By Juan Haines
Thomas Curby Henderson, 60, better known to inmates and as the meek, hard working, and humble “Charlie,” died on Jan. 23 at Marin General Hospital following a four-story fall at San Quentin State Prison on Jan 22.
Charlie’s death, still under investigation, shocked many of the men housed with him.
The Marin Independent Journal reported Charlie’s death, which attracted several merciless comments. [San Quentin Prisoner Dies After Plunge from Fourth-Story Tier; http;//www.marinij.com].
“A man lost his life and the comments indicate readers are happy about it,” said inmate Tommy Winfrey, 31. “I understand society’s need to sit in judgment of prisoners and their pass deeds. But what I have a hard time accepting is the total lack of empathy of another human being. The man they condemn for murder suffered from the very same problem once and it cost two lives.”
“Celebrating or minimizing another person’s death whether it be suicide, murder, or natural is abhorrent,” Winfrey said. “I’m not a Christian, but after reading the comments about Charlie’s death, the old Bible verse, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’ comes to mind.”
On Jan. 31, about 50 of Charlie’s brethren gathered in San Quentin’s Catholic Chapel for a memorial service.
“Charlie had integrity, and honesty. He was loyal and generous. He was a loving father and grandfather,” said his best friend, Dwight Lee Krebbs, 66.
Krebbs said he was cellmates with Charlie while doing time at R.J. Donovan State Prison. “I knew him five years, we were cellies for two years,” he said.
Charlie is survived by two sisters, three daughters and four grandchildren.
“Any time when I’d ask Charlie if he needs anything, he’d answer by saying ‘I’d like to hug my grandchildren,” Krebbs said. “His grandchildren were the apple of his life. Getting out of prison was secondary to his love for his grandchildren. He was very loving, when it came to them.”
Charlie liked the anonymously written poem, Songs, Krebbs said. “When Charlie read it, he loved it. So, I told him, ‘It’s your poem.’ I was fortunate enough to get to know Charlie for who he was, not for what he did.”
Inmate, Malik Ar-Raheem said, “Charlie was a nice person. I hope he’s going to a better place.”
Harrison Lavergne took the podium at the memorial service and said, “I was on the Yard Crew with Charlie at Donovan. He was the nicest person I’ve ever known. Once Charlie came up to me and said, ‘Anything you ever need, just ask.’ And one time, I lost my beanie, and instantly, Charlie was there with another one for me. He was such a happy person.”
The inmates’ representative to the warden Sam Johnson said, “When I heard he committed suicide, I was hurt, because it was another life lost. I pray that God will comfort his children. I thank God for the short time I knew Charlie.”
Inmate and college student Forrest Jones echoed his words.
“One day, he just came out of the blue and struck up a conversation with me. Charlie said, ‘How you’re doing?’ He just wanted to talk to somebody,” Jones said. “I feel bad that I didn’t spend more time with such a seemingly wonderful person.”
Father George Williams, San Quentin’s Catholic Chaplain, also spoke at the ceremony.
“His life made a difference to a lot of you. In confidence we pray that he’s in God’s hands,” Williams said. “When you’re feeling times of overwhelming pain, come and talk to me or one of the other chaplains,” he advised.
Father George ended the tribute by reading selected passages from the Bible.
Louie Light, an inmate and friend of Henderson who did not attend the services, said that about a week before he died, he was watching a ping pong game when Henderson walked up to him and said, ‘Do you mind if I can get that trash?’ He was pointing at some trash by my foot, buried deep in the ground,” Light said. “I thought to myself, ‘Nobody would take the time to do this type of work.’ So, I said to him, ‘Wow you really take pride in your work.’ Charlie replied, ‘Nobody else cares. I’m one of the few who does.’ When I heard it was him, it really took me by surprise, because he was always so positive.”
When I am dead, my friend,
Sing no sad songs for me.
Plant no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress trees.
Just plant the green grass above me
That flowers with dew drops, wet.
For if you may remember me,
For if you may forget;
Because I shall not see the shadows,
And I shall not feel the rain,
And I shall not hear that nightingale
Sing on as if in pain,
As I’m dreaming through this twilight
That does not rise nor set.
Happily, you may remember me, my friend;
Sadly, you may forget.