue, blueberry dump cake, caramel cake, chess pie, and complimentary syringes of insulin.

When my foam box was loaded to capacity, I filled my cup from the tea dispenser. The man who served me was on break, waiting to fill his tea.

We started talking. After a few minutes of conversation, I learned that he had just got out of prison.

“I was turned down for ten different jobs,” he said. “Most people don’t want a guy like me working at their business. But the owners of this place gave me a chance.”

I asked how he was adjusting to life outside.

He shrugged. “Honestly, it’s really tough. The world has changed since I first went in, back when I was young. I ain’t a kid no more.”

I nodded as though I understood. Which I don’t.

“Only part of the world I ever saw was working on a prison road crew. They let me run heavy machinery and stuff because I kept myself clean. If you don’t cause no trouble in prison, sometime you get privileges.”

He talked about everything. He spoke of friends: “It’s hard to make friends in prison.”

About religion: “It ain’t God I got a problem with, it’s preachers, they ain’t never tried to do [cuss word] for me.”

Our conversation took a few hairpin turns. He spoke of lost loves. Of double crossers. Of his estranged adult children. He had a lot to say, and apparently nobody but me to say it to.

The man went on to tell me that a few years ago his mother died. He was inside at the time. The experience almost killed him. He didn’t want to live anymore. A prison chaplain visited him frequently because they were afraid he’d try to take his own life.

He almost did. But a turning point came one afternoon when a fellow inmate’s little girl sent him a random Christmas gift.

The gift arrived in the mail, gift wrapped. It was crayons and blank paper.

“I just felt warm all over,” he recalls. “Opening that package. Someone gave a [cuss word] about me.”

He has used every crayon in the box. He has drawn hundreds of pictures with them. He still owns the crayons, but only three crayons are left in the box.

“And they’re all worn to little nubs.”

He reached into his pocket and showed me his phone. On the screen were his recent drawings. One drawing showed an angel with scars all over his body. The angel’s wings were battered. His face was bruised.

He described the picture to me. “This is an angel who made a lot of dumb mistakes,” he said. “But God don’t disown anyone. So he’s still an angel, just trying to heal.”

The cherub is staring at heaven. There is pain in the angel’s eyes. Below the heavenly being’s feet is a scripture verse:

“When thou passest through the waters, I shall be with thee…”

“This was the verse my mom gave me,” he said. “I believe she can see me right now. That’s what keeps me going. My mom.”

Our conversation took a long time to come to a finish. By the time we parted ways, I hadn’t even eaten yet. My food had already grown cold.

But as I say, cold fried chicken is better than Christmas.


  1. PMc - October 22, 2022 8:38 am

    Your compassion has no boundaries and it is so refreshing to see who or what will be lucky to meet you next. Thank You
    Peace and Love from Birmingham 🙏♥️

    • Emily Hall - October 22, 2022 12:11 pm

      I was turned on to you by a friends facebook post about your visit to the School of Blind in Mobile, my home town (horn toots). Just fabulous. Just read Fried Chicken with all sorts of emotions. I am hooked. Thank you for being you, and sharing. Cheers!

  2. Roxanne Taylor - October 22, 2022 10:05 am

    Sean, when my hubby and I read your posts each day we are either laughing out loud, or crying with tears rolling down our cheeks. Brother, you have such a special gift of moving hearts. Back in the seventies I was involved in a Christian prison ministry in Florida. My oh my the stories I could share. Fast forward to 30 plus years ago when my youngest son first got involved with drugs. Over the years he ended up in prison twice, along with several stints in jail. I am happy to report he finally got his act together and got clean. Finding a job as a convicted felon is a true challenge. Today he has his own company doing drywall, painting, remodeling, and handyman jobs. He has turned his life around and will not be defined by his past.

  3. Ht - October 22, 2022 10:57 am

    His mom is smiling at your gift of listening but, I’m Intrigued; cornbread salad?

  4. 🇿🇦🇿🇦 Norma Den - October 22, 2022 10:59 am

    Sad story but praying that man finds his way in his attempts to get together a better life. Well done to him for sharing his story so,openly. May it be both a warning and an encouragement to others in similar situations. Thanks Sean for listening to him and showing him people do care.

  5. Dolores - October 22, 2022 11:25 am

    There are so many hurting people in the world who feel invisible, forgotten. I imagine it can be mostly true in prison.

    But there are many types of prisons on the outside too, they’re called false idols. They do nothing for us. We must constantly work for them, wanting more. Enslaved. Empty.

    Is it any wonder our Lord says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

    A simple box of crayons and paper lifted a spirit. Being present and just listening can do that too.

  6. mccutchen52 - October 22, 2022 11:27 am

    No matter who you are or where you come from a second chance is all you need sometimes. You can use it or abuse it.

  7. Debbie - October 22, 2022 11:31 am

    God bless that man with strength and comfort. Make his path forward be void of damnation of his past from others, and make the way clear to him as he searches for the way through this life to his home in Heaven. In the name of Jesus.

    From the Apostle Paul…” I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”.

  8. Leigh Amiot - October 22, 2022 11:45 am

    A mother’s love…a second cousin did a long sentence in prison, about 15 years, and some years after he was released, his mother, my first cousin, passed away. He stood up after the pastor’s eulogy in in an old white country church when others were welcomed to remember Ruth Ann and said, paraphrase, a lot of people ask “What would Jesus do?”, but in hard situations in life I ask “What would mama do?”

    It’s true, “God don’t disown anyone”, and it’s a rare mother who will, no matter what her adult child has done.

  9. Christine - October 22, 2022 12:25 pm

    Thank You to the people who have given this man a second chance at living. Thank you Sean for letting him talk and helping him to heal. You are a good listener. God’s blessings to you both.

  10. Dennis P - October 22, 2022 12:40 pm

    We dump people in prison, often the right thing to do, but we also dump them out of prison and expect them to be on an equal footing with their age group. That is dumber than (mild cuss word). Who will volunteer to set up a program to help prisoners exit prison?

  11. James Stamps - October 22, 2022 12:54 pm

    You reminded me of what I once heard about Baptist preachers. Their belt is the fence around a chicken graveyard.

  12. PSC - October 22, 2022 1:01 pm

    Your listening skills equal your writing skills. Thank you for sharing both.

  13. Glenda Busby-Fowler Hinkle - October 22, 2022 1:06 pm

    And for that brief moment, you became an Angel of God to that man. You are Blessed and made your Daddy so proud.

  14. Priscilla Rodgers - October 22, 2022 1:16 pm

    Bless this guy and bless you for listening. Sometimes that’s all someone needs, is to be listened to.

  15. Melanie - October 22, 2022 1:37 pm

    I would love to see the crayon drawings.

  16. Tim - October 22, 2022 1:42 pm

    Prison Cells
    Memory Cells
    Prism Light
    Prism Lens
    Prisms Lend
    a focused point of view.
    Thank you.

    Time matters
    It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
    It keeps unfolding, the longer you are living.
    Buy time by
    Paying attention.

    in other words
    Give a [cuss-word]
    Time and again.

  17. Katherine Colbert - October 22, 2022 1:48 pm

    I believe in second chances. I pray for organizations like Prison Fellowship who work and pray both with prisoners and those who have been released.

  18. Lyn Brown - October 22, 2022 2:07 pm

    I look for your posts like I look for my morning coffee… warm, sweet, life affirming. Thanks, Sean.

  19. Buddy Bob's Girlfriend - October 22, 2022 2:13 pm

    Your writing today sounds like a great sermon my Granddaddy Chalmer would have preached years ago. The broken hearted are drawn to you to share their stories so that you can share them with the world through your gift of writing. Thank you for being present and listening to this wounded soul. God has blessed me today with a movement of air from the butterfly wing that started moving when you met that man in the chicken “coop”. Amen!

  20. Gaynell - October 22, 2022 2:25 pm

    I just love you Sean, and your awesome wife too. No one can fill your shoes.

  21. David Britnell - October 22, 2022 2:49 pm

    Loved this story. Loved the fact that you listened to him! Very heart warming with a tear or two.

  22. Susan - October 22, 2022 2:57 pm

    This motivates me to do something for someone today. I had planned to sit around and do nothing but I’m over it now!

  23. Suellen - October 22, 2022 3:00 pm

    Thank you for listening. That’s what all of us wish for. Someone who will really hear us.

  24. Julie, RN - October 22, 2022 3:05 pm

    God puts us where we are supposed to be. Angel Sean and Wounded Angel Ex-Con meet and talk and feel better for it. One gets Cold Chicken and the other gets some much needed Healing. God Bless you Both✝️💕

    • Gigi - October 22, 2022 3:50 pm

      @Julie, RN ~ perfectly said !

  25. Bob Barnett - October 22, 2022 3:27 pm

    The best restaurants have all the county road crew and power company trucks outside.

  26. Gigi - October 22, 2022 4:03 pm

    @ Ht ~ Cornbread Salad is Amazing !! It’s easy to fix and can be served alone for lunch or a light supper.

    Put “bite size” cornbread in a bowl, top with drained kidney beans, drained niblet corn, diced tomatoes, diced green onion, diced red peppers, & crumbled bacon. Top with Ranch dressing. It’s always a hit at Pot Luck’s.

  27. ocasey - October 22, 2022 4:10 pm

    Listening is an art!

  28. Anne Arthur - October 22, 2022 4:33 pm

    If not for you, I wouldn’t know where to find such hearty food and meet great people. Thanks for bringing those stories to us. Priceless.

  29. Stacey Brandenberger - October 22, 2022 5:13 pm

    Thanks for reminding us everyday that there are awesome people in this world- some hurting, some joyful- all of them just trying to find meaning in this world. I pray they all know and remember that God loves them!

  30. pattymack43 - October 22, 2022 5:26 pm

    There is always “hope”!! Blessings for this hard working man and for you, Sean, for reminding us of him and others who struggle in life….
    P.S. I do like the way Julie,RN thinks!!

  31. Susie - October 22, 2022 5:57 pm

    Did I miss something? What is a “meat and three”?

  32. Jeffer - October 22, 2022 6:02 pm

    I think you’re mixing up your metaphors. Does a bear “go” in the woods: YES
    Does the Pope go in the woods: NO

    • Susie - October 22, 2022 6:06 pm

      Jefferson, he’s being funny by mixing. It was on purpose. Lol

    • Susie - October 22, 2022 6:09 pm

      Then again, yes. If there’s not a outhouse around, then, yes, the pope goes in the woods! Ha

  33. Susie - October 22, 2022 6:04 pm

    Did I miss something? What is a “meat and three”?? Is that meat and 3 sides??

    • Duane - October 25, 2022 4:04 am

      Yes a meat and three sides and mac & cheese is a vegetable in the South.

  34. Phyllis Browning - October 22, 2022 6:22 pm

    Loved the short story and I feel sure he was right about God, accepting everyone and not turning anyone away. I pray God does the same for animal, all God’s creatures.❤️🙏🏼

  35. Patricia Gibson - October 22, 2022 6:53 pm

    That man needed you! God bless you and him!🙏

  36. Marilyn - October 22, 2022 6:57 pm

    Bless you for listening to a lost soul. He needed you. And, you were there for him.

  37. carol klassen - October 22, 2022 7:03 pm

    I hope you can contact this gentleman again Sean, please link him up with Prison Fellowship. An wonderful organization started by Chuck Colson. If there’s anyway we can encourage him please let us know!

  38. Mike+Bone - October 22, 2022 7:15 pm

    Next time you are in South Georgia take a trip to Yoder’s Deitsch Haus 5252 GA-26, Montezuma, GA 31063. They are Mennonites. Sort of like internal combustion Amish. There is a story there for you.

  39. Anne Godwin - October 22, 2022 7:35 pm

    Sean, you have the biggest heart.

    You also have the ability to talk to people and listen to their heart.

    I’m so thankful that you continue writing your stories.

    Sending hugs, your older sister in Mobile.

  40. Laura Bendall - October 22, 2022 8:24 pm

    Good one Sean!! Keep them coming!!

  41. Linda Moon - October 22, 2022 8:40 pm

    As a city girl engaged to a country boy I loved his Mama’s fried chicken….until I realized that I had just seen the chicken itself strutting around her farmyard. I got over it and ate lots of Granma’s fried chicken over the years, and I love fried chicken from good Meat&Threes, too. I’m glad memories of Mom keep the old man going, and I bet your conversation with him added some mileage to him too. Your gifts of story, Sean, are like Christmas for me!

  42. Chasity Davis Ritter - October 22, 2022 9:28 pm

    I always say that you really see people. You’re a good man Sean. I bet it mattered that you spent some time talking with this fellow or more accurately listening to this fellow. I bet it really meant a lot to him. Maybe the next Angel he draws might have some red hair and a blind dog….thanks as always for sharing and I imagine the cold chicken was just fine.

    • marthajanecassidey9526 - October 22, 2022 11:20 pm

      Can I somehow send this man a new box of crayons? I am an artist and know how important it is to have the tools to express your feelings. Please let me know where to send them or maybe I could send them to you to give to him in order to protect his identity. Thanks Sean, I will be praying for him.

  43. Stacey Wallace - October 22, 2022 11:36 pm

    Sean, may God bless you for listening to that man. He really needed you. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

  44. Jayne Loetkeman - October 23, 2022 2:52 am

    Love it!

  45. Joe - October 23, 2022 3:58 am

    So happy the Resturant gave the man a job and you gave him somebody to tell his story and you wrote another wonderful read for us. Hired a man just out of jail. Made an excellent employee.

  46. Kathy Rayborn - October 23, 2022 1:39 pm

    A meat and three is a blue plate special with three choices of veggies or sides and cornbread or biscuit.

  47. Emmagene Day - October 23, 2022 10:24 pm

    I just discovered you last week and this is my first comment. I live in Jackson, Alabama and previously lived in Massachusetts for 7 years. You and your actions were exactly what I missed about living in the South. Taking the time to connect with another human being. Please keep writing and God bless you and the man just out of prison.


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