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 gone...off 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 safe...it 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!