November 2, 2014
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #355: My Cup of Mourning Joe
How true is that verse that says, “I have no greater joy than to know that my children walk in truth” (III John 4), for when you see someone growing in the Word you planted in their soul, bringing glory to God, it fills you with joy.
As Paul wrote to the ones he led to Christ in Thessalonica, “After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when He returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy” (I Thessalonians 2:19–20).
Spreading the good news of salvation as God intends for us to do brings fulfillment and blessing here on earth but massive rewards in Heaven, including the joy of knowing you saved a life.
The opposite sentiment is also true: knowing beyond a doubt that those you have invested in and poured your life into have turned from the truth, is one of life’s greatest disappointments. Sadly, I’ve had to face the reality of that disappointment many times over, and again now with Joe.
Up until the night he left, Joe kept talking about his plans to do well once he got out of prison. I helped him formulate a business plan, based on a job he once had painting curbs. We went over every detail about running the business, and I drew up a logo and name for him.
To help Joe begin to acclimate to normal society, my mom came to visit him a couple of times before he was transferred to San Diego, and she even drove ten hours south to visit him once in San Diego. My dad got approved to visit him, and planned to stop by to visit at the prison on his way home from visiting me last weekend.
Then, just last week, I began finding out that Joe hadn’t been honest with me about a lot of things. He’d struggled with drugs while in prison, but had told me those drugs were behind him. I knew of just one time he did drugs while he was my cellie, and because he was remorseful, I helped him pay off the debt he incurred as a result.
Now I’ve found that drugs were a much more frequent part of his life here than I ever knew, plus he was regularly using others’ pain medication at exorbitant prices. Many of his friends here told me about specific instances and occurrences that corroborated each other’s stories about Joe.
Even more disturbing, Joe stole from me and others to support his habit, then lied extensively, blaming guards as he sold my belongings to others. Meanwhile, I was oblivious. I can’t tell if someone is on drugs or not. And though I’m cautious in my business dealings while in prison, I do open myself up to others in a trusting relationship … especially to my cellies.
Joe and I would read the Bible, devotionals, and Christian books together every day and pray together. Every day. Looking back, I believe he was sincerely wanting a different life, but his addictions and poor character kept taking those desires from him.
I felt sick when I began to uncover the truth about Joe. I’d sent him weekly letters since he’d left, and he’d responded with four letters of his own, full of gratefulness and reminding me to continue to help him. I’d already used a program I developed to give him perfect credit, and I was able to get him a $3,000 credit card at zero percent interest for a year. With no other support besides the prison system’s standard $200 release money, this credit card would be key to Joe getting started with the tools and supplies he needed.
I had to tell Joe that my dad not only wouldn’t be visiting him this past weekend, but that Joe wouldn’t have my dad picking him up at the gate when he is released on November 17. I sent him an eight-page letter, then followed it up with a six-page letter telling him how much I care about him and how confident I am that he can make it in life if he turns from his past mistakes. I didn’t stop there.
I then designed flyers for his curb-paining business, had them translated into Spanish, and typed up both versions for a front-and-back bilingual flyer, using the computers in the prison Law Library. Then, I created a cute little drawing of a painter guy and traced it onto the flyers.
I printed out large versions of his logo and put one in a plastic sleeve for him to tape to his paint bucket. Then, so he wouldn’t have to immediately purchase logo gear, I painstakingly drew his logo onto a grey baseball cap, so he’ll look official on day one.
I put all of the items into a Priority Mail box, paid for the postage, and sent it off to his grandma’s house. I had my dad send the credit card to the same address, as well. Then, I called Joe’s aunt and uncle (who help take care of his grandma) and his grandma to let them know what my family’s involvement with Joe had been and what it would be in the future. Basically, that Joe has a lot of maturing to do, but that I still love him.
An officer who knew Joe heard about what Joe had done to me and came to talk to me about it. He saw the Priority Mail box full of stuff and told me, “Christopher, you’re a better man than me. You’ll have some big rewards when you get to Heaven.”
I told him I’m not doing any of this for Joe. Standing before Jesus someday, I want to have something to offer Him from my life. I’ve made enough mistakes for a lifetime. And now, I have the rest of my life to “do it unto the least of these, my brothers,” good deeds done on behalf of Jesus, who loves Joe far more than I do.