March 21, 2020
Saturday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #489: Help for the Asking … Finally
“Life is slowly grinding to a halt here … ” Words appropriate for my first week in prison are ever more true now. What little privileges, what small bits of socialization are being restricted and removed, due to fears that the coronavirus will ravage the inmate population once it gets here. Church services, choir practices, self-help groups, and anything that involves outside guests or volunteers have all been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Now I know what it feels like to be you, discovering what it feels like to be me! (It made sense in my head.)
The worst part about the programs shutting down is that this prison has several innovative programs I had gladly joined—programs that I’ve asked about, petitioned for, and discussed with prison staff for over ten years. See, prisons have traditionally had “rehabilitative” programs such as anger management courses, drug and alcohol courses, and vocational training courses. But there are no rehabilitative programs specifically designed for sex offenders.
When I first came to prison, I’m sure that many people thought, “Well, at least he’s getting the help he needs.” You’d think so, right? That would only make sense: while you have us sex offenders as a literal captive audience, why wouldn’t you make me do anything?!? But … nope. Not one thing. I don’t have to attend one class, talk to one psychiatrist, go to one group therapy, take one lie detector test, or anything of the sort.
But each of those things the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation knows is helpful to sex offenders. How do I know this? They wait until sex offenders parole, and then they mandate each one of those things to take place regularly the entire duration of their parole. Yep. Such a great idea, right? Don’t bother to address the crazy issues that brought me to prison until I’m someone’s next-door neighbor. Smart.
Now, I haven’t just sat quietly on my bunk, never talking about my crime, like the vast majority of sex offenders. Not only have I brought it up to dozens of staff members, chaplains, volunteers, and visitors, I have also read books on sexual addictions and opened up to accountability. But I’ve pushed for more. When high-ranking staff, including CDCR captains and wardens alike, have touted the new era of rehabilitative programs, I have boldly spoken up and pointed out that those programs weren’t addressing the criminal behavior of nearly 85% of the inmate population at the Sensitive Needs Yards I was on for the past twelve years. To me, it seems incredibly stupid and even dangerous to wait until an inmate is released before addressing the root issues that led to the criminal behavior. [Breathe, Christopher!]
So, what programs and privileges are at this prison that I am excited about? Besides the usual chapel services and self-help groups, there is a group that goes through Steve Gallagher’s book and video course, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry. I signed up for the class as soon as I found out about it, just two weeks after arriving here. I attended the last night of one semester of the class then waited three weeks for the next semester to begin. I attended just one night of the new semester, and all chapel activities were suspended due to limits placed on social gatherings. I read the entire book and completed the first two weeks of homework assignments, but I’m looking forward to the meetings starting up again. Some fifty guys crowded into the small chapel for the first night, and I can already tell that the group share time will be powerful.
The other privilege I’ve discovered at this prison is the opportunity to meet with a therapist. At the last prison I was at, no psychologist was on staff, so inmates needing Mental Health Services were transferred to other prisons. In Arizona, I met with a psychologist twice before being counselled not to meet with him by inmates who’d seen no good come of such encounters, akin to saying too much in an interview with police. When a friend recommended Ms. Scott, I was skeptical, but he told me that my conversations would be confidential, so I signed up.
I decided before I went to my first session with Ms. Scott that I would ask for counsel and trust that God would speak through her. My friend told me she is a Christian woman, but I had no idea how well-versed in Scripture she would turn out to be.
I asked her about issues in my interpersonal relationships. I asked her about my involvement in church activities. She can so easily bring up characters in the Bible: Daniel, Jonah, Moses, Joseph, Jesus, and Paul. She leads me to understand how God is trying to work in my life by showing me how He worked in the lives of these men. I’ve enjoyed just three nearly two-hour sessions with her now, a real gift from God. I could share with you for hours about what I’ve gleaned … but here are a few highlights:
- I said I’d like to talk about the death of my father at some point, since I’ve not really felt his loss quite yet. I said, “I know I’ll feel it when he isn’t there to pick me up at the gate like he was at the gate for nine of my friends.” She looked down, thoughtfully. Then, “Do you think he might meet you at a different gate?” Wow. What comfort, those words.
- In her years dealing with sex offenders, she has found that the best predictor of change is if someone has high levels of two things: (1) Desire for change and (2) Yieldedness to God
- She has commented on my personality being “high energy and fun,” that I “obviously need to work on not being so depressed” (this said sarcastically). When I said my family was glad to hear I’m meeting with a psychologist, she immediately quipped, “Yep, we’re engaging in ‘Tiggerology.’”
I’m thanking God that this Tigger IS … finally! … getting the help he needs.