February 28, 2011
Monday, 6:30 p.m.
Letter #168: A Look Back, Three Years In
“Happy Anniversary to Me, Happy Anniversary to Me … ” C’mon people! I don’t hear you! Today appeared to have passed by uneventfully, but it was a big day for me. Three years ago, today, I began serving my eighteen-year prison sentence.
God is gracious to have given me the strength and ability to handle this journey. His overwhelming love for me has been evident at every step, every fork in the road (or should I say every spork in the road), and every uncertain turn.
I’m humbled by Who He is … the God of Creation, Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and Consuming Fire is also the Shepherd of My Soul. He delights to care for me—Me! My sin put Him on the cross. Only He knows the extent of it, for He searches out the hidden things of the heart.
The things I did to earn a prison term are nothing compared to the things I’ve done to break God’s perfect law … lying, hating, coveting, boasting, lusting, dishonoring, etc. I surely don’t deserve the blessings of God in my life! And yet He has chosen me as His child, and He chooses to forget my past as a lender forgets a debt owed, restoring my soul in His Word and equipping me to do great things for His Kingdom in the days I have remaining on this earth, beginning with TODAY.
So, today was a big day for me, but only because today represents another day in which I am loved by a big God! He bought me as a bond-slave for Himself long before the State of California ever took possession of me. Therefore, “serving time” is naturally secondary to serving Christ; my obligations to the State take a backseat to the obligation I have to the Sovereign of the Universe.
My first year in prison was a year of discovery for me. I was learning on-the-fly as I went from a week in County Jail to three months of “reception” (it’s not that kind of reception with cake and dancing) at North Kern State Prison.
I experienced a lot of weird “firsts” there: my first live prison fight happened at the table next to mine during one dinner; as a porter (distribute food, clean tables, sweep and mop), I passed a note for someone, which turned out to be a death-threat; I turned down my first of many requests to fight; someone said he’d kill me, because I’d given a black guy a bread bag and not him (which is completely understandable); I turned down my first of many offers to try pruno, a prison wine; and I developed my clean “cover” story, that I’d come to prison because of identity theft during my years as a loan officer and cellphone agent—unwittingly giving myself incredible notoriety and respect among my fellow inmates.
The rest of the first year I served at Salinas Valley State Prison, enjoying weekly visits from my family and playing the piano for chapel services. I spent a great portion of most days on the yard, playing sports and having a Bible Study. I developed life-long friends and led an acapella quartet, but I was still figuring out who I was supposed to be in prison.
My second year found me in the cramped quarters of Soledad’s Correctional Training Facility. Because California trains guards there, it is often on lockdown. The former single-man cells had bunks for two, making even visiting so crowded, I could only have visits every-other-week, and those were usually cut short to two hours. I led the choir and worship team and played piano for the chapel services and led the Bible Study on the every-other-day yard and found great joy in accompanying visiting singers and bands.
I was open with the staff about my case, and when a mistake with the visiting records allowed me the opportunity to have a contact visit with my little nieces, I refused and insisted to be behind glass, exposing the error.
After my second year, I became comfortable in who God made me to be and confident in His unending love for me. Realizing I’d been trying to save my reputation—among criminals!—and convicted of my lies in front of the chapel, I told my story in one of the chapel services. This opened a new freedom for me to help others while helping myself to heal.
Transferred to Arizona now, I only see my parents once a month and others rarely, but I love it here! I’m free to call anyone all day long, I’m a liaison between inmates and staff, I teach classes in the chapel, and serve as an elder and worship leader. Most days I spend all day in my cell, writing letters, doing Bible college homework, or developing business ideas, grateful to my Heavenly Father for where He’s leading me and for the process He’s used along the way.
Thank you for all your love, support, letters, and prayer for me and my family this year!