March 7, 2020
Saturday, 9:30 p.m.
Letter #487: Tough Blessings
I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to leave the building I was in when I arrived here, but I can absolutely see many reasons why moving across the yard to a different building is a blessing from God … and not only because this new building has the lone working microwave on the yard. My new digs include members of the rag-tag team, a couple of the church elders, and several guys I’ve done time with at other institutions.
Although my original “plan” was to stay quiet about my case factors while at this prison, clearly that didn’t work too well, and thanks to the very public way I ended up moving out of the first building, everyone on the yard now knows why I came to prison. I’m used to that, of course. What I’m not used to is finding out that, rather than tell others the truth about why I came to prison, “Saul” has made up a grossly exaggerated account to tell. And, since I’ve only told a few close friends, I can safely assume that everyone else has heard the exaggerated edition of my crime.
The blessing from God? I know you can figure it out, but … may I spell it out? God gave me the opportunity to die to self by choosing to not care about my reputation. (Go ahead and ask why I’d care what mere inmates think of me, and I’ll gently remind you that this place is my home for a year!) I wanted to defend myself right away and set the record … well, not exactly straight, since, technically, I don’t have a sterling record. But, the lies made me look like a … monster! I kept battling in my head as the Holy Spirit—the Author of TRUTH!—kept battling in my heart, reminding me that, indeed, my sinful actions were nothing short of monstrous, that to wish they were portrayed as anything less would be to minimize the need for the redeeming power of Jesus’ blood. Sin is ugly in all of its forms, and the Lord’s mercy saved me from every ugly sin I have committed—even the sin of self-righteousness that had me (incorrectly!) thinking of my sin as “less-ugly” than, say, the way I’m being portrayed on the yard.
Another blessing God has given me is a renewed ministry with other sex offenders. I’ve been grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had over the years to speak to men about their offenses, many for the first time or second time they’ve ever told someone. My conservative estimate is that I’ve had around sixty guys tell me for the first time and around eighty guys tell me for the second time they’ve ever revealed their sex crime to anyone. Since my case factors became well-known here, over the past two weeks I have had another two guys confess their offense for the first time and another two confess their offense for the second time ever.
The significance of this must be understood to fully appreciate what a blessing it is that God would let me participate with Him in this ministry-to-the-least-of-these. When sentenced to prison, paperwork is given to each person, describing what just happened. It’s very much like a detailed receipt from a mechanic, listing everything you ordered and how much you must pay for it. And, like many such receipts, your paperwork often includes items you never ordered but must pay for anyway.
From that moment that you leave the courtroom, only higher-ranking officers will know your case factors. Other inmates can have their family members look up the offenses of inmates they hate, which is often why many inmates use nicknames and don’t share their full name or prison identification number with anyone. No one has to talk about how they came to be in prison, so everyone but the sex offenders talk about their crimes. My entire term, I’ve questioned the wisdom of this practice, since sex offenders are not required to talk to anyone about anything (or attend classes or join self-help groups or read books or … anything!)
Thus, to have these guys, who have enjoyed anonymity and silence for the duration of their term, finally feel free to talk to someone is awesome. Though I’m not surprised by it anymore, I’m always grateful to God that I get to help in this way. I often get a guy who cries from grief over what he did and out of relief to no longer be carrying the burden of it as a secret.
Because of the several books I’ve read on sexual deviancy, sexual addictions, and criminal thinking, I can help steer men toward helpful resources, but I also ask them the questions I think you would ask them, if you knew that they were going to be your next-door neighbor someday. I usually have to tell them that they are minimizing what they did—a common way we make it more comfortable to live with ourselves after what we did.
I’m no expert, but I figure that I’m a good start for someone to talk to. I can’t imagine there’s a whole lot of people who have talked to as many sex offenders as I have. Therefore, I try to have them own the reality of what they did and how it is sin, and I try to get them to begin reading helpful material and find ways to address their deepest issues, with God’s help.
These blessings weren’t what I would’ve asked for, but they are what I need. God doesn’t need me to fix the worship team, right the elders of the church, lead classes, or do anything in my own strength. He needs me to care about His reputation, not my own, and care enough about people to take time with them. I can’t rush His process, just like I’ve learned that slow heat is best, even if I do have access to the only microwave on the yard.