87 | Found: Needle in the … Cell

June 20, 2009
Saturday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #87: Found: Needle in the … Cell


Dear Family,

Greetings! I don’t normally write on Saturdays, since our mail doesn’t go out until Sunday night, but I want to give you an up-close, right-now view of my day today. The ups and downs of this day are not usual but are not uncommon. Hopefully, you can read in this brief account a few details about life in prison, and maybe you’ll be better equipped to pray for the Christian brothers here.

This week was supposed to be a week of revival meetings in the chapel, from Wednesday through Sunday. Yesterday, yard release was delayed, so our volunteer chaplain, Tyrell, didn’t show up. Not to be deterred, we held the service on our usual daily Bible Study spot on the yard.

Today, everything began as normally as life in prison can, with all of us walking to breakfast in the dining room. After breakfast, however, no inmates were allowed out of their cells—not even the porters, who clean our building. I quickly realized we were on some form of modified lockdown when I was asked to “strip down” before leaving my cell for a visit. (Normally, I get strip-searched only after a visit.)

I wondered what they were searching for before my visit: Were they concerned I might smuggle a generic Kool-Aid packet from my lunch into the visiting room? or possibly an apple? or an über-stylish extra pair of state boxer shorts? I was just excited to get another visit, and the three cops who escorted me to the visiting room commented on my smile, saying: “You’re always smiling, I bet, aren’t you? Why’s that?”

I got to testify that I smile because “God is taking care of me.” None of them moved, so I took that as an invitation to say more, which I did, saying that I know I’ve done wrong and yet I can be grateful for all that I have here, knowing my life could be so much worse. The cops just nodded and told me that was a good way of looking at it. I thank God for any opportunity or excuse to mention Him!

My visit with Katie was just perfect. I’m so incredibly blessed to have such a sacrificially supportive family! On the weekends, I always get a visit, and during the week, I get multiple letters. Your love and prayers lift me up, keeping me encouraged, blessed, and joyful.

Tangible love makes difficulties stay in their proper perspective, right? Think about it: you’re new someplace, and someone takes time to introduce himself to you and you instantly feel less alone, or you receive a note of well-wishing when you’re not feeling well. The despair disappears because someone cares. About you. Life is easier; the darkness a bit brighter. This is how I feel when I hear from you! And this is why the rest of my day was not as traumatic as it could have been.

As I returned to my building after visiting with Katie, my floor cops met me in the breezeway leading inside. They told me how they never have had any problems with me, that I’m always super-respectful, but that they chose to search my cell for some needles missing from medical, since my cellie is diabetic and possibly stole the needles while taking his insulin at medical.

The cops told me how, when they pulled my cellie out and locked him in the shower (it doubles as a “holding tank”) while they searched our cell, he started getting angry at the cops. He called them liars, ridiculed them, and swore.

The cops told me they then decided to do a thorough search, since it seemed he may be hiding something. This resulted in our cell looking like a tornado hit it, with many of our personal items strewn about. As I would be returning to the cell with an emotionally unstable cellie, the cops said they’d be watching to see if I was in danger.

I entered the disaster zone, and Lorenzo was sitting on his lower bunk, shaking with rage, tears streaming down his face. I had just been making the cops laugh, so I had to do a quick-change of my face as the door shut behind me. I surveyed the damage (hooks for towels gone, lines for hanging laundry gone, all of Lorenzo’s extra blankets gone, etc.) and said: “Wow. Are you okay, Bunkie?”

He released a torrent of hatred—toward the cops, toward the prison system, toward the “cowardly inmates who told the cops we had the needles” (WHAT?!?), etc. I just started picking up my things, putting my books back in order, and restoring a semblance of order to my shelves and bunk, chuckling out loud to myself as I did so.

Soon, Lorenzo started getting back to his old self, saying how good it was that we have good attitudes through all this. (I guess he’d forgotten his tantrum … ) When Lorenzo wasn’t looking, I signaled out the window in my door that I was okay.

I’m so grateful for all the prayers I get from all of you! This type of event is usually one of the most traumatic experiences in prison; in fact, the cops toss your house up if they are trying to break your will or if you’ve been causing problems. This incentivizes you to stay on their good side.  😉  However, instead of being traumatic, it was just an adventure—praise God!


Sunday, 6:00 p.m.

After a special Father’s Day visit with my awesome dad, I stopped by the office in my building to chat with the two cops who had searched my cell. They both commented on how “well-adjusted” I am, being surprised to hear I’ve only done a year in prison. They contrasted this with my cellie, who had boasted to them that he’d done 17 years of prison, yet he still didn’t seem to “get it.”

They said how surprised they were to hear all the swearing, when there were so many Bibles in our cell. How important to keep a consistent testimony—and how important it is to make a belief system part of our lifestyle, no matter what we face!

Thank you for praying for the Christian brothers here, who must face unpleasant or difficult or stressful days with the strength and grace God gives. A great attitude means a great testimony!

Your prayers for God’s protection kept me from being seriously hurt these past couple of weeks—thank you! While playing basketball, I was pushed from behind, skinning my knees and elbows as I fell, and I accidentally found someone’s elbow in my nose during another game, nearly breaking it, as I heard cartilage pop. I know that God uses your prayers—His angels have charge over me!

Early last week (Monday) the word spread through the Christians that our volunteer chaplain, Tyrell, was planning to host five days of “revival meetings” in the chapel. I was asked to plan the service on Thursday as well as preach. (Due to our lockdowns, however, we had meetings only on Wednesday and Thursday: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday meetings were cancelled.)

I chose to “tag-team” preach with James, and I got Tyrell’s approval on my service plan. Since our theme verse for the revival was Romans 12:1–2, I thought it would be fun to get the guys to memorize the verses … in 10 minutes.

Many of these guys can’t read, several are in a GED program here, and even more are attending the equivalent of grade school. So, I decided that instead of endless reading or recitation, I’d utilize my children’s program–style teaching techniques.

With two enthusiastic guys flanking me, I had everyone put their Bibles down and stand up. Then, using hand motions (yes, Brian, that I made up as I taught/learned the verse myself), I taught the verse. I really wish you could see 50 inmates making halos above their heads (“holy”) or one hand on hip, the other extended, as if negotiating a car repair (“reasonable service”).

There were groans as we started, but with my helpers doing it with me, everyone was peer-pressured into following along. By the end of the 10 minutes, they didn’t need the hand motions. They loved it!

At breakfast the next morning, two of the kitchen workers called out to me as they stood together and began reciting loudly, “I beseech ye therefore, brethren … ” They were doing the hand motions.

James and I spoke about being a living sacrifice, utilizing the examples of men of faith: Job; Daniel; a sixteenth-century martyr, Lambert; and my former pastor, Dr. James R. Cook. It was well received, praise God!

Please continue to pray that James and I will be moved soon. This Saturday or Sunday looks possible, but we’re leaving it in God’s hands!

I love you all—thank you for caring for me!