September 8, 2010
Wednesday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #150: I’m Just Getting Started
Greetings! Thank you for praying for me! I just returned from a revival meeting held in our facility’s visiting room. 110 inmates attended (the most I’ve seen gathered indoors, since the chapel capacity is only 50), and several high-level staff as well, including the Warden, Assistant Warden, and Chief. Each spoke before the main speaker, the Director of Prison Ministries for School of Christ International, “Reverend Pete.”
I got to speak by myself with Rev. Pete afterwards and learned he’s been traveling and training leaders all over the world for the last 17 years with School of Christ. He’ll be going to Brazil next month to kick off the prison ministry there, and he spent two weeks a month for four years training leaders in Russia to reach prisoners in over 700 labor camps in Siberia.
Besides 65 institutions run by Corrections Corporation of America, like the one I live at, School of Christ is in 1,004 correctional facilities in the United States, with over 40,000 prisoners enrolled in group classes (as in our facility) or individual correspondence courses. It is free to prisoners and to anyone residing outside the U.S., who can utilize the material in any of 154 different languages.
Pete came to Christ while in prison himself, and many came to Christ tonight at the end of his message. Please pray that many would enroll in classes here, to further their walk with God.
I’ve been busy this past week! Besides beginning a new semester of Bible College, I’ve followed the Lord’s leading to challenge men here to set goals and accomplish them. This prison is so easy-going, stress-free, and laid-back, with relative luxuries available (like video game consoles, TVs, and weight equipment), that it becomes common for many inmates to squander large amounts of time. The days seem to fly by, with nearly everyone in a school program and everyone with a job of some sort, and yard every day, half-a-dozen church services to choose from, etc. Before you realize it, a week or month has passed, and you’ve just killed time.
Well, now that I’ve been consistently on a strict regimen every day, I wanted others to experience the same success. In all, I’ve scheduled meetings with 10 guys just this past week, spending more than 20 hours in counseling, goal-setting meetings, and training classes.
Since the Bible College route isn’t for everyone, and correspondence secular college is quite expensive (classes are free while we’re out-of-state, but the books are pricey), I’ve designed college-level courses for a few guys here, using books from our prison library. So far, I’m facilitating: World Literature, American History, Capitalism, Biblical Hebrew, Marketing, World Geography, and Athletic Training. I break the books into semester-length courses, design tests, and keep the guys accountable to stay on course with their assignments.
Since meeting with me, several guys have developed (or are developing) a goals sheet, some have a daily schedule, and a couple have gone so far as to create their own notebook-style Day Planner system, utilizing it to get the most out of their days.
It is a constant battle against complacency here. Everyone gets lulled into just having fun, never noticing the time slipping away. One guy I’m working with gets out in 17 months, one in 15 months, one in a year; I’m developing exit strategies with them.
I thank God for granting me favor with the leadership here: after I met a young man in the chapel who cannot read, I asked for him to be moved to my pod. After a week of praying and meeting with several different staff members, I still wasn’t sure if they’d let him move.
With only nine months remaining in his sentence, Victor is not even enrolled in the school program here, thanks to flawed policies within the California prison system! He desperately wanted to learn, he told me, but didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone in his pod of 40 guys to help him learn to read.
Well, God is good, and Victor moved into my pod this past week. I now spend at least an hour with him every morning (after my Bible Study with Freddy). We practice reading from a simple version of the Bible I got him from the chapel, and I give him assignments for each day. His growth is encouraging, and he’s very grateful.
So, September 1st marked just over 2½ years in prison for me, but more than that, it was the first day of my incarceration when I realized I don’t want to leave. Not now. Not yet. There are too many guys who need me, who are counting on me to drive them, to motivate them to be successful, productive members of society … men after God’s heart.
Thank you for all your prayers and letters. God is working in here … in me, and I thank Him.