May 4, 2010
Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.
Letter #135: A Moving Experience
Greetings! How are all my California people doing? (With props to those of you in Wyoming, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Oregon, and Alaska too!) Arizona, though significantly farther away from home, is treating me quite well, actually. I’m thanking God for all His blessings, and I want to bring you all up-to-date on all that’s been happening to me since I wrote last.
On Tuesday, April 27, I was given a few minutes to pack up my belongings and told I’d be leaving for Arizona the very next day. I said what goodbyes I had left, wrote a few notes of encouragement, and slept a few hours before being awakened to be escorted to the R+R (“Receiving and Release”) Department.
I was grateful for all the officers I had an opportunity to thank for their service before I left. Most told me to “Take care of yourself,” or “Good luck” very genuinely. One surprise came from a tough cop described by one inmate as “the devil incarnate.” He seemed to always be in a horrible mood. As I was frisked by him after I’d left our last church service, hearing that I’d be leaving for Arizona, he said, “God bless you,” to me. I was stunned—this from a guy whom I’d heard cursing at an inmate for having his shirt untucked!
The cop who always picked up my mail late at night (and was responsible to read every piece—he’d asked me once if my hand ever cramped up), 🙂 when I told him I’d be leaving for Arizona said, “Well, Christopher, you take care. I sure wish there were more inmates like you.”
God is good to let me see a glimpse of the fruit He’d developed in Soledad through my constant cheerful, respectful attitude. I couldn’t write specifics about my relationships with the cops, in case something I wrote could get them in trouble on the grounds of them being “overly-familiar” with an inmate. Here, my letters get sealed by me, so I’ll be able to be a bit freer to share about staff interactions.
Well, the R+R staff weren’t so friendly. I’d kept a Bible and a daily devotional book with me, since we’re supposed to be allowed to carry it with us until we have to get on the bus (some inmates pack up a week or two ahead of time). The sergeant who stripped us down took my Bible and devotional and threw them across the hallway we were standing in. I was shocked.
That devotional was quite meaningful to me. I’ve been underlining key phrases and meaningful points and writing my own paragraph of insights or inspiration at the bottom of each page. Nearly finished with an entire year, I’d planned to eventually mail it out to whomever the Lord laid on my heart. Now I witnessed over 100 hours of effort tossed away.
I decided to appeal to the sergeant, who just said no. My face probably looked like I’d just been told my pet fish died, as I told the officer that I’d been preparing that book for someone. He asked to see it. Flipping through it after I’d retrieved it, he could see the vast amounts of writing—and the tears near the surface. He told me “Good luck” (this one not sincerely) trying to get the other R+R sergeant to allow it. I thanked him and dashed away to the other sergeant. Having been a child at one time, I am experienced at playing one parent against the other and was thus able to get the devotional book into my property and on the bus.
I could go on for days about the bus ride: 12 hours in handcuffs on my ankles and wrists, chained tightly to my waist. I still have bruises. The transportation cops are the worst. Anywhere. (No talking or they’ll “beat you up.”) When being handcuffed, I asked the cop, “How are you doing, Sir?”
His reply instantly told me how much he cared, and let me see the depth of his love for me and all prisoners everywhere. “Shut up! I’m not your friend!” I decided not to persuade him that a simple shared bowl of popcorn or a quick game of checkers could change all that and kept my mouth shut.
The most awesome part of the trip came as two precious gifts of God to me. Remember how my mom said she was sorry I’d miss out on beaches and sunsets, and I’d said that beaches and sunsets could wait? Well, traveling down 101, I had my up-close views of gorgeous California beaches for miles and miles. I drank it all in.
Then, just as we arrived at the prison outside Phoenix, a gorgeous sunset filled the desert landscape with purples and oranges the backdrop of dozens of cactus plants and shrubs. God gave both to me, just three days after I’d said those words in our chapel service! Praise Him!
Thank you for praying!