April 5, 2015
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #377: Passover
Happy Resurrection Day! This Friday marked the beginning of Passover, one of the holiest times on the Jewish calendar. I love remembering all God did as He brought the Jewish people, the ancient Israelites, out of captivity in Egypt. To commemorate the events which culminated with the Lord’s death angel “passing over” the children of Israel and striking the firstborn of Egypt, Jews and Christians alike still have a Passover meal and week of celebrations every year. Of course, Jesus’ final meal with His disciples was this Passover meal, as He celebrated His faith and heritage.
The kosher meals I get change drastically during this holiday, replacing all bread with matzah crackers and including special items I haven’t eaten since last Passover: bananas, baked potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and apples. Unbelievably delicious! The only fruit I typically get are oranges, lots of them, so this variety for a week is a huge blessing.
The one bummer this year is that the chaplain secured just 25 spaces for guys to go to the special Seder (Passover meal) in the chapel. I was not on the list this year, a disappointment. The Seder is fascinating and awe-inspiring as it reveals God’s plan for humanity and His gift of Jesus Christ. I’m sure the guys who went were positively impacted and blessed, so I’m glad, though dozens of us were left out.
Just three days after being told I would be going to my annual committee from Friday to Monday, I did indeed go to the committee. I waited outside my case manager’s office for a long while with other inmates, as the various parties connected with each other via phone. I was last in our lineup of six guys. One was nearly due to parole, and the others, like myself, have been out-of-state for more than five years already, so they were up for transfer back to California as well.
When my turn came, I sat down at the case manager’s desk. My case manager works exclusively with the 120 guys in my pod, but does the bare minimum required of him. He is old and cranky, and best of all, a staunch pessimist, my favorite. Knowing that I hope to be allowed to stay at this facility in Arizona, he greeted me with an abrupt, “They’re gonna put you up for transfer, no matter what.” Nonplussed, I just shrugged and said okay. I could hear people talking on the speakerphone, one my correction counselor from California and the other Dr. DelSordi, one of our school principals, who had told me he would try to put in a good word on my behalf.
With the speakerphone on mute, my case manager told me that Dr. Delsordi and Ms. Carr, the head principal, had spent more than ten minutes with the California staff on the phone prior to me entering the office. The topic? Me. They insisted that their opinions about me be put in writing in my file, in the form of a formal document. Normally reserved for disciplinary use, on rare occasions these documents are used to speak good of an inmate. Called a “laudatory chrono,” I have received just one prior to this one. Most guys never receive one.
My counselor in California finally addressed me, noting immediately that I’ve been disciplinary-free and that several staff members had spoken about me, petitioning that I be allowed to stay in Arizona. Then, not surprisingly, he said that unfortunately, he needed to follow established protocol and systems in place that found it necessary for him to recommend that I still be transferred back to California.
Now, I understand that the decision is out of his hands, but it all still seems ludicrous to me: the California Department of Corrections had entrusted me into the care of this private corporation, yet they have not allowed staff from the prison to have any meaningful input into the choices of where I am housed and if I have to transfer or not. Thus, for punishment or reward, the staff cannot choose to get rid of troublesome inmates or keep those of us who try to benefit the prison.
When he asked if I had anything to add, I told the counselor that I do hope to stay out-of-state. I expressed my gratefulness for the arrangement and gave him a short history lesson. At first, I told him, neither my family nor I wanted me to be transferred from just one hour away from home to more than twelve hours away from home. Yet as soon as we experienced the benefits of increased communication (because of phones in the dayroom) and opportunities to grow and bless others, we have hoped I could serve out the remainder of my sentence at this facility.
I told him how my family has not missed a month visiting me in all the five years I have been out-of-state, at great inconvenience, yet they would still prefer me to stay here. I also acknowledged that I realize I don’t get to choose the benefits of my incarceration, but that I am grateful to be where I am. I told my counselor that I will do my best no matter where I go, because God wants no less of me and He cares for me.
Well, ninety days from now the endorsement to transfer back to California will expire. Meanwhile, I’ve already seen each of the other guys who went to committee that day with me, pack up and leave. Whether it was just coincidence, or because staff was pulling for me, or because God wants me to stay, I’m grateful for a bit of a personal Passover story myself.