Sunday, February 22, 2009


"I want you to always remember that I will be with you while you are in prison. I will keep you safe when you call on Me. I will guide yours steps as long as you follow Me. Remember to stay in the My light. I will open up opportunities for you while you are in prison. Look for them and listen for My voice and I will direct you to them."

Words from God through my journaling, August 11, 2004

This is one of those difficult weekends in my life. It's a weekend full of memories...and not of good things. Exactly five years ago tomorrow (February 23), the FBI came into my office and I was arrested. At times, I still feel the numbness that I felt on that Monday five years ago. At times, it still feels like I'm in a nightmare and that I'm fighting to wake up...but I can't. And at times...I realize what an incredibly gracious God that I serve and how much He loves me.

During the six months that lapsed from the day I was arrested to the day I went into prison, God drew me into a relationship with Him that I never knew was possible. And during that time, He spoke to me regularly...often times through my writing. I was drawn back to my journals today after hearing our pastor speak about God's faithfulness at a men's retreat this weekend.

I have to admit, I was frightened about going into prison. My only vision of what it was going to be like was what I'd read in books, seen on TV or seen in the movies. I'd never talked with someone who had actually experienced live behind the razor wire...but I knew that it couldn't be good. The fact that my crime was considered a "sex" crime made it all the worse. Anyone who follows the media at all understands that felons who commit any kind of sex crime is the "worst of the worst"...even below murderers. And sex crimes that involved children are considered the worst of that lot. The fact that my crime was receiving child pornography on the internet and not any physical violation of children doesn't lessen it in the eyes of society...whether in prison or out.

As I thought about God's faithfulness to me during my three years in prison, I was drawn back to words He had given me the week before I left for Taft Correctional Institution. "I will keep you safe when you call on Me." I reflected this weekend on how true to His word He was...and is.

There are several examples that come to my mind that I am aware of that He protected me physically while I was in prison. It was made clear to me from the first day went through the steel doors that if it was discovered that I had committed a sex crime, my safety was not guaranteed. The counselor asked me before I was put into the general population if I felt safe. I answered "yes." The psychologist asked if I felt safe being placed in the general population. I answered "yes." My answers may have been from naivety, but I don't really think so. In my heart, I had heard God Himself tell me that He would keep me safe.

It didn't take long to see what happened to inmates that were discovered as having committed a sex crime. Most of the men who were there for sex offenses had committed crimes similar to mine...possession of child pornography. And where they were discovered, they would find a note on their bed telling them to "PC" themselves up (request protective custody, which in essence was to put yourself into solitary confinement). If the man didn't PC, the next visit would involve getting beaten by a "lock in a sock". That was usually all it took. If the man was stubborn, his mattress was burned and the prison staff removed the inmate and placed him in protective custody for his own protection. I knew that it was possible that I could face that experience on any given day.

One day as I was working in the chapel, one of the men I knew from the unit above ours came in an told me with a smile on his face that the Southsiders (Hispanic gangsters) were going to go after a sex offender in my unit that night. I couldn't tell from the way he talked or his body language if he knew who it was, but he seemed pretty pleased that they were going to take care of someone "like that." I knew that he could be talking about me, and the truth is, it frightened me a bit.

I remember as I walked back to my unit after my work shift was over that night that the thought of PC'ing myself crossed my mind. "What if he was talking about me and the guys in the unit knew the truth of my crime?" I'm not a young man, and the thought of a Master padlock in a sock cracking my in the skull or my teeth...or anywhere on my body for that matter, was not a pleasant thought. But then my spirit was reminded of the promises that God had made to me the week before I came to this place. "I will keep you safe when you call on Me." So, as I crawled into my bed that night, I thanked for God for His faithfulness and asked for His protection through the night.

I honestly don't know how I was able to sleep that night...but I did. And when I woke in the morning, I discovered that what my friend had told me in the Chapel the night before was true. They had gone after a man who had been convicted of possessing child pornography, and his bed was empty in the morning. He had been threatened to the point that he PC'd himself. He was to the SHU where he would be safe. I quietly thanked God again for His favor towards me and His faithfulness in protecting me through the night.

A couple of months later, a young man who had become a fairly close friend came into the chapel to give me some great news.

"You said you were from Yakima, Washington...right?", he asked.

"Yeah. I lived there for about twelve years", I replied. "Why do you ask?"

"We got a new guy in the unit today...and guess what? He's from Yakima, too! Maybe you guys know each other".

He seemed so happy for me, but my guts were twisting inside. He told me the guy's name, and it seemed somewhat familiar, but I couldn't tell for sure. I didn't want anyone to know me in this place. If they knew me, it meant they probably also knew my crime.

A couple of days later, my friend returned and said that the new guy from Yakima was going to start coming to Toastmasters with him and that maybe I could meet him there. I asked if he knew what this guy did for work in Yakima and he said that he and his family had owned a glass company and he told me the name of the company. I could almost hear my heart as it fell to the bottom of my gut. I knew this man and his company. We had bought the windows for our new house from his company. His company had done work for us at the high school where I was the principal. There was no way he couldn't know what my crime was. Once again, I prayed for God's favor that I was somehow wrong, and that this man didn't know me.

Several weeks passed and I asked a different friend about the man from Yakima. I had been checking the Toastmaster's roster and his name hadn't been there.

"Oh, that guy", my friend said. "He got mad at one of the counselors and took a swing at her. He got sent to the SHU and the rumor is that he got shipped to a medium (security prison)".

I stood there...not just a little bit in shock. This man that knew who I was and who could put my safety in jeopardy was no longer here. I knew that it was simply a coincidence. I knew that once again, this was God's favor on me and His faithfulness revealed.

I don't know how many times God protected me while I was in prison that I have absolutely no knowledge of. Things that He orchestrated that kept me safe. But I know without a shadow of doubt in my heart that He was completely faithful to His words to me. Not only did He keep me safe, be He also did open opportunities to me while I was in prison. He got me the best job in the institution, working as a clerk in the Chapel. He surrounded me with other men who loved God and wanted to serve Him. He allowed me to learn to play the guitar and led me to become a worship leader and preacher of His Word. He used the skills that He had developed in me during the years before I went into prison to touch the lives of lost men for His Kingdom.

I know that I could have probably kept myself safe while I was in prison by simply PC'ing myself from day one. I could have spent the 1086 days inside a cell all by myself where no one could have hurt me. After all, God said that He would keep me safe while I was in prison. But, that wouldn't have been demonstrating any faith in God keeping me would have been doing it my way...not His way.
When I walked out of prison on August 15, 2007, I knew that God had never left me during those 1086 days. He had been true to His word to me...He had kept me safe and delivered me. The God that I serve is an incredible God...a God who can be trusted in all things! A God who is true to His word! A God who shows favor to His children! And I am blessed to be called His son. All praise and glory to Him!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A New Insight

It's amazing how I can read a book...or part of a book several times and all of a sudden, something makes sense in a way that it had never occurred to me before. That's exactly what happened to me last night.
I've struggled beyond measure most of my life trying to understand my attraction to other males. I don't consider myself gay and I had a wonderful marriage with a beautiful woman. And when we had sex, it was incredible. But I have to admit that "same sex attraction" has been a part of my make-up since before adolescence. And I just didn't understand why.

For the past several years, I've wondered if the attraction was due to the sexual molestation that started when I was a young child by a man who worked for my dad and also by an older neighbor boy. Part of that didn't really make sense to me because the molestation by the older man was very traumatic and not sexually fulfilling. While the sex with the neighbor boy wasn't unpleasant, I don't remember what he looked like and was never attracted to him in any way. So why have I battled this issue my entire life?

I believe I got some clarity last night. I'm involved in a men's group from my church and we have been doing a study on the book, "Wild at Heart", by John Eldredge. This is probably the fifth time that I've read the book and I thought I knew it pretty thoroughly. In fact, while I was in prison, I participated in an in-depth facilitator training and led other inmates through the study. But there was a message in the book that I hadn't found...until last night.

We were reading a chapter dealing with the battle for a man's heart. It really focused on how a boy does (or doesn't) receive validation growing up. The author believes that it is critical that the validation comes from the father, and the crucial time when he must provide that is between the ages of seven and fifteen, depending on the boy. I never found the validation from my dad, and it was during those years that I encountered sex for the first time...with males. It was also when I began masturbating, which has become a life-long battle for me. And, it's when I discovered pornography. The author says that if a boy doesn't get the validation from his father, he will look for it in other places....usually women, sex and pornography.

I had grasped all of that the first several times that I read the book. But this time, there was a short phrase buried at the end of that section that seemed to jump off the pages. There, on the last page of the chapter, in the next to last paragraph, the book talks about homosexuality. It says that gays know that what is missing in their hearts is masculine love. The problem is that they have sexualized it. Wow! For the first time in my life, some things made sense in ways that it never had before.
While I know in my heart that my dad loved me, he never really demonstrated that love toward me in a way that I could see as a child. As the middle of three boys, I was often not a focus. My older brother has told of how dad "taught" him things that dad's teach their sons growing up. And my younger brother was a bit of a discipline issue, and required a great deal of attention by both of my parents. I was quiet and didn't cause many problems. As a result, I ended up being a classic "lost child" in the family.

I never thought about needing masculine affirmation...or what the lack of it may have resulted in my life. While I dealt with a lack of self confidence growing up, I never questioned my masculine strength. That may have been due to my participation in school sports, or from something else, I'm not sure. But as I reflect back now, I understand that there was never a feeling of receiving masculine love in my life.

The revelation last night has brought some peace to my mind...and to my heart. As a teacher, I want to know the answer. And I've learned during these past five years that I want the answers to all of my questions...even the hard ones I wouldn't even acknowledge were there. The insight I gained last night also helps me know that there is still more that I can learn about myself...there is more healing that is available to me. And there is more hope that as I grow and understand myself (who I really am and where I've been), the future ahead of me is brighter than ever.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Howdy Doody Time!

We didn't have many opportunities to laugh while behind the razor wire, so when the moments came, they were relished with great joy. During my last year in prison, we created such a time. It came on Saturday mornings between 8:30 and 10:00 AM down in the recreation yard.

There were usally between four and eight of us, depending on the week. Most of us met every morning for our Bible study, but occassionally a couple of other guys would come and join us. We would bring down our large thermos cup of coffee or hot chocolate. And, even though it was against the rules (imagine that, guys in prison breaking a rule), one of us would bring in a couple of bags of cookies that we bought at the commissary. And we would just sit and visit.

One of the guys in the group was a tall, slender man from Montana who had worked for the Post Office. Another was a retired Army Ranger from Alaska. There were a couple of bankers, an accountant and an electrician. And of course, a former educator.

Over the course of the past year, John (the retired Ranger) had taken up art and had painted several of our coffee cups with something that was associated with who we were. Mine had a painting of Aslan (the lion from Narnia) on it. Tim had a painting of his wife. Paul had a swimming pool and Ray a picture of a sinking ship. Don was the only guy in the group who didn't have a painting on his cup.

One week, he mentioned that when he was a kid, he remembered watching the Howdy Doody show on TV. So John went to the library and found a book about the Howdy Doody TV program that had some pictures of the TV icon on the pages. And over the course of the next week, he bought Don a new cup from the commissary and painted Howdy Doody on the side. The following Saturday morning, John presented the cup to Don.

For a few minutes, Don just looked at it. Now, I'm sure if you remember what Howdy Doody looks like, but even a great picture of him would probably look pretty horrendous. With his clown make-up on, I think he was simply a scary looking dude. I didn't watch him as a child (having no TV probably had something to do with that), but if I had, I think I might have had nightmares. Did I mention he was scary looking? And John did a great job of portraying that scariness on the coffee mug.

Finally, Don looked away from the cup and looked at John and told him that it was perfect...just like he remembered him. He passed the cup around so we could all admire it and when it finally came back around to Don, you could almost see a flicker of pride in his eyes.

The Saturday's following the "presentation of the cup" were always good for a laugh. Don would come to the morning gatherings, proudly holding his cup and share a Howdy Doody story with us. One week, he'd tell us how he caught Howdy looking through one of his magazines and he'd have to scold him. The next week, it might be a story about Howdy getting into the cookies without permission. Each story brought howls of laughter from each one of us...sometimes to the point of belly cramps from another story just as we were trying to recover from the first Howdy tale.

I realize that prison isn't supposed to be fun...and it wasn't. But it was such a treat when we could find even a few moments to feel some level of normalcy...some ability to laugh instead of frown. Our weekly Howdy Doody time provided that.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


It was the same thing every Wednesday or Thursday. The lights would come on an hour early and you could hear the squeaky wheels of the mop buckets as they were pushed up the narrow aisles of the unit. If you slept in a little bit late, you would find yourself locked out of the showers and only one sink available for the 168 men who shared this space. Even all of the toilets and urinals would be roped off except the handicapped stall. What was the cause for all of this mayhem and disruption of our daily schedule? The weekly inspection!
There was a reason that inspections were important to the inmates. The weekly "chow" rotation was based on how our unit rated against the other units each week. The unit with the highest score (the cleanest unit) was released first for each meal all week. With almost 1800 hungry inmates, sometimes the difference between being the first unit released and the last unit released might be an hour and a extra hour and a half locked in the unit.

When I first arrived in prison, the head orderly in the unit was a Hispanic man who spoke very little English. There were about forty orderlies in all, other inmates whose job assignment was cleaning the unit each day. Some were assigned to clean and dust the TV rooms and laundry while others were responsible for the showers and bathrooms. As a general rule, they kept the place pretty clean. The individual cubes were the responsibility of the inmates that were living in them, and more often than not, they were not kept as clean as the common areas. As a result, each Wednesday or Thursday morning, the unit was a frenzy of sweeping, mopping and dusting getting ready for the inspection to be done.

As the inspectors would enter our unit, the head orderly would yell out, "Inspeccion! Inspeccion!", letting all the inmates know they had arrived. A couple of the orderlies would make one final pass through the unit, wiping down any dust that might still be visible. We would never know which cube the inspectors would check out each week or which of the TV rooms or which shower stalls. We just never knew.

The two inspectors were as different as night and day. Both wore black slacks and Hawaiian shirts, but the similarities stopped there. Mr. Romine was tall and slender, while Mr. White was as round as he was tall. "Romine", as the inmates called him, actually did most of the actual inspection. And he was not well liked. It seemed like he could find dust where it just didn't exist. And he appeared to relish every particle of the fine particles that he found.

I didn't spend a lot of mornings in the unit during inspection because I was usually at work, but there were a few occasions that I was there and it was interesting to simply watch the process. The inmates would follow Mr. Romine down the hallways and stand outside the cubes as he went inside. He would run his finger along the edge of a bed frame or on top of a locker and then rub his hand on the edge of his pant leg. If he could see anything on black cloth of his pants when he pulled his hand away, it would cost a point.
One day when I was there watching, I noticed something unusual about Mr. Romine when he rubbed his fingers along his pant leg. Sometimes, he would rub his fingers forward along his pant leg and other times he would rub them toward the back. It soon became apparent to me his fingers would leave a "mark" in the fabric simple because he was rubbing against the grain of the thread. That "mark" would always cost a point!

I can't say that Mr. Romine would intentionally rubbed his fingers in one direction as opposed to the other, but it did appear that way. And it seemed that it would happen for often after we had some kind of problem in the unit. Whether it was a fight, or the confiscation of some Pruno...or some other violation, it seemed that his hand would move more against the grain that with it. And we would end up on the bottom of the chow rotation.

Prison taught me a lot of things, and unfortunately not many of them gave me great faith in the justice system. The fallacy of the weekly inspection was just one example in a long list.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My Mountain

I discovered this week that there is a place in my childhood memory that hasn't disappeared like most of it. I was reminded of this place as I read a post on my sister's blog It's the mountain. The dairy farm that we grew up on was nestled up against the base of a beautiful mountain range where my brothers and sister spent many summer days climbing and exploring.

As I read Debbie's blog, I thought about the fact that all four of us at some time probably looked up that mountaintop from the third cliff that always seemed to be our destination and wondered what was beyond. It also occurred to me that each of us probably didn't go to the top of the mountain for different reasons. Debbie shared her reasons in her post, and as I've come to know her at a deeper level over this past year, I can now understand her reason.

I can only assume for my two brothers. Geoff, my youngest, is probably the one member of our family who would have been the likeliest to take off on the adventure. The truth is, he may have and just didn't tell us about it. If he didn't, it was probably because he thought about it and then got distracted and went and did something else. He is the adventure-seeker in the family. I can still remember hearing the story of him getting stuck on mountainside overnight as an adult when he went climbing by himself and found himself in a place where he was unable to go any further up or go back down. Even to this day, he's not sure how he got back down...except by the grace and mercy of God.

My older brother Frank would have had other reasons for not making the trek. If he had gone by himself, there wouldn't have been anyone to tell about the adventure. Frank loves to tell stories...and often uses great liberty as to the accuracy of the tale. If I asked him today what it was like to climb to the top and look over the other side, I'm sure he would tell a compelling story of what it was like. He would be able to describe the trail, how fat the huckleberries were that he stopped and ate along the way and far he could see from the top of the range.

I had my own reasons and as I grow older, the reasons become harder to accept. For me, it was fear. As a child, I would have convinced myself that there might be wild animals or that I might get lost. But the reality is that my fear was that if I did wander off and explore the mountain and get lost, no one would notice. No one would come and look for me. No one would care.

Life, especially these past five years, has convinced me of the lie that I believed as a child. My family have shown me in so many ways during the most trying days of my life that they do truly care about me. When it would have been easy...and reasonable...for them to turn away from me because of the poor choices that I made, they did just the opposite. They moved toward me and embraced and supported me.

Maybe the reason that I have such fond memories of the mountain from my childhood is because it is the one place where I was never alone...a place where at least one of my brothers or my sister were always with me.