November 29, 2015
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #411: A Sinner Has Come Home
Ten weeks ago (Letter #401) I wrote about an inmate I referred to as “John” who stole a couple hundred dollars’ worth of items from my cell. I’d helped him apply to get his three months of good-time credits restored, confronted him about the theft, and forgave him as I told him about God’s love for him. If all had gone his way, “John” should have gone home two weeks ago.
Gratefully, he’s still here, and in recent days he found out that he will be transferred back to California to await his release on January 15, 2016. Knowing I have just a few days left with him, I made a point to spend time sitting in the dayroom, talking to him. Lots of time, in fact. I told him how I’d written home about him, and how I knew people were praying for him. At that point, he said I could tell you his real name: Isaac.
I asked Isaac what his home life was like, growing up, and why he’d come to prison at age eighteen. He told me how his father was the head of an arm of a Southern Hispanic gang in the Los Angeles area. When Isaac was just eight years old, his father was killed by a rival gang, and each of his dad’s brothers tried to convince Isaac that one day he could avenge his father’s death by joining the gang too.
Just a few years later, Isaac’s mother murdered someone and was sentenced to life in prison. Isaac went to live with an uncle who vowed to keep Isaac in school and out of the gang life, but it was too late. It seemed that every day brought new violence, drugs, and bad friendships that put Isaac on a fast track to his first prison term of four years. Now at the end of that term, Isaac confided in me that he didn’t think he could stay out of prison.
We sat on the stairs in our dayroom, and we could both see the stir it caused amongst our respective friends. We laughed about it, and I realized God was giving me an opening to Isaac’s heart.
“You see how no one understands why we are friends?” I asked. He grinned, then laughed when I put it bluntly: “The child molester and the gang member who stole stuff from him aren’t supposed to be friends.” I went on. “But that’s who we were. It isn’t who we are now. And, you asked for forgiveness, and I forgave you, so we’re over that, now. You know, God’s love and forgiveness works that way too. When we ask God to forgive us, He forgives us instantly and never holds it against us. It is a debt that is forgiven; forgotten, but of course He still remembers what we did. Can you imagine if we forgot the day you stole my stuff? That would be terrible! That mistake is what brought us together as friends! We can now thank God for that moment, and thank Him for His forgiveness.”
I reminded Isaac about the young woman who once sat across from me in the visiting room and told me she fully forgave me for what I did to her. “Remember her?” I asked him. Isaac nodded and told me he couldn’t forget when I first told him two months ago. “She forgave me for far worse than just some stolen stuff, and I could never repay her.”
Tears clouded my eyes, and Isaac looked down, as if knowing where this was all leading. “God can forgive you, Isaac, for everything you’ve ever done. He can forgive your sin and change your heart inside. Do you want that?”
Looking me in the eye, he said, “I want God’s forgiveness, but I’m afraid I’ll just turn from Him.”
I told him to leave that part to God, who is able to “keep you from falling” and will always give you “a way of escape” from temptation.
Isaac agreed to pray with me on those dayroom stairs, committing his life to a God that he’s never seen but believes in. He asked for my help in what to say to God, so I gave him ideas, leading him to confess his sin, ask God’s forgiveness, and place his life in God’s hands. He was visibly moved, and I hugged him afterwards, telling him how the angels were rejoicing right now. We had to go back to our cells for count time, but made an appointment to talk later.
Sitting with him later that day, I asked if he’d ever forgiven his mom for committing a crime that took her out of his life at an early age. He said he had, but had never told her. I then asked if he knew who had killed his father, and he said yes, but he has never forgiven him. I encouraged Isaac to get that burden of hatred off his chest, but he said he wasn’t ready to forgive the man who killed his father … yet. However, as we talked, Isaac agreed to ask God to help him forgive that man.
We then spoke about his girlfriend and young daughter who he planned to re-unite with as soon as he is released from prison. I explained God’s standards of holiness and purity and how Isaac’s actions before marriage could prove to his future bride that he would honor her after marriage as well. Later that day, he called Jennifer and told her he’d like to get married before getting physically involved with her. She said she’d think about it, since she wants to marry him anyway.
The next day and a half were like a crash course in discipleship as I spent as much time with Isaac as possible. I helped him write a letter of introduction to Jennifer’s uncle, who has agreed to hire Isaac in his business, and we discussed ways to find and keep good, quality friends and mentors and how to stay away from wrong influences. God led me in what to say, a God of hope and love and joy soundly defeating the god of this world who comes only to “kill, steal, and destroy.” I entrust Isaac into his Father’s faithful hands as we part ways.
Whether he’ll write back when I write him, stay off drugs, and stop stealing or not, these things are God’s. It is on me just to listen for that still, small voice pointing me to the “fields, white for harvest.” God, keep me faithful.