May 25, 2014
Sunday, 7:00 p.m.
Letter #332: Welcome to My Place
I finally got to introduce Joe, my cellie, to my mom this weekend. Months in the making, it’s finally happened! I’m grateful.
It isn’t all that easy to drop by for a visit to see me. (Funny, though, it is easier than calling or texting me, since I have no phone.) A visiting form signed by me has to be completely filled out by each prospective visitor. Every personal detail you’re never supposed to share with anyone must be put on that form and mailed to the main correctional office near Sacramento.
I’ve asked them to please do a thorough background check on all persons applying to see me, to screen out any potential weirdos or people with a history of crime. I don’t want to hang out with criminals. I have standards, people!
Once you’re approved to visit me, passing the ninety-day scrutiny, you must keep your approval up-to-date every two years. (Please declare all traffic violations currently on record. I may make an exception for non-moving citations, and allow you to see me.)
Actually, the process is out of my hands, but it does take forever. Once approved, you’re welcome to schedule a visit, as my parents do, or just drop by like friends of mine did this month, surprising me for an afternoon of encouragement. Either way, if you stop by my place, I’ll most likely be home. I tend to not get out as much anymore.
I live in a heavily-fortified and well-guarded complex, just like anyone else of extreme importance, fame, or prestige. It keeps my private life private. Very private.
In proper real estate terms, I typically describe my place as a quaint 2 Bed, 1 Bath unit, all-concrete and stainless-steel appliances, with built-in bunks and table. The unit comes fully furnished and includes too many amenities to list: sport court, laundry service, full kitchen staff, on-site library and chapel, 24-hour guard support and more, all within a by-invitation-only gated community. Perfect for my pre-retirement years! You’re welcome to come by and see me, but for an extended stay, you’ll have to make arrangements through your local police department.
Joe and I prepared for his visit with my mom. I saved up and bought photo tickets so he got to take a few pictures with her, and we even practiced smiling in our tiny mirror. “Normal” prison pictures are supposed to make the inmate look tough, so you’re not supposed to smile. Typically, shoulders are back, and your head is cocked back with your chin jutting out. (Now you know, in case you ever need to take a prison photo.)
We’ve moved past that image with Joe, however. One picture caught him smiling like usual, and in another one my mom made him laugh by trying to poke him in his ribs, so he looks puzzled after laughing. I’m enclosing the pictures with this letter, so you finally get to see my buddy, my brother in Christ. His outer appearance tells just a small part of his story, but Joe’s inner man is changing daily into the image of his Heavenly Father.
Joe got the first two hours with my mom on Friday morning, while I was teaching choir. As he left the visitation building, I passed him on the walkway, and he was grinning ear-to-ear. The visit meant the world to him, a tangible proof that Christians are for real.
One of my choir guys said that his parents (also active in church) could “never visit prisoners they’d never met.” Then he said, “Well, your parents are ministers, so, it comes natural for them.”
I explained that though they aren’t ministers in a church as he’d thought, they just care about people. Five prison terms, over a dozen years incarcerated, and this was Joe’s first visit. “When I was in prison, you visited Me,” Jesus said, even though He is Joe on the outside.