March 29, 2015
Sunday, 1:00 p.m.
Letter #376: Move with the Cloud
Friday was one of those rare days when prison life seems more like an outside day than a prison day. I had an event to be at, and I was as prepared as I could be for it.
I frequently write about the school graduations here, special events that grace the calendar as often as the school can get either GED graduates or INEA graduates, the Mexican equivalent of our GED.
Being that Friday’s graduation was for INEA, our volunteer, Peggy, and I practiced several Spanish songs to perform for the event. Joining us this time was Michael, a gifted vocalist from my choir, and Daniel, an incredible guitarist. Playing piano and singing for these events is such fun, a memory stand-in for the hundreds of concerts I used to enjoy doing with my brothers.
To be invited to perform at the graduations is a true privilege. Just 40–50 graduates attend each ceremony with teachers and staff, and only our choir has ever been asked to perform, or just Peggy and me; unbelievably, this was my sixteenth prison graduation. Unbelievable.
Everything was going according to plan, just the way we’d practiced, when something I wasn’t prepared for happened. Just as the Mexican Consulate was finishing his speech praising the graduates, three officers motioned for me to join them at the back of the chapel, I thought they needed assistance carrying tables for food or ice buckets for the drinks, but they just needed me to sign a paper notifying me that I would be having my annual “classification committee” within three days. This didn’t surprise me, since I’ve just completed my seventh year in prison. What surprised me was that the paper stated: “Transfer Recommendation to MCCF.” This meant I was being recommended to go back to California, to a “Modified California Correctional Facility,” basically an overflow prison, where I would serve the remainder of my sentence in a dorm with hundreds of other inmates. I was stunned.
Prison is not fun, but prison life here in Arizona is vastly superior to prison life in California. However, it isn’t the “perks” and niceties like the guards treating us well and unlimited phone access that makes me prefer staying in Arizona. The entire culture at this private-corporation-run facility is that of rehabilitation and of opportunity. I can plan for and participate in activities that I am passionate about, such as business classes and music courses. These are virtually unheard of in California prisons.
I’d love to stay here, so I decided to ask the main warden about that possibility, since he was attending the graduation anyway. As soon as the ceremony was over, I approached Warden MacDonald and told him the news about my impending transfer and my desire to stay. He expressed his regret to be able to do anything about it, then said some very kind statements I wish were recorded: “Look, I wish I could weigh in on this, but I can’t; my hands are tied. I mean, you are truly a phenomenal person, and what you have done here, with the classes you teach and all is also phenomenal. Believe me, it would be our honor to have you continue to stay with us, and I certainly hope it turns out that way.”
I expressed my gratefulness to him and assured him that my life is in God’s hands, so I’ll make the most of wherever He chooses to put me. As I turned to leave, the warden stuck out his hand and gave me a hearty handshake, a gesture not lost on me in its significance, since staff and inmates aren’t normally supposed to interact this way.
The education coordinator of our compound, Dr. DelSordi, and the head principal of the prison, Ms. Carr, both heard about the possibility of my transfer (some inmates transfer within two weeks of receiving the notice), and rushed up to me. Both said that they would personally make phone calls to the committee in California that would be handling my annual review, vouching for me being an asset to the prison and requesting that the rules requiring me to return to California after five years out of state be overridden in my case.
Then, the Mexican Consulate came up to me. He remembered me from the previous few INEA graduations and thanked me again for the beautiful music. He is a huge fan of the arts, so Ms. Carr had already presented him with my Spanish Musicianship proposal for possible sponsorship of a Spanish-language music curriculum. Then, Ms. Carr told him and his two assistants that I was up for possible transfer, and he said, very sincerely, that because of “all the work” I do to “benefit so many inmates at this prison,” he hopes I will stay.
Ms. Carr jumped in, “Oh, but Mr. Consulate, Sir, you have no idea how much Christopher actually does to benefit us all here. What you have seen is but a small part.” She then embarrassingly listed several initiatives I’ve run dating back several years. I was humbled, then made certain to let the Consulate and his assistants know that I serve God Almighty who has a plan for my life, and that I plan to serve Him with every little bit of blessings and opportunities I’m given, no matter where I am. I silently prayed, “Here I am, Lord! Send me.”
In all, an emotional day of ups and downs, uncertainty and kind words of affirmation and confirmation that God can us me wherever He wants.