Month: September 2016

Fights, Birthdays, and Tears at the Foot of the Cross

As I was heading up to the unit I greeted one of the officers and asked how his day was going. He gave an unenthusiastic “OK, but the shift just started.” I replied, “well at least the first few hours were quiet.” He told me there had been a couple of incidents already. As it turns out the incidents were in the unit I visit.

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Based on this I was expecting the unit to be on full lockdown with no visits. When I arrived there was no one out for program. I was surprised and grateful that they still let me do door-to-door visits tonight. I appreciate that the COs value my visits.

I met with guys in 9 different cells tonight.

The first guy I met with was having his 22nd birthday today.After talking for some time we both agreed to pray that the next 22 years would be smoother than the first 22 had been.

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I also spoke to the man who had requested peace in the courtroom between members of his family and the family members of his victim. There had been another court date and things were much calmer this time. There are still more court dates to come.

I’m talking to more guys who have been heroin users. He was raised by his grandmother because his own mother was a drug user and mostly lived on the streets. The last time he spoke to his mother it had not gone well. Another man was being sent to a residential treatment program. He’s on the waiting list and will remain in the jail until a space opens up.

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In addition to their own prayer requests for themselves, their families, and peace on the unit, some prayed for men who’ve recently been released – that they would stay sober and out of trouble.

One of the men was eager to share what he’d read in his devotional today. It was about what Jesus did on the cross and what it meant when Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” This man is not particularly weepy but he was moved to tears as he began to grasp what Jesus had done on his behalf.

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Sports Fans and a Get Well Card

It’s football season.

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Many of the guys in the maximum security unit are enthusiastic football fans. One man was proud of the fact that he’d been following his team faithfully for 20 years – including the year they only won two games. The guys who were out for rec. time were all watching the game on the TV in the unit. The guys are now getting 2 hours per day outside their cells. Those still in their cells were pressed up against the glass in the door to watch the game. One man told me how he felt fortunate in that he had the only cell in the unit where a person could see the television while sitting on a stool.

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Visiting on Monday nights during the game time limits the number of guys that I talk to. That’s OK since in means that those who do want a visit really want a visit.

In the past few blog posts I’ve mentioned a man who had been released a few months back and in recent weeks had fallen into a coma. The guys had been praying for him and this past week there was good news. When I entered the unit one of the guys calls out to me, “[name] woke up!” Once I was cleared I went over and talked to him. The man we had been praying for had awakened from the coma and was released from the hospital and is now home. Another man from the same neighborhood got a report from his mother. The man currently needs a cane to walk and has limited speech at this point, but this is a far better prognosis than they had last week. The guys in the unit are trying to figure out how to buy a Get Well card and have everyone in the unit sign it.

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Football and Get Well cards. The humanness of this all strikes me. Acts of violence, addiction, and trauma chip away at a person’s humanity. Jesus has come to redeem humanity.

John 6:48-51Living Bible

48-51 Yes, I am the Bread of Life! When your fathers in the wilderness ate bread from the skies, they all died. But the Bread from heaven gives eternal life to everyone who eats it. I am that Living Bread that came down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread shall live forever; this Bread is my flesh given to redeem humanity.”

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Sick and in Prison

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Think about the rituals you have when you get the stomach flu. Have you ever been ill and away from home? I recall the first time I got ill at college – yikes! How would your illness rituals be further disrupted if you were restricted to a jail cell?

As I looked through the portal of the door, the man inside was finishing another round of vomiting. He glanced up at me and said, “you came just in time.” He was serious. He’d been battling a stomach bug for a few days now. He gave me the details of his situation.

If I were in his place I would have been angry, grouchy, depressed, and without hope. He was glad to see me.

Father Greg Boyle calls us to “stand in awe of what these men have to carry rather than stand in judgment of how they carry it.”

Jesus said we would meet Him in the most unlikely circumstances.

Matthew 25:35-36

35 For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes; 36 naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison, and you visited me.’

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There was another fight in the maximum security unit, but rather than locking down even those who did not participate, the men are gradually getting a bit more time outside the cell. They are up to 2 hours per day that they can spend in the common area, or a multi-purpose room that has a few board games. About half of the unit was out when I did my rounds. Some of the men I met with in the common area, but most of the 10 men that I met with were in their cell.

I’m hearing about heroin more frequently than I had a few years ago. One man asked for prayer for his wife and child. His wife is trying to break her heroin addiction.

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Many of the guys have court dates coming up in the next two weeks. Some are hopeful of acquittal, some are hoping for a plea deal, others know they are facing some serious prison time.

I talked to several men who are nearing the end of their sentences. I asked about their re-entry plans. Housing can be a major barrier. Housing is scarce and expensive in this community. One man was hopeful that he could get his parole moved elsewhere within the state where he had family he could stay with and housing was more affordable. Lack of housing and lack of employment are two major obstacles for re-entry. I talk them through some of the resources that are available, but it is up to the men to use those support services.

I usually ask the guys what they have been reading. There are a number of Hollywood gossip magazines being passed around so the men are well versed in what various celebrity couples have been up to – at least according to the tabloids.

I spoke with a few of the guys about their friend who’d been released a few months back but was now in a coma. It’s challenging for them, and me, to have prayers of hope in disappointing circumstances.

I met with several men who were new to the unit. They each wanted a devotional to read. The only two I had left were in Spanish, but fortunately for these men they could read Spanish and were happy to have the devotional.

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I’ve been discussing with the COs about gradually returning to the Bible Study format. We will take things one step at a time.

Hebrews 13:3 (TLB)

Don’t forget about those in jail. Suffer with them as though you were there yourself. Share the sorrow of those being mistreated, for you know what they are going through.

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