August 23, 2012
Thursday, 2:30 p.m.
Letter #239: A Futile Fast vs. Real Redemption
I hope you all had a beautiful Ramadan this past week. The statistics are incredibly high for in-prison conversions to Islam: more than one in three blacks converts while incarcerated, and one in ten of those keep these religious beliefs once released.
The rates are similar for Christians, but the retention is higher, and the conversions are not disproportionately in favor of one race. The prison version of Islam is more akin to a boys’ club than anything—it is a social club for blacks. During Ramadan week they had to do something so amazingly grueling that it pushed the boundaries of faith and dedication: they had to fast for an entire week!! Wow!
Now, I’ve fasted for a week a few times, but obviously it was nothing in comparison to what they had to go through. I stick to just water during a fast, but these guys? They have to eat only at night! Wow! Have you ever eaten while it is dark outside? Then you know what they had to go through ALL WEEK!
Every evening, they had a different feast and then had to endure another one in the early morning. It was like flying to Iran and living on their schedule for a week, without the fun of actually being there. It was like jetlag without the jet or the lag, just 12 hours without food. 12 HOURS IN A ROW!! Hooray for fasting!!
To commemorate this incredibly difficult feast feat, each one received a special award certificate that reads “Completion of Fast.” Several told me how tough it was to stay up and watch TV as usual and then have to wake early in the morning to fast then feast—I mean, the other way around. Whatever. It was tough. Religion is hard, people!
Good thing it’s only once a year, poor guys. I’m hoping they’ll not be so loud in the dayroom, yelling and participating in horseplay. Fast that for a week. I’ll make the “Completion of Being a Gentleman for a Week” certificates. I will!
Caleb has been my friend for the past three years, since he first joined the Bible Study I had on the yard in Soledad. Though he grew up in a good Christian home, and though he rejected what he’d been taught, he still enjoyed hanging around with Christians. He was my next-door neighbor in Florence for a year, before we were all transferred here to La Palma.
Separated for a few months, the first time I saw him again was when he showed up to choir practice on a Wednesday. I gave him a huge hug and let him know I cared about him. (We’d had many discussions about faith, about his academics, about his rehabilitation, etc., and I’d spent hours and hours tutoring him.) Unfortunately, the church leadership asked him to leave, since they knew Caleb was not “saved.”
I invited him to come to the Saturday “performance choir” practices, which were not under the church leadership, and per the chaplain, were open to whomever I wished. That was six months ago, and Caleb blossomed under the love shown him by us and our sweet volunteer, Sister Peggy. Over time, as Caleb kept attending the choir and church services, he made a new profession of faith in Christ as his Savior.
Because of the years spent running the opposite way, Caleb didn’t tell his family of his decision. He said he didn’t want to get his mom’s hopes up if it “wasn’t for real.” He got deep into studying the Bible on his own and spending much time in prayer.
Recently, he was allowed to join the church choir upon my request on his behalf. And this past Sunday, in the morning church service, Caleb was baptized. For him, it is the beginning of a long journey. For me, it seems as if it is the end of a long journey with Caleb. Tears streamed down my face as he climbed into a makeshift baptistery and looked right at me and smiled. Thank God for His love and patience with each one of us. Caleb’s mom will be so proud.