March 8, 2015
Sunday, 7:00 p.m.
Letter #373: Music Program
Not a day goes by that I’m not asked by one inmate or five of them, “What’s going on with the keyboards?” Like restless children on a long road trip, their questions about the status of the 56 donated keyboards that haven’t shown up yet are like the classic question, “Are we there, yet?” No, we’re not there, yet.
Originally, an inmate with family in Green Bay, Wisconsin, got his parents’ church interested in helping our fledgling music program here through donations of equipment and instruments. Thanks to an organized effort, 56 new and used keyboards were collected. The first keyboard was sent to the prison, but it was addressed incorrectly, so it was returned to the church. Ah, if only the problems would have stayed that simple. But no, in typical prisoner fashion, we had to go and nearly ruin it all for ourselves.
State prisoners used to have so many more privileges than we do now. Each one, from our families able to bring home-cooked meals during visits to packages of clothes and food sent from home, were privileges abused by inmates resulting in them being taken away. Prison security used to be more lax, visits were longer, and inmates could even go home on the weekends. Not anymore, thanks to some inmates who ruined those privileges for us years before I ever came to prison. Thanks, guys.
So, it didn’t surprise me to discover that a couple of inmates had tried to compromise the music program donations. One guy, who racked up a serious drug debt, was pressured by his source to purchase cellphones and have them sent to the church in a box marked, “keyboard.” He then expected the church to simply ship the box to the prison, where he hoped the unopened box would land in his hands. In case you didn’t know that most prisoners are not too smart, please let me submit Evidence A. Unbelievable.
The church caught wind of the plan (I have a difficult time referring to such hopeless idiocy as a “plan”) and spent hours taking apart one of the keyboards to check for contraband, then putting it back together. That’s when they decided it wasn’t in their best interests to be in the security business, and they let us know they would only send in new items in the future.
I was disappointed and discouraged, of course, but still determined to come up with a way for us to get those keyboards to the prison. First, I worked with my boss, Mr. Lohman, to secure permission for ANY church to donate musical instruments and sound equipment to the prison. The warden said that as long as the donations were accompanied by a letter from a pastor, listing in detail the items, and on church letterhead, we could receive anything music-related for our music program.
Then, I got permission for our families to simply drop off donated items at the prison’s front gate when they come to visit us, provided the donation letter from a church was attached. This was a huge break-through for us. Previously, the Green Bay church had taken six months to finally be “approved” to donate items. Since the prison will X-ray all packages and have a narcotics dog go over them as well, there is no way for contraband to be smuggled inside an instrument and make it into the facility. Thus, the opportunity is open to any church.
Many of you have written and asked what you could do to help with the music program here. Thank you for your interest! I have the possibility to teach dozens of guys the fundamentals of music and bring a bit of joy and hope into their lives. While I’m working on getting another church to “sponsor” and send in the collected keyboards, there are other items we could use to improve the music program and chapel services here. I’ve met with chaplains and other staff to determine the priority on what we could use most and have typed up a list, with quantities, specifications, and priority level listed. Additionally, I’ve typed up a sample letter from a pastor and the instructions on how to get donations to the prison.
What would be very helpful is for you to see if your church might have some of the items we need and might be willing to donate them. Or, if you or someone you know is willing to send something, you can donate it to a church (for a tax write-off) and have the church send it to the prison.
I realize that this seems quite forward to be asking this of you, so please know that I am simply responding to those of you who have asked me how you can help. I am grateful for the many friends and family members I have who faithfully pray for me and the men God has placed in my life. These prayers have opened the doors to many incredible ministry opportunities with others on the horizon. Thank you.
No matter what happens, I’ll thank God for the journey that He forged in my heart and life as I learn to be faithful with the little things until Christ’s return. We’re not there, yet.