266 | Death, Life, CPR, and Jesus

February 24, 2013
Sunday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #266: Death, Life, CPR, and Jesus


Dear Family,

I watched a man die, a few nights ago. Remember the front of my Christmas card, with that long building I see out of my window? Well, between the two doors on the left and the two doors in the center, there is a window and drinking fountain. This window is where you go to pick up medications, dispensed by nurses. Thursday evening, as I was on my bunk preparing for the business class that night, I noticed a correctional officer shooing inmates away from that area. The line disappeared, and I could see a man, lying still on the ground. A staff member crouched over him, and soon other officers and staff arrived. I watched as they took turns giving him chest compressions, and a medical assistant put a breathing apparatus on his face. I prayed for him, not knowing who he was, but suddenly caring for him, his family, and loved ones he may leave behind. I noticed his white tennis shoes from an outside vendor, a clear sign that someone out there loves him and sends him stuff; perhaps a mama who didn’t know her boy was dying right now.

I prayed. I felt helpless. Powerless. I couldn’t make a decision to render aid, I couldn’t speak to him, I couldn’t give him what he needed. I could only watch. I’ve been at accident scenes and helped the wounded. I’ve chased down a guy who was beating a woman; I get involved. But I could only watch.

They kept taking turns giving rushed CPR. I know it was rushed because I have CPR Certification. I even have CPR Instructor Certification, but it does no good when you’re locked up, 100 feet away. You can’t help, you can just watch, helpless, as the precious life-giving minutes slip away and the death-giving ones begin to arrive. I prayed, suddenly concerned about his eternal destination, suddenly able to find the words of truth that would have been so difficult to find in person had I seen him earlier that day. I wondered if I knew him, and would I ever know him.

A half hour passed by, and I could see that prison officials decided that there was nothing else for them to do for him but cover him with a sheet. No business class—programs were cancelled due to “an incident on the yard.” An incident that changed a family, that ended a life. I’ve been at the bedside of two people as they breathed their last, and I prayed with them as they entered eternity, both knowing their Savior and confident this was their time; both well-advanced in years. We don’t have old men here, I knew, so I figured this was a life cut short. But how short? He was 21 years old.

I found out that though I never talked to him personally, I’d certainly seen him—he had a large “v” tattooed on his face, and he’d come to church several times before and even been baptized last year, along with many others. I remembered him, for sure. They say he died of an overdose of heroin, just like the last young man who died here a few months ago. Usually smuggled into the prison by guards or other staff, it brings top dollar for those willing to take the risk. And it brings death.

Samuel Morales had a big life ahead of him, but made the choice to throw it away. We have the illusion of time here that works against us. It appears we have lots of time, so we are tempted to squander it, waste it, kill it, misuse it. In reality, we have no more time than anyone else.

Every day, men who are dying walk by my window, stand with me in line for a meal, or play basketball with me once a week at yard. And I make the choice, every day, to only watch. I pray, but I’m not helpless. I’m not powerless. I can make a decision to render aid. I can speak to them. I can give them what they need. I am certified, chosen, and empowered to give the Word of Life to the dying.

Please pray as I take up the challenge to reach at least one each month with the Life of the gospel, before it’s too late.

Thank you for encouraging me!