They Feared Exceedingly

Amusement parks, especially roller coaster and other fast, wild rides are built on the premise of:

FEAR – DEATH = FUN

 

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People like going to scary movies. There have been 12 Friday the 13th films, 10 Halloween films, and 9 Nightmare on Elm Street films.

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For some, perhaps many people, a rush of fear can help us feel truly alive.

Fear can help keep us safe and alive. Children learn early on not to touch open flames or a hot stove. Don’t play in traffic. Don’t try to hug a snarling dog.

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The English language has some nuanced meaning for the word “fear”. In some usages it means a healthy respect. I’m an electrical engineer by training. I can design circuits and systems. I understand the meanings of volt, amp, and watt. I have a healthy fear of electricity in that I know better than to grab onto a live 220V wire when I am standing knee-deep in water.

But fear can also be a liability.

One of the men in the study noted that all the jails and prisons he has been in had a common smell. It wasn’t that they all used the same industrial cleaning products. The scent comes from housing large groups of people who are depressed, angry, and afraid.

Ray Leonardini, Director of Prison Contemplative Fellowship, shares his own observations and experience teaching contemplative prayer in prisons:

People in prison commonly live with a sense of personal failure. Most prisons and jails foster, even amplify, this sense of failure by dehumanizing practices like constant herding and extreme over-crowding. Prisoners’ efforts to cope with these humiliations result in behaviors similar to those identified with veterans as PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder).

The violence in a war zone, like the threat of violence in a maximum-security prison, creates a chronic debilitating state of fight or flight for the individual. To simply cope, the prisoner develops the ability to avoid and numb feelings and represses intrusive memories. This leaves many of them with enormous anxiety and a deep sense of personal shame.

When their basic sense of personal worth is stifled in this way, the sufferers are driven to further extremes of self-loathing. As penal institutions perpetuate a culture of dehumanization, the symptoms of PTSD proliferate. Though they can be visible (angry outbursts, aggressive behavior), they also fester in secret (night terrors), buried in the deep crevices of the psyche.

Experts tell us that the deepest wound of PTSD is a “moral injury,” that is a wound to the soul, caused by participation in events that violate one’s most deeply held sense of right and wrong. The perpetrator or victim realizes how wrong it was. The irony, of course, is that this “disorder” is actually an appropriately normal response to an overwhelmingly abnormal situation.

For tonight’s study we read two versions of the same story:

Mark 4:35-41 (NKJV)

35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Luke 8:22-25 (NKJV)

22 Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out. 23 But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy. 24 And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!”

Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 But He said to them, “Where is your faith?”

And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!”

 

The men observed a few things:

The storm came even though Jesus was in the boat

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Some people think that if they start walking with Jesus then all of life’s struggles will fade away. But here we see that the storm still came. Furthermore, it seemed to the disciples that Jesus was unaware and/or didn’t care about the storm. What the men in the study concluded was that Jesus isn’t “storm repellent”. Storms will still come. But what they can do is look for Jesus in the storm. Some of them men were going to spend time asking God to show them where He was during the incidents that ultimately landed them in jail.

We feel fear and panic when we can’t control the event that surround us

They disciples were powerless over the storm. The men saw how fear was a significant component for some of the crimes that they had committed as they tried to assert control over people and events. And now the men feel fearful regarding their court trials. They cannot control the prosecution, the judge, the witnesses, or the jury.

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Jesus could handle their anger, doubt, and fear

In Mark the disciples didn’t ask for help. Instead they reacted with anger and doubt.

“Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

But Jesus didn’t chuck them over the side. You don’t need to hide your fear, anger, and doubt from God. You can be real an honest with God. The men also observed that the disciples still responded with fear and doubt even after this incident. In fact, even after the storm was calmed and Jesus encouraged them to respond with faith, they instead responded with more fear.

But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly

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One of the men recalled how multiple times Peter denied knowing Jesus after He had been arrested. Learning to respond with faith rather than fear is a process that will take time, and setbacks are expected. God seems to be in this for the long haul, walking alongside us and encouraging us to exchange our fear for faith.

 

The men lifted up their prayer requests and we closed by singing Amazing Grace.

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Stone City Blog Has Changed Its Name To “INMATE BLOGGER”

Stone City Blog Has Changed Its Name To “INMATE BLOGGER”

Views from inside the walls

Inmate Blogger

Hi Everyone!

We want you all to know that we’ve recently changed our site’s name from Stone City Blog to Inmate Blogger. We have all the same content, but with a fresh new look.

This site is a collection of blogs written by inmates. It serves as a platform which allows them to share their individual stories, opinions, talents, and their inner thoughts. You can lock up a man, but you can’t lock up their mind. We support, understand, and believe that writing can be a great source of rehabilitation, growth, and healing.

Please share our new name with your friends and family:  inmateblogger.com

Be sure to LIKE us on Facebook!

Thank you.

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Rebuilding Bridges With The Spirit of Love

A view from the inside. Some of the struggles are so different from those on the outside.

Steven D. Jennings

For a while there, my wife and I were at odds with each other. As a result, our blogging stopped.

I take full responsibility for all that. I had my priorities all mixed up. I was more focused on being a millionaire than I was on our own marriage.

I allowed Suzie’s emotional ”love cup” to run dry. As she cried out for help, I ignored her cries and piled more work on her. There were many times when I wasn’t kind or understanding. I saw things from my perspective only!

I went back and read one of my previous posts called, The Bad Husband. And that’s when I got a glimpse of myself and how I’d been treating my wife, the woman I love. I felt ashamed. I was being the EXACT type of guy that I said I’d never be!

After much prayer and meditation, the answer came to me. And…

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Ending One Chapter, Beginning Another

The jail where I volunteer as a chaplain is on a multi-year remodeling project for their facilities. I’d been told that someday I may go up to the unit and find that no one is there.

Today was that day.

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I also knew that it was coming because past few weeks I’d noticed that only about half of the cells in the unit were populated. The head chaplain will find out what unit the guys have been transferred to and I will start serving the men in that unit as best I can.

Transitions like this are a proper time to reflect on the joys and sorrows of standing with those at the margins of society:

“Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate,’ means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.”
― Gregory J. BoyleTattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

I look forward to what will emerge as I start serving in a different unit of the jail as I see this scripture unfold in the lives of the men:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation—“
Colossians 1:21-22 (NIV)

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First Time Hearing the Parable

The last few times I’ve been to the jail they were on lockdown. Lockdown means no visits, no programming.

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Fortunately, I was able to get in tonight. I guess I am one of the few, rare people who is happy about getting into jail.

I met with “F” again tonight. I mentioned him in Priors. He is counting the days (16) until he is released. We discussed his re-entry plan – where will he go when he first gets out, who will pick him up, where will he stay until he finds more permanent housing, etc.

He knows that he wants to avoid returning to his old neighborhood and friends. He has already seen that that has turned out from the last few times he was released. He says it is time for him to grow up and start acting like an adult instead of an adolescent always looking for a good time. He wants to find a legal way to support himself and his family.

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He would like to connect with his son again, but he recognizes that he has burned a lot of bridges with the boy’s mother. It may take time and a demonstration of responsibility for that relationship to get healed.

For the study “F” and I read the parable of the lost sheep. I’ve written about that study before in What Will You Leave Behind? After we went through the study I asked “F” if he had ever heard the story before.

He had not.

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For those like me who were raised in the church and heard the story since childhood, there is something powerful and refreshing to watch and listen to an adult who is reading and hearing this story for the first time. What “F” saw was something both startling and familiar.

The startling thing is God seeking out, not the one who has it all together and looks good, but rather God seeks the one who has wandered away, who is in danger, the one whose life is in disarray.

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The familiar thing is how God, like a mother, if she had lost her child at the mall, would look relentlessly until her child was found. Nothing less than finding her child would bring consolation.

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The imagery of the Shepherd carrying the lamb back was comforting to “F”.  It meant we were not abandoned to our own devices to try and find our way back. The Shepherd would carry us and care for us.

Stay close to the Shepherd, and let Him at times carry us.

Will we fight the Shepherd, or find rest on the shoulders of the Shepherd?

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Respect and Directions

I often walk through the area of the jail where they bring in new inmates. One evening as I passed through the intake area a man inside one of the processing cells was shouting a loud, long stream of profanities.

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Standing outside the cell there were five slightly out of breath COs (correctional officers). They had obviously just put a man in the cell a few minutes earlier.

During the occasional breaks in the man’s foul-mouthed diatribe one of the COs, Officer M, would explain to the man that, once he calmed himself down, they would transport him to his new unit. It could be in a few minutes, or they could wait all night. It was up to the man and when he had regained his self-control.

What struck me about this was that Officer M was saying all of this in a calm and respectful manner. He was not being patronizing. He was relaying information that this man needed.

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Later that evening I again walked through the intake area. The man was still in the cell, but he had finally calmed down. Officer M was respectfully explaining in greater detail what the man needed to do. He was doing it in much the same manner that someone might give directions to a traveler who was lost and needed directions to get back to the main highway. Officer M was treating this man with dignity and respect. He was giving the man directions he needed to continue with this part of life’s journey.

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Officer M has been doing this job for a long time. He is just a few years away from retirement. I’ve overheard him speaking with other inmates. He frequently will say “sir” when he addresses them.

  • Sir, would you please face the wall.
  • Sir, I need you to face the wall now!

Even as he is commanding, he is still respectful. He doesn’t get caught up in other people’s drama. He treats people with dignity and respect, even when those people are being disrespectful and out of control.

In Romans Paul reminds us that when we were out of control, Christ treated us with honor and respect by offering himself up for us.

Romans 5:6-8 The Message (MSG)

6-8 Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

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Priors

 

pri·or1
ˈprī(ə)r/
noun NORTH AMERICAN informal
plural noun: priors
a previous criminal conviction.
"he had no juvenile record, no priors"

I met with “F” tonight. He is new to the unit. Apparently, his trial went quickly since he said he is due for release in 60 days.

This is not his first time through. Middle-aged, he said he is an example of the revolving door of the system.

He has priors.

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Chasing his addiction brings him back each time. He is getting weary and is searching for a way to break the cycle.

He said he’s had little exposure to church, or the Bible. But he has seen others break their cycle of addiction when they began following God. He wants to know more.

We discussed his release plan: what he was going to do for shelter, food, clothing, transportation. Things that many of us take for granted can become a major stumbling block. There are resources, but it still takes some planning. Guys without a plan and a support system can end up getting quickly re-arrested.

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For our study we looked at how God dealt with other people who had priors. I gave “F” some context for what we were reading. In our scripture God was speaking to people who had a history of messing up and ignoring God’s instructions. Now they were serving 70 years in captivity.

Jeremiah 29:11-14a (NKJV)

11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity;

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What are God’s thoughts towards those with priors, who are serving time now? Thoughts of peace and not evil. Consider the contrast for a person behind the walls where there is violence and evil plotting.

to give you: not earned, but a gift of grace.

a future: this is in stark contrast to the prospect of a life with no future

a hope: many things are in short supply behind the walls. At times hope can be the most rare

Even as the people are serving their sentence God isn’t plotting revenge. He isn’t pointing the boney finger of judgement. God has hope for a future even when the people were without hope.

So, what is the road back? How is the cycle of the revolving door broken?

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Then you will call upon Me: Even before the prayer there is a call. God is already listening and waiting for the call.

and go and pray to Me: It is a safe place to pour your heart out to God. It is a safe place to ask for what you need.

and I will listen to you: The most influential relationship we have are with people who listen to us. God doesn’t immediately start telling us what to do. He listens. He wants relationship. It isn’t about fixing us, it is about Him being in relationship with us, and we with Him.

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when you search for Me with all your heart: The addict knows what it is like to search for something with all his heart – when nothing else matters.

you will seek Me and find Me: Seeking implies that there is a journey, there is a process. It isn’t just a flash of light and all is suddenly better. God isn’t found as a destination. God is found in the seeking.

I will be found by you, says the Lord:God is actively seeking and searching for us. He isn’t just waiting passively. We do the seeking, but God does the finding.

I will bring you back from your captivity:This is a recognition of the things that have held us captive. It isn’t just incarceration. It can be in addictions, in unforgiveness, in all the things that have ensnared us.

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