76 | The Riot of ’09

March 16, 2009
Monday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #76: The Riot of ’09


Dear Family,

Greetings! I’m so blessed! Unlike at most prison yards, here at Salinas Valley State Park Prison’s “B” Yard, we rarely go on “lockdown” status.* I arrived here last June during a modified lockdown in which blacks and Mexicans were confined to their cells, while whites and “others” were not.

The last mini-lockdown we had (it lasted only four days) occurred nearly six months ago when a serving dish and lid went missing from the kitchen. Most prison yards experience frequent lockdowns for stabbings, escape attempts, and riots. Not so on SVSP’s “B” Yard. Since becoming a Special Needs Yard some seven years ago, it has the cleanest record of any yard in the California State Prison System. In other words, if you enjoy watching a good fight every now and then, this yard would bore you to tears.

I’ve bloodied myself a few times playing basketball, continuing my lifelong status as “The Prayer Warrior” for dropping to my knees while fighting for a loose ball, and I’ve been scratched a few times too. However, I’ve only been witness to a few fights these past nine months.

Compared with the near-constant action at Kern (Delano) while there for three months, this place is like living in a library … bathroom. Well, no one told me ahead of time, so I was in my Cell Sweet Cell this past Friday at 1:00 when we had a genuine, bona fide riot on our yard! It was like a pre-St. Patty’s Day parade, with more Mexicans than Irish and more blue than green. At least we didn’t get bombarded with all that screechy dying-geese music. Or bearded short men in tights. We would beat them up here. I would help.

Now, though our Riot of ’09 did not require National Guard assistance, as did the massive LA Riots of ’65 and ’92, all participants in our riots were convicted felons who are now serving time in a state penitentiary! (However, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that the official definition for riot in California prisons is “a disturbance with three or more participants.” We had around eight.) As a result, we’ve been on yard lockdown for four days and will most likely resume normal operations tomorrow. (Compare this to when an officer gets stabbed, the prison goes on a six-month lockdown or more!) Anyhoo, praise God for how He protects me and watches out for me by “holding me up, and I shall be safe” (Psalm 119:117).

I’m assuming that Shanna has had the baby by now; I’ve been praying for her all day, but I still haven’t received a call. (Have they forgotten my cell number?) I got to be the first one to hear they were expecting, but I imagine I’ll be the last to find out who the new little one is.  🙂  I’m excited for Brian and Shanna.

Thank you all for praying for my ministry here! God is faithful to bring me guys who need to hear about Him, and He gives me wisdom to know what to say in each instance. Last week, one of the guys in my building who is younger than me found out that he may have cancer. He needs to go to an outside medical facility for extensive tests, and it will be a while before he gets the lab results back.

He came up to me on the yard just after he’d been given the initial news, and knowing that I am a Believer, he confided in me that he was afraid and that this made him reevaluate his life’s goals and priorities. I pulled James aside, and the two of us prayed for Chad. He claims to know God, but he hasn’t been serious about his faith. I’m praying that Chad will begin desiring to know his Creator on a deeper level, including church attendance.

Also, last week before the riot, a guy who was going home said good-bye to me. I’d enjoyed playing sports with him, and we’d spoken about God, though he never attended church services. Now facing freedom again after a few stints in youth facilities, jails, and prison, he was concerned about staying away from wrong influences. I was blessed that just as we were all heading inside, he sought me out for prayer. I hugged him, placed my hand on his head and asked God to grab ahold of his heart. I gave him some advice on staying clean, and he promised me he’d give God a fair chance to work.

I’m grateful for your investments of prayer in my life! God is great.





  • Lockdown: Condition in which a building, yard, or entire prison population is confined to their cells with limited or no movement and heightened security measures are in place.
  • Emotional Lockdown: Condition in which your spouse has confined you to a place of limited or no interaction, usually caused by some form of pride in you. Heightened security measures are advisable.