July 12, 2015
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #391: Here I Am, For Now
I have officially passed the 90-day mark since going to classification committee and receiving paperwork granting my transfer back to California with an option to stay out here in Arizona as an alternative. This means that the transfer paperwork is expired and no longer valid. To be eligible for transfer again, I would have to receive yet another notification for committee, go to committee, and be put up for transfer.
All of these steps are highly unlikely, since all transfers back to California have been put on hold for the foreseeable future. A prison closure in Oklahoma and other factors way above my $.32/ hour pay grade are some of the reasons, but I don’t care. For whatever reason, I’m so grateful to God for any additional time I get to spend at this facility. In the past four years here, I have built a positive rapport with inmates and staff, most of which would be lost if I had to transfer. I’ll go where God wants, while hopeful He lets me stay and invest in the betterment of the system here.
My boss, Mr. Lohman, returns from vacation tomorrow, and just before he left, I stopped by his office to brief him on my progress with the music program. It was fun to tell him we have over twenty-five guitar students, twenty vocal students, and sixty guys who each get an individual, half-hour piano lesson and practice a few hours per week.
After seeing the head warden in the visiting room, I’d told him to stop by and see the music room with our ten keyboards. He’d said how much he appreciates what I’ve done with the program, so I of course gave Mr. Lohman credit for being behind the culture of thinking about what is possible.
I also told my boss about being in the chow hall with one of my good friends (who is also a piano student). We watched as a group of guys walked by us, and half of them, about ten, were all talking about piano. Crazy, that something so simple can so dramatically change the culture of an institution. Taking lessons and practicing what they’ve learned makes these guys feel good about themselves. They have something to be proud of, something to show for their time in prison, and something to write home about.
Well, Mr. Lohman was really pleased to hear how many guys are being benefited by the music program. This is in stark contrast to how disappointed he’s become with the guys who manage the band equipment. Instead of making sure that anyone who can play an instrument gets to put together a band and gets a time slot in the band room, they bullied guys into not showing up. Keeping just a handful of guys they liked, this group monopolized the band room for themselves. Then, abusing the privileges they were given, they took the equipment back to their cells and made unauthorized recordings.
Hearing all this for the first time, I was disappointed but not shocked. I’d always hoped that though the other musicians weren’t teaching classes or even sharing the band equipment with others, that they’d at least follow the rules.
Now, Mr. Lohman told me, he was shutting down the band room. Disciplinary action was taken against many of the musicians, and even a staff member was fired. The guys who were holding the band equipment hostage were removed from the “tutor” designation, and a few were sent back to California. Then, he said, “What you’ve done with the keyboards and guitars here has blown out of the water what they did with the band equipment.”
Praise God! I’ve tried to do what I believed to be best, in keeping with the primary goals of the institution. Therefore, more inmates having more access to more programs is the result. Interesting that so many Biblical character qualities, such as generosity, diligence, organization, and perseverance pay off and bless so many, bringing glory to God.
With all the changes in the music program, Mr. Lohman wants me more involved, so I’ve helped create a new schedule for the band room, where five new bands will get time to use the equipment. I’m helping arrange vocals and adding keyboard to a few of them, and I’ve recruited members for each, so that everyone who’d like to be in a band has the opportunity. Working with the remaining musicians won’t be easy, but I’m okay with that. I know that as long as I keep doing what God wants me to do, the details will work themselves out.
Recently, a very kind-hearted officer who knew me well suffered a massive heart attack while at work here and died. Just fifty-two years old, his death was a stark reminder of how brief life can be. I made a card for his family, which had to pass the warden’s approval before they received it. Just hearing nice things from his co-workers and church members wouldn’t be right, I thought. I figured his family should hear how grateful we were as inmates to have him working here, and I took the opportunity to comfort them with Scripture.
After the funeral and prison-staff-only memorial services were held this week, Warden MacDonald saw me on the walkway and said, “Christopher, thank you for your beautiful card and letter, which blessed the family.” With 3,000 inmates, it’s great the warden knows me by sight and knows my name, but I am who I am because of my great Savior who not only knows my name but walks with me.
Thanks for praying!