February 21, 2010
Sunday, 7:00 p.m.
Letter #123: Run Your Race Well
Greetings! I am not a runner. I do not like to run. It does not bring me great pleasure. And, unlike Eric Liddell, whose story became famous through the movie Chariots of Fire, I do not think God derives great pleasure from my running either.
It is not so much the exertion of running that annoys me—for I do not quit easily, but the endless putting of one foot in front of the other is what I do not care for. And it is such a slow means of transportation, albeit one of my only remaining options, having been confined to a state penitentiary. (Guards and inmates alike generally frown upon the other option—piggyback rides.)
My cellie, Mel, has run a marathon every year for the past 28 years. He is in his mid-to-late 50s, though he won’t disclose his actual age and claims to be my age (which means he began his marathon career at age 8, at the time I was going through a marathon of clean sheets, due to a minor bedwetting problem that cleared up in my teen years, thankfully). So, we are different, yet I agreed to “run” a bit on the yard with Mel one day this month. Well, Wednesday was the day.
My first big debut running day started off perfectly: I easily kept up with Mel and even carried on a conversation as we ran the 1/3-mile path on the yard. Just as we finished our first lap, however, I caught sight of eight bright orange jumpsuits, the kind issued to high-risk or violent inmates during transfer only. Surrounding the group of inmates was a group of a dozen plain-clothes staff members as well as four sergeants, a lieutenant, and a captain.
I could see that three of our inmates were talking closely with the group, and as I ran up, I realized that the orange-clad “inmates” were actually part of a “Code 4” program through the county courts, in which high-risk juvenile offenders are given an up-close look inside a prison. The hope is that the experience will open their eyes to the realities of prison and help them decide to do whatever is necessary to never return.
Similar to TV shows where kids are “scared straight,” I’d never seen a tour group up close before. Most of the kids seemed to be 16 or 17, a couple looked like they were 15, and one little guy looked like he was headed to Chuck E. Cheese afterward for his 10th birthday.
Currently doing time in Juvenile Hall, these kids all were doing their best to have their “tough” faces on … until a bunch of real inmates started mocking them, taunting them, and playing to their fears: “Oh! See that guy? The one at the end trying to look so tough with his little tattoos on his neck and all? Yeah, he’s just a little girl! Hey, Dude—I’ve got tattoos older than you.”
Others, friends of mine, tried to give a dose of reality: “Hey, you think this is fun?!? I’m doing how old you are as my sentence” or “Thanks to my gang-banging ‘family,’ I get to be here for the rest of my life. Sounds exciting, huh?”
One kid was asked who his role models were, and he sheepishly said, “My coach … and my mom.” Guys in blue were pelting the youths with crass statements about what they’d do to them once they came to prison. I was appalled, but the officers and staff said nothing. This, apparently, was part of the scare tactics.
At first, I thought I really shouldn’t say anything. After all, I’m not exactly the scary type, and my permanent smile would have some thinking I’m in correctional Disneyland … because I am! Living with Jesus—anywhere!—is the happiest place on earth.
Suddenly, I heard my voice stand out over the others. The love of God spoke through me. “Hey—you—the one whose role model is his mom … yeah, I’m talking to you. Hey, it’s never too late to try to make your mom proud of you, kid. Turn your life over to God—it’s the best thing you’ll ever do, trust me—and give all this crap up. Make her proud NOW. I’m living in a bathroom for 22 hours a day for 15 years, trying hard now to make my mom proud. Writing letters home isn’t the way to do it.”
The others were listening. “This little mistake you made? It’s nothing! Give God your life, and He’ll turn you around. You still have the rest of your life to make your moms proud of you.”
Maybe my words will stick, I thought, choking back tears, wishing I could do more. Meanwhile, I run this race—my Christian walk—with endurance. Thank you for your prayers!