June 8, 2008
Sunday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #33: Special Assignment: Jonathon
Howdy from the rodeo capital of … well, this county, at least: Soledad, home to a giant patch of dirt and cement known as Salinas Valley State Prison. It is in this place that God has called me to serve Him for a while. My permanent home in Heaven awaits me, should God choose to delay the imminent return of Christ, after my time here is done. It is true peace to know that He is in complete control of my situation, my surroundings, and each day!
My time is in His hands—especially now, when I can’t see a clock where I’m at. I’m hoping to get a clock and a watch someday, but does a device that shows me the minutes and hours remind me to “redeem the time, for the days are evil”? No, God has faithfully reminded me of that, though! Like an alarm clock (which I’m not supposed to have), He faithfully jolts me awake out of my sleepy, mediocre-Christianity state of mind and keeps me alert to remember I’m in a battle for the souls of men! Complacency has no place on the front lines.
I met with my counselor for the first time, on Friday. He wanted to hear who I am, why I’m here, and how I feel about it. God gave me peace and an openness with him. I explained how I know God wants me to serve Him here. I was encouraged by his immediate “Praise God!” but I didn’t know about his walk with God. He jumped in with helpful advice on how to make my time here easier (common-sense stuff like don’t pass contraband items for anyone, don’t try to smuggle anything into the facility, etc.). He then told me that Salinas Valley, though hated by the inmates for a lack of “programs”—no woodshop, extremely limited job selection, no specialized education, etc.—has a fairly decent “B” yard. “A” yard is the Level IV yard; “B” yard is Level III.
Then, he said of the 5 “B” yard buildings, mine (B2) is the best-behaved and happens to have a high concentration of Christians. I guess the C.O.’s in my building are fairly strict, too, so they stop problems before they even happen. Since I’ve been here—seven days—there’s been only three “mutual combat” (1-on-1) fights out on the yard. Considering the number of guys on the yard at one time and the amount of time the yard is open, that’s about 5% of what was at Delano!
My counselor is a Christian, his boss is a Christian, and the “B” yard Captain is a Christian. When I told him that God sent me to Salinas Valley to help serve him, his response? “I know! I’ve claimed this entire prison as mine for the Lord, so I know He sent you here to help me!” Please pray for this man, whom I can’t name here.
I was escorted to a visit with my mom yesterday. Four cops from my building and the yard were standing at the exit to my building. “Why are you always smiling?” one asked.
“Yeah,” said another, “You’re way too happy for this place! How much time are you doing?” (This is a common question, when I’m asked about my cheerful attitude. The assumption is I must be headed home soon.)
I answered my usual reply, “Fifteen.”
Brows furrow. “So, why are you smiling?”
“Well, I figure I could do 15 years smiling—or frowning. I don’t want to do hard time, though.”
I sensed in the quick interchange that it wasn’t the best time to bring up Christ. “Yeah,” the youngest officer quipped back, “but I thought this was Salinas Valley, not that prison down south, Pleasant Valley!”
They all laughed, and two escorted me to my visit. My cellie, Lorenzo, told me that on his way to medical this morning, the same young cop asked him why was I “always smiling and singing?” (I’m only out for 1 minute at a time, to grab a food tray … did I sing? I guess, yeah, I did … )
The cop, C.O. Fuentas (I think), came to get me for my dad’s visit today. He asked me the same question, and I said, “Well, you should be smiling—you’re in green!”
He walked off, and another cop escorted me to visiting. Upon my return, he called me over to his podium in the middle of the dayroom, staring me down. “Okay, so tell me why you’re always smiling.”
“You really want to know?” I asked, growing very sober and looking intently into his eyes.
“Yes, I’m serious. Tell me,” he answered. I wanted to say so badly that it is because Christ is in me, but in the moment I went to open my mouth, God gave me what to say. I realized, back in my room, that my idea of what to say, good as it may have been, would have been the only sentence I got out. But, I praise Him! And, thank you for praying for me! In the moments I need Him most, He is SO near! There is power in prayer.
So, what did I say?
“Well,” I said to C.O. Fuentas: “I know that I cannot change my current situation. I know that I screwed up, and that’s why I’m here.” He hadn’t even blinked yet.
So, I continued: “And, I know that God isn’t sitting up there wondering what in the world is going on in my life. No, He knows I’m here, so I’ve decided to serve Him with the time I have here.” Still no movement from Fuentas.
“Besides, there are lots of things to be grateful for here!” I smiled at him.
“Hmm … alright. Thanks. Take it back to your house.”
I praise the Lord that He’s put my lamp on a lamp stand in the middle of B2 building, where “it gives Light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:15).
Please pray that I will continue to be a strong witness for Christ in the coming days and weeks. I know there’s gonna be a bunch of new situations thrown at me—a classification meeting on Tuesday, yard and dayroom and chow hall for the first time, chapel services, on-the-yard Bible Studies, work assignment, etc.—and I want to be ready for them. I’m not nervous at all, which I’m sure is a result of all God brought me through at Delano, learning to lean on Him. It’s just that I want to run well, out of the gate here. (Whoops, Mail Sensitive Censor: That was just a figure of speech, referring to horse racing, not escape attempts.)
I want my attitude and conduct to be pleasing to God from the beginning of my time here. I don’t want to set false expectations about what I plan to do with my free time, for example, by jumping into a bunch of activities and becoming too close too soon with guys I may regret being close with later. I’m asking God for wisdom.
I had a couple guys come to my door today to ask if I could switch cells, since I seem like I’d make a cool cellie. (Sheesh! How’d they get that impression? I’ve only barely been out!) This guy isn’t getting along with that guy … etc., etc., etc.
“Thank you, no; I’m cool with my cellie as is. Take care. Adios. Good-bye.”
See, the thing is, I’ve told God that I don’t want to mess with the whole “who do I want as my cellie” idea. I know God is perfectly capable of bringing me the guys He wants in my cell without me needing to do anything. I know God brought Lorenzo here, and I’m enjoying the fellowship and encouragement, even though he needs a bit of help, doctrinally. 🙂
For example, my ex-cellie, Johnathon (I’ve changed his name to protect his privacy and because I always seem to forget that Jonathon does not have an “h” as its third letter.) Seeing that Gypsy was leaving, I requested to the C.O.s that I get my Christian brother, Peter, in my cell. But, no, I come back from yard that fateful day in May to find Jonathon moved in and well acquainted with my life, thanks to my formerly personal letters and pictures in my room.
Boy, was he annoying! He’d already done seven years’ time, with over 30 cellies. (I neither asked nor wondered why.) The first few days, I tried so hard to get rid of him. The C.O.’s hands were tied, and he apologized. I didn’t let on to any of the other guys what Jonathon was like, since I was hoping to stick one of them with Jonathon as his new cellie. I kept the torture in, enduring his constant talking (he cannot even read quietly), his odd behavior—sniffing all over my body before discovering it was a towel that didn’t smell right to him, his complete disregard for privacy—“Please let me know before you squat to use the toilet!” I’d plead.
I endured his discovery and subsequent popping of my personal bubble I’d never known I’d had, until—JONATHON. I didn’t even write to you, my family, about him, because he was my thorn in the flesh, and mine alone. Just me—and God!
I prayed. Jonathon stayed.
I fasted between meals. He became more annoying, still.
Finally, I thanked God for him, told my C.O. Jonathon is staying (“Whew!! I don’t know of anyone but you with the patience to handle him!”), and had a sit-down “talk” with my little monster. I told him—for 45 Jonathon-silent minutes—that I knew God did this sent him 🙂 to me, that I cared about him, and that I wanted to help him.
We set boundaries, guidelines, and talked about how to improve. Silent times when I pray and write letters, for example. All in all, Jonathon tried to improve. He told me, through big teary eyes, that no one else—but one of his cellies—had ever cared enough about him to say anything to help him.
We prayed together before I left—good friends. God, give me other “Jonathons” who need a helping hand! Help me not to be so—SELFISH! I learned so much, and especially about how God is FAR more patient with me than I am with others!