April 1, 2012
Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
Letter #218: Unpacking the Truth
Thursday morning marked the final installment of our chapel’s viewing of Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project, a thirteen-week DVD series on the Christian worldview. Steve, a volunteer chaplain from Michigan, not only camped out here in Arizona in his RV for nearly four months in order to facilitate the class content for our chapel but also prayed daily for each of us by name.
After a very moving final session, Steve surprised each of my classmates and me with the gift of a binder full of printed program materials and all of his own personal study notes. The binder enables each of us to share the phenomenal class material and Biblical principles with others. The clear presentation and unique layout made content that I was familiar with through my godly education come alive, and each week many men shared how they had never heard any of the information before.
After the class, I got to spend a bit of time with Steve, and I hope to do more in the future to benefit and encourage his ministry. I thank God for our sweet volunteers who bless us with so much!
Each year since being incarcerated, I’ve chosen to maintain some of my many traditions from home. One of my favorites is on the first day in April, when I am presented with the opportunity to do something fun and creative to fool my cellie, preferably before he realizes it is April Fools’ Day.
In keeping with my practice when I was at home, I do just one joke so that it doesn’t get carried away. I’m not a fan of so-called “practical jokes,” being typically anything but practical, nor do I enjoy the lie-turned-into-“just-kidding”-makes-it-justified. Call me a killjoy or overly sensitive, but I’m pretty firm on staying away from these myself … with one notable exception each year. Thus, it is something I’ve come to look forward to.
This year, with my cellie being my buddy, Phillip, I knew he needed something that let him know how special he is. As of today, he has just nine weeks remaining until his release. Every California out-of-state inmate returns to California for the final pre-parole processing, so we’ve been anticipating Phillip’s transfer since October.
Knowing that his imminent departure has often been a topic of conversation, I wrote a short note early this morning and gave it to an inmate “porter,” who gave it to our Correctional Counselor, Mr. Roberts. The note was a plea for his assistance, since I figured it would be more credible to have someone in uniform deliver “bad news” to Phillip.
The hardest part was waiting. For hours.
Our door was unlocked for church, and then everyone was immediately locked back down, thanks to a fight in another building. I anxiously waited, hoping Mr. Roberts hadn’t given up on the idea, forgotten, or become distracted with more important matters.
Nurses came by for our annual tuberculosis testing, but still nothing from Mr. Roberts. I tell you, Christopher was getting antsy, checking out the window in our front door (we have only one door, but calling it my front door makes the place sound so much more spacious) every so often, looking for the Correctional Counselor to appear.
And then, could it be … ?
Dr. Adrian Rogers was preaching for our makeshift church service on our 13″ big-screen TV when keys in the door announced the arrival of the unannounced officer. Mr. Roberts swung our door open and stated bluntly: “Transpack your stuff, Matovich. You have ten minutes.”
Phillip was stunned. “Are you serious?” he asked.
Mr. Roberts didn’t flinch: “I SAID pack your stuff and be ready to go in ten minutes.”
With that, he slammed our door shut and walked off. Phillip just looked at me, realizing this was it. He stood up and gave me a big hug. “Wow, good-bye, Bro,” he said and then began stacking his belongings by the door.
I let about five minutes of pure agony drag by and then wished him a very happy April Fools’ Day. The expression on his face was priceless, and gratefully he refrained from enacting any sort of revenge.
It won’t be quite so fun when he eventually must leave, and I’m grateful for the time we’ve been granted to get to know each other and to build a friendship. True friends forgive and forget and just enjoy being together—unpacking stuff.