August 5, 2018
Sunday, 9:30 p.m.
Letter #476: Final Chapter … Next Book Begins
Greetings! It has been quite a while since I have written one of these letters to you. Originally designed to keep my family up-to-date on what was going on in my life along my prison journey, it soon branched out to include friends and friends-of-friends in nearly every state and in several countries as well. I appreciated being able to open up about my struggles and victories, trials and blessings, prayer requests and praise reports in what were for many years my weekly letters.
For well over a year, it has been my constant goal to take all of my meticulous notes from the weeks I’ve missed and catch up to the current day. Good intentions, for sure, but I have at last determined to close the book on this part of my prison journey story. Several compelling reasons have led to this decision of mine, and I don’t make the decision lightly.
I realize this brings a very deep and very personal walk with each of you who have so faithfully been a part of this journey with me, to a close. Over two hundred of you followed my journey weekly and prayed for me, for which I am eternally grateful. Some of you are long-time family friends of twenty years or more, others have become friends through these letters. Many of you sent me cards, letters of encouragement, or email replies that were printed out weekly and sent to whichever prison I was at. I’ve enjoyed talking to so many of you by phone, and I’ve had over forty different visitors as well. In fact, in over ten-and-a-half years of my incarceration thus far, I’ve never gone longer than a month between visits, a testament to the love and mercy with which I’ve been treated. Thank you to all of you—each of you—who have so faithfully been a part of this journey with me.
Going forward, I’m not certain how often I well send out updates, nor do I know how many I will send out. Please know that it isn’t because I do not value your prayers and love for me. No, it is only because I am still trying to be faithful to what I am called to do in this place the Lord has me.
A year-and-a-half ago, changes began within the corrections system that allowed all inmates to earn time off of their sentences for certain achievements, mostly academic and rehabilitative. With six years left on my sentence at that time, I enrolled in college classes with the understanding that they may eventually count towards something. Then, beginning with last August, I was allowed to earn “milestones’ for each college class. I can earn up to twelve milestones per year that are exchanged for one week off of my sentence, each, totaling up to twelve weeks off per year. And each college course is worth two of these milestones.
Now, this would be motivation enough for me to take college classes, but each degree earned is worth an additional six months off of my sentence. (Unfortunately, my first degree I earned in prison, from Harvest Bible University, will not be worth any time off, since its accreditation is not recognized by the CDCR prison system.) Additionally, we can earn up to four weeks per year of something called Rehabilitative Achievement Credits, which are on top of the twelve weeks of milestones.
Last year, I took just enough college classes to get my twelve weeks off, but this year I have a slightly different strategy, thanks to a friend of mine, Ken. Ken discovered that if you earn extra milestones per year, they don’t just get rolled forward to the next year and credited then, as everyone assumed. No, they get credited for future years, but they get applied immediately. In other words, I can earn all the milestones I’ll ever be eligible to earn as fast as I’d like and see the benefits now, with the additional benefits of finishing my degree(s) sooner, and receiving those credits too.
I was sentenced to a total of 18 years in prison, but I was expected to serve just 15 of those years at 85% “good behavior” time. (Yes, I’ve behaved myself.) This new law gave me 80% time, reducing my out-date by a few months to January 2, 2023. Having served just ten-and-a-half years so far, I technically have seven-and-a-half remaining on my “maximum out-date,” which means? I have seven-and-a-half years’ worth of twelve-weeks-per-year milestones I can earn NOW. Yep, that’s 90 weeks of milestones!
With this understanding, I decided on a different tack for my college studies. Besides the two classes per semester offered at the prison by Bakersfield College (I just got an “A” in my accelerated Spanish class for the summer 2018 semester!), I enrolled in three correspondence-based colleges for the fall semester. I have received two classes from Bakersfield College, three from Lassen Community College, four from Coastline Community College, and two from Adams State University, where I’m pursuing a simultaneous Bachelor’s Degree. In all, that’s 11 classes (33 units), which should be a bit of a challenge. Oh, and I’ve been placed as one of only 20 students in the prison into the only RAC class, a 30-hour-per-week for 10 weeks Janitorial class that will give me all four RAC credits for this year too. I’m grateful!
Please pray for diligence, focus, wisdom, and … sanity as I faithfully use my time for God’s glory. I’ll let you know how it goes once my crazy semester ends sometime in December. Blessings to you all! Thank you for praying!