430 | On the Road

April 10, 2016
Sunday, 10:00 p.m.
Letter #430: On the Road


Dear Family,

Good-byes are never easy. Lots of guys wished me well; my incredible boss, Mr. Lohman, telling me I’ll be missed as I head back to some California prison and to be sure to let him know how I’m doing; band guys disappointed we wouldn’t be able to record a CD together, since the recording equipment just arrived; and the best volunteer ever, Sister Peggy, cried as she told me good-bye after one last practice with the choir. Ahh, those were tough.

My cellie, Richie, normally a tough guy, was emotional as he told me how much he appreciates me. Recently, I’d encouraged him to reconnect with his mother, whom he hadn’t spoken to in over six years. Thanks to my mom, who talked to her first, I got to talk to his mom and help the both of them to see some steps forward. With my mom working on Richie’s mom and me working on Richie, they’ve begun writing, with phone calls in the near future. With his dad on California’s Death Row, Richie’s home relationships haven’t always been easy. He’s grateful for this growth, thanking God with me for answers to prayers he never had the faith to believe could even be prayed.

In the morning church service before I was to leave, I got to play and sing a solo, then the church leadership prayed for me, the typical send-off I’d expected. Well, it was nothing typical, since the pastor and my drummer (who is an elder) had just received visits from my parents. As they laid hands on me, they thanked God for how my family and I have made a permanent impact on their lives and so many others at the prison. Hearing deserved praise for my parents was incredibly touching.

The daunting task of reducing eight years of cards, letters, pictures, and other personal items from six boxes down to the allowable three took up much of my time last weekend, but I was finally ready for the officer who helped me inventory and pack on Monday. I set aside two boxes of items I want to keep, including letters and five years of my monthly Day Planner booklets, then left them with my cellie to mail home for me. The unexpected blessing in all of this? I read hundreds of cards, letters, and emails (printed and mailed to me by my dad) sent to me over the course of my prison term, each one carrying kind words, uplifting thoughts, and gracious encouragements to keep running this race with endurance, and each one sent by so many of you who have chosen to reach out and be God’s love to me. Thank you. I was overwhelmed with gratitude to my great God of Comfort who knew just what I needed to hear at a time when I felt I would soon be all alone in a new place.

The transfer process itself lacks glamour of any kind. Handcuffs and waiting in holding cells, strip-searches and sack meals, and lots of getting to know the other two dozen guys being transferred with you; it is hard not to develop some form of empathy for cattle taken to the slaughterhouse in much the same fashion, minus the sack meals.

We left La Palma at 6:00 a.m. and were finally told where we were headed: Golden State Modified Community Correctional Facility in McFarland, California. I didn’t know much about it, just that all four prisons designated “MCCF” are run by a private for-profit corporation, CCA, who just took care of me these last five-and-a-half years. I breathed a sigh of relief, since the officers at these privately run places are trained to treat us WAY better than the typical CDCR prison officers. Things were looking up already.

Ever been on a prison bus? No? How about Greyhound? Well, it is the same clientele as Greyhound with a bit more security protocols. Like if you try to leave the bus too soon, the friendly attendant will shoot you with his boomstick, a blacked-out shotgun. Chances are, it will be the last lesson you learn before meeting Jesus. There is no talking on the bus while moving, since talking gets loud and can lead to coordinated efforts to ditch the ride early. Like Greyhound, restroom facilities are on-board, without the rest or the room. It’s more like a stainless steel hole in a bench at the back. Not that I mind. I couldn’t freshen up if I wanted to, with my hands shackled to my waist, making basic niceties like scratching your nose nearly impossible, much less washing your face or styling your hair in the nonexistent mirror.

Driving anywhere is an adventure worth writing home about these days, which is why I am, in fact, writing home about it. The real world, perpetually hidden beyond razor-wire fences, was on display all around me: everyone on their phones, even while driving, absorbed in business or busyness, only a few taking note of the bad guys on the tour bus next to them. Those who did notice either smiled and waved or gave a different salute, to which I just smiled back, since my hands were tied.

We pulled into a halfway point at 1:00 p.m., Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, where we had to go through an entire intake process as if we’d be spending the next twenty-five years there instead of just one night. I made friends in the holding tank by the intentionally nonstandard way I went through the process, answering “Yes” and “No” questions with “So far,” and “Not yet.”

“Are you healthy?”

“So far.”

“Do you hear voices?”

“Not yet, but I’m hopeful, with seven years left.”

“Any tattoos?”

“You mean besides the butterfly on my ankle?”

Tired as I was, I had no idea the adventure that awaited me, just spending the night there. More later!