December 29, 2011
Thursday, 2:30 p.m.
Letter #206: In the Lamb’s Book of Life
Happy New Year! Every year, I am allowed to receive one calendar. (This is to stem the tide of scantily-clad women pictures so prevalent here.) No one is really into Hello Kitty, Precious Moments, or Yosemite, either. Now that I use a Day Planner, I don’t need a separate calendar to track the slow progression of days becoming years. However, if choosing a calendar for 2012, anything but the Mayan one looks good this year.
I gave out over fifty Christmas cards here at the prison—some to staff, some to close friends, and others from both Phillip and me to guys we have been reaching out to. We both keep hearing back from men who were really blessed by not only the thoughtful gesture—for many, their lone Christmas card—but also the specific message we wrote to them. I mailed more than a hundred Christmas cards, with a handful of those going to guys I’ve met while incarcerated.
I’ve written about Donald Bernard a few times in the past. I’d seen him nearly dead, carted out of my building on a stretcher, and I prayed for God to spare his life. When he returned to my building, I talked to him at length about his need for a relationship with his Creator. He’s a big, old tough guy doing seven-years-to-life and has served nearly 40 years so far.
When I transferred facilities in California, I found out that Don was in the hospital and doing poorly. He’d almost died again. I sent him a letter expressing his need to get right with God and waited. Nothing. A few months later, I ran into him on the yard. He stood stiff as a board when I hugged him, but I could see his gruff heart soften. He actually thanked me for praying for him and said his family was grateful. We talked again about God—he believes in God, but he’s reluctant to turn his life over to Him.
Soon, I had to leave for Arizona. Telling Don goodbye was tough. He’ll most likely die in prison, and yet he seemed content to just watch his life go by without a sense of purpose.
Well, I received a card from “Your long-time friend, Bernard” this year. He wrote that he could tell I still pray for him, and he said, “May God bless you.” In my card to him, I’d encouraged him to read the Bible and give his life to God. I’ll keep writing him and praying that God touches his heart before it’s too late. *2019 Update Below*
Today, I finally followed up with Soto, a young man of 21 whom I’ve known since he first arrived in prison, when we were transferred to Soledad together. In these two-and-a-half years, we’ve been housed in the same building and—in Arizona—the same pod for most of that time. Soto is always good-natured and has become a good friend to me. (He calls me “Tofy,” since he knows I don’t go by “Chris.”)
Soto and I have had a few talks about his religious beliefs, his plans for parole (in April of this year), and other serious topics. Married at age 12, he is mature for his age, yet still a kid in many ways. A couple months ago, I gave Soto a paper on the Bible and going to Heaven. We’d agreed to talk about it later, and neither of us had forgotten, finally finding time. We sat against a wall of cell doors in two plastic chairs, and I began our time with prayer. When I asked Soto what he believed about God, Heaven, and Hell, he told me that he believes in God and Jesus, but he knows he won’t be going to Heaven because he’s “never asked God for forgiveness and never accepted Jesus as Savior.” He nearly had me speechless. Obviously, the information I’d given him and our brief talks had sunk in. He told me my Christmas card had prompted him to read his Bible.
I took him through a few Scriptures and asked Soto what they meant to him. He clearly understood the simplicity of the Gospel and without hesitation, he bowed his head and gave his heart to God. I was so happy for him. He’ll begin going to church with me when our services resume next Sunday, and he committed to begin reading his Bible each day, praise God! I’m grateful for God’s patience with me while fear, complacency, and lack of care kept me from sharing the life-giving Good News. Thank you for praying for me!
*Update 2019: After several in-prison visits with my mom, Don revealed to her that he finally gave his life to Jesus in 2016. God totally changed his heart, and unbelievably, the Governor of California chose to release Don in 2017. My parents have visited him several times, and he still reads his Bible every day.