October 2, 2016
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #455: The Fruit of a Life Fully Yielded to the Lord
Every day, I have choices to make. I choose which rules to follow and which rules to ignore, which rules to follow to the letter and which I can observe the essence of only. Examples, you ask? Why, I would never have begun a letter with such a statement if I didn’t intend to back it up with examples! First, some from the real world:
- A rule you always follow, I’m sure: don’t enter stores after they are closed and take merchandise.
- A rule you can ignore: don’t remove pillow tags. (Read the fine print: the owner of the pillow may remove its tags. This is a rule I don’t need to worry about since I have no pillow, of course.)
- A rule to follow to the letter: don’t text while driving.
- One to observe the essence of: squeeze the toothpaste tube from the bottom and flatten as you go up. (Interesting to note that I have emailed extensively while driving and always flattened the toothpaste tube from the bottom as I go up.)
- Prison rules I always follow: anything related to not escaping.
- A rule I can ignore: no giving anything to any other inmate. (This is to prevent the kinds of problems I would never be a part of. Everyone shares what they have, and I enjoy blessing guys with what I have too.)
- A rule to follow to the letter: do not assault staff (a friend of mine got an extra year in prison when he admitted that a ball he’d hit had accidentally struck a guard).
- One I follow the essence of: stay five feet back from the chain-link perimeter fence. (While running laps, I may often veer toward the fence in order to avoid other inmates who are walking around the yard.)
Well, many of my so-called “friends” do not share the same ethical code of conduct as me. Finding ways to steal large amounts of meat from the kitchen or new clothes from the laundry is a matter of routine for them. (For meat: have the table-wiper guy smuggle a tightly wrapped package of meat—the size of two footlong subway-style sandwiches—out of the kitchen and slip it to you during a mealtime in the chow hall. You walk back with it in your pants, trying to not make it seem as if you are demonstrating the beauty of live birth.)
One such friend of mine who lives in my dorm recently got me tangled up with him … a classic case of guilt by association. But a bit of a history lesson on my involvement with this particular individual, shall we?
My friend is doing time for embezzling copious amounts of money from the Confidential Informants’ Fund as a law enforcement officer. Since beginning his prison term, he’s found ways to smuggle in large amounts of drugs and other contraband, including nearly two dozen cellphones.
Some months ago, he enlisted my help to devise a way to smuggle in whole boxes of high-priced consumer goods, such as designer watches and jewelry, hidden in baby powder bottles or in coffee jars. He’d thought up the system behind it but couldn’t bring it to fruition, so I agreed to help execute the plan for him.
I figured it wasn’t technically contraband, since we’re allowed to have watches and jewelry, but I knew it was wrong. I couldn’t resist the entrepreneurial urge to make hundreds of dollars by finding a vulnerable piece in the security system. And what harm could there be? I wouldn’t be involved in it all, making certain it couldn’t be traced back to me. (My friend had received an extra year in prison when the cellphone smuggling operation went up in flames, and I knew I couldn’t afford that.) So, the plan progressed, with my help and encouragement.
Then, someone I really care about urged me to live fully for God in every area of my life. The Holy Spirit used their words to convict me. I confessed not only what I’d been planning but a host of other secret sins to my accountability partner and best friend, Art, who said: “Christopher, these areas of sin in your life are seen by God, and He cannot bless you while you hold onto them. Worse, God cannot bless others through you because you are standing in the way, clutching these secret sins. It’s as if He is Niagara Falls, trying to dump blessings on many through you, and yet you’re holding Him back. Every once in a while, a drop gets by, splashing on grateful recipients just because He had to use you, like with the music program at La Palma. Just imagine what God will do through you if you get out of the way and just let God flow through you to others and bless them!”
That night in July, just three months ago, was a turning point for me. It wasn’t enough to just make a choice to be different. I had to be serious about it and deal with the reality of who I’d become.
I began to feel the life of the Holy Spirit flowing in me, giving me the strength to do what seemed impossible. With God’s wisdom and discernment, I told on myself, confessing everything to a staff member I trusted.
I was then ushered into a meeting with the highest-ranking officer at the prison, the very guy who’d been so furious at me over the Skittles incident a few months ago. After telling him what I had done, he said: “Christopher, you’ve been very honest with me today. I tell you that I don’t blame you for trying to get expensive items into the prison. I’d have tried the same kinds of things, if I was in your shoes. Let me tell you that in all my years of corrections, I’ve never met an inmate like you. There isn’t one in a thousand inmates who would’ve done what you did with me right now, to confess. Good for you.” I told him God had changed my heart and that I was fully living for Him now.
A few weeks later, my friend tried another security vulnerability test to see what he could get away with. After a visit, he bypassed the strip-search we all have to get and just walked back to our dorm, stopping by my bunk first.
When the officers came to get him, I got taken with him, too, and all my property seized and searched. He got an extra three months added to his sentence and no visits for six months. Thank God, I got nothing … just a reminder to make better choices.