Sunday, April 30, 2017
Blessings to you readers and friends, life is busy and my blog posts are few. But here goes.
I thought this title was pretty funny when a fellow employee shared it with me this week. It is true that this law and order state imprisons folks driving through with marijuana in their possession just to use not sell.
Met a Rastafarian dude from Massachusetts who met that fate, and their religion is rife with the ceremonial use of the substance.
Now that I am in my sixth month I am amazed as how many of the guys I know on the yard, their stories, their lifestyles, their personalities. Fully one third of our 2000 inmates are part of the religious turnout, and I talk to more each day for special issues with family emergencies and various types of interactions. I walk through visitation weekly to meet their girlfriends and parents and wives and children and I know how big a price these families all pay for our penal system and for crimes that harm people and property.
Now that I have been preaching for a month they are eager to share with someone who they know will not prejudge them and someone who treats them as human beings. As I work I find myself still believing strongly in the power of hope, faith, and the transformative message of the good news. The Christian worship is strong, and joyful, and they are serious about growing in the Lord.
I do wish Arizona had a more active leniency and parole board. So many of these men are healed, and high functioning and more than ready to return to family and the workforce. The sentences in AZ are all over the place and some are outrageously long for the crimes committed.
On the other hand I am reminded every single day of the devastation of drugs and alcohol and the power of addiction at which we are spending huge resources to help. I hear such frightening stories of how violent and cruel life on the edge of poverty caused by addiction really is. I can truly say that I am not wasting my time with these men, for so many have learned their lessons and are changed men.
On a family note, this work consumes 50 hrs a week with the commute, so Laura and I cherish our evenings and regular days off. Our decision to buy this beautifully comfortable home and fix it up for a profit is now on full burn as we plan one project as one is finished. I know this lifestyle is rewarding, but I also know that there will be a time to slow down, just not right now. Thankful for health, energy, exercise, and relatively healthy eating in spite of my own addiction to left and right Twix.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
An interesting occurrence this past week. I have been functioning as a Chaplain in our little microcosm of prison life called Red Rock Correctional Facility for four months. The men know who I am, and how I act and react. But they have never heard me preach or teach, until last week. I had the opportunity to share my testimony and some of the life themes I teach. I did this twice in both chapels to our fellowships.
Instantly, the men sensed a kinship of vision, hunger for authentic truth, and have begun to seek me out for counsel and open up about the struggles they face living the life of a prisoner. It is as if I have gained trust and opened door for transformational experiences. There are few places where the lifestyle and close connection to men can provide this level of interaction. They are living in that fenced and secure enclosure all the time. They follow a regimented life with few chances to be human and their spiritual lives come into a sharper focus in prison that is deeper than life with the demands of work, family and freedom.
Many sense the unique opportunity that the disappointment of a prison sentence has given them. The chance to face who they really are inside and to seek change and healing. They are also surrounded my men who continue in denial and live for drugs, alcohol and self destructive behaviors.
I look forward to seeing what happens as I stay available to those who want new life.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
I have grown weary of heresy hunters. The word is so serious that no one should consider themselves discerning enough to use it. When someone has a belief that differs from yours does that mean you can call them a heretic? Ridiculous! Sometimes people recommend a so called expert to put forth their warning. One attack upon the Book and Movie The Shack came from Charisma Magazine. Boy is that the Pot calling the Kettle Black. If I chose to play that game I would suggest that the people who love Charisma have chosen to follow some of the most corrupt religious hucksters any generation has ever produced. Heresy Hunters, O sure!!
I humbly suggest that we learn to have discussions about theological truth. I have spent 50 years as a serious lover of theology, a dedicated reader of all points of view, one who loved the allegorical freedom of authors like Lewis and Tolkien. Please open your minds, fearful ones. Stop being so sure that your own family of interpreters have spoken the last word. I say that to you proud Calvinists, and you odd lots of Charismatics, to your end timers and word of faithers.
Lets have some humility that someone may be onto something. Yes, I confess, I loved the Shack. I was in a needy and vulnerable place when I read it, in the hospital. And my studies have broadened my perspective on the theology of the Shack, but Young himself says we are to proud to leave position A, only to get stuck on position B, when we have not in fact seen all there is to see and understand about God and the Gospel. Forgive the rant, Facebook is not the place to raise issues of heresy folks. Be respectful.
Saturday, February 25, 2017
One of my favorite hiking path pictures which gives the hiker the choice of more than one path to take, just like life.
Almost a month between posts...not good, I will lose my audience that way. Anyhow, now that I am in the groove of my commute, work, sleep, play new weekly schedule I am trying not to lose the things I enjoyed doing, like this blog.
With more time at the prison I am encountering some of the dark side of prison life that I will spend a few moments commenting upon. I am told that all prisons develop a political life that consists of power brokers who intimidate by threats of violence, and often act as judge, jury and executioner when they encounter someone who violates their ideas of proper behavior. This would include any who compromised other criminals during their conviction, like turning in a drug dealer or cooperating with the police. They do not tolerate anyone whose crime was of a sexual nature against children. They insist on reading all inmate communications to make sure no one breaks up their government of intimidation. I find it discouraging and mystifying.
Nevertheless, so many in prison are trying to improve who they are, why they react the way they do and trying to be model prisoners during their incarceration.
They do their best to stay away from and above the politics, and I am there to find and encourage more of them to walk away from fear even when it enters their life in the form of this sick system of justice they have going. I am a month away from finishing my trial period, and getting some vacation time that is building up each week over in the real column from the potential column.
We are hoping to make a return visit to the Big Island of Hawaii since we enjoyed a week there in 2013. Thinking about scheduling it during the time when whales are in the area, something we have never done. I have been getting better health checkups since my first retirement and my heart seems to be working fine without the recurring problems that plagued me for a time. I am hopeful but realistic about the future, I just know that I am walking in the path I need to be in for this time in our early retirement life.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
As I start my third month at Red Rock, I finally made the switch from Mon-Fri work to being with the men on programs days, Saturday and Sunday. We have four services running at the same time on Saturday, for Xn, Spanish Speaking Xn, Jehovah's Witness, and Mormon. On Sundays we have Xn and Catholic services.
I have been working for several weeks to get ready for the opening of the new Chapel next weekend. Begging, borrowing, and donating items to get an empty room ready for worship experiences. We put up four bulletin boards and a white board, and hung a TV on the wall for songs. We have a jury rigged sound system for our praise band using two guitar amps and a boom box, all joined together with connecting cords.
The Xn worship services are maxed out, and the singing and serious listening are evident. I found the days without the activity of the classrooms to be quite pleasant, and I have had the opportunity to meet some families in the visitation room. This adds to my growing compassion for some of the men involved in our worship leadership.
With Laura working for a quarter, this commitment adds more to our time apart, but after one weekend I am sure I need to be there, and that my purpose for entering this type of ministry is being shown to me more clearly. Saturdays and Sundays the drive up and down the commute are much easier.
So my Thursdays and Fridays are my new weekend, I get a round of golf, two days of later rising, and date night with my best friend, Laura.
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.