341 | Lessons Learned

July 27, 2014
Sunday, 3:00 p.m.
Letter #341: Lessons Learned


Dear Family,

After a refreshing weekend visit from my mom and an additional three days of no school, I was looking forward to Construction Class this past Thursday morning. Up, dressed, devotions, then the short walk to the Programs Building. Cancelled, I was told. Come back in the afternoon. Today was the day we were to begin putting together the foundation for our mock two-room house we’re building, and I couldn’t wait. By the afternoon, I was in full excitement mode, nearly skipping my way to class.

Let me be clear: I am not interested in working as a tradesman in carpentry or some other industry after prison, and I certainly have no use for knowing how to properly install rafters while I am still inside. I do not plan to escape, but if I did, I will be sure to choose a ladder with at least three feet of clearance over the top of the fence, for safety. However, I figure that I might as well make the most of the class and learn all I can while it lasts. Whether for doghouse, crib, or cabin, the skills may come in handy someday.

As soon as I walked in to the class Thursday afternoon, I got busy helping the teacher’s assistants get ready, laying out the sills and joists on the concrete floor for our cozy 10’x20’ floor plan. Then, as all the other guys in class arrived and parked in chairs around our project area, the teacher, Mr. Roether, said we could begin assembling the flooring materials.

I couldn’t wait to start slinging a hammer, but I didn’t look the part, dressed in my tan hospital scrubs. So, I grabbed one of the six tool belts, threw some nails into one of its pouches, put a pencil, tape measure, and speed square into the other pouches, and dropped a hammer home into its loop. Now we were in business.

I looked like someone who couldn’t decide what to wear to the costume party, or a nurse moonlighting as Bob the Builder. I didn’t care, though I was the only one playing dress-up. I wanted to look and feel the part, and I’d found the tools, so to speak, to accomplish that.

Just three or four of us were doing the work out of the two dozen guys in class, most of them just talking and laughing with each other. I squared up the sills, measured and fastened the joists, and installed the blocking between each joist. I was Mr. Roether’s shadow, right by his side so I wouldn’t miss a word he said, doing the work he wanted done. I even broke a sweat.

I used the massive pneumatic nail gun until it ran out of nails, then handed it off to a guy with hearing aids. I’m assuming he had both of them turned off, since the class was so noisy. For whatever reason, he didn’t notice the empty nail slot or the missing sound of nails being driven home as he finished up the blocking all the way to the end of the structure. Looking back on his work, he watched as someone bumped into it, and it fell apart like a dry sandcastle at the feet of a nosy dog.

Not surprisingly, I’ve learned more from this first half-day of hands-on work than in the previous month of book work. I’m blessed to have a great instructor, and I can learn so much from him, the more time I spend with him. In fact, the less I do the talking, and the more I just listen, the wiser I become. I ask; he answers.

I’ve also learned not to just use a tool because someone else has used it and found it to work for them. I want to be effective in the work I do, not empty of any power. I want what I do to stick.

I can’t afford to just be a spectator in this class of life I’m in. I need to put on my uniform, keep my tools ready, follow the plans, and stay close to the Master Builder, so I can have a Heavenly home someday.