September 11, 2016
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #452: A New Job!
Soon after my transfer to this prison five months ago, I put together a proposal to initiate an expansive self-supporting music program. I sent the rough version of it to my editing team, who typed it up and formatted it into a beautiful document and then sent it to the warden. I sent a cover letter giving the warden an overview of my background in music and my recent history of setting up music-learning and music-performing opportunities at other prisons.
Well-meaning as my proposal was, the warden never saw it for some reason, which I didn’t discover until speaking with her a couple of months later. In the meantime, I made it my mission to try to figure out what the current music opportunities looked like to see if I could lend assistance.
I joined a couple of bands, began teaching harmonies to a couple of choirs, and started a keyboard class. After playing keyboard for graduations, I’d talk with the warden and advocate for increased music opportunities. I know that playing musical instruments benefits the soul and spirit in so many ways, and learning to play an instrument such as guitar or keyboard can greatly impact a person’s confidence and personal drive.
The warden is very interested in any kind of class or program that can help reduce the recidivism rate, and music has caught her ear recently, in part because she enjoys hosting events where music can be featured and where her inmates can display their skills. This helps our prison compete against other privately run facilities that are also trying to implement positive programming for their inmate residents.
I didn’t mind that the effect I was seeming to have was small, since I know how long it takes to really make significant changes within the prison system, no matter how well-intentioned those changes may be. As long as I keep my focus on Jesus, staying close to Him each day, I shouldn’t worry whether I’m able to see progress or not on any of my initiatives. Faithfulness is my business; results belong to God. Besides, He measures success quite differently than I typically would. He cares more about where my heart is than how many students I have or how beautiful the choir sounds.
I care about results, of course. I am intentional in my actions, basing much of my daily activities on well-thought-through goals that stem from God’s overarching purposes for my life. I’m constantly measuring, evaluating, assessing, so that I can adjust any number of parameters: time, energy, creativity, passion, etc. to make my actions more effective.
Recently, God has grown my awareness of Himself and how much I need Him. My life in Him is success, and He will bless others’ lives through me as I stay yielded to Him. It hasn’t been easy to transition from being highly driven to achieve certain metrics of success—even so-called success for God—to being driven to just know God better or to being driven to love as He loves, unselfishly and with a pure heart. But God is patiently teaching me to focus on Him, no matter if I can see what He’s doing or why.
In a surprise move this last week, the warden met with me and two friends of mine and then created three paid positions as Event Coordinators, complete with a fancy badge and all. The badge grants me an all-access pass to go into any dorm at the prison (there are eight) to conduct activities related to the music program or for any other positive reason to meet with other inmates.
At a pay rate of a whopping fifteen cents per hour, my job is, I am told, one of the highest-paying jobs in the prison. I sincerely doubt that. I am sure that no officer could get by with making a living at fifteen cents an hour. However, I am perhaps unaware of those officers who may simply be serving their community out of the goodness of their hearts.
Well, the pay isn’t the reason I’m grateful to be an Event Coordinator. This job gives me opportunities to help chart a course toward better educational and vocational programs here. I get to meet often with upper-level staff members who now all know me by name. I also get to initiate times throughout the week when individuals and groups get to meet up for discipleship, tutoring, music collaboration, or whatever.
My best friend, Art, has been able to utilize some of these times to meet with guys who are leaving prison soon. He finds out about what their strengths are and coaches them in business thinking, goal setting, and responsibility. His business-mentoring experience has been put to good use, and it is exciting to see some guys looking forward to their release date with a new mindset.
For Labor Day, my two co-workers and I organized a huge concert on the yard, with several bands performing. I got to play keyboard for a few songs and had solo riffs in several styles, including jazz, reggae, and blues, a fun change of pace. The concert was greatly appreciated by everyone who attended, and especially by those who got to perform, many of them for the first time ever.
I appreciate so much your prayers for me and your encouraging letters of support. God is continuing to open doors here at the prison and also in my heart as He carefully uses circumstances to shape me. He is my Event Coordinator!