September 25, 2016
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #454: My Friend Art Thou
What an incredible weekend I’ve just had! Since returning to be housed in California (or, as some would put it, warehoused) just over three hours from home, my awesome parents have made a point to continue visiting me at least once a month. But this visit? I already knew ahead of time that it would be unlike any other.
For nearly six years, my parents have visited various friends of mine in prison, around twenty in all. Most of these men have never received visits from anyone besides my parents, making that time spent in the visiting room with a caring person an ever-more precious gift.
Often, these visits have been in tandem with a visit to me. That is, my mom will visit with me while a friend of mine visits with my dad, or vice-versa. These visits have had a powerful impact on many of my friends, and it also means my parents get to meet guys who play significant roles in my life.
Now that I no longer have cellies, I’ve been a bit more selective about who gets to meet my parents, reserving that privilege for just my closest of friends. And yesterday was no exception, that’s for sure. Just four months ago, God blessed me with meeting Art, one of the elders in the Christian church here, and we quickly became best friends.
Admittedly, I make friends quite easily, and I have many guys I consider my friends. Yes, and many of these friends wouldn’t be my top picks for this year’s Man of Virtue Award, either. However, I don’t exactly have a huge selection of top-notch friend candidates to choose from, so I just make the most of where I am and try to bless and be blessed by the variety of people God has placed around me, whether or not they pass a background check.
Well, my buddy Art is WAY different from anyone I’ve met in prison, and I’ve seldom met men like him prior to this experience. He is a natural leader with an innate business sense and calm confidence about him that makes him easy to like. For the past four months, we’ve been inseparable, from our early-morning Bible studies to our late-night letter writing sessions and everything in between. Art has begun working out with me two hours a day, we serve together in the church, and we’re both actively preparing other guys for life after prison.
I couldn’t wait for my parents to meet him, since so much of my life every day includes him in some capacity or other, and soon we were rewarded with Visitor Approval Form notices for both of my parents. We planned to have my dad visit Art while my mom visited me, but that was because I was so used to the highly segregated visiting at other institutions such as La Palma, where I’d get reprimanded if I stood up from the table I was assigned to in the visiting room or if I spoke to my friend while he was being visited by one of my parents. We just assumed the rules here were similar.
However, it soon became apparent that this prison is more interested in just facilitating visits with our loved ones rather than controlling and micromanaging who talks with whom. I can get up whenever I want, walk around in the outside patio with my visitors, and even introduce visitors to friends of mine who are also at visit with their families. (Shock!)
When Art arrived in the visiting room, I was so excited to finally have these two parts of my life collide: people who have unconditionally loved me my whole life meeting my buddy of just a few months. At first, we stood around on the patio, visiting together for as long as we thought possible before needing to sit at separate tables. Then, I noticed how crowded the visiting room was. With overcrowding, the Visit Officer has to send families home early to make room for other families, which no one likes. I had an idea …
I asked the officer if he would prefer to seat both Art and my dad at the opposite end of a picnic table with my mom and me, thus making more room for other visitors. He was grateful for the suggestion and said we could sit together! I didn’t ask twice, quickly securing us a table outside, where we enjoyed the next four hours all visiting together!
This may seem to be a small thing to you, but it was the first time I’ve been able to do this, even when both of my parents were approved to visit inmates who were my cellies. I mean, as a security risk (or whatever their “no combined visit” rule was for), it sure didn’t seem like such a big deal, but no matter. No combined visits.
Until now. We had such a blast sharing with my parents all the ways God has been working in our lives, cleansing, purifying, and making us new. It’s always nice to have someone who knows me well, able to say nice things about me. Moms like that, of course, too. But Art isn’t just someone who knows me. He spends nearly every waking moment with me and could give an accurate picture of what my life is like these days. God finally has ahold of me in ways He hadn’t before, and my buddy has seen the change in me over these past four months. I am grateful for the Lord’s work and for giving me a friend who cares about me enough to help me through the areas I need to work on.
The Lord knows just what I need, and I trust Him to keep me fully His even after Art leaves in January. Thanks for praying!
Art and Christopher didn’t like these pictures, but they sent them to our family (for posting with this letter) with a bit of harsh commentary on each one by the other guy. They thought you’d enjoy this demonstration of their wit and obviously close friendship:
Art here. Let me give you a “behind” the scenes angle on this picture, may I? See, what’s really going on is that as they got ready to take the picture, when Larry and Cathy put their arms around their son, he yelped: “Hey! Whose hand is on my butt?” Obviously the culprit was Larry, who was so successful in trying to make Christopher laugh that he was forced to take another picture, this gem being the result. I lie not.
What should have been on Christopher’s mind is why he didn’t bother to comb his hair that morning. You can almost see his mom saying through gritted teeth: “Son are we trying to bring back the 80s here? I mean, even Chicken Little has a better hairstyle than that.”
This is what you see if you look up “Bad Hair Day” in the dictionary. I mean, there wasn’t so much as a breath of wind that day, and yet his toupee is taking off.
You may not know this true factoid, but my buddy styles his hair with state soap instead of expensive hair gel. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. Trouble is, I think he left his last bar of soap in his bangs. Oh, my bad: that’s actually a pink curler up there. Well, this is NOT a normal person’s hair-do. What he’s got goin’ on, Christopher should just label a hair don’t.
Christopher here. Art is a dear friend, and I really thought I had a special connection with him until I saw this picture. I guess I never realized Art’s a conjoined twin with my dad, thanks to a radical new surgery that fused them at the shoulder. It really is a miracle. Well, it’s either a conjoined thing or Art has his hand and arm all up inside my dad’s shirt sleeve, probably scratching my dad’s back awkwardly. Perfect timing, Art. I really wanted that documented.
Even if you tried to find my dad’s missing arm, you couldn’t. Just to feed Art at the visit cost … you know … an arm and a leg, something like 8 pizzas and burgers, chips, sodas, candy bars—the whole 9 yards. Art just kept putting my dad’s money into the machines, pushing buttons, then yelling, “I won, again!” I couldn’t believe it was even possible for so much food to be crammed into Art’s face, until it became apparent he’s eating for two. Art has 3 months until he’s out, and the baby has 4 months until it’s out. Someone needs to just paint the room blue or pink already!