497 | Moved. Again.

May 16, 2020
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Letter #497: Moved. Again.


Dear Family,

The small office I’d been directed to had just two desks, and a sergeant sat behind one of them, all business. The friendly face behind the mask at the door had followed me inside and was instructed to take notes by the sergeant. He sat at the other desk and furiously hammered at the keyboard, entering my narrative as best he could.

The sergeant wanted everything bottom-lined: “am I going to need to remove you from this yard?” I cringed inside, knowing the finality of the yes. No more drama, but no more ministry opportunities either—the leadership needed to pull a worship team together, the leadership needed to restore the relationship between the English and Spanish churches, and encouragement needed to help the church elders think beyond just preaching and learn to disciple men into missionaries on this mission field.

Yes. Our small group packed up and moved out of the tiny office and walked sixty paces to the yard’s Support Office, the sergeant’s home away from home. He ushered me to a chair in front of his desk while he clicked and typed and looked around on multiple monitors. I imagined him filling out a job application online, the both of us wishing we were elsewhere.

Without looking away from the monitors, he asked, “Who are these people on the front page of your website?” My parents. “Hmm … very interesting. There’s a lot of good stuff here … ” His voice trailed off, occasionally noting some discovery or other as I sat silently, willing myself not to show him this cool thing I can do with my eyebrows too. I hadn’t mentioned the website, but it must be part of my “c-file” (confidential file) info now.

The sergeant took the opportunity with me on the witness stand to ask me about what had triggered my previous move on the yard … had anyone done anything to pressure me or bully me then? He sat back in his chair and looked me in the eyes, the rest of his face obscured by a 49ers logo-riddled mask. “Don’t lie to me, either.” he stated.

No, I told him, I wouldn’t lie to him, but I also wouldn’t be sharing any details about that other situation. I knew he could read all about “Saul” on my website if he wanted to … but I’d given Saul my word not to reveal his actual name and that he’d asked me to leave the building. I told the sergeant that he could see that I keep my word, and that I don’t lie, and he agreed, relaxing his line of questioning about the incident. I gave him as much information about the lies Mikey had been spreading, and I encouraged the staff to realize he would continue to stir up problems and take advantage of other church members as he currently had been doing.

Time crawled by. For an hour, I sat in a tiny hallway listening as a few staff finalized the reports and filed the necessary paperwork. Clutching the one personal item I’d chosen to walk out of my building with—my leather Day Planner containing my prayer list, goals, phone numbers, and other important information—I could only hope that my building officers had success as they packed up my belongings.

Soon, boxes of my personal property arrived, and I was asked to sign a paper stating I’d received everything. With the boxes taped shut, I could only guess that I was probably missing a bunch of stuff, but I signed anyway, grateful to leave with my sanity somewhat intact. I’d find out only later that Mikey stole several things from me, including a personal folder containing songs I wrote for my mom and dad and sang for them just before Daddy died.

I loaded my boxes onto the back of a golf cart and walked next to it once I realized the front seat wasn’t a place for inmates to ride. Arriving at the next yard, officers standing, waiting for us joked that the officer who’d driven the cart should’ve let me drive and walked himself. He acted as if it hadn’t occurred to him, saying, “Sorry ‘bout that!” to me, which made us all laugh.

They asked if I was coming to their yard to cause trouble. I gave my standard response: “Are you kidding? My mom would kill me if I caused problems here!” That made them laugh.

I dragged a small handcart with my boxes on it to the long, low building on D-Yard, the only building on each yard with air conditioning. Each yard at Avenal has a “20” building. On D-Yard, all the buildings begin with the number 4, so this building is the 420. It can house up to 200 inmates, but nearly half have been removed for healthy distancing reasons.

I was the instant object of curiosity by everyone in the building, since Avenal isn’t moving inmates around and has suspended receiving new arrivals. The big concern on these formerly “active” (referring to gang activity) yards is whether or not new arrivals will relax and join the new “Non-Designated Yard” status or if they haven’t given up the gang lifestyle and are still “active.” The way to find out? Just ask. Well, I look like the opposite of whatever an active gang member looks like … so, to be funny, a big white guy called out to me when I entered the building, “You still active?”

I laughed. “Yeah, you know it!” I retorted, smiling back.
Just then, I got hit from behind by a big hug. “Christopher!” Ted, a guy who’d first called me “Smiley” at my first prison, was a guy I did time with for several years and a few prisons. He immediately announced to all who’d gathered that I am a “hard-core Christian,” and then he asked how my dad is doing.

His face fell as I told him Daddy died in December. “Man, that was a good guy.” Ted said. Then, he let everyone know that my dad was “the nicest, coolest guy I’ve ever met. He came to prison and visited ME … several times!” he bragged. I quickly pulled out my Day Planner and added Ted’s name to the list of guys Daddy visited, now twenty-two in all. I may have made plenty of mistakes—even recently—but Daddy’s reputation has made this recent move easier than I ever could have imagined. Love is a powerful thing.