397 | Duffy Leaves

August 23, 2015
Sunday, 11:30 p.m.
Letter #397: Duffy Leaves


Dear Family,

It’s official: my cellie, Duffy, is leaving this week. He packed up all of his belongings for the bus that will pick him up early Tuesday morning, headed to a prison in California where he’ll finish out his remaining 84 days. He now has less days to serve time than I have months left. (I have 91 months left, for those of you still counting.)

I have known Duffy since we first landed in the same 40-man pod here in Arizona five years ago. He graduated from a Bible class I led back then and really grew in his walk with God. We picked up our friendship a year ago when he was moved back into my 120-man pod here at La Palma. He needed a good cellie, and because he had just a year remaining at the time, I let him move in once my previous cellie, Joe, left.

The past five years, I’ve sought out cellies who are at the tail-end of their time in prison. I like being the encouragement they need as fears and anxiety sets in as well as the listening ear when they want to dream about what they’re going to do once released. (Most prisoners doing longer stretches of time can’t stand to be around this type of inmate, since that freedom moment can seem too far over the horizon for them to feel happy for someone else.)

When inmates get close to being released, the anxiety often leads to irrational behavior that is so common, it has a name: we say that inmate is “short-timing it.” They get angry over trivial matters, worry about factors they cannot change, and talk incessantly about their life after prison. Worse, they act as if they don’t care at all about life in prison or anything that concerns the rest of us, having an “I’m leaving soon anyway” attitude.

Duffy made a concerted effort this past month to change some of his behavior and to be more positive, for which I am grateful, but both of us know that we’ll be better friends once he leaves. I hope to hear from him once he’s out, but I honestly have low expectations. So many good friends of mine parole and never look back. Most of them, though they say they will keep in touch, never do. Another large segment leave prison and write once and only once. And of all my cellies who have paroled, only one, Tom, still writes to me. I really hope that Duffy does well, and I can only hope he lets me in on how he’s doing.

My new cellie will be a very calm, studious young man named Andrew who has become a good friend since I moved to this pod nine months ago. He and his good friend, Robbie, were the first two guys I started teaching music to, months before we got our first keyboard. By the time Robbie’s church family sent in our first six keyboards, Andy and Robbie were ready to take on their own students. Now with just over three months of teaching under their belts, they have become an integral part of the music program here.

Andrew has more than six years remaining on his twelve-year sentence, so we hope to stay cellies for quite some time. The latest rumor says that all out-of-state prisoners must be returned to California prisons by the end of 2016, but of course I’d prefer to serve out the rest of my term in a private prison like I’m in now. However, I do not tell God where He should put me; I just thank Him for the many blessings I have at this moment.

Recently, I’ve been meeting regularly with a guy, Richie, who has become a good friend. Mostly a loner, Richie grew up around lots of violence and illegal activities. His father was known to kill whomever crossed him, and Richie is certain that included his father’s own mother who suddenly disappeared. Now sitting on California’s Death Row, Richie’s dad writes to him once a month and is finally taking time to be the father he never was.

Currently, I’ve challenged my friend to go through the incredible book by Rick Warren, “Purpose-Driven Life,” which should help him develop a sense of who God made him to be and what is possible in his life. We’ve been going through the 40-day plan together for a couple of weeks now, and it’s rewarding to see Richie begin to let the truths presented within its pages sink in and take root.

A habitual re-offender, Richie has spent most of his life in concrete and steel buildings around people who don’t care about him. He ranks extremely high on the sociopath spectrum (there is such a thing, yes) with the exception that he can sometimes care about others.

My goal with Richie isn’t to shove religious concepts down his throat or push him to open up to God more. Instead, I’m just trying to help my friend with counsel, advice, and good materials so he has the best opportunity to grow. Of course, I’m growing in the process, as I realize we’re not all that different, and gratefully, we both have our Heavenly Father who never leaves, never changes, and loves unconditionally.