April 27, 2010
Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #134: So Long, Soledad!
Greetings! Well, this is my last Dear Family Letter from Soledad, California—at least for a while! Someone came to my cell door today with the message that I had to pack immediately and take my stuff to get boxed up. I had less than 30 minutes.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I take a bit longer than 30 minutes to pack my house up for a move. Oh, and it had to fit into four boxes. (Good thing I decided to leave my refrigerator, washer, dryer, dishwasher, and lawn mower behind; they aren’t Energy-Star compliant, and they wouldn’t fit.)
I threw everything into large garbage bags—my books, music, cosmetics, personal clothes, letters, and pictures—as it began to sink in that I really was going to Arizona by bus, early tomorrow morning.
I haven’t wanted to go to Arizona, or any other prison besides this one, for that matter, since my family is right here in this area. However, I’ve known that if/when it ever came time for me to leave this facility for another, I’d absolutely know that God—not Satan—had orchestrated it. I believe and take God at His Word when He says He “causes everything to work together for the GOOD of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT).
I know God has called me to serve Him, and I love Him because of His love for me. Therefore, as counterintuitive and contrary to what I naturally want as this move to Arizona is, I have an even greater desire: to be used most effectively for Christ. I guess that’s in Arizona for now! So, I’m excited to discover all He has in store for me there.
My buddy, Jim Romig, came and preached in the chapel on Sunday. Hearing that I was leaving, he called me over to the pulpit, said some nice things about me, hugged me, and let me speak. God prompted me to do something unheard of in prison: I felt He wanted me to share the true nature of my crimes. (I’d lied to even some of my Christian brothers, claiming I’d used my position as a Realtor/Loan Officer to steal my clients’ identities.)
I began with the irony that I’d been in ministry with Jim Romig (before prison) and Andy Eden, who had visited us two weeks before and had asked me to tour some prisons with him years ago … “Crazy that it took my incarceration for me to join them in prison ministry, eh?”
Lots of laughs and applause for the God who gives us another chance. Then I dropped the bomb and gave specifics. You could’ve heard a pin drop. I said that however they felt about “guys like me,” they were right to feel that way … that I knew I’d done wrong and deserved punishment.
Knowing how prisoners feel about “unfair” sentence lengths, I shared my own initial charges of eight 15-to-life sentences (others have served 3–5 years for similar charges) and then said: “However, if it had been your child, I wouldn’t be serving enough time, right? I get it, and that’s why I don’t compare with others. I hurt others, and I have to face that before God,” I said through tears. “But that is the OLD me! I am crucified with Christ, and now Christ lives in me. If I try to save my life—my reputation, my comfort, my safety, my perceived spirituality—in prison or anywhere else, the Bible says I’ll lose my life. BUT, gentlemen, if we are willing to put aside self—DIE to self—and lose our lives for the sake of Christ and His gospel, we will gain our lives. Don’t waste your life! It doesn’t matter what you’re here for! I don’t frickin’ care, and neither should you! What matters is where you’re headed! What are you doing TODAY for Christ? What are you doing about the lost around you? Are you willing to be USED UP—your life SPENT—for the sake of His Kingdom?”
I was drowned out, shouting through tears as I was, by a raucous standing ovation. Guys came up to me after the service, confessing similar struggles, homosexuality, and other things, and I was able to point them to helpful resources, praise God. I’ve heard from guys who weren’t even there, whose cellies were there and shared about my testimony. Many told me they see a new day dawning from what I started, that the church can lead a pattern of openness, acceptance, and healing so that men get the help they so desperately need. God is good! Thank you for your prayers!