163 | Christmas Gifts and New Blessings

January 2, 2011
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #163: Christmas Gifts and New Blessings


Dear Family,

Happy New Year! Last year was certainly special, with God bringing new and exciting changes to our family. Monica moving to California to live with my parents as she prepares for high school in New York next year means I get to know her better—Japan was too far!

My brother-in-law, Kyler, who I always though was going to wait for me to exit prison so we could have a fabulous double wedding, decided that getting married before he turns 50 was a better idea. How blessed we all are to have Sandi in our family!

My brother, Mark, made a beautiful upgrade to his singlehood as well, and Heather makes pictures of Mark look so much better.

And, just before midnight on December 30, Michael and Katie welcomed the first boy grandkid into the family with future surfer, Kade Jeremiah, who was heavy and long and has ten of everything. How cute that Michael was already teaching not-yet-six-year-old Michaela how to change the baby’s diaper. Of course he was.

Many of you have heard how great my life is here: microwave, ice chest, three hot meals/day, etc. The only thing I missed from California—besides my family—was the fresh fruit. Since I arrived here nine months ago, the prison has served fresh fruit twice—a slice of watermelon on June 19 and July 4. I know it seems like a tiny thing, and I never complained, but I love fruit!

Well, along with our standard holiday issue of a Snickers bar and Pepsi, we received an apple in our lunch yesterday! Between profusely thanking God, I traded the candy bar, soda, desserts, and even whole trays of food this coming week for more apples—seven more in all. Apparently, we’ll be receiving two servings of fresh fruit a week: bananas, apples, and pears, which should give me plenty of opportunities to trade with guys for more. I’m so grateful for this major addition to my diet! God is gracious to me.

This prison is radically different from the California prison system. I’ve written many times about the kindness of the staff and responsiveness to issues, and about the blessing of all-day dayroom with access to phones.

Well, the difference became even more obvious at Christmas, with all the decorations encouraged and even supplied to us. But I was shocked and laughed out loud when the staff came door to door delivering boxes of chocolates for each of us! Crazy! I was expecting them to say, “We appreciate our loyal customers!” or “Thank you for your continued business!” They weren’t done. A few days before Christmas, they delivered bags of Christmas candy and chips and cookies to everyone.

California would do well to take notes from these private corporation prisons who realize that the well-being of prisoners has a direct effect on less problems, violence, and mood swings, resulting in the overall safety and security that are so necessary in any institution. Again, I am blessed!

The highlight of my Christmas—besides my parents’ monthly visit—was the joy of giving a gift to each man in my pod, 39 in all. My parents generously provided the funds so I was able to put together gift bags. Each two-man cell got a bag with two each of chocolate bars, oatmeal cookies, Top Ramen soups, sodas, and M&M’s. I wrote a separate Christmas card for each guy then put the bags in front of each door after everyone went back inside Christmas morning (breakfast at 4:30 means most go back to sleep afterwards). When they woke up later, they all responded so nicely to me, saying how great it was to get a present on Christmas. I got many hugs from grateful guys, and the whole unit of eight pods soon heard about it.

My favorite response, however, came from a guy called “A.P.” who had been rudely ignoring me since arriving in our pod a month ago. He told friends of mine that he’d seen me share my testimony in Soledad’s chapel service, and now he wanted nothing to do with me.

Well, something changed in him on Christmas. He came up to me, patted me on the shoulder, and thanked me for the gift, telling me how thoughtful it was. Since then, he’s gone out of his way to have little conversations with me, and I can see his walls coming down.

I thank the Lord for His Word that teaches to “bless those who curse you … ” He knows the inner workings of everyone’s heart, and I just need to be faithful to reach out in love. What a joy to see A.P. attend church again. I pray he grows as he begins to understand the greatest gift of all.

May your year be filled with sharing!