October 9, 2016
Sunday, 9:30 p.m.
Letter #456: Roadblocks
Many aspects of prison life differ greatly from life in the real world, and I have become accustomed to these differences, adapting to the various restrictions, locked doors, and limited choices with ease. Any new facility or move within that facility brings changes that must be adapted to, and I never mind, taking it as a challenge to figure out and become at home with. Certainly, complaining about the rules that are set in place for the benefit of “safety and security” would be foolish and fruitless, an exercise in futility I have carefully avoided. Instead, I usually just try to make the most of the established system, being careful to not expect too much of the system itself nor of those who run the system.
In most cases, this attitude of “live and let live” works. I recognize the parameters that are in place, and I figure out how best to operate within those parameters. However, there are times when I seem to run into endless obstacles to my goals or objectives, and I must discern if those obstacles are signs from God to direct my path in a different direction or attempts by the enemy to thwart something good God is trying to accomplish through me. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference.
Over the past several months, I have faced challenge after challenge while trying to accomplish what you’d think would be a very simple thing: receiving books and CDs. Mind you, I am allowed to receive books and CDs. I am allowed to own a grand total of ten of each, in fact.
While at La Palma Correctional Center, any books or CDs sent to me from a bookstore, online source, or church would just be handed to me by a staff member with no problems. Here, they carefully document each item and note it in my file, limiting me to only ten of each. Any extras, and I must turn in one of my existing books or CDs in order to receive the new one.
So what is the issue, you ask? (Here I take artistic license in assuming that you are fully engaged, as I am, in the story and have prompted me to continue on in my primary train of thought by asking a perceptive question. Thank you. I appreciate your attentiveness.) Well, at first, I was sent a CD through Amazon, the online retailer. It was given to me without any problems.
The next one sent to me was rejected, with the reason given that CDs could be ordered only through approved vendors or a church. Next, I had the CD sent from a church, but the woman in charge of packages told me that the address was not the church’s address, and she sent it back.
I told her that the church has multiple locations, so they use a UPS store’s mailbox as their mailing address. She said that the address they listed “didn’t show up” as a church.
I got on the phone, asked my twin to look up the church, and in under 30 seconds he read me the church’s mailing address. I then went back to the woman and said I’d verified the address … should I have the church send it to you on their letterhead, signed by a pastor? “No, because anyone could forge that,” she stated.
I suggested she look on their website, to which she replied that she’d “looked on the Internet already,” meaning the Google Earth entry for that location, and yet no church.
“Exactly,” I told her, “because it is a UPS store.” Though she has the entire Internet at her disposal, I had to get a hard copy printout of the church’s website sent in to me in order to show her how to find their mailing address.
I got the CDs. Eventually, I received a total of ten, so I suggested that the church bless other guys with CDs too. Whoops. Silly me. I got called in by the package woman, saying that I wasn’t allowed to send CDs to other inmates.
I reminded her that I wasn’t the one sending the CDs. The church had sent them. Too late. She’d sent them back to the church.
Meanwhile, I had to ask the assistant warden to explain to her that churches can send CDs to whomever they want. When I told her that my family can also send books to other inmates, she said, “No, they can’t.” Well, they can. In fact, they can write to other inmates and (horrors!) visit them too.
Books were no different, and I began to wonder why the staff was being so uptight about educational and religious materials. I’d been nothing but courteous and polite with them, and then one day it all surfaced: “You’re under investigation,” I was told, ominously. “The mail lady said she read in one of your letters that you are trying to game the system.”
“Close,” I told her. I’d written that I was “trying to figure out this game they’re playing” so I could play along with it.
The package lady said, “You’ll see we’re not like La Palma here.”
“I know,” I responded. “La Palma didn’t have a problem with us receiving educational and religious books and CDs.”
Over the last months, donations of business books, sermon CDs, and many beautiful Christian resource materials have been donated to our church here and are being shared among the brothers. Now I’m working with staff to have the church send donated items directly to the assistant warden, but so far, items sent to him (at his direction) have not seemed to make it out of his office and into circulation. I am hoping and praying that they do, as it would certainly bless many. Most of all, I pray that I would be faithful to do what God wants me to do as I wait on Him to do what is His part in all of this. Ultimately, it’s all for Him!