October 25, 2015
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #406: Rumor Has It Wrong
The life of a prisoner entails little more than eating and sleeping, with no fulfilling jobs or meaningful leisure activities to fill the monotonous day-after-day existence. The simplicity of this lifestyle magnifies the importance of basic life-factors such as schedule, diet, and neighbors. This means that any deviation from the norm can be cause for great distress. For example, in my tiny prison-world, baked potatoes are served to the general population once in a five-week menu period. Those who are foolish enough to look forward to such an item can become devastated and throw a tantrum if mashed potatoes show up on the thick plastic tray instead. It is easy to see, in these circumstances, that a simple potato has come to mean far too much.
I can imagine that a homeless person or someone in an assisted-living facility might face similar phenomena. With the absence of truly meaningful pursuits, small, insignificant portions of life loom large in one’s life. Is dinner delayed? Is the shower water cold? Did some idiot forget to turn the overhead light off all night? All-consuming topics for many guys who have nothing better to talk about or be passionate about, these issues reveal a life that has diminished.
No one likes to be bothered by trivial matters, to be sure, but if that’s all you have to live for that day, the matter isn’t trivial at all to you. I have to hear about these tiny issues every day from guys with weak conversations at the tip of their tongues: Oh, the laundry came back damp! Oh, they’ve cancelled yard, due to rain! Oh, the macaroni goulash tasted terrible! (Well, it isn’t called Macaroni Fantastico, you do realize, right?) I like to bear in mind that this is a prison, not a five-star resort, and it helps me to set my expectation levels accordingly.
Well, this atmosphere of small-is-the-new-big makes fertile ground in which to plant rumors. Since everyone is so concerned about the mundane, it doesn’t take much to rock their little world. Some guys will intentionally feed this anxiety-ridden atmosphere with program rumors: “I heard that the library will be closed, beginning in January,” or “The Music Program is going to be shut down indefinitely” or food rumors: “The entire menu will be upgraded soon!” or “All commissary prices should go up 40% next quarter!”
The cruelest rumors involve certain inmates leaving to go back to California; with so many of our fellow inmates leaving for California (only 20 inmates who were here when I moved in almost a year ago remain in my pod of 120), it is easy to believe that you, yourself, will be gone in a week or two. All it takes is a simple “I heard that they’re moving all inmates with level 2 points back to California,” and you start mentally packing. (Note: I think I must’ve mentally packed my brain away years ago when first incarcerated. My ability to think, reason, and make cogent arguments is not needed here.)
I’ve heard so many rumors, half-truths, and pure guesses that I have just conditioned myself to take them with a grain of salt. Then, together with the grain of salt, I throw them away. (I don’t need to keep rumors in my head, and the salt isn’t necessary either.)
What I do know for certain is that I am most content, most grateful, and most enthusiastic for whatever God brings into my day when I don’t worry about things I don’t have control over anyway. (In case you are unclear about which things I don’t have control over, the answer rhymes with “beverything.”) I am not guaranteed to get what I want, do what I want, or even be where I want. What I am guaranteed, however, is far more important and of vastly greater value. First Peter 1:6 tells me that I should be truly glad, because there is wonderful joy ahead! This is not hearsay, wishful thinking, or rumors. It isn’t empty promises or delusion either. It’s a guaranteed promise of God. It says, in fact, that this joy is certain, even though I may have to “endure many trials for a little while.” (Remember: I have NEVER considered my prison experience as a “trial”; rather, certain aspects of character growth while in here fit nicely as “trials” of sorts … tough cellies who stretch my patience, for example.)
So, why pay attention to rumors—even the ones that linger in your head as worries—when there is far more to be certain of? Sure, certain rumors we’d like to believe, such as the one I’ve heard since Day One in prison, that it is possible for me to do vastly less time, but to put faith or stock or whatever in such nonsense isn’t just irresponsible; it reflects unfaithfulness to our God, Who has promised to care for our every need. To truly take Him at that word, we must believe that He plans to take care of our every physical need, every emotional need, every job need, health need, food need, love need: EVERY need.
He knows just what I need, so I need not worry about tomorrow or the next day or the next. Or worry about how many tomorrows I have in here.
If my focus is on where I happen to live at this moment rather than focusing on the One Who gives me the grace to live in this moment, I’ve lost the point of why He does what He does and why He allows what He allows in my life. He cares more about me becoming like Him than about where I live while that takes place, though rumor has it that He’s coming back soon, anyway. Go ahead and believe that one.