October 1, 2017
Sunday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #467: Integrity Has My Vote
Each of the eight dorms at this facility house up to 88 men, and each dorm elects one man from their dorm to represent them to the staff, interfacing on issues of importance to the dorm. Since our current “Dorm Rep” is leaving to go home, we held another election in the dorm, and I was one of the two guys who decided to throw our names in the ring. My opponent is an ex-gang member who recently moved into my dorm; he left a dorm where he’d been the dorm rep for quite a while.
I knew I had an uphill battle with the election. Just because I have the heart to serve the guys in my dorm, and just because I looked at the position as an opportunity to reach and impact my dormmates didn’t automatically mean that God wanted me in the position or that I would be guaranteed a win. I just knew that I needed to be faithful with the opportunity, even though it may mean being a gracious loser.
I tried to make a point to ask as many guys as possible for their vote, and three of my friends really helped me by speaking up for me to the Spanish-speaking contingent, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that my opponent, who goes by “Stoney,” speaks fluent Spanish. As the day of the election drew near, I knew I was going to have problems.
The main issue? God prepared my heart for a difficult moment. I felt that Stoney would somehow bring up my committing offense as part of his “campaign speech” in front of the dorm. God gave me a real peace in my heart about it, though. In fact, I was prepared. If Stoney said, “And, I’m not a weirdo!” I was ready to respond with, “To be clear, I AM a weirdo, if that matters to any of you when choosing your dorm rep.” I didn’t want to have to be so bold, but I was ready, if the moment called for it.
Small paper ballots with both of our names on it were passed out to each guy in the dorm. As everyone sat on their bunks for morning count, I called out, “Radio!” the universal prison term for “Silence!” meaning to please turn your radios down so you can hear me and I can be heard. (It stems from the days of boom-box radios that could blast throughout cell blocks. Gratefully, no speakers besides those in headphones are allowed now.) I proceeded to give a short but well-prepared speech on why I wanted to serve as dorm rep, concluding by thanking them for their vote.
The whole time I was speaking, Stoney was making snide remarks to the guys on bunks near his, loud enough for me to hear. He gave a few words when I finished, punctuated with profanity and confidently asking for their vote. Then, just before sitting back down on his bunk, he said, “Oh, and I have ‘clean paperwork.’” This of course doesn’t mean he can pass a background check, mind you. It just means he doesn’t have a sex crime on his “paperwork.” Immediately I spoke up, but loudly, since he’d mostly addressed a few close buddies on the bunks near his.
“To be clear,” I began, “he just said he has ‘clean paperwork.’ I don’t have clean paperwork, if that matters to any of you when choosing your dorm rep.” A stunned silence enveloped the dorm, and I was grateful when the officer began collecting the ballots to count. Not everyone cares to vote, but I just hoped that those who did vote would somehow pick me. If not, then at least I’d followed what I believed God wanted me to do.
The votes were announced aloud: 49–26. I’d won by a landslide. These votes are normally decided by 3–5 voters, making this election especially incredible. Stoney, pink-faced, congratulated me, but there was a really ugly atmosphere that lingered in the dorm. Unlike other elections that seemed to always end good-naturedly, this one had guys on edge, and the environment seemed hostile.
Several guys came up to me to tell me that they were impressed with my candor and forthrightness, giving me an opportunity to share some of my testimony with them. Two close friends of mine who are both here for crazy-violent acts told me that they’d both overheard a few guys describing what they planned to do to me once they got me alone in an area of the bathroom the cameras can’t see. They then told me they would protect me, even if it meant getting additional time added to their sentences. I knew they meant well, so I thanked them, explaining that I don’t fear anyone, since God is my Protector. I live or die at His command only, so I have nothing to fear.
The comments became so extreme, however, that three guys from my dorm met with upper-level staff to complain and report the hostilities, guys who had never “ratted out” anyone before. Ever. I was called in to make a report, too, but I told the staff that I didn’t fear for my life, that I’m grateful for everyone in my dorm, even for those who may not like me.
I’m not sure what will happen from here, but I do know that the Lord is far more interested in my faithfulness to Him, even under pressure, than in my comfort. I’m grateful that He has chosen me to practice honest boldness without fear. I am ashamed of my past but not afraid of it: Christ’s strength is made perfect in my weakness! I am new because of His finished work, and He’s equipping me for my future.