174 | Prison Stinks Sometimes

May 5, 2011
Thursday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #174: Prison Stinks Sometimes


Dear Family,

Greetings! Change is weird. We avoid it, despise it, or reject it. Some of us collect it in jars and spend it later, but that kind of change is not available to the incarcerated. However, my life is full of the kind of change that affects every aspect of it, from how I spend my time to the very air I breathe. Allow me to explain …

My cellie, Ronnie, just left today. He’s in another pod of guys who are all waiting to be flown to Michigan this weekend. He’s excited to be going, and I’m happy for him that he’ll have more vocational training opportunities at the facility there, plus a larger yard with a running track like the prison yards in California. He hasn’t had a visit in the nine years he’s been locked up, so it doesn’t really matter to him where he does his time.

We’d been cellies for exactly six months, and the relationship worked. He’s been my favorite of the dozen cellmates I’ve had since I began my term three years ago, with the bulk of my time being with just four different guys, so it’s disappointing to see him go.

By necessity, you learn to work with each other—everything from their schedule, their habits, their mannerisms, to their cleanliness, their privacy, their temperament, and their faith. It is very much like being in a relationship with a female, without all the kissing. (For several of my cellies, I hope and pray they don’t bring their poor habits into any future relationships: with a wife someday.)

Ronnie is a changed man, a godly man, who wants God’s best in his life and in his family. Just last night, I helped him make a 30-minute call to his family, to update them on his imminent move. He got to speak to his parents—his dad, recovering from a recent near-fatal heart-attack has quit smoking and drinking—and his mom, who is about to undergo surgery for some kind of hernia on May 19.

Ronnie’s mom, who was horribly abusive to him while he was growing up (she nearly killed him on a couple of occasions), just asked him to please pray for her. This is a major first for her, and big, tough, Ronnie was reduced to tears later in the cell as he thanked God for His obvious work in his family’s lives. I told him I’d have you all, my dear family and friends, pray that the Lord would graciously work on his mom’s stubborn heart, so that she would soon acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Thank you for your faithful prayers! I know God works through you.

Besides the disappointment in seeing Ronnie leave, I also had to say goodbye to my close friend (and ex-cellie) Luis. Though his family came to visit him 2½ weeks ago, he was still put on the list to go to Michigan.

We’ve been praying like crazy for him to stay here in Arizona, and I’ve tried so many things to get him to stay. I’ve written formal appeals, coached his family in appealing to California, met with staff here, and tried to get him swapped with a guy who really wants to go to Michigan. He knows that God is in control, and both he and Ronnie will be fighting to get the right to visit their loved ones via video chat, which is widely available at jails throughout California. Luis will also be pursuing his appeal to remain near his family, and I hope he succeeds.

So, how does change affect the very air I breathe, you wonder? Well, my new cellie, Andrew, does not smell very good. At all. I share a very small space with him, but it isn’t only me who can smell him. He stinks so bad that I’ve had several guys ask me what’s wrong with him. He stands while he eats at mealtimes, which, besides looking incredibly odd, is probably because of his stench. I’m sure he’s been kicked out from other tables before, though he declined my invitation for him to sit at my table.

I prayed all day today that he would please take a shower. The Lord answered my prayers. Next time, I will need to pray more specifically that he will shower using soap and shampoo and put on clean clothes afterwards.

My neighbor tried to give him a deodorant, which I believe he declined. I gave him soap and a toothbrush, but he claims to have everything else. We’ll see.

I’m at least hoping to show him the love of Jesus in the short time we have together before they move us to La Palma, our next Arizona prison destination, which should be a breath of fresh air, I’m sure.  🙂