June 30, 2013
Sunday 8:00 p.m.
Letter #284: Duck, Duck, Goose …
I love games. Growing up in a home without a television has its privileges, and one was a game closet neatly stacked with over a hundred games, with dozens of puzzles as well. On top of that, my mom can create a game out of thin air, which always helped on long car rides and in stuffy waiting rooms.
My competitive streak only grew as I got older (note that I carefully avoided claiming to grow up) and discovered my knack for Musical Chairs (I know; but trust me, there’s a skill involved) and Simon Says. (Even Simon would say I’m the best.) I noticed that even ordinary kid’s games could get rather violent when playing as an adult—ever get hurt playing Duck, Duck, Goose? From aggressive duck patting to major league slides into home, it is a violent game.
Well, working with guys here who are preparing to return to society often feels like a giant game of picking waterfowl. Last year, I worked one-on-one with around a dozen or more guys a month, either by my own choice or by being chosen.
The staff referring someone felt like that hovering parent who reminds you to be sure to choose the kid who never gets picked. Once chosen, the chase begins, and I’m working hard to help the guy learn about common responsibilities, relationships, work habits, and goal-setting. With so many here having spent the majority of their adult life incarcerated, it is shocking how much basic knowledge and character is missing. Lately, I wait until I’m asked for help.
When I get picked, it often feels as if the guy is chasing me down, trying to get the help he needs to succeed. Okay, that never happens. Many come to prison without a drive or determination to succeed, while others lose their drive over time. Yet a relatively few number of guys either have a drive to do something with their lives or their fast-approaching parole date scares that drive into them. Derek is one of those.
A few weeks ago, Derek approached me to ask when the next semester’s business classes would start and to let me know he was finally going to sign up. When I told him I thought the classes would be beneficial to him, he said, “Well, I’ve watched you for a while, and I see how you’re always helping people, and I want to be like you.” He went on to say how he’s only got about a year left in prison, and he knows I could be a valuable resource for him.
Derek has been doing time since he was twelve, always in and out of trouble. Recently, he gave his life to Christ and has determined to change his bad habits. He seemed sincere—so many do—but no one really knows the heart or if any of it will stick … I just invest in those God brings my way and leave the outcome to Him. Derek later formally asked if I would work with him to disciple him and prepare him to get out. Tag.
In just the past few weeks, Derek has really surprised me. He’s set goals and accomplished them, he no longer mocks people, and he’s working at not fearing what others think about him. (Even being seen as my friend had consequences.) He joined my Public Speaking class and has already given a couple of speeches and invited others.
Just today, Derek was baptized in our church service, an event I’ll describe in the next letter, so you can picture it. I’m just grateful that God chooses to use me, whether or not I’m ready or qualified. I just get slapped on the head, and I take off running. And I imagine I’ll keep running until I’m home.