August 4, 2011
Thursday, 10:30 a.m.
Letter #185: Nate’s Story
The nice thing about moving to a new place is that you get a fresh start, a reset, an opportunity to try it again—whatever “it” is for you. (Now, I say “a new place” because it sounds so much more appealing than, say, “another maximum-security prison cell.” Doesn’t it?)
The month of June, locked down nearly all month, is not my favorite way to spend my free time. (I say “free time” with gobs of artistic license.) July, on the other hand, was a bit more my speed. I started up Bible College, completing a class in four weeks, started teaching choir, teaching worship leading, began working out for an hour every day, five days a week, and attended 27 church services and Bible Studies as well.
This month, I’m adding Spanish vocabulary, I’m applying to teach a music class, I’ve added an additional choir, and I’m applying to begin correspondence community college with a business class this semester for starters.
It’s been 20 years since I last took college classes of this sort, but I’m excited because the classes will help my business skills develop. The majority of my time and energy is still consistently focused on discipleship—developing leadership in those around me. God is good to place in my life men who are ready and willing to grow, and I’ve found a few that are worth the investment of my time. I’ll introduce you to Phillip, my primary “project” and my closest friend, later … but first I’ll give you Nate’s story.
Nate is an enthusiastic, friendly, huggy guy who was transferred into our pod from some other pod/unit/compound at this facility, where he’s lived for a year. He loves to sing, so I unfortunately included him in our Independence Day quartet. The twice-daily practices leading up to the patriotic service were difficult for me, because Nate has problems singing quietly. Church-singing, shower-singing, car-singing, alone-in-your-cell-singing—those are all well-suited for Nate’s braying voice. Not a quartet.
Our song performed, I celebrated Independence Day for a whole new reason this year. We haven’t practiced quartet since that day. I’m not too keen on the whole enthusiastic thing, either. Don’t get me wrong—I can get excited, pumped up, and crazy with no good reason too. I just choose not to, because it can annoy the Eeyores and Rabbits of the world. I like to think of myself as an older, wiser Tigger. A thoughtful Tigger. And the huggy thing? Well, Nate seems to be able to find my tiny personal bubble and hug it to death. No, I do not need or want my back rubbed or scratched by you or any other person I am not married to nor who once changed my diapers. Not now. Not ever.
Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. I’m trying to see as He sees, so I offered to sit down with Nate and create an Exit Strategy (he has many more years left to serve). Having seen me work with others, he was excited and huggy to get his turn. I scheduled plenty of time in my Day Planner, then wrote him an appointment pass to let him see how valuable he is to me. He was on time, and brought a notebook and pen to take notes.
I asked to hear his testimony first, hoping to discover what Nate is passionate about or what he hopes to accomplish with his life. What I found was the all-too-typical incarcerated man’s mindset of complacency. Most guys live for yard, mealtimes, card games, dominoes, and TV. Many have X-Boxes or PlayStation game consoles to kill more time. Christian guys will often spend several hours a day involved in some kind of Bible Study course, Bible reading, or church attendance. These are great activities, but they can also lull a man into thinking that he’s accomplished everything he needs to today in those two hours. Now he deserves to “relax,” which is not in keeping with Biblical teaching to work six days and rest one.
Nate had never thought about creating goals or even considering what big things God wants him to be prepared to do someday. He and I created a list of goals for him to begin implementing into a new daily schedule, and Nate’s begun to look towards his future for the first time since his incarceration.
Not all of us have to face the tragic facts of Nate’s life—in anger, he punched his 6-month-old baby boy, leading to the boy’s death, for which he’ll serve 18 years. But what a greater tragedy it is if we don’t use the circumstances in our lives to wake us up, challenge, and motivate us to be great! Nate wants to serve God, speaking to underprivileged youth and maybe being in music ministry. We’ll see. I’m having him lead worship this Sunday night for starters. It’s a good thing he’s got a lot of time. Hugs, anyone?