August 24, 2014
Sunday, 3:00 p.m.
Letter #345: Out of the Nest
Well, it is here: the day that Joe and I both knew would come inevitably has arrived. If you have never had a foster child, never housed a foreign exchange student, or never sent a child of your own off to college or the military, you won’t fully understand the feelings I have when it is time to let a cellie go. Oftentimes, the process has felt like what I imagine raising a stranded or hurt wild animal must be like. Then, all grown up or healed, you must release them back into the wild, praying they’ll do well, praying they’ll survive.
I do not have the best track record with this process. I make many mistakes as I try to strengthen, encourage, support, push, challenge, and lead by example, if at least a flawed example. Sometimes, the best help I can be is a listening ear, a calming presence, a stable support during the natural roller coaster ride that is prison.
I’m still learning, so my extreme gratitude goes out to those of you who have sent me books on discipleship to assist me. Though there are many guys I’ve helped who are back out in the real world, doing well for themselves, the spectacular failures haunt me. I don’t yet understand what factors contribute to someone turning from all the good they know to do, but I’m curious and learning.
Yesterday, Joe was told to pack up all of his belongings and take them to the office. This process, known as “transpacking,” is the final step before you get transferred to another institution. Once everything you own is placed into three small boxes, it is only a matter of days before you get an early morning wake-up to get on the prison transport bus, which you can imagine is like riding Greyhound Bus Lines with handcuffs. Same service. Same comfort. Same clientele.
For security reasons, you can’t know the bus’s exact departure date, time, destination, or even route. However, we’re fairly certain Joe will be picked up early this Tuesday morning for a six-hour bus trip to a prison in Southern California where he’ll finish out the remaining 85 days of his sentence.
California prisons are far different from these out-of-state facilities owned and operated by private corporations, and though Joe is more than familiar with the prisons in state, he is preparing for a rude awakening, nonetheless. The officers in California, for the most part, hate prisoners, and at some facilities where gang drop-outs like Joe are housed, guards go out of their way to antagonize and humiliate those in their care. Joe and I pray not only for his protection during these next three months prior to being released, but also for him to have wisdom in how to handle both inmates and staff with a good, Christlike attitude.
And what of his life after prison? Joe is at a unique place in his life right now. Both parents are deceased, his daughter lives in Redding, California (ten hours north of his city of parole), and the few remaining aunts and uncles and one grandma aren’t too excited to have him home. They have seen Joe at his worst, in and out of juvenile facilities and five prison terms, and these have all taken their toll on his family.
With nothing out there to look forward to, Joe has often said he’s not certain he even wants to leave prison and its everything-is-provided-for-you buffet of services. But recently, God has renewed his faith that He will provide. Having nothing has caused Joe to need God even more, to trust Him even more. He knows it won’t be easy, and he’s prepared to do a lot of hard work, but I’m encouraged to see quite plainly that Joe’s hope is in the Lord.
And you know what? So is mine. God is responsible for Joe, not me. And He has a lot better track record than I do.