Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Last Day

I was awakened by the sound of keys jangling in the hallway.  It was 5:45 AM and I knew the guard was coming to get me.  He entered my cell and I acknowledged him and got down out of my bunk.  I opened my locker and took my bedding and my boots and carried them down to the laundry room where they would be collected and distributed to  a new convict.  I went back to my cubicle and got my possession…all crammed into a thick black garbage bag.  It’s amazing what a person is willing to take out of a federal prison.  I went grabbed my mattress and my bag of belongings and went up to the door and waited for the guard to open it.  As he did, I carried the 50 pound bag of belongings and the mattress over to “R & D” (receiving and discharge) and entered the door. I was tossed my mattress on a stack in the hallway and guard took me to a cell where there were about 5 mexicans who were being discharged today as well.

We waited in the cell as slowly the men were discharged, with a guard coming and taking them away.  I sat there silently, just watching and thinking what was going to happen next. At around 8:00, a guard came and took me to another office area and I was fingerprinted and had my DNA taken for the federal DNA bank.  I was then put in handcuffs for the 30 feet walk through the sally port and taken through the main offices.  A guard took the handcuffs off and said I was free to go.  I took a seat in the waiting area where I had arrived 3 years ago and waited for my pastor, Cal Carpenter to arrive. He was flying me home to Tacoma where I would begin a new life.  I expected Cal to be there at 8:00 but he was about an hour late.   I picked my bag up and went outside and sat on the warm concrete, just enjoying the California sun without a barbed wire fence keeping me inside.

The warden walked by and said hello in a voice I had never heard her speak in before.  It was friendly and she smiled at me and said good luck.  I honestly think she meant it.  A little while later Cal arrived and I put my stuff in his trunk and got in the car.  We prayed before we left and then drove out on I-5 to Los Angeles.  About 30 miles down the road, he pulled into a truck stop for breakfast.  I was wearing grey sweatpants and white t-shirt as we entered the restaurant.   We took a booth in the back and I grabbed the menu and took a look at real food.  I ordered a ham and cheese omelet with hash browns and coffee and we visited as we ate our breakfast.  

As we got back in the car and got back on the freeway, Cal opened a compartment between the seats and handed me an envelope that my ex-wife Paula had sent for me.  It had $700 in crisp bills and my driver’s license in it.  We completed the trip to LA and Cal pulled into the Hyatt Regency and we got out.  He said the large red suitcase was mine and I grabbed my garbage bag and put in in the suitcase and went in the hotel.   Cal went to the desk and grabbed a key and said he had gotten me my own room because he thought I could use some quiet to rest. I went into the room and it was the most beautiful hotel room that I had ever seen.  The bed was a king and the mattress was more than 4 inches thick.  The sheets were soft and silky and I was exhausted.  Cal had tickets to a Dodgers game that night so we agreed that we would leave to eat at about 4:00 and I went back to my room and crawled into bed.  I think I was asleep in minutes and it was hard to get out when my alarm went off.  Paula had also bought me some new clothes to wear…cargo shorts and some short sleeve shirts and I took a shower and put them on.  I went down to Cal’s room and we went down to the car and went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner.  

We ate dinner and Cal asked me what I was planning to do for work and I said I didn’t have a clue.  He mentioned one of the men in the church might have something for me but that didn’t work out.  We finished out dinner and headed to Dodger stadium for the game.  We had seats on the first base line 2 rows back and we sat and had peanuts and soft drinks as we watched the ballgame.  It was a warm night and the park was about half full. We left during the 9th inning and went out to the parking lot to find the car.  Call pressed his remote and the horn honked and we saw some headlights flashing and went to the car.   

We arrived back at the hotel around 11:30 and headed to our rooms to go to sleep. I once again crawled into my bed and nested into the soft mattress and sheets.  It felt far different from the steel bed frame I had been sleeping on for the last 3 years.  We woke early and headed to the airport and got in line.  My suitcase just made the 50 limit so we didn’t have to pay any extra fees.  We worked our way through security and waited in the arrival area for our plane to arrive.  As we loaded on the plane, I was thankful for friends like Cal who had stood by me during my incarceration.   I thought about my time in prison as I read my Bible on the flight.  How much I had been changed by prison and in a good way.   I thought about the friends I had made there and how they would do.  I prayed for them and asked God to protect them.

We had a nonstop flight and it took about 2 hours to make the same trip that had taken 24 hours in a greyhound bus 3 years earlier.  As we flew into SeaTac airport, I wondered what life would be like for a convicted felon with no marketable skills (since I had lost my ability to teach).  I couldn’t wait to find out.

Monday, February 15, 2016


I’ve been trying to write my book in my head for the past 5 years and it hasn’t come together so I’m taking my sister Deb’s advice and just writing.  I know I have a story of hope and change to tell but I don’t know where to start and where to end.  I don’t know which stories will reach the people that I really want to reach…young men who are experimenting with pornography.  I was addicted to it for most of my life before I realized what kind of a hold it had on my life.  It wasn’t until the FBI agent showed at up at my office that I realized that it was controlling my life.  It cost me my job, my marriage and 3 years in a federal prison.
I want to tell a story that grabs the reader’s attention like a good novel would.   In fact, I’ve considered telling my story as a novel but that wouldn’t have the impact I want people to get. I want people to recognize that they can change their lives through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  He was one of the first people that talked to me after I got arrested and he only said two words…”Seek Me”.  That was it and for some reason, I did.

For six months I spent time in the Bible and I spent time with him in prayer.  And my prayers were unlike any prayers I had ever made.  I talked to him and I listened to him.  He encouraged me when I was down or had a failure and told me that I would survive my prison experience.  I journaled my prayers and go back them occasionally to see how many of his answers came true.  And they all did.  

That time gave me opportunity to reacquaint myself to my family…my sister and two brothers.  It wasn’t easy going from the superintendent of schools to a federal felon but through God’s grace, I managed.  So many families are impacted by pornography that it should be a national crisis.  But it will never be considered anything more than immature men going shopping for unnatural sex objects.  It something that people rarely speak of in public although more than half the men in America have looked at it.  For some, it’s a one-time thing but some men like me, I was addicted the first time I saw it.  I stole it out of our mailbox before my dad could look at it.  I snuck into porn shops even as an adult because of the shame that I felt for wanting to look at it.  It has defined much of my life.

I’ve been out of prison for almost nine years now and I really don’t want to look at porn much anymore. It’s lost its hold on me.  But it took 3 years in prison and a lot of self-examination to get there.  I think about the life I lived before but I don’t regret not being in it now.  I don’t long for it.  I miss the people I met during those three years, the real ones anyway.  I’m not sure where my book will start but just writing is putting me in the mood to write more.  I have two people who want me to get this book written, my sister Deb and my friend Paul.  They keep telling me to write it so I guess I’ll have figure out where to start it. And how it ends.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Remembering Arne

I was outside at work, walking Max, my new Bichon Frise puppy when my phone buzzed, indicating that I had a text message.  I opened my phone and smiled as I saw that it was from Paula.  As I opened the message and read the 17 word text, my heart sank.  She’d texted me to let me know that her Dad had passed away during the night and that he had loved me.

The death wasn’t a shock…he’d been ill for awhile and had been in hospice for the second time.  But the loss of a man that I was closer to than my own father for 18 years still hit me hard.  I can still hear the words he spoke to me the last time we had a conversation.  He was angry that I had lied to Paula and that it was going to result in our divorce.  He was concerned that I wasn’t being fair in the settlement and I had called him because Paula had asked me to explain what I agreed to do.  I can remember the first time I met him, travelling with him to a basketball camp where Paula’s son Jason was participating to show support.

Unlike my own father, Arne listened as I went through the finances and what I was doing and what I was giving Paula.  And when I was done he thanked me and apologized for his abruptness when he answered the phone.  We had a short conversation and he told me he loved me as we ended the call.  My dad would have interrupted and told me what he would have done.  But Arne was unlike any man I’d ever met.  A strong Christian man who walked his talk.  He could be intimidating as he would read his Bible and then out of the blue, ask me what my favorite scripture verse was.  When I met Paula, I wasn’t really a practicing Christian, although I believed in Jesus as my savior.  When we would visit their home over the holidays, every Sunday morning we would all go to church.  As we would enter, he would go out of his way to meet and greet and talk to nearly everyone in the congregation.   He sat in the front pew with Mom while Paula and I would sit a few rows back.

He treated Harriett like a wife should be treated…with love and tenderness.  The only time I saw him get angry with her was when she got home from shopping late and they had planned to go a basketball game and there wasn’t time for dinner.  But his anger lasted only a few minutes and he was soon apologizing to her and helped her unload the packages from the car.

Arne was a successful wheat farmer and generous to a fault.  He was dedicated to family and had the family at his house on Sunday afternoons for a big family dinner.   He took care of his father when he was in the nursing home and visited him every day.  He supported his sister and brother-in-law when they were in the mission field in Viet Nam and pretty much gave his inheritance to her.  He gave money to his children at Christmas that was extravagant.  He drove a new Cadillac sedan for a few years and then gave them to one of his kids, rotating so everyone would get one.  He enjoyed the Late Show with Jay Leno and football, basketball and golf on the television.  He was a proud man but never prideful as I remember him.  He would never allow someone else to pick up the tab when we went out to dinner at a restaurant. 

I have many regrets in life, but one of the greatest is the loss I experienced when Paula and I divorced.  I never got to say a proper good-bye to either Arne or Harriett.  I didn’t get to hug them or tell them in person how truly sorry I was for what I had done to result in the divorce.  I’m not sure I’ll have the chance to attend his funeral and pay respects to Mom and the rest of the family.  I’ll ask Paula if it’s okay and accept whatever she decides is best for the family.  It might be a time of solitary morning on my part and remembering an incredible man.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Wait

Paula and I parked in front of the large house on the corner and I turned the car off.  We got out and I took her hand and we started up the winding sidewalk and passed between two large azealias that squeezed against you as you walked through.  A few more steps and we were standing in front of the door.  It was locked so Paula pressed the doorbell and we could hear the chimes ringing as someone approached.  The door opened and a tall man with sandy red hair opened the door and Paula hugged him and said “hi Daddy” and kissed him.  He extended his hand and I took it and as we shook, I told him it was nice to meet him.  A woman then walked out of the kitchen in her apron covering a nice Nordstrom outfit, her dark black hair up on her head and a beautiful smile and walked across the room.  She hugged and kissed Paula and looked me over with eyes that were evaluating me. It was Thanksgiving weekend and my girlfriend had invited me home to meet her parents.

That was the first time I met a man and a woman who were to become more than just a father-in-law and mother-in-law to me.  Over the next 29 years, they would become closer to me than my own parents.  Strong Pentecostal Christians, they had strong moral convictions and a strict lifestyle.  They attended church three times a week and prayed at every meal.  Paula and I spent every Christmas and Thanksgiving in their home throughout our marriage.   We watched Paula’s son Jason play basketball nearly every weekend with them for his high school and college career.  We were there when Dad’s mom died and then his father.  We spent time in the hospital with them when their son Doug and Jason were in a bad car accident and we weren’t sure if Doug would survive…trading time between Jason’s and Doug’s hospital rooms.  They drove to Sandpoint and supported my mom and our family when my dad died. 

The last time I saw either of them was at Christmas in 2003.  We spent the holidays together in their Walla Walla home.  As always, the food was delicious and the gifts abundant.  Two of our kids and several of our grandkids laughing and playing…always the center of attention.  When I got in legal trouble a couple of months later, and Paula and I divorced, the relationship ended.  Before I went into prison, I talked with both of them and they told me they loved me.  Tears burned in my eyes as I hung up the phone.

I received a phone call from Paula yesterday.  I’d called earlier in the day as I often do.  She rarely answers the phone and I had left a message.  A smile crept over my face as I answered and heard her voice.  She seemed in good spirits and we talked for most of an hour.  Most of the conversation was about Mom and Dad.  They put Dad in hospice this week and they are not going to force him to eat or receive hydration.  He’s refusing to eat most days and the doctors don’t believe he has much time left.  Doug is flying up from Palm Springs to be with him this next week in case it’s time for him to pass.  It was hard for Paula to agree to sign the form putting him in hospice, knowing that he could be gone soon…and hard to tell me.  I got quiet as she told me about Mom and Dad’s health and how they are both failing.  Mom has cancer and is in severe pain, but she keeps fighting…both with Paula and against the pain.  She’s ready to give up and probably will when Dad is gone.

Although it’s been more than 11 years since I last saw them, I can still picture them clearly and feel the love and caring they showed me.  They both still love me, but the pain I caused Paula was too strong for them to overcome.  I often thought about showing up on their doorstep to visit Paula, but I respected them and their wishes too much to do that.

I expect to receive a phone call or text any day now.  I know what it will say and I’ll call to offer my comfort and support to Paula and the family.  I’ll ask to come to the funeral, not knowing what the answer will be.  It would be hard to be with the family again after an eleven year absence, and I’m sure that my shame and guilt will try to overwhelm me…but it will be harder for me if I’m not there.  For now, all I can do is wait like the rest of the family, not for the death announcement…but for what comes next.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A New Friend

It was a new school year and I was anxious to go back to school.  The summer had been filled with chores and work, swimming and riding my bike, and a few days at the city beach in town.  Last year had not been a good year.  A new school, more teachers, and the loss of friends had caused me to recede into a shell.  I’d spent a lot of time reading books when I wasn’t out playing with my younger brother Jeff.  But there was always something exciting about the start of a new school year.

We walked the quarter of mile to the bus stop and waited for Mr. Lockwood to drive down the hill to pick us up.  We were one of the first stop on the bus route so as we got on the bus, we were able to sit pretty much anyplace we wanted.  Mr. Lockwood said hello and turned out onto the highway.  As he got to the end of our property line, he turned up a graveled county road.  This was different.  We’d never picked up any kids on this road before.  Mom and Dad had some friends who lived out here but they didn’t have any younger kids that I knew of.  The bus slowed down and came to a stop and 3 boys got on the bus.  Two were much older than I was, but the third boy looked to be about my age.  He walked up the aisle toward the back of the bus and sat down in the seat in front of me.

He was smaller than I was by about an inch.  Slender. Sandy brown hair. Dark eyes.  A nice smile.  He wore denim jeans and long sleeved “cowboy” shirt.  I sat in my seat, the bus slowing filling to capacity as the driver made his way into town.  My school was the last stop on the route and by the time we got there, there were about a dozen of us still on the bus.    I had been too shy to say “hello” and he hadn’t  said anything to me either.  As I got up to get off the bus, he stepped out in front of me, saying “excuse me” and walked off the bus in front of me.

We all started toward the school to find our classrooms and I noticed that the boy looked a little lost.  Jeff took off to find his friends and I walked to over to him. 

Do you need some help finding your classroom?

Yeah, I guess I do.

I’m Mark.  I have Mr. Johnson for home room.  Who do you have?

He looked at a piece of paper and said he had Mr. Spradlin.

You’ll really like him.  I had his wife for home room last year she was really cool.  He’d come over to our class sometimes and was always really nice. 

Thanks.  My names Cliff.  Cliff Wynn.  We just moved here over the summer.

We walked into the building together and went to his classroom.  As I turned to go back to my classroom, he asked if it would be ok to eat lunch with me.  I said sure and told him to look for me in the cafeteria.  At the end of the day, we got back on the bus and Cliff asked if it was ok to sit with me.  I said sure and we headed home.  I asked how his day was and we talked all the way to his house.  It was like I’d known him for a long time.  He was one of those people that’s just easy to like.

As the year progressed, we started spending a lot of time together.  I rode my bike to his place a few times on the weekends.  They lived on a farm and he and his brothers had the same kind of chores that we did.  They also had horses.  We didn’t.  I always liked horses but had never ridden one.  Dad didn’t like horses so that was all the explanation we needed when we asked for one.  When the answer was “no”, there was no need to ask again.

One day while I was at Cliff’s, he asked if I wanted to ride horses with him.  I told him “yes”, that I’d love to so we went to the barn and put the saddle and tack on the two of the horses.  He showed me how to make sure the saddle was tight and noticed that I wasn’t too sure about getting the bit in the horse’s mouth.  He came over and told me I didn’t need to be afraid.  He stroked the forehead and gently put the bit in his mouth. 

We walked the horses out of the barn and met his older brother heading our way.  He was in high school and was pretty big.  He was a wrestler (I’d find out later) and had a cocky attitude.  Cliff told him that he was going to teach me to ride and that this was the first time I’d ever been on a horse.  He didn’t seem too interested and kept walking.  Cliff showed me how to mount the horse and I watched as he swung himself up into his saddle.   I grabbed the saddle horn, put my foot in a stirrup and tried to do what he die.  I pulled myself up and put my foot into the other stirrup and sat on the horse, a little wobbly trying to center my balance. 

Cliff told me to hold the reins loose and let the horse walk for a bit.  I was following Cliff on his horse when his older brother came back out of the barn.  I didn’t notice him as he walked up behind the horse I was on.  He hollered at Cliff to show me how to ride and slapped the horse on his hind quarters.  The horse reared up and I toppled off the back, falling hard on my back onto the hard ground.   His brother was laughing as he grabbed the reins to the horse.  Cliff jumped off the horse and ran over to where I was lying on the ground, trying to catch my breath.  He yelled at his brother and called him some names and asked if I was alright.

I sat up and looked at Cliff.  There was a genuine look of concern in his eyes.  It was something different.  I’m not sure I’d ever seen it before.  I could tell that he really cared if I was okay. He helped me to my feet and asked if I wanted to try again.  I looked over at his brother and said I didn’t think so.  He said that was fine and walked the horses back to the barn.  He apologized for his brother and told me what a jerk he was.  I agreed with him and we laughed and spent the afternoon exploring in the barn and in the woods on his property.   

 As the afternoon sun started its descent, I said good-bye and got on my bike and headed home.  He asked if he could ride with me to the highway and his mom said yes.  We rode our bikes down the county road weaving back and forth, having races, braking hard and throwing gravel everywhere…laughing and smiling.  He stopped at the highway and said good-bye and waved as I pedaled back toward home.  I turned and waved, saying I’d see him on Monday and pedaled my bike back home.

Mom asked how my day was when I got home and told her I had a lot of fun.  I told her about riding the horse (but not the getting bucked off part).  I told her how nice Cliff was and how nice his mom and dad were.  She said that it would be okay if I wanted to have Cliff come over sometime and play here.  I said that would be great and went down to our bedroom. 

As I went to bed that night, I thought about the day with Cliff and how much fun it was.  I’d never had a friend that lived close.  My folks didn’t like us playing with the family that lived across the railroad tracks behind our farm so I never got to be friends with the kid that was my age.  But today, I felt like I had found a “real” friend.   And I had.

Photo from Flickr