Month: October 2016

I Remember You From Prison

The hunger strike that I mentioned last week ended peacefully. I won’t mention any further details since I strive to keep this blog free of information that identifies people or places. People that pray for me on a regular basis do have the details, and I appreciate their prayers.

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It was door-to-door visits again tonight. Fewer men are interested in visits at the door. For some men, if nothing has changed, then the weekly door visit with me is just a stark reminder of that fact. The men are also getting more time out of their cells so they are less starved for social interaction. I do chat with some of the guys that are out of their cells as well. There is broader interest in resuming the group Bible studies because they tend to be more stimulating socially, intellectually, and spiritually. I miss hearing from the guys.

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I have asked one of the COs (correctional officers) about resuming group meetings again. We will see what happens.

The first man I met with tonight was pretty excited about how God has been revealing Himself to him. He had been praying that God would speak to him. A few days later a friend sent him a letter. The man’s mother had died a few years ago. In his mother’s Bible the friend had found songs that his mother had written based on Bible verses. Many were based on the Psalms, and the man found them very uplifting and encouraging.

Another man briefly shared the details of his crime which were quite disturbing. Although the details are a matter of public record, I’ve asked some friend to pray that I could forget them.

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I had a longer discussion with a man who asked me to explain spiritual things, and the differences between the various religions and denominations. I asked the man what he believed.

Theological aside: One view of prevenient grace is that God speaks to us and calls us even before we believe. That is why I wanted to know what God had already revealed, and use that as a starting point, rather than getting into abstract theological perspectives.

He indicated he believed in God and that he believed in Jesus. He as concerned that it wasn’t possible to live a Christian life while he was in jail. I reminded him that some of the books of the Bible were written by people in jail. He was also concerned that he found parts of the Bible difficult to understand. He does have a devotional that seems to work better for him than just trying to read the Bible cover-to-cover. I indicated that it was OK to use study tools like that, and that God will work with him where he is at right now. We also talked about writing a journal to help him in his prayer life and to write down what he found important from his devotional studies.

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A new guy in the unit thought I looked familiar. It turns out we had met while he was in prison. A few years ago I did some volunteer work at some of the state prisons. I guess that is a milestone in that I’ve been doing this long enough someone finally said, “Hey, don’t I know you from the joint?”

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Before the Hunger Strike

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I was talking to the Catholic nun while we were waiting for count to clear. She meets with the guys in the maximum security unit on Wednesday afternoons. Some time ago she had been able to meet with the men in smaller groups, but lately she too has been limited to going door-to-door. She and I compared notes on the differences between door-to-door versus group activities.

The up-side of the door-to-door visits each man gets a chance to be prayed with, and the men will occasionally share prayer requests that they might not mention in a group setting. The down-side of the door-to-door visits is that there is only about 5 minutes of interaction so it isn’t as intellectually stimulating as a group Bible study. It has been 16 weeks since we last met as a group. I really do miss the insights that the guys offer when we have the group Bible studies.

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When I got to the unit I noticed a sheet at the COs desk that had “Hunger Strike” at the top. Last week one of the men had mentioned that they were planning to start a hunger strike. Apparently it will begin in earnest tomorrow, and the administration is aware of it since they were presented with a list of grievances/demands.

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When I got into the unit one of the COs announced for the men to turn on their lights for chaplain services. I was hopeful that we might resume group Bibles studies, but the other CO instructed me to go door-to-door. I met with about half a dozen men. Several voiced their disappointment that we didn’t get to meet as a group.

I met a few new people. Some had just come into the jail, another had come from a different unit.

One of the men had an update regarding one of the men who’d been released back in June and subsequently had been hospitalized after an overdose. The three other people he’d been with died from their overdoses, but he has recovered and has started back to work this week. It sounds like he is surrounding himself with people who will encourage him to stay clean.

I spoke with another man who is getting released in a month. When I asked about his re-entry plan he jokingly (?) said something to the effect of “wine, women, and weed.” If I see him come back in a few months I will know if he was serious.

I talked to another man who really misses his children who are 8 and 10 years old.

Another man wanted to pray for Christian who were suffering persecution around the world. We talked for a bit about the battle in Mosul, Iraq which had been under ISIS control.

A few talked about the hunger strike.

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Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness – Yom Kippur 5777

Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness – Yom Kippur 5777

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There is a town in Belgium called Geel (Hyale), with a remarkable 700 year old custom of compassion.

Its origin lies in a legend about a seventh century Irish princess named Dymphna.  When Dymphna’s mother died, her father went mad, insisting on marrying her.  Dymphna fled to the continent.  When he caught up to her in Geel, he beheaded her.  Dymphna was sainted, and pilgrims began visiting the site of her martyrdom in search of miraculous cures, especially for mental illness.

A church was built in 1349, and later, an annex to house the visitors.  Eventually, the townspeople began to welcome the mentally ill relatives of pilgrims into their homes as “boarders.”  For the townspeople, it was an act of charity to open up their homes.  “Boarders” stay with their hosts for long periods of time, as many as fifty, or even 80 years, becoming part of the family.

At…

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Door to Door, Man to Man

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I did door-to-door visits again in the maximum security unit. They also had a number of guys out for program, which means they can be out in the main area of the cell block, or a multi-purpose room which was being used for haircuts.

I met with 3 or 4 of the guys individually in the common area. One asked for prayer for his grandmother. While he was high he had trashed her house pretty badly which led to his arrest, and he was now concerned about her well-being. We also prayed for his father who is currently homeless and living with addictions.

A few of the guys wanted devotionals. I have the correctional officers (COs) check the booklets first. Occasionally the devotionals have metal staples which have to be removed before they can be given to the men.

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I spoke with a man who was very excited about the outcome of his case which we had prayed for. He was potentially looking at 2 and a half years. Instead he was sentenced to 60 days.

I want to make it clear that I never pray that someone’s sentenced will be reduced or that they be found innocent, or that charges be dropped. I pray that all involved with the case act with wisdom and integrity, and the God’s hand would be evident in the outcome.

Since this man is getting released in 60 days we talked about his re-entry strategy: where will he live, will he have transportation, employment options, etc. We also talk about other options in case the initial plans fall through.

Two of the cells on opposite ends of the cell block each had a sign:

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I am grateful that I was able to talk to the men in each of those cells.

I had previously mentioned a man who had requested peace in the courtroom between members of his family and the family members of his victim. The last few court dates have been much calmer.

One man’s father came from another state for his trial. The man was upset with his father because he too was involved in drug dealing and human trafficking. We talked about the power of forgiveness even when the other person hasn’t changed.

“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat…. Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established…. Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation…. Forgiveness does not excuse anything…. You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness….”

― Wm. Paul Young, The Shack