March 14, 2008
Friday, 6:00 p.m.
Good-Byes and Hello’s
Greetings, Most Excellent Ones! Besides there being nearly nothing to look forward to each day, since the reception facility won’t let me make phone calls to the ones I love, I’m doing alright. I get along with everyone, of course, and I’ve had a couple dozen people tell me what a great attitude I have, or how they appreciate my humility, or how they were uplifted by my humor, or whatever. My heavy sentence gives tons of credibility to anything I say. I can get away with saying just about anything, I’m finding out, and they’re listening. I talk about how God knows why we’re here and for how long and, in my best attempt at prison jargon, “He ain’t trippin’ on it!” You can either do your time thinking about all the wrongs in the penal system, the injustice of it all, or you can suck it up and have a good attitude and do your time like a man, looking to bless and benefit the lives of others.
Funny thing is? The rules for survival here come straight from everything I’ve ever learned from my parents: loyalty, respect, politeness, honesty, patience, and flexibility, just to name a few. Basically, living a straightforward, no-nonsense life is half the battle. It is so easy to pick out the “tough guys,” “posers,” or guys who are just out to be annoying, and no one wants to associate with them. Me? Everyone assumes it’s my first time in prison, and I just laugh and ask if they could tell by my green color. The doctors, reception people, the Correctional Officers, and trustees have all noticed that I must be new. Well, I’m hoping to get that mistakenly asked of me after several years in, because they are usually referring to my good attitude.
Well, so here’s the ugly story on how I was brought here …
I was in my cell, minding my own business around 7 p.m. Tuesday evening. I had just become good friends with my new cellie, Ed, when my favorite woman C.O. stopped by to hand me a manila envelope with no instructions. Good thing I heard her telling the guy in cell 24 what to do, because though I asked her a couple times, she flatly ignored me. She has such a heartwarming personality. I think she was upset that she wasn’t going to be able to keep me on lockdown through evening program, like she’d promised, since I’d paused to say eight words to the guy next door.
I was ready to move anyway. Any further delays at the county jail would only serve to delay my future opportunities for better visits and freedom. I am so grateful, however, for the daily phone calls I had with those I love for the first two weeks of incarceration. It was a treat, and something that made leaving a bit easier on all of us, I think. By the time the C.O. let me know what was going on, I had only a few minutes to have everything I wanted to take with me in that small envelope.
I left my cellie with my leftover food and a way to write home. I also had the forethought to give him Michael’s phone number to let you guys know where I was going.
My favorite trustee, Adam, gave me a beautiful picture with a touching inscription on the back that encouraged me for making a difference in his life. I cried when I read his note. That picture, drawn on card stock, was confiscated either by Santa Clara County as I left or by Delano when I arrived. It’s gone, but I gave him my info to stay in touch, and the California Department of Corrections can’t take that away. I’m learning to not hang onto “stuff” in my mind, but onto people instead.
I spent the entire night in a 10′ x 8′ holding cell with four other guys. I found out quickly that one young guy has a wife and kid and just came to Christ a year ago while locked up. He’s been a great witness already, in the short amount of time he’s been in, helping his cellies establish daily routines that include God and helping them understand the Word of God. I encouraged him to keep practicing ministry, and to not tell his wife that he can “only” pray for her, as if that’s nothing much. He should realize what a blessing he can give his family through a concerted ministry of prayer!
Well, we passed the time talking into the night, with one guy, “Rocker,” telling us the basics of prison life. I learned a lot, though I’m not sure yet what will be helpful or not. We finally all settled down on our blanket and tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep.
An officer came to the door of the cell to have us fill out forms allowing our family to pick up the clothes we were brought in wearing. I guess I get to have my family send me other clothes when I’m about to be released. Another officer came by just before 6 a.m. and had the five of us strip naked, then wear only our pants and shirts for the four-hour bus ride ahead. The strip search was only my second ever, and they aren’t the most pleasant experiences in the world. I just remember what Christ went through for me, hanging on a cross in front of so many, including his family and friends. Not me, praise the Lord!
I began to be irritated with one officer, however. He treated the old man who was with us terribly. The poor man has difficulty hearing and understanding English, but the officer didn’t care, barking his orders and yelling at the old guy, Marcus. We helped him out, but it got uncomfortable to hear someone being treated that way, and I was powerless to say anything.
The four-hour bus ride turned out to be in the back of a cargo van, facing sideways on a metal bench. Not my most comfortable ride I’ve taken, but bearable. They threw a young white guy in the back with us, and I had to have him in a cage directly across from me, as I was saying a good-bye to my hometown. We passed within half a mile of Mommy and Daddy’s house, and I whispered good-bye to all my loved ones who were still asleep inside. I was glad no one knew I was leaving because, remembering how two of you had shown up outside my window at the county jail the night before, flashing headlights and flashlights, looking at me through binoculars, I knew what would’ve happened. There would have been “Good-bye, Christopher” banners on the overpass, and we would have had more than just a police escort leaving the city. I would’ve loved it, but our public servants wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. I smiled as I thought of it, though.
The young white guy made sleep impossible. Turns out he’d been woken up at 5:30 a.m. after a good night’s sleep and pancake breakfast. I’d had a milk and passed my bread and cheese to the other guys. If you’re actually wondering why, first ask yourself if someone woke you up at 3:30 a.m. to give you four slices of bread, two slices of American cheese, and one milk, what would you have done? I drank the milk too.
So this guy thinks he’s famous for starting some riot at San Quentin. I guess a bunch of people got badly hurt, and he got off without being charged. He went on and on and on about his charges, his crimes, his kid who is following in his father’s footsteps, and on and on and on.
I was going to bring up the time when I almost got in a fight, forgetting that it wasn’t me. Wow. I have nothing in common with this guy, who has spent nineteen of his thirty-one years behind bars. His first offense was clubbing a friend with a tent stake. He was nine years old. I have thanked God so many times for my family, my parents, my faith, and my strict upbringing. I had the perfect life, and I messed it all up, all by myself. I praise God also for it not being worse. I meet guys every day who are in for their seventh time, or they are just starting a sixty-two year sentence.
Well, we finally pulled up to my new “home”: an impeccably manicured gated community with top-notch security, meal and laundry service, and a whole medical facility on-site! I’ve mostly been chillin’ in my room, because the door doesn’t open real well. They said they’re looking into it, though.
My welcome here was interesting. As soon as I walked into the main office, they let me change out of my county clothes. Whew! You know how you feel when you’ve been on a long trip, and you’re finally able to get out of those nasty travel clothes, kick off your plastic sandals, and walk completely naked into a room of sixty people who are not as naked as you? Yea, it felt just like that, except the massive woman in the side office probably shouldn’t have been staring at me. I told the security guy that all my personal belongings were in the manila envelope I’d packed, but he and another security guy double-checked a few other places, just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. They are very thorough here!
After giving me boxer shorts and socks (I know, huh? Just like Christmas at Grandma Mary Lou’s!), I got a peanut butter sandwich and an apple. Yum! A couple hours later, I got a T-shirt, orange over-shirt, and orange jogging pants, plus black boat shoes! I look like a character from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and it’s not Linus.
I walked to my new room, and I met my roommate, a well-built, 5′5″ Italian-looking man who’s in his early forties. He’s neat, organized, friendly, and not psychotic like my last cellie (Brandon flashback: “That IRS kept writing to me, telling me I owed money. I thought this was supposed to be a FREE country!”) He introduced himself as Gypsy (everyone has a nickname). I find out how he was born Bobby Wallace but has a permanent alias as Scott Adams (the name he chose when sitting at the typewriter with the Social Security card he’d forged, a roll of Scott paper towels next to him, and The Addams Family behind him on TV). He is full-blooded bona-fide gypsy. He’s had palm-reading stores, with the crystal balls, the tarot cards, etc. The real deal.
He gets a pack of cards and offers to tell me my past, present, and future. I tell him no thanks, that because of my past, I’m presently here, and I know what my future looks like for about fifteen years. We laugh. More on him later.
So, I’ve been sitting here in my cell—BLESSED!—today because the radio station that has been on all day is a Christian station! I’ve been singing along and worshiping—I just teared up to the end of the song that includes the line from the great hymn: “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” Normally, I’d prefer the TV being on, since it’s at least less annoying than secular radio, which could be vile or in another language. But today? Everything’s great!
I was let outside—for the first time in six days—to spend two hours playing some basketball in the sun (lost the first game, won the second). It was so refreshing. Live in your closet for six days, then see how a simple walk to the park draws you closer to your Master. He is great and worthy of all praise! Keep your heart high—if you’re a child of His! I love you all so much, and I’m praying for you!