17 | I’m a Level III

April 26, 2008
Saturday 12:00 a.m.
Letter #17: I’m a Level III


Dear Family,

Greetings! It’s just turned midnight here, and I’ve prayed for you all many times today. Mark graduating the Coast Guard Academy—with flying colors!—and as many of you as were able, flying or driving to see him; I was happy for you, and of course, proud of him. I’m praying for Michael, ministering at the Children’s Conference in Massachusetts, and Shanna, with her family in Canada. (See? The more you let me know, the more accurately and specifically I can pray for you!  🙂  )

I met with my “counselor” yesterday. Basically, at a reception prison, all you are waiting for is that meeting with a counselor. Then, when a spot opens up at a prison that can house you, you are transferred, based on your status (Main Line or Special Needs Yard—some facilities only have one or the other; most have both) and your Custody Level. Not all prisons have all levels of incarceration available. Basically speaking, anything beyond Level 4 is Maximum Security. The four levels look like this, based on your Classification Score (gang affiliation, arrest history, length of sentence, etc.):

Level IV (52+): Cells. Strict guidelines. Little movement/programs/activities available.

Level III (28-51): Cells. Frequent programming/sports/activities/contact visits.

Level II (19-27): Dorms. Freedom to move about most of the day/all programming.

Level I (0-18): Dorms. Virtually the same as Level II in most facilities.

The good news I received is that I’m a Level III, with 44 points. Once a year, points are recalculated. You automatically drop two points. Four points are deducted for good behavior, and up to four points are deducted for qualifying toward your Earliest Possible Release Date (15% reduction in my case, earned by working or going to school). Up to 10 points per year could be deducted. Therefore, Lord willing, I’ll be a Level III for 2–3 years and then move to Dorm-style living. By then, I should be well adjusted enough to handle the additional pressures that brings.

One of the C.O.s who just started working here is a temporary transfer from Salina Valley State Prison. According to him, the Level IV SNY at Salinas is pretty stark, but the Level III SNY there is very good, with lots of regular programming. My counselor recommended SVSP as my first choice, since it’s close to home, but it’s not just that easy. They ship you off to wherever there’s an opening. So, if it isn’t Salinas, I can file for a hardship transfer, based on Mommy and Daddy’s health not enabling them to travel long distances often to visit me (a doctor’s statement is usually required), and—poof!—I get transferred close! Please pray that I get transferred to a facility close to home. I wouldn’t care if I had to be Level IV, as long as I was within an hour of San Jose!

I’d like you all to guess at my Earliest Possible Release Date. (There will be a prize for the closest guess.) Remember that I was sentenced on February 28 to 18 years at 85%. I have 56 days credit from time served in Santa Clara County. Send me a list of everyone’s dates. Clue. Year 2023.

Something crazy interesting happened three weeks ago regarding my date, however. My first week here (seven weeks ago), I requested my release date from my counselor. Gypsy and I guessed around a bit. Well, I calculated; he guessed. I picked sometime in 2023. He insisted it was less.

One morning, he wrote 11/2, 3, 4, 5/2021 on the wall in pencil. I told him to write on paper, not the wall. Besides that, he was way off. He insisted that he “knows, because you have to do time to understand how it works.” Ummm … the calculations you used? “I just know, because I’ve done time!” Yeah. Great.

He then told me that night to erase the 3, 4, and 5. He was positive it was the 2nd. I gladly erased his scribbles, leaving 11/2   /2021 (with another 2 written beneath the line, circled). Yes, he drew the line and another 2 and circled it. Lovely.

The next afternoon, four weeks after originally requesting my date, the C.O. put a stapled piece of paper through the door—my request form! I bet Gypsy 10 dinners he was wrong, but when I opened the form, there was written in neat print: 11/2/2021.

Yes. I was elated—and Officially Weirded Out—all at once. I paid up with desserts, cookies, and chips—until yesterday. I’d determined not to tell you guys for a while, maybe many years. This is because I know that the excitement of a couple years less time is exponentially greater the closer we get to my eventual release date. The other reason is that I wanted to be sure, over time, that it was true. Well, to this day, Gypsy has no idea how he “figured out” the early release date, and the request form was never accessible to him or any inmate.

I knew then, as I do now, that it was another test by God to make sure that I know He can open prison doors still. If He desires to keep mine shut for 15 years—or longer—I am His, no matter where my Shepherd leads!

In other major news (for me, at least!) is something the Lord just took me through. First of all, I’ve watched the “trustees” (county) and “porters” (state) since my month in County last year. Though being out of the close quarters of a 6′ x 12′ cell for a few extra hours a day is a major benefit of the job, for me, it was the one drawback. These letters don’t take only a few minutes to write, and I have a few other things I try to squeeze into each day, like personal devotions, prayer, working out, etc. I’ve seen that while the porters are out, working, I’m typically in, writing.

However, the main reason I finally desired to be a porter someday is that I’d like the opportunity to be a blessing to others. Porters, besides serving a meal and cleaning up afterwards, go door to door taking care of inmates’ requests: hot water, passing notes/books/food, etc. I thought I’d do a good job of befriending the “unlovely” ones and cheering up the place a bit. Three weeks ago, the porter who cut my hair, Robert (22 years old, 65–life), let me know that the morning white porter was leaving, and he’d asked my C.O. if I could take his place. He said yes, so I had to wait a week.

I was jazzed, but I wanted to wait to write home about it until I saw what the final outcome was. Those of you who know me well can guess what my response was: I didn’t “look forward” to getting the job—in other words, I didn’t get my heart set on it. I’ve had so many things in my life that would have been bitter disappointments if I’d set my heart on them, so God helps me guard my heart now. Those of you who know how God typically works in me can also guess correctly that the C.O. ended up choosing someone else instead of me.  🙂

No biggie. I know that if God wants to use me for something, He is more than able to make it happen, so I was able to thank Him for the outcome. I now had ample proof that God didn’t want me to be a porter! It reminded me again that it is vital to rejoice in a relationship with a God who cares enough about me to let me know His will, rather than get my heart caught up in the unknown factors of His possible will for me. (Wow. That was not concise at all! How about this: Rejoice in the Realities of Relationship vs. Pouting about the Possible Paths. Never mind.)

Last Tuesday night (4/22) the evening white porter talked back to the C.O. Then, the tower cop (who oversees both A and B sides) said he was fired. He had to be taken away in cuffs after more nasty words. He no longer lives in our dorm. The next afternoon, my door popped open at about 5:00 p.m. and the tower called, “Christopher!” I just worked my fourth night, and it’s great!

The perks, besides the extra food (5 tortillas, 10 packets of ice tea, 2 ice creams, 3 cakes, tons of veggies—the only thing I sometimes eat!—etc., just in the first days) and the (tonight) 3½ hours of extra stretch-your-legs time, is the awesome exercise of running up and down the stairs, mopping, and lifting stacks of loaded trays. I get nice and sore, winded, and sweaty. Then, we get an extra hot shower every night (inmates get three per week). Three morning porters (Black, White, Hispanic) and three evening porters out of 100 inmates is only a modest 1 in 16, but due to the high turnover rate here, it becomes more like 1 in 30 over the course of my stay. God has already given me many opportunities to minister; I’ll write about some later.

I love you all!




  • Rock of Ages Prison Ministry
  • REVIVAL at DELANO, May 4, 5, 6; meetings throughout the day—I’m signed up to attend!