June 3, 2010
Thursday, 3:30 p.m.
Letter #139: Loving the AZ Life
Greetings! I have so much to thank God for—His many undeserved blessings in my life are an ever-present reminder of your prayers and His goodness.
I received a full two-day visit from my parents this past weekend (Sunday and Monday are our visiting days), and I just was able to set up a calling card, so I can call any phone number—not just those who have set up an “account” to receive calls from me! I’m especially excited about this, because our phone availability is so flexible here: 6:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m. Sunday–Thursday, and until 1:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday! At the other prisons I’ve been at, the phones were able to be used for only a couple of hours a day, while at yard (Soledad) or dayroom (Salinas), and even then, were available during late morning or early afternoon only. This hampered calls to anyone who had a life during daylight hours. This new, open calling schedule will be the perfect replacement for my visits which will be diminished due to distance.
My sweet parents, who braved the 12-hour-long drive for the first time, were able to have full 8:00 a.m.–3:30 p.m. visits both days, thanks to the lack of other visitors! They will attempt to make sure I get a visit once-a-month—an exorbitant luxury, and a bright spot in my month, for sure!
My quality-of-life has significantly improved here, for several reasons, and stress-free visiting proceeded to join those reasons. Yes, it’s official: I’d rather be here in Arizona than in California! And yet, as much as my “comfort” has improved, it’s the increased ministry opportunities that have become my most compelling reasons for wanting to stay here in Arizona.
While I was at visit on Monday, an incident occurred in our dayroom. When inmate Stanley* shut off the two dayroom TVs to make an announcement, a Christian guy who is new to our pod told him he didn’t need to shut it off, but just turn down the volume. Well, apparently, Stanley didn’t like what Benjamin* said, and said something like he’d better get with the program here, “or else,” and I don’t think the “else” Stanley had in mind was lovely, pure, or of good report.
When I returned from my visit, several guys spoke with me about what had happened, asking for prayer and my advice on what should be done. They were concerned that they’d be compelled to step up to defend Benjamin should he be attacked by Stanley.
The next morning, my counselor came to my pod, told me to put my “blues” on (my uniform that is blue in color) to go to “Medical,” regarding my ankle. She actually took me to the Unit Office, where my Unit Manager and two others asked me my opinion on everything that appeared to be going on in the pod. (In prison terms, this is referred to as “snitching” or “being a rat.”)
I spoke freely with the staff for more than 10 minutes, then excused myself and left. Returning to my pod, I established a meeting with Alejandro, a guy I’d spoken about in the office. As a former gang member with still a tough prison-type mentality, I’d just had an hour-long conversation with him days before about changing from the old mindset.
I told him about my meeting with the staff, and he immediately whisked me to a secluded corner of the pod to confer with me in hushed tones. He’s never gone to speak with the staff about anything at any prison—ever—and he said he hates “snitches” and “rats” and would kill anyone who was caught doing so. Well, I just love shattering the dumb prison politics! He was extremely grateful for what I’d shared about him (a positive report to staff).
I then met with Stanley and told him all about my meeting with the staff. I told him how I’d shared that he spoke “roughly” and “came across as prideful” when speaking. He took it all humbly, praise God! He asked what I suggested he do, and, knowing that the staff was going to move him out of our pod—they’d told me so—I encouraged both he and Alejandro to do the unthinkable: speak to the staff. They both agreed, but not until quite a bit of persuasion! Poor Stanley, normally tough, was shaking, completely worried about what to say, he told me. So, I sat and said, “Let’s pray about it!” and we did.
Both men met with the staff the next day. I met with Benjamin to address what I perceived to be an attitude of pride (“I’ve been here two years—I know how this place should run.”) and he received it well.
In all, I spent nearly three hours on this one incident, and God has received much glory, changing the hearts of men and helping them choose a better way! This type of “in-depth” communication would never have been possible in the other “cell-centered” prisons.
Thank you for your prayers on my behalf! I love you all!
*Names have not been changed, since obviously, these convicted felons are no longer considered “innocent.”