Saturday, February 13, 2010

#24 Silver Shadows in Prison (RETRO)

Silver Shadows in Prison

“The society that removes faith from an inmate is a society that does not know God, nor can ever know him”

Strong words, huh?

Today I might be racing against nature, as we are expected to see some thunderstorms here today, so I wanted to do some blogging before that happens. This is “technically” my third blog today, because I posted a blog after midnight and then shared a retro blog about an hour ago. I feel like writing, so I wanted to put a few on the sites today.

Before I continue, don’t be afraid to email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com, or to make a NICE post. I think for every person that emails me, there are about 100 that read my stuff regularly, but might be afraid to email me.

I know I can cut loose sometimes, like my blog on prison support sites, but when I sit down to open my heart and mind, I want you to see that I am being as honest and as sincere as I can. I want you to understand that ex felons have a voice, and have credible opinions. Millions of guys and women have been through the prison system, yet how much is actually shared by these people. I wager that less than 1% of prison information about prisons are actually told by ex offenders. 99% are told by the prison officials, or some news writer, or Hollywood, or people who got second hand information.

Be careful when you read my blogs, my opinions are often rejected by the very people I try to write for.

Anyway, I was printing out some works for those who ordered my “Grades of Honor” books, and ran across a document I wrote called, “Silver Shadows in Prison”. It was one of many short documents I wrote offline for those with loved ones in prison.

This document was about finding hope while in prison. I used myself as an example, and I wanted to be as open as I dared with this. This was about finding faith, which is almost unheard of in prison. I mean think about it, society does not believe that any person in prison can have (or deserve) faith.

I talked in that document about the faith war I had within myself during my incarceration. I wanted to believe that God could help me, but at the same time, there were the thoughts that inmates don’t deserve anything.

You see, this is what society believes. We believe that once a person goes to prison, he ought to bust rocks and have bread and water. When something happens to him while he is in prison, we don’t care because it was probably deserved. And if he does happen to make it through his incarceration and returns to society, we stay away from him as if he has leprosy. And IF he manages to find some bit of success, we accuse that person of conning, of scamming people; that his efforts to prosper were unrighteous because he is after all, an ex felon.

Case in point the blog I wrote last night on PTO. As I said, I have no reason to condemn the owner for that situation because I was not involved in it. But some of the responses on that issue were extremely hateful against inmates in general. I said it once, I say it again, I do not support PTO under any circumstances, but I do know what it is like to be rejected simply because of my past.

And this does not start just when you leave prison, it starts in your head while you are in county jail…it did for me. You struggle to wonder what you are worth, and then you wonder if you must simply accept your fate or if it is slightly possible that God might be able to help you.

(That last part of the sentence went over your heads, didn’t it)

Folks, I can write 200 pages on the spiritual battle I went through in that single cell in county jail over those 17 months. When you are isolated to yourself for a long period of time, it is either going to draw you to seek God, or it will make you go insane.

I might have done both.

You’d have to read that 10-page document on “Silver Shadows in Prison” to fully understand what I am talking about, but I do want to comment a bit on finding faith while in prison.

For a lot of you, there is a struggle of concern for a loved one in prison, and you are probably lost to what you believe. Lots of people like to ask for prayer and quote scriptures, but let’s be honest, that won’t do a thing for you or your loved one in prison.

“How can you say that?”

Easy…I just did.

I mean, come on people, saying a scripture does not mean a hill of beans, nor getting 500 people in a prayer circle if there is no FAITH in it. You can have a whole church of people praying for a sick person, but if there is no faith, he won’t get better.

You can read the Bible 23 and one half hours a day for help and protection for your loved one in prison, but if there is no faith, then it is wasted time…not that I am saying reading the Bible is wasted, I’m saying YOU are wasting your time.

Sometime during my long months in that jail cell, I fought the idea of whether my wretched soul was worth God looking at. I mean, if you are in jail or prison, God does not care about you does He?

Be careful how you answer.

I know a little about faith, and oddly enough I did not learn it in church. The churches I went to growing up never really taught about faith, as if God never said anything about it. I learned about it while in college, watching a television ministry and later calling to ask for some of those books and magazines on faith.

I poured over it and listened to the tapes learning that God is more than just Someone over there on Pluto, watching us go through our trials. I mean, I felt that God was nowhere on planet Earth, because if He was, He’d be answering our prayers.

I told you guys before that I am not the greatest believer, but I did understand faith. It gave me a miracle so I could finish my senior season in college, so I KNOW it works. I KNOW God answers prayers.

But that was before I went to jail.

Now things were different because I had never been in any trouble in my life up until this point…I was, as we call it, a model citizen. Now I was not, and I felt that God would have nothing to do with me anymore, let alone hear my prayers.

I had nothing to hold on to in the roughest days of my life, and with that I felt that my life wasn’t worth living. I mean, what’s the point? God has abandoned me, I am in jail, I lost my dreams, there was nothing left to live for.

But somewhere deep inside me stirred the urge to find some faith. I mean, it worked before, maybe it can work again. So I started writing to any ministry that I could get an address to, and was receiving books, booklets, and magazines from several ministries. I poured over it and my Bible trying to find faith.

And while I was finding it, I was also faced with a real problem. What if it isn’t God’s will to save me? What if God wants me to go to prison? It wasn’t based on society’s view that all inmates are evil monsters, I knew that wasn’t true at all. But it was based on a thought I had:

I’m a pretty pleasant guy to be around, even if I do say so myself. I try to be as positive around people, and I have a nice sense of humor. I don’t curse at anyone for any reason and love a good conversation. What if God, in His wisdom, needed positive people in the prison system?

Listen to me on this: If God is love, and He loves all mankind, then in His eyes, the people in prison are no different from the people outside of prison. We might have strong views of people in prison, but God sees the hearts of all man, doesn’t He? Then He knows that there are a LOT of people in prison who needs help, just as much as those outside the prison walls. But who will give them help or aid if nobody wants to go to prison?

You ever think about that? Would YOU go to prison to do the Lord’s work? And NO I am not talking about just a prison ministry that goes there once every 2 weeks for a one hour service. That is admirable, very admirable, but if God is going to help those in prison, someone has to BE there more than one hour.

You’re not the only one that needs God you know.

Supposing God could see the hearts of those that could be positive influences to some guys in prison. Yes there are a lot of hardened criminals in prison, but there are also some good souls in there too. I don’t think God would abandon anyone who needs His help, even inmates.

Was it possible that I could do some of that in prison? Over the 17 months I had been in county jail, I did a heck of a lot of things for the inmates, especially some of the juveniles. You’d really have to ask me about that because there are some pretty remarkable stories that I can tell you of my time in county jail.

But what if God needed people to be a point of light in a dark place? If so, then it might mean that He wants me to be a light in a dark place…and prison is about as dark as it gets. Now understand, I am not placing a halo around my head, I am saying that God can move in ways none of us can understand, and often times we see it as foolish.

Yet if any of that was true, then God was then forcing me to abandon my prayers for help. I wanted to go home, but if I go to prison, doing things there like I did in county jail, I would be helping guys that need it. See, we think that the only people that can help inmates are those who never were found guilty of a crime…not so.

Sometimes the best help for guys in prison are those who understand them.

What if serving God meant going to prison to help others?

But what if my prayer to God was to grant me the opposite…and send me home?

How can it be God’s will for a person to go to prison?

But how then does God get help to guys in prison who need it?

I am not going to tell you how much time I spent on this debate. How can I possibly go to prison when nothing in my flesh wanted to go. Yet I know that God uses people to help people. When was the last time YOU got a rainbow descending from Heaven with the answer tied in a scroll with a golden thread tied to it?

Never happened to you either, huh?

God uses people to help people, and the thing we may never understand is that He does not look at what human beings look at. We like to judge people based on their past, the way they look, their race, their sex, their clothes and everything we can see. But we always seem to fail in looking at a person’s heart.

Because of that, most of society will never believe that an ex felon can have a righteous heart. We just won’t believe it. And even if an ex felon does 10 good deeds, he will always be judged on the 1 he did wrong long ago.

I was split on what I believed while in that cell, I just didn’t know what to do. If I saw someone hurting and they needed my help, wouldn’t it be a good thing to rush to that person’s aid…even at your own risk?

A kid in county jail had a birthday coming up and wanted to be home for Thanksgiving. I told him I would get him out, and BELIEVE ME, I had no reason to believe I would have the money. I had no money, except for what my mom put in my account every couple of weeks. He needed $150 to bond out. His birthday was coming and I figured that maybe if I just give up all canteen for a month or so, I could use the money to bond him out.

But money was tight and things were not looking good. Every time I saw that kid (who was 16) on the jail yard, I could tell he was excited about going home. He was excited because I told him I would bond him out, but as God as my witness, I had no resources to do it. I needed some help.

Was I wrong to care? No, not at all. He was a good kid, just got in trouble. I got to know him over a few months while in jail, and something just stirred in me to tell him that I would bond him out. And he trusted me on that.

Now I was trusting in God to help me, because I had no money.

I won’t tell you all the details of what happened, but it came down to the last few days. Through some incredible events, I was able to get the money, $150, and was able to use it to bond the kid out…on his birthday.

There were a few guys in jail that heard about what I did, and it was unheard of that a guy IN jail could bond another guy out. But it worked and my faith in God increased, as I understood that God cares about everyone.

I mean, think about it, it took nothing less than a miracle for me to bond that kid out, so if God cared enough about this juvenile to allow him to go home on his birthday and enjoy Thanksgiving with his family, then he MUST care about us all.

But it would have never happened unless someone got involved and applied that faith to get that kid out of jail. In this case, that person was me. And understand, I am no saint (although I am a SAINTS fan), but maybe to God, that didn’t matter. Maybe He saw something in me that I never saw.

I cannot tell you how much I struggled with these thoughts in jail, wondering if God had a plan for me, or whether He was leaving me to my “fate”. But I understand now that in order for God to help, He has to use someone as a vessel of compassion.

I mean, even now as I sit here, I am kinda amazed at how much I have written. I am not saying that I am the best prison writer on the internet, but I do think I have written more on prison issues than anyone out there. I have written several thousand pages on prison issues since I got out in 2001, and I am not even including the journals and letters I wrote while I was in prison.

It was never my plan or goal to ever write about prison when I got out, that was not even the slightest idea, but deep inside there was obviously a reason to. It’s weird because on the outside I feared going to prison, and wanted nothing but to go home, but deep inside, it was like there was a calm about it.

Even now I can see the differences. I mean, I am human too, and subject to things like you are. I get upset and “bear fangs” at issues that tick me off. I get upset when people on prison support sites gossip and cackle about stuff that most times has nothing to do with prison at all. I get upset when people praise a prison book written by someone who never visited a prison site much less made a post in their life, but when I try to talk about my books, I am a con artist.

I get embarrassed at times when I ask people to support my writings ONLY if they are convinced that what I am writing is good, because I don’t want people accusing me of running a scam. I get angry when members of a site make discouraging remarks on my posts for no other reason but to be contrary. I get discouraged when I write 100 pages of blogs for people who need the help, but don’t get enough comments or emails to encourage me to keep writing.

I have given up more than once.

But deep inside, there is something that picks me back up and says, “don’t give up, somebody appreciates your writing”. If I relied on my flesh, I would have given up long ago on prison writing and just say, “to hell with it, let them all stay in the dark”. But my heart knows that if I just keep hanging on, people will come in masses to read my works and find hope and faith for themselves and a loved one in prison.

I simply cannot give up on that. I cannot explain why, but it’s the same compassion that has led me to write over 6 pages of material today. You simply cannot give that much of yourself unless you cared, right? Anybody can write 1, 2 or 5 long posts or blogs about prison…but how about 500, or 600, or 700, each averaging about 3-4 pages long. Do the math and see how many pages that is, and you have an idea of what I have shared for those who are troubled with a loved one in prison.

And that’s just blogs…I have not added the posts I have written for over 20 different prison support sites, or emails answered or works written offline. Nobody writes that much if they didn’t care, and if the amount of care is indicated in how much written, then maybe I care far more than I can understand.

Or maybe, it’s just God working through me…it can happen you know, even for an ex felon.

So perhaps the Silver Shadow was love, or maybe it was peace. Maybe it was faith, but in either case, it did not reside in my head, it was in my heart. And maybe that is what God saw, because I certainly didn’t see it. Still, I didn’t have to SEE it to believe in it.

Which brings us back to faith….

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