259 | Business as Usual or … First-Class Commendations?

January 13, 2013
Sunday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #259: Business as Usual or … First-Class Commendations?


Dear Family,

It has been years since I’ve set foot in an amusement park, but I got my share of roller coaster emotions this week. And, since you are tall enough to ride, I’m taking you with me on this recap. Hang on.

First, let’s all remember that nothing exciting happens in prison. (Those of you who have suffered through two hundred-plus weekly letters from me are mentally rolling your eyes and saying, “No kidding.”) Then, let’s remember that I’m not the cry baby you may think me to be. Both pieces of information will come in handy while reading this letter.

I’ve been so excited recently—the second semester of the Business class came to an end, and in the process, some significant milestones were reached. Since initiating the first class of 30 inmates, we have drawn up a charter, elected a board, gotten a staff sponsor, and launched the class again. I developed the curriculum from business books and magazines, and we ended up the semester with an incredible 15 graduates.

I met with our staff sponsor, Ms. Aven, to choose a date for the graduation. She preferred the middle of January, to give her time to get the budget approved for pizza and cookies. (I asked for these because other classes, taught by staff, get them at their graduations.) I postponed the graduation until then but made sure everything else was ready: I created certificates (on the library computer), passes for the awards banquet, and spent hours setting up the criteria for and helping to judge the business plan competition.

A week before the event, I still had not heard from Ms. Aven, so I sent her a detailed letter that addressed all of the responsibilities she was supposed to do, including signing all the passes and sending me manuscript paper for the certificates. Day after day went by with no response. I had staff members try to call her by phone and two-way radio but got no response.

I knew the guys in the class were counting on me. I’d even sent Ms. Aven the wording for laudatory chronos (statements for each man’s file, commending him for graduating from the class). My suggestion, she’d approved the idea but asked me to write the statements for her.

Finally, the day before the graduation, I just made copies of the certificates on regular paper, wrote the guys’ names in calligraphy on each one, and prepared what I would say about the men who had put in so much work—every man had perfect attendance and had done all of the extensive homework assignments. Today was the day!

No pizza, no cookies, no certificate paper, no passes, no chronos, no Aven signature on the certificates. I had a handmade thank-you note for Ms. Aven … but she didn’t show up to the event like she’d said she would.

None of this deterred me, however! I was determined to let the guys know how proud I was of them. I’d chosen a character quality that each man exemplified, as well as a proverb from the Bible picked out for each guy.

As they came up one by one to accept their stand-in certificate, I acknowledged each one, just as I’d planned. What I hadn’t planned on was how incredibly emotional I’d get speaking words of truth and hope and admiration into the lives of my guys. The waterworks flowed, but I got through it.

After all the certificates were handed out, all the guys took turns coming to the front and saying words of gratefulness about me. What an unexpected blessing, matched only by the fact that every graduate has enrolled in Part 2 of the class. God is truly blessing me here—thank you for praying for me and these awesome guys.