August 4, 2013
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #289: God on the Move
I’ve moved again! I tell you, I’d get frequent flyer miles for all this if I were out of prison. It isn’t exactly my most favorite activity in the world to pack up and move, no matter that it’s really only my bathroom I’m packing up. But I think I’m finally where I need to be—for now.
When I’d requested my last move, I was put into a cell with an older guy who was really friendly in a retired Hell’s Angel kind of way. At 55 years old, his biceps were a healthy 18″, making them together larger than my waist. He had lots of crazy bad manners, snored loudly, was proud of his fifth prison term, and had pictures of women all over the cell. He longingly spoke of the lifestyle he’d had and planned to have after prison.
I didn’t fear him—though he’d killed his best friend and another guy when he thought they were talking about him—but we had absolutely nothing in common but a cell number. He’d gotten in trouble a few weeks ago for being sexually aggressive with another inmate, and I saw him getting reprimanded by an officer for something similar.
When I first moved in, Tony told me he was trying to get a different guy moved in, but it could take a couple of months. I agreed to move out whenever they got it approved, but I hoped it wouldn’t take long. It seemed it couldn’t come soon enough.
Then, while teaching choir, one of my business class students stopped by and asked me if I’d consider moving in with him. He’d asked me before, when I was content to stay on the other compound a few weeks ago. Now, I told him that I was willing to move if the staff approved it. The next day (this past Thursday) two staff members came to my cell and took me to speak privately with me, asking me if I wanted to move. When I told them that Tony wanted another guy to move in with him, they told me to stop thinking about how to benefit everyone else but myself.
I really needed to hear that. I absolutely DID want to move, so they told me to pack immediately. Tony told me he’d decided that I was such a good cellie, he would just keep me. I thanked him and decided I’d put that qualification on my next résumé: A great cellie.
So, now I’m in with Michael, a 35-year-old guy who’s also taking college classes and, unlike Tony, is NOT an atheist. He just endured his own old codger cellie—for nine MONTHS!—and just told me today that I’m the best cellie he’s ever had. Yeah, I get that a lot. And for those of you who don’t think it takes much skill to live in a bathroom with another man, let me tell you something: you are absolutely right.
But honestly, I’ve been incredibly blessed to have great cell-mates. Because so much of my day is spent studying, writing, and living in my cell, the quality of my cellie greatly affects the quality of my life in prison. I’m grateful for God’s providence, carefully guiding me and selecting where I need to be. Even when the path seems counter-productive or strenuous (like my last two cellies turned out to be) He is always working to strengthen and perfect my character—which needs some perfecting!
I’m now in a completely different 120-man pod, but in the same three-pod unit I started in, so I now lots of guys here, including some I’ve known for three and four years.
Today at church, we had a service of worship music. The church has grown so much, we’re splitting to two services after today. Caleb, a long-time friend of mine for over three years is in the church now. As a nonbeliever, he’d first attended the Bible Studies I led on the yard in Soledad, then joined my Community Choir here before giving his life to Christ and joining this worship team. He made a point to pray over me in church today. God is good.