Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Blue Fly"

I have to admit that there was a part of me that was still filled with fear as I walked through the steel doors and onto the main yard that very first time. Even though I knew that God had made promises to me to keep me safe, and to deliver me at the end of my sentence, my flesh was uncertain. I'd never been in trouble before, and I'd certainly never spent time around "felons". My vision of the men I was about to meet had come from the media only...and we all know how accurate it is. But I have to admit in this case, they weren't all wrong.

His name was "Blue Fly". I didn't know the origin of his name, but I'm sure there was a story behind it. If the casting director for "Law and Order" or some other mindless TV cop show was looking for a criminal to cast in one of their episodes, this man was it. He had "banger" written all over him. An African-American, his dark skin couldn't cover there abundance of tattoos that seemed to cover nearly every inch of his exposed skin. When he smiled (which never seemed to have the warmth that I looked for in smiles), the diamonds embedded in his gold teeth shimmered in the desert sunshine. There was a pretty large African-American population in the prison, and Blue Fly was one of the loudest, most foul-mouthed among the group. Even those men in his own gambling group got tired of his outbursts.

Like many of the men who lived beside me, Blue Fly was not a man that you would want to trust with anything that you might need the next day. He was a thief and a liar...and the rumors were, a snitch. Whenever he was busted for a violation and sent to the SHU...the "special housing unit", or as I like to call it, the "hole", he would soon be released back into the general population. And it seemed others would take his place in those solitary cells, compliments of Blue Fly's tongue.

I didn't have much contact with Blue Fly even though he lived in the same unit that I did. I intentionally stayed out of his way, as well as the paths of many other men like him. But a funny thing happened...he noticed me anyway and I didn't even realize it at the time. The truth is, I tried to stay invisible to most men in that dark place. If they couldn't see me, they wouldn't be able to ask me any questions. And if they didn't ask me any questions, I would be safer because there would be less chance that they would learn of my crime and why I had been sent here. But while I was trying to stay hidden and quiet, spending most of my time in my cube reading my Bible or in the Chapel at work, I was making myself stand out because I was different than most of the other men here. And in the end, it changed a life.

No one was probably more shocked than I was the day Blue Fly walked into the Chapel office.

"I hear you guys got free Bibles", he said. He stood there, not able to keep his eyes on me, glancing to the right and the left as if to see if there might be anyone who saw him in the Chapel.

I looked up from my work and took a moment to try to be sure I understood him correctly.

"Yes, we have Bibles for the men", I answered. "Would you like one?"

He said yes and I went to the shelf behind my desk and pulled out a brand new Nelson Study Bible that had been donated to the Chapel.

"I never read any of this before. Where's a good place to start?" he asked.

As I sat there, I was struck by a change in this man that I had been so uncomfortable with before. He didn't look nearly as scary or "hard" to me today. In fact, he looked somewhat vulnerable.

"A lot of people say to start with the Book of John", I respond "but I would start with the Book of Mathew and read all four of the Gospels. That way you can get a broader picture of who Jesus is."

He thanked me as he turned and walked out of the office. I am a little ashamed to say that I didn't expect Blue Fly to read more than two pages in his new book. I didn't know what had motivated him to come to the Chapel and ask for a Bible, but I was sure it wasn't because he was looking for Christ. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The next day, he was in the Chapel again.

"You got anything to help me understand all this stuff I'm reading?" he asked. He wasn't looking around sheepishly today. Something was different about him. He looked even less "hard" today and there was a determination in his voice and in his eyes that told me he was serious...even if only for a day. I told him about our library and some books that he might want to use as references. He would spend hours in the Chapel library each day pouring over his Bible and the resources that might make it make sense to him.

"Can I take any of these back to the unit?" he asked one day. "There isn't enough time here to be able to read all this stuff."

I told him which books he was welcome to take with him and which had to stay in the library and he was soon packing an arm full of books back to the unit like a college kid on any campus across the country. Each day as I left the unit to head to the Chapel to work, I would see Blue Fly at one of the tables in the day room with all of his books spread out...reading and studying. He was soon getting harassed by some of the other inmates for taking up an entire table for all of his stuff, but no one pushed him out.

About a month after Blue Fly first came into the Chapel for his first Bible, he came into the office again. He pulled up a chair and sat down across from me.

"How are you doing today, Fly?", I asked him.

"I'm not Blue Fly anymore", he said. "My real name is James and that's what I want to be called now."

It struck me what a change had taken place in this man in the past thirty days. I had seen a miracle of God performed in a federal prison in the middle of the California desert that I hadn't believed would occur. And I was to soon learn that God had used me to make it happen.

A few days later, "James" was back at the Chapel.

"I wanted to thank you", he said. "It's because of you that I started to read the Bible and learn about Jesus."

I sat there speechless. I quietly racked my brains trying to remember when I had ever talked to this man about Christ. And the truth is, I hadn't. I'd never invited him to church. I'd never told him he needed Jesus. I'd never told him he was a sinner destined to spend eternity in Hell. I'd made it a practice to not talk to him at all. As it turned out, it was my life and the way I was living in this little corner of Hell that drew his attention to me. The peace that I lived in. The calmness of my demeanor. My ability to smile when there was nothing to smile about and my unwillingness to fall prey to the lack of hope and futility that is bred in prison. I had simply done my best to "walk my (silent) talk" and live as a Godly man.

I'm not sure what happened to James. He continued to roll in and out of the SHU. He found himself more and more frequently persecuted by his "old friends" for seeking a way out of his old life. One day, he went into the SHU and he never came back out. The rumor mill said that he had been transferred to another institution. I pray that's what happened...that God in His mercy and sent James to a new mission field where he could start his life there as a Christian man who had been in bondage and had found freedom in a carpenter from Galilee.

1 comment:

Deb said...

I remember what you told me recently about what the chaplain said to you about you being the only Bible some people will ever read. James seems to have read you really well.

This story gives me goose bumps, and gives me hope for my year in a place without bars, but which I am not free to leave.

Blue Fly is such a great name. It really sounds like a title.

Thanks for giving me two chapters in a row to read. I could start expecting this, you know.

Love you!!!