February 28, 2012
Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Letter #214: Mastering the Monkey Bars
“Happy Anniversary to Me!” Four years! If my time in prison were a child, that child would be 4 years old today, and I could honestly say, “Wow, it’s getting really old,” hoping no one would notice the double meaning. And everyone would be happy for the 4-year-old, who seems to think he owns the world, that nothing is impossible for him, and who just knows that his dad is better than your dad. “How adorable,” we would patronizingly think.
My four years have gone by like a blur—a long blur over everything cool I ever thought I would accomplish by this time in my life. But isn’t life all about constantly readjusting our goals and expectations? (Just say “yes,” as it helps me feel better. I really don’t need to hear about how “actually, Christopher, I’ve accomplished every goal I’ve ever had in my life.” You disgust me.)
And the actual 4-year-olds in the world? They are really amazing. I just spoke with my precious, precocious, 4-year-old niece, Raysa, who got her Daddy’s brain but gratefully looks like her mom. She can do the monkey bars. By herself.
It’s kind of depressing to talk with her, actually: “I just did a handstand on the back of a plastic chair in my dayroom!!” It took everything in me not to scream back at her through my 50s-era pay phone.
I’m sure I was cool at age 4. Especially since my Bugs Bunny front teeth hadn’t come in yet, with a gap made for a straw splitting them apart. Thanks, Raysa, for making me feel like crap.
The phone call went much better when Raysa decided it was best for me to speak with her 2-year-old sister, Aliya. (Gratefully, all my calls are recorded, so I can hopefully play back this phone call someday to figure out what she said.) All I know is that I could barely squeeze in an “Oh!” or a “Wow!” for the 10 minutes that I was held hostage by Aliya, who (according to her dad) thought I should be told the colors of the cars she was passing. Of course I should.
So, what is significant about these past four years? What have I learned? What is different now from when I first came to prison? What would I change?
Hopefully, many of you who have followed these letters for a while could say with me that much has happened in the past four years. I wasn’t prepared for God to be so tangible, so close. I’d done a fairly decent job of ignoring Him and His call on my life, especially in the months I was out on bail, just prior to prison. I became comfortable with lies and deceit.
In prison, I became known as the whiz-kid computer hacker guy because I’d decided that lies were best and no one should know the real reason I came to prison. I’ve learned it’s okay to not volunteer information.
In county jail, the inmates tried and succeeded in making me dread prison, telling me to punch the biggest guy on the yard when I arrived. I’ve learned that God’s ways are far better, and I’m grateful for the friendships I’ve developed with guys who go by “Biggie,” “Stretch,” and “Sasquatch.”
I was told that “all you have to do is ask” and I’d be given classes, resources, books, and other rehabilitative resources. Those people were well-meaning but completely misguided or uninformed. I have learned to take rehabilitation into my own hands, developing classes, sending away for books, writing up petitions for programs, and enrolling in secular and Christian colleges.
I expected to do these fifteen years alone, but I’ve learned the incredible power of mercy and grace as God has given me awesome relationships with each of my brothers and their wives (I just met my sister, Heather, this weekend. I’m a huge fan!), and He’s brought wise, thoughtful, caring people like you into my life. The only change? I wish that I had been more sensitive to how God wanted me to use each moment, how He wanted me to treat each person, each opportunity.
Sure, time goes by at times like a blur, but at least I’m growing, I’m learning, I’m giving. Life beyond these bars will have to wait, because I’ve made it across only four, with eleven more to go. Sure, it gets old at times, but I’m determined to make it and hear “well done”—and this is just one phase of the race I’m running. I seem to have possibly mastered these monkey bars, at least.
Oh, and Raysa? My dad’s bigger than your dad.