November 23, 2014
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #358: Thankful He Chose Me
As Thanksgiving approaches this week, I have much to be thankful for! My cellie, Joe, paroled Monday and made it home safe. In one brief phone call he made to my dad, I learned that he is discouraged, angry, and already making bad decisions. Though I don’t expect to hear from Joe in the future, I pray that he will come to the place where he once again reaches out for God, his Savior who is always there, ready to listen and come to his aid.
My thankfulness about Joe? I learned a lot of valuable life lessons, lessons that will in no small way benefit me for years to come. I grew in patience and compassion, and I learned that there is much I don’t know. And I’m grateful for God’s abilities in the midst of my inabilities, His strength being made perfect in my weakness. This fact played out as God entrusted me with discipling Joe for eight months. And you know what? I’m really grateful that God knows my needs and my weaknesses and continues to use me in spite of them.
While I was still recovering in shock from hearing how Joe had betrayed my trust before he left, a good friend of mine encouraged me, reminding me how God just expects me to be faithful, leaving the results to Him. My friend also told me to look forward to the guys God would send who would WANT to change. I knew this of course: I know a lot of Spiritual concepts. But, it turns out that letting those concepts sink in deep takes intention. When I first heard someone else say it, the words flooded over me, comforting my soul as God’s truths so often do. I thanked God for whatever He planned to do with my life next, and I prepared my heart for whatever that might be.
One day, the head chaplain saw me on the walkway and told me that he’d recommended me by name to one of the unit managers, Mr. Lohman. I recognized the name because he had temporarily managed my housing unit for a couple of months two years ago.
Chaplain Miller told me that Mr. Lohman was about to receive a few keyboards as a donation, so he needed someone to teach piano soon. I was told to get with my current unit staff to facilitate a phone call with Lohman who was on our facility’s other compound.
When I finally spoke with Mr. Lohman, I was blown away about how well he remembered me and how enthusiastic he was to possibly have me work for him as a piano teacher. I told him that I would be more than happy to help him, and I mentioned that I have taught piano for 19 years prior to coming to prison.
He has been actively pushing a music program on the other compound, complete with drums, guitars, and sound equipment. He’s planning to do a concert on the yard with several inmate bands in December. Because he doesn’t attend the graduation ceremonies here, he hadn’t been aware of our choir. So, we set up a time for him to listen to the choir that week.
To my surprise, Mr. Lohman brought his supervisor, Ms. Powell, the Chief of Unit Management. Even more surprising, however? They stayed, after hearing the choir, for an hour and a half! (This NEVER happens here.) Ms. Powell had also served as my interim unit manager for a couple of months two years ago, and she spoke very generously about my contributions to the programs at the prison.
While she and Mr. Lohman shared their vision for expanded programs and classes, she mentioned my business classes and other classes, saying, “Christopher, I’ve known about all the ways that you benefit our inmate population for a long time. Not a lot of people know about what you do, but it is time for everyone to know.” Then they outlined their plan to increase music, arts, and rehabilitative programs here. All of us in the choir were in a state of shock, including our volunteer, Sister Peggy, who will plan an expanded role in the new year as well.
I know that Mr. Lohman wants to move me to his unit in order to teach piano, but I firmly believe that the real reason God is possibly giving me this opportunity is so that I can help the key staff members get their ideas off the ground, put them into operation, document how it was done, and help the successful programs spread to other facilities. Along the way, I’ll benefit hundreds of inmates while learning valuable life lessons that will continue to build my character.
To help prepare for the possibility of increased programs here, I came up with what I thought the prison needs: an over-arching program entity into which all program initiatives would be placed. Just as a high school has a name and purpose that drives its educational model of separate classes, I came up with a name and model for our private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), to possibly adopt someday. With their new focus on reducing the high crime re-offend rate, known as recidivism, I drafted the acronym CCA CARES, which stands for Correctional Arts and Rehabilitative Educational System.
So far, I’ve drafted a committee of over a dozen intelligent inmates to assist me as Inmate Facilitators, and we’ve met a few times to brainstorm. We’ll see where it goes … I am just trying to be as prepared as possible for whatever God has in mind for me. No matter what, I will continue to be grateful for each opportunity to serve my incredible God.