IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was Robbed Very Politely by a Man Who Just Got Out of Prison

It started out as a halfway heartfelt conversation, but I couldn't take a chance against my safety.
Devri Velazquez
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It started out as a halfway heartfelt conversation, but I couldn't take a chance against my safety.

My anxiety goes through the roof anytime I find myself in an unfamiliar environment surrounded by people I do not know. Knowing that, would you believe me if I gushed to you about how much I truly enjoy traveling alone? Oddly enough, it's true.

While it might be ironic that I have an overall distrust of people I do not personally know, I do enjoy holding conversations with strangers as a means of understanding my surroundings more clearly, challenging myself to embrace new experiences. An especially sacred hobby of mine since I was a teenager, I have found myself in a constant state of wanderlust every time I am surrounded by new places and faces.

One such time left me with a combination of confusion, curiosity, nervousness, and sympathy in about a five-minute span.

Bad weather and lost luggage caused my New York-bound flight to drop me off at Baltimore-Washington International Airport one summer day. Sure, the airline had revealed to me that they had been searching for my checked bags for hours and I was a few states away from being safe and sound at home, but I would not let my precious energy be riddled with any more stress than what most people were likely to experience in a time like this.

After wandering the food court for hours with a steady pace to make it seem as if I actually had somewhere to go, it was becoming impossible to ignore the heaviness of my eyelids. I headed downstairs to Baggage Claim and, reluctantly, rested my head on the armrest of a seat outside of the Lost & Found office. As soon as my items had been located, I would collect them and then get on to rescheduling my flight with the least amount of human interaction as possible.

A few extra hours led to an overnight stay in the airport basement. I woke up to no sight of my luggage; at this point, a slight strand of annoyance had come over me. This wasn't fun anymore. The clothes on my back and a small handbag were the only things in my possession. My ID and debit card sat comfortably in a pocket while I finally succumbed to sleep deprivation.

Random and sudden noises throughout the area kept me in and out of a decent nap. One in particular was the voice of a brawny man who decided to make my resting stop his next.

"Do you mind?" he asked, followed by plopping down in the seat next to mine. I rolled my eyes and proceeded to get up and start strolling around again until I could spot my bags rolling into the Lost & Found office. The man stood up as well and began to follow me.

In experiences like this one, I have found it helpful to engage rather than run. Some strangers prefer a challenge, and if I don't give them one by being friendly and making it easy for them, they might be turned off and go try for someone else who shows fear. 

I stopped walking and turned around with no attempt to show my annoyance.

"I just got off the train and I need to get on the bus to go see my mother in Philly," he said.

"What are you doing in Baltimore?" I asked.

"I didn't have any money, so this was the next stop," he said. "I just got released from prison."

"How long have you been away?"

"It's been some years. I want her to see how much I've changed—"

"For the better, right?" I interjected. At this moment, I realized I had tapped into his vulnerability.

"Yes, of course," he said. "You must not be from here."

"So why don't we each get on our way to where we belong?" I flashed a quick smirk and continued on my stroll. A tug on my handbag reaffirmed that the man was still following closely behind me.

"Ma'am," he said abruptly as I turned around. "I need money to get on the bus. You gonna give me some or not? I'm trying to be nice about it, but I can change my mind."

For a brief moment, I considered the many aspects of this conversation. On one hand, a complete stranger chose to share a deep and meaningful tidbit of his life with me. On the other hand, he had also mentioned that he was fresh out of prison and, after all, I was the lone woman target of choice in his effort to scrounge some quick cash.

It was all so confusing. Was I getting robbed in the midst of what started out as a halfway heartfelt conversation? I tried my hardest to save face in hopes of detracting his attention on me since I couldn't take a chance against my safety.

My eyes found the next ATM and, together, we walked over and I withdrew some money. A small pile of twenties dispensed from the machine, and I placed them in his open palm. 

My anxiety had the perfect opportunity to peek through and show in this exact moment if it wanted to.

My anxiety had the perfect opportunity to peek through and show in this exact moment if it wanted to.

"Promise me something," I said.

"What's that?"

"When you get to Philly, find your mom and kiss her on the cheek and think of me."

The man half-grinned, crumpled the money in his pocket, and scurried away to the sliding-door exit that led to the bus station. 

Shortly after, the conveyor belt came on and my long lost luggage slid down. I gathered each bag and headed back upstairs.

At this moment, my lust for wandering had worn out its welcome. Despite my previous adventures that had led up to this nerve-racking event, what mattered more was my final destination. Much like the man who had approached me in Baggage Claim with a desperation in getting back home to his mother, I was in such desperate need of being somewhere safe and comfortable, too.