427 | Long-Term Security

March 20, 2016
Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Letter #427: Long-Term Security


Dear Family,

What is your definition of security? Do you think of an advanced alarm system, a fat retirement account, or four guys in suits, sunglasses, and sidearms surrounding you? Having something secured indicates that the thing is no longer movable or that outside forces cannot tamper with it. For example, I live in a secure facility, which means that it is nearly impossible for anyone to leave or enter without going through a lengthy process. The security systems in place: camera surveillance, staff oversight, razor-wire layers of fencing, and an electrified fence to name just a few, are there to keep me in, not to make me feel more secure. I feel the kind of secure my belongings feel when a flight attendant asks me to secure them prior to take-off (this has not happened to me in quite some time). I cannot move unless moved by someone else. This, if anything, lends more to a feeling of insecurity than security, because I can’t decide when to move or when not to move.

To put this into perspective, let’s suppose you live in a gated community. (Even I live in a gated community. Note I did not say a nice gated community.) As part of your neighborhood’s Home Owner’s Association rules, everyone must undergo an annual committee hearing based on the date you arrived in the neighborhood. At this hearing, three people you have never met will decide, based on factors you are not made privy to, whether or not you will get to stay at your property. If they decide that you must vacate your home and take you and your family elsewhere, then you must get ready, because they may give you a half-hour’s notice to pack everything up. Or, they may not. You may end up staying a while. You may end up staying an entire extra year. Or not. You will not know how or why the committee makes their decisions. No parameters or metrics are known. You just have to abide by their rules.

As unlikely as this scenario sounds, it is exactly what inmates face, and it often leads to great stress as the insecurity of the situation builds in one’s mind. You can’t help but feel detached from everyone around you, and the temptation is strong to never develop strong ties with other transient inmates who may be whisked away at a moment’s notice. This artificial distance, as you hold people at an arm’s length so as not to get close to them and let friendships develop, is not healthy, though it is intended to make leaving easier with less regrets or anguish. It is also not Biblical, since we are told to be “in the world” while not of the world and to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Insecurity issues or not, you’ve gotta learn to let those go and get to know people here, care about them, and give of your time.

Last year, as you may recall, I went to my annual committee with every indication saying that I would be transferred back to California. Not only the standard inmate rumors made this assertion, mind you, but reputable staff members told me that I fit the matrix of eligible inmates for transfer. La Palma is billed as a “Level 3” facility, which is cell living and an electric fence, but more inmate privileges than the more secure Level 4’s or the Level 5 “Super Maxes.” Since I have dropped points (due to good behavior, thank you very much) to Level 2 status, it makes me eligible to go to a Level 2 facility, which is almost exclusively dorm living. And not college dorm, mind you. Like a large room with rows of bunk beds kind of dorm.

Well, because staff members spoke up for me last year, and because I firmly believe God wanted me to stay here at La Palma another year, I got to stay. This year, I had the opportunity to ask multiple staff members to speak up for me again, but I didn’t feel the freedom in my spirit to do so. This year’s committee may go differently, I thought.

Sure enough, I was again put up for transfer, just like last year, and just like last year, I was told that there were no guarantees if or when I might leave. As usual, I thanked the Department of Corrections personnel on the committee and stated again how grateful I am to be at such a prison as this with the opportunities to create and participate in worthwhile programs.

After the committee-by-phone ended, the La Palma staff member told me that based on what he’s seen recently, I will most definitely be transferred back to California soon. I recalled him telling me the exact same thing last year, but this time it felt quite different. Last year I didn’t feel I should leave with the Music Program in its infancy, with no keyboards besides the paper ones I’d made, and a cobbled-together curriculum. This year, we have ten keyboards, all donated by my friends and family. We have real adult piano course books, donated by friends who are family. And we have capable, trained teachers beyond just me. Everything with the primary focus of my ministry opportunity here looks completely different than last year. In fact, the proof of concept (a working piano teaching system on one yard) works so well, the prison is investing thousands of dollars to purchase new keyboards for us, so that all three yards have the opportunity to learn piano. I am grateful.

Whether I will be transferred or not shouldn’t be my concern. Instead, my focus should stay on being who God wants me to be and doing what God wants me to do, no matter where He chooses for me to live. This is true security anyway: the complete rest in God’s infinite wisdom and goodness regardless of my current circumstances or surroundings. Thank you for praying for me!