Monday, January 16, 2017
Six weeks gone in my new life. I feel like I fit there. Prison life is living according to schedules, chow starts early, the six units take turns with the four recreation yards, including two ballfields to walk or run around. Over 60 percent of the men have jobs that keep the place running smoothly and every walk and floor clean as a whistle. Two half day classes in the program, weekly worship gatherings for each group, two non denominational services, one on Saturday, one on Sunday. Two counts during the day at 10:30 and 3:00, dinner in each unit is delivered instead of the chow hall, some rec. time at night but lights out at 10:30 and Beds made by 7:30. They have lots of reading time, lots of thinking time. Bible Studies in the units at night, some led by volunteers, some by prisoners, no prisoners are allowed to preach, one very gifted inmate leads the yoga class, the Narcotics Anonymous Group, and the small Buddhist gathering. He is writing a book on lowering stress in prison settings. ASU is going to print it. He has a future outside.
I respond to phone calls about helping inmates, answer inmate letters, have an open door policy for short questions and visits, lots of paper work and emails back and forth, constant monitoring of the communication devices for signs of problems. Several lock downs a week when someone starts trouble or something goes missing. The officers run a tight ship, its very professional. Three shifts go 24 hours a day obviously unlike us in education and programs who keep daytime hours. I have eaten prison food three times, not great, but I have had worse at times.
So far one of the most interesting observations came to me from the head of Chaplains in Nashville. He said the primary character problem on inmates is arrested adolescence, they never grow up beyond instant gratification, selfish behavior, and blaming all their problems on others. This helps me to see when a man is ready to get his life together. When they are, then the time in this place can really be correctional. Drugs and broken homes, and gangs, all gang up to send the career offenders back again and again.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
My love at first sight romance celebrates 42 years next week. Who Knew!! Last night we ate Mexican and I had a Taco Salad, after which I began to enjoy the crispy bowl, during which my wife said, "you probably should not eat all the crust", at which I reminded her that she has been saying than for 42 plus years and I have never yet really obeyed her request. I paid for the Taco Salad, and I am eating all the Taco Salad, that's just the way I roll.
No, that's not me in the backgroud!!
Saturday, January 7, 2017
I have finished one month working in my new environment. On December 31st there was an accident on the road to the prison in an early morning fog. One female officer hit another with her car. He was on a small Scooter Bike. It was ruled accidental as she could not see his taillights and he was not going the speed limit. Two weeks before this young man had been awarded Employee of the Year. He never regained consciousness and bled out in the emergency room.
These are the tragedies that create families. The sadness and shock, the offering of comfort and counsel, the planning of the memorial service. I met the man once, we talked about the Bible and his living proofs of hell bound sinners. I liked him, and looked forward to working alongside him....not to be. Whatever happens after death is now his experience. We mourned together, and went back to work. So many people are uncomfortable around Chaplains, but they need us, and our perspective, and our gentle reminders that all flesh are like grass that wither away. I wept with them.
In corrections, the officers must have each others backs. We have red buttons on our walkie talkies that signal "man down", and everyone drops everything to go to his or her aid. On the day of the memorial, four times during inmate count, they called his number, waited, called again, waited, announced "man down", the end of his watch, and a rest in peace. We all wept.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Each new experience I enter into, no matter how late in life, adds to my understanding and appreciation of humanity in all her complexity.
This week I shared a room with a misfit gang of Muslims worshippers, led by a volunteer chaplain, in their worship routines. Later this leader shared his own conversion from Roman Catholicism to embrace his ethnic roots and the Muslim faith. He teaches peace and rejects the violence of the modern terrorists, and understand how hard it is for us outside his faith tradition to be trusting.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
So, with a retirement budget, although we bought a resort to enjoy, and we are, we also cut back on what felt like outrageous expenses, like Dish Network. It was up to more that 140 a month without any movie channels.
So we bought the new cool flat panel antennas that bring in over 30 HD channels, and another 30 plus from Sling TV. Over the last seven months of retirement we found ourselves watching less and enjoying everyday life of reading and talking more. We have to make an effort to switch to the internet channels and decide if we want to watch a movie or something special on HDTV.
Bottom line, I am less hooked on Channel surfing and even sports than ever before. I feel free.
With a pool and the very hot summer we were kind of stunned at our electricity bills this summer, so this fall and winter we are cutting back by allowing the house to chill down, using a small heater to warm up the bathroom, lots of covers for sleeping, and maybe a half hour when we are home cutting the chill off the home. Our bills are now really low and we get such a kick pretending we are being real tough.
Now that we are both back at work, we have no plans to return to those expense, but will enjoy saving for special dining experiences and really splurge filled vacations.
If you come visit we promise not to make you suffer with us.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
I am not free to share what goes on in my new ministry. Suffice it to say that each day is very interesting and full of unexpected conversations and routines to be learned.
The role of a Chaplain is unique in this setting in that so many people value the role you play, and respect you even if they have no interest in spiritual things.
Like my former life, I am working on Christmas again when Christmas hits of Sunday.
Speaking of that, I still remember the solemn Sunday Christmas when we heard about the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 that took so many lives in a manner of hours. I was so affected by the video captures of so many vacations that turned into nightmares in a moment. In a way it set me off on a deeper search into the meaning of suffering in human life.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
I have completed my orientation and begin my new work tomorrow. I am now an employee of CoreCivic, serving as the second full time Chaplain at the Red Rock Correctional Center in Eloy.
CoreCivic is a private Corporation that runs a 2000 man Correctional Facility 40 miles south of Sun Lakes, a lovely quiet drive that is not hard to make twice a day at all for a person motivated to work. They have facilities in 11 states and are the largest private rehabilitation company in the country formerly names Corrections Corporation of American, now CoreCivic to reflect a large move into leasing facilities back to states and running many new re-entry homes for those freed to return to the outside world.
I am on the Program staff and we have our own building that looks a lot like your High School Corridor with Classrooms, Computer training Room and Library. I am in the Chapel with a nice corner office where all the Religious Services and Bible Studies are held.
Next door I have teachers with strong Christian faith helping the men get their GEDs and for all, get an Arizona academic equivalency in English, Math and general studies. I will organize the various services run each week, respond to requests for Christian materials and provide counseling in my chapel and in the various housing pods. Next week I work with the present Chaplain before he moves to a new office and chapel in the expansion of the facility. He has been at it a while and will show me all I need to learn. I am also surrounded with lots of friendly, eager young men and women thankful for well paying jobs in Corrections, and a great seasoned staff that is like a big family.
The Private prison provides a place far more humane that most State run facilities, with AC and a staff well trained in keeping everyone safe while they pay for the crimes they committed with time.
I will not sugar coat the fact that some of the inmates have serious problems and violent pasts. My job begins with treating each of them with dignity and representing the Lord in my day to day movement throughout the facility, in the visitation rooms with families, and times when I bear hard news to those inside about something that has happened in their families.
There is also training in gardening, electrical work, construction, to give these younger offenders a chance for a better future. Years ago I took Prison Fellowship training and helped in a similar prison in Florence and always felt an interest in this type of work. Grateful that there is no age discrimination in this workplace that that they recognized my skills in relating to people and promoting personal faith in a tough place.
Laura is getting very busy as a sought after substitute and next week will teach full time for a quarter for a maternity leave. Our alarm clock is back in business.
I feel good about this decision and pray my health and strength will be adequate for the tasks ahead. The Company gives a very generous paid time off policy with each month you gain days of vacation, so maybe another trip to the Big Island will be in store for next summer or fall.