#158 How did U make it through prison (retro)

April 25, 2010 at 8:44 pm Leave a comment

How did you make it through prison?

I get this question a lot, and it bears some thought, because we all know how hard it can be in such a very negative place like prison. Sure, a lot of you may have a job that is stressful and negative, but at the end of the work day you get to walk away from it. In prison it is constant.

Now that is not to ignore that inmates are in prison for a reason, but once you get past the idea that we all make mistakes, there comes the thought of how an individual can survive prison, and still come out with love in their heart.

And let’s not paint any halos around my head folks, I am no better than anybody, but I have been pressed by my heart to write what I could about prison, in some hope to help those of you with loved ones in prison. I have no idea how long I will write, as we cannot know the exact number of days we have. I have no plans of “checking out”, since I got a lot of dreams I’d like to accomplish…that cruise to those tropical islands is still on the list folks…

(smile)

But seriously, how did I make it through prison? I want to talk to you a bit about that if I may, as I am doing some late-night writing. It is about midnight as I start this, and I got a pot of coffee brewing for me. I have no idea how long this will be, but I will just blog out some thoughts on it.

In a way, this was the premise of my series of books, “Grades of Honor”. Each book was a part of my prison life, and I wanted to try to give you my eyes as to what prison looked like to a first time offender. So far I have only completed 3 books, I was kinda waiting for more support to get on the next ones, but that is another time.

But those books may well be a much lengthier explanation of what I have gone through, and how I was able to cope while in prison. Yet as I sit here looking back at the time I spent in prison, I see that there had to have been a lot more than just mere courage and hope that got me through. These were very, very depressing times that ripped at my soul in ways I cannot possibly expect you to understand. See, a lot of people join prison support groups talking about how “nobody knows my pain” as if you are the only one in the planet Earth that suffers.

Not true.

Try living the life of the condemned and see how deep that pain goes. Each place I went to throughout my sentence brought along new levels of challenge in stress, depression, guilt and failure. If I could not find a way to get through it, I would have easily given up on my life, and perhaps, ended it.

This was exactly what I was going through the first 17 months in jail. I want you to understand how far I had fallen: A college grad, making excellent grades, and graduating near the top of my class. Experience in writing for newspapers, working in radio, acting and had started my own mail order business. Everything was ONLY looking up, and I had no reason to see any negatives in my life. But now in jail, I came crashing down from grace, and all on the day before my birthday. I spent the next day in suicide watch, on my birthday, wondering if I will live much further.

For what it was worth, my life WAS over.

How did I get through it? How did I find a reason to live, looking at prison time? In the midst of failure, guilt, shame, sadness, suicidal thoughts, fear and every other negative feeling, something deep inside me encouraged me to pick up a Bible.

“Why? What’s that gonna do for a condemned guy”

I didn’t know, but I had no other choice. I didn’t think about it until I was moved to a group cell, and one of the inmates was bugging the officers for a Bible. I thought he was crazy, I mean, why would an inmate (as I was) need a Bible. God must be 400 Billion light years from us.

But it was something he said that caught me. This guy said that people think that inmates are forgotten of God, but he said he believed that if Judgment Day came tomorrow, there would be people in prison that would be caught up before regular people.

It didn’t make sense to me because I felt so terrible and down, but I needed something to hold on to. He was in the group cell for a few days, and when he left, either by making bond or moved to another cell, he gave me that little Bible. I spent the next few nights reading a few chapters to myself, looking for a reason to live.

It was then I ran across a Scripture in Revelations about the devil throwing some of us in prison ten days…

I had currently been in jail less than 10 days. Could I apply some faith to think God would hear me and get me out? It was at that point I decided to put a little faith to it. Maybe God would hear me…He has answered my prayers before, to be sure.

I waited in faith, thinking that maybe I was would be delivered after 10 days. I was in the cell on the 10th day, when I was called out. My heart jumped, because I wondered if this was it. Could God have answered my prayer? I was moved to a single cell and I sat alone in that room, thinking and hoping against hope that maybe sometime today they were gonna open my cell and say, “go on home”.

But the 10th day actually became the first day of over 16 months of me being in that single cell. By the beginning of that 11th day, I was broken. I had no reason to live, but too paralyzed to do anything but sit quietly. For many days there was a torture of my soul that I cannot really put in words, where I felt ripped apart and beyond help…so I thought.

But in the midst of that pain, something happened…I was introduced to faith again. I cannot remember exactly how, but somebody gave me a booklet on faith, and I read it several times. I was also given a small gold booklet titled, “The Promises of God”, and I read it like a starving child looking for a piece of bread. I needed something to give me reason, and hope, and at the time, I had none. Yet my faith-walk while incarcerated began with somebody giving me a booklet on faith.

From there over the many months, I wrote to many ministries for free booklets or magazines. Something deep inside of me was trying to get me out of the extreme disappointment I was in, and focused on having faith in God…but having faith for what? I was a doomed individual, there was no hope for me, and all circumstances had me guilty, even though I had three lawyers that knew me better than that.

What did it matter, my life was lost.

Yet something inside me would not let me give up. When my strength failed to support me, and I even attempted to kill myself, that same thing inside of me would not allow it. I don’t think you really understand what I say when I said I tried to kill myself.

I tried to KILL myself.

You understand?

I learned how to tie enough socks and towels together to create a noose, and I could tie it around the shower in my cell and use it to actually hang myself…and yes, I tried it. The first time was a test, but I had to make sure that if I do it, I cannot come back. I had to make it fool proof.

The first test worked, I knew I could do it. I was determined the next time that I would end this wretched life and nobody would care one way or the other. So a few nights later, I tried it, determined that it would be my last day on earth. And as I began to hang in that noose, quickly bringing me to unconsciousness, something stirred in me…

“Get out of that noose”

And whether I wanted to or not, I suddenly began to fight for my life, struggling to get out before I blacked out. I thought I made it “fool proof” so that I could not turn back, but now I found that I needed to. I fought against myself and was able to get out of the noose and fell to the cold floor of my cell. I cried because I had failed yet again… I could not even kill my miserable life.

But it seemed that I wasn’t supposed to die. Something was keeping me alive, even when I didn’t want to be. But it wasn’t the only time I tried to kill myself. A couple of times I saved enough pills to hopefully overdose, taking 20-30 pills at once, expecting to die overnight. Granted they were Tylenol and Advil, but it is still a drug. I fully expected to die, but the next day I woke up disappointed…not even any effects of taking so many pills.

On Christmas day I was so frustrated I tried again to commit suicide, not wanting to live anymore. Even with days and weeks reading the Bible, praying and learning about faith, there were days where things just fell apart…and Christmas was certainly one of those days. I was also very frustrated because I had used my money (and by a miracle, if you heard me talk about this story before), to bond a juvenile out on his birthday. But the kid never came to visit me, which got some of the guys in prison upset at him. Like one guy said, he had never seen anybody bond somebody ELSE out of jail before, that just wasn’t possible. But I did, but the juvenile never even came to visit me, and I was feeling betrayed. On Christmas I was beyond help, and again sought to end my miserable life.

But once again, I could not go through it, something deep inside would not let me go through it, and I fought to get out of the noose I made. Time and time again I felt broken, and had no reason to live. Even when I tried to do good deeds, there seemed to be a mockery that my life was worthless. I had nothing in my heart anymore but failure, yet why could I not just end my life?

That Christmas, feeling absolutely miserable, we were allowed to go out on the yard. As I went out, I felt that maybe I could try again tonight to end my life, but something strange happened. While outside with other inmates, a few of the inmates were greeting each other saying “Merry Christmas”. How can these guys have the ability to say this when we are all in jail?

But during that time I spent outside, there as an incredible blanket of peace that fell upon me, something I cannot describe, but something I had felt before. Months before while in that cell, the same juvenile I had gotten to know very well was moved from his cell and I felt like I lost my best friend. That day I cried in prayer, reading that “Promises of God”, reminding God of what He promised to those that believed. That same day, there was an incredible blanket of peace laid on me, and I knew that things were gonna be ok. The same feeling was what I felt that Christmas Day.

In spite of how I was failing in my faith, I was being preserved and taken care of, despite myself. It was like something inside of me was saying, “you’re going to get through this”, and seemed to support me when I most often fell apart.

Throughout all this, I did continue to read the Bible, read faith-based books, magazines and anything I could get a ministry to send to me. In a short time I had a nice collection of faith-based material and I spent a lot of time reading the words of God, and the promises, and what faith has to do with it all.

But it was not without severe tests, as I mentioned before. One day I had slipped back into fear and guilt, and was so frustrated that I took the Bible and slammed the spine of the Bible on the concrete floor, saying under my breath, “Where is God!”

In all my faith and hope, I was still subject to falling, and because I was still in jail, there was a great fear of what will happen to my life. Surely all circumstances had me going to prison perhaps for the rest of my life. Inside those many months there were times I was strong in faith, but there were times I was severely tested to the point of breaking.

One night I was so frustrated because I could not see anything changing in my life. I knew about faith, I knew God could answer prayer, but inside of a cell, I was often subject to the doubt and fears that seem to live in the walls of a jail cell. I was upset at myself, disappointed in myself, and angry because the juvenile I had prayed for and blessed by paying his bond was out there free, while I sit here rotting, with not even a visit from him. In fact, he actually visited another guy, and that guy told the juvenile he was very disappointed in him because I bonded him out and gave him his freedom, but he would not see me.

In frustration, I sat in that dark cell, rocking back and forth against the wall, saying in a whisper, “Where is God”? After all the pages of reading, the prayers and everything I did to hang in there with my faith, I had seemed to come to the realization that I knew absolutely nothing, and maybe nothing at all was ever gonna go right for me. Where was this God that I was believing in?

What I am about to tell you is very true, and I have no reason to lie to you. You can take it for what it’s worth or not, it does not matter to me. I know what happened in that cell….

I sat in that cell completely defeated, a guy that had so much to look for, with nothing at all. I rocked back and forth, slamming my back against the concrete of the wall, saying over and over and over again, “Where is God”. I cannot know how many times I said it, but trust me, it was quite numerous. I might have done it for well over a half an hour, and then something happened…

You hear how people say they “heard” a voice, but they always say it was not a voice, but something so strong inside of them that they could have mistaken it as a voice. I am aware of that because I “heard” such a “voice” while in college, when during the summer at a co-op job in Raleigh, I “heard” the words, “write for me”.

I could care less if you believe that or not, but I know that it was so dominant, yet not forceful, that I immediately stopped what I was doing and began to write a Christian poem. I had never “heard” something so calming, yet powerful in my life. But on that night in the jail cell, I heard it again.

In the midst of my frustration and depression, while I sat there rocking back and forth against the cold wall saying, “Where is God”, there was that “voice” that said something very simple…

“Be still”

Immediately, as if being scolded by my mother, I stopped and quickly got on my knees, buried my face to my mattress and said “I’m sorry”. I said it many times, knowing that I was out of line in what I was saying. I knew it, but in my depression and doubt, I could see nothing happening. I stayed on my knees for at least half an hour, face buried and saying “I’m sorry” in as sincere a way I could. It’s funny now because I was asking where God was…

He was in that room.

In light of my error, I made sure to ask God for forgiveness and I got back to developing my faith in Him. But here is something very odd that happened very soon afterwards:

I cannot remember if it was ONE day, or just a couple of days after that incident where I heard “Be still”, but very shortly after that night, I was sitting in my cell reading scriptures when I heard the officers bring a guy down the hall. The cells in the jail had a big steel door, with a trap door at the bottom and a small window at the top. I always liked my doors closed, for privacy, so I could not see anything outside in the hall.

As I was sitting there, one of the inmates in one of the other cells had his trap doors open, and I heard him call out in amazement the name of the guy he saw…

It was the very same juvenile I had bonded out.

I wasn’t sure if it was the same, maybe somebody with the same name, but my heart jumped when I heard it. The officers took this guy to the cell at the end of the hall, which is where the juvenile cells were…it could very well be him. But why? Why was he back in jail, after only being out about 2 months?

Immediately I thought about what may have happened. I sat there questioning where God was, and He told me to “Be still”. There is a verse that goes, “Be still and know that I am God”. But somehow, the situation changed in how I felt about that kid. I was so angry because he forgot about me, but with him back in jail, two things happened. One, God heard my voice and frustration, and perhaps defended my on this juvenile. His coming back to jail had to have been some form of justice for never even saying thank you for being bonded out of jail. I cannot say for sure on that, but that seems to be one reason.

The other proved itself in the months to come. That same kid who was at one time my only friend, the only one I could talk to and take my mind off jail, would become a big part of my incarceration numerous times. I was willing to forget all about him not visiting me and not even writing if I could just have somebody to talk to. He actually did come to visit me one time, but that was on the suggestion of one of the inmates who told him that he had better show some respect for a guy who gave what he had to bond him out. But on that visit he spent more time asking for money than really talking to me.

Yet here he was again, back in prison, and I now had somebody to call a friend again…it meant much more to me than what he had done before. There would be many days where we would get a chance to talk on the yard, and we would even pass letters of faith to one another…an impossibility unless the officers themselves were cool with it. I was even able to send canteen to him, and the officers were cool with it (not all, you had to know which ones were cool).

In retrospect, I see that God knew what I needed. I needed a friend, and I was breaking up because I felt that my friendship was abused. I am willing to believe God took that personally, because if a person helps somebody with faith from God, then God is going to honor that person who gave the blessing. I believe God saw my frustration and perhaps, saw that He could take care of two tasks by the juvenile coming back to jail. He was caught trespassing and was arrested again, which was why he was back in jail. But there are many, many stories I could tell about all that.

So, how did I make it through that? How was I able to not only survive my complete failure, but to find some space in my heart to possibly care for somebody I had never met before outside the jail? It certainly wasn’t my intention to be that way, but my heart encouraged me to move that way. There were many times while in jail that I helped other inmates, especially some of the juveniles. A lot of inmates who had a cell beside me liked talking with me and there seemed to be some comfort in it.

The amazing thing about all this is that nobody could have known that this person was trying to kill himself. Nobody ever knew, or had any idea. The way I carried myself when around others was completely different, something I learned from Drama class. I could play the actor when I had to, but when alone in my cell, the mask came off. I even was good enough to fool my mom.

Mom was doing miserable, as I knew she would be. But something deep inside of me would never, ever let mom see me feeling bad. Whenever she came to visit me, she never saw me discouraged. So much so that she said this to me:

“I don’t know how you do it, I am supposed to be coming here to encourage you, but I always seem to get encouragement FROM you.”

Mom never saw me break down, she never saw me cry or get worried. She never saw that in me. Nobody ever did. Whenever I had an officer of ranking officer visit my cell, I always tried to keep it positive and I never let on how terrible I felt. The only time was during the first shakedown in my cell. Two officers came in to search my cell, and they were joking by saying, “you ain’t trying to break out of here are you”, to which I said, “where would I go”?

My response was so empty that the two officers looked at each other as if almost feeling sorry for me. In truth I answered with the believe that I had nothing left, where was I going to go?

But outside of that, nobody ever saw me break down, and it had to have been that dwelling deep inside of me, that spirit that refused to let me fall. In the times I had given up on life, that same spirit was there to encourage me. That same spirit also gave me strength to stay positive when my mom needed me to be positive. That same spirit was the same that befriended numerous other inmates during my time in that jail, including many stories that I cannot share here for fear of going way too long on this.

That same spirit sat up with me late at night, helping me understand Scriptures and what God can do, and would do, for those who love Him. That same spirit gave me peace at some of the most turbulent times in that jail cell. That same spirit refused to allow me to destroy my body, when I had nothing left to live for. That same spirit kept reminding me to hang on to the promises of God, for the answers of those are “yes” and “amen”.

Before I was eventually sent to prison (in a miracle that bears another story), I in my frustration threw away all my journals from jail, and every faith-based book I had, including that little book, “the Promises of God”. I had felt that I had failed when I went to prison, only to learn that there was much, much more I would learn about myself and faith.

And on the last camp I was on, Dan River Prison Work Farm, months before I would be released, I met another inmate who saw how I studied the Bible to myself on my bunk, and he handed me a book…

“The Promises of God”

Small world, huh?

You ask me how I got through prison…there is your answer.

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Entry filed under: girlfriends with boyfriends in prison, God and prison, inmates, jail, LostVault, mothers with sons in prison, prison, prison abuse, prison blogs, prison books, prison cards, prison food, prison jobs, prison mail, prison pen pals, prison support sites, Prison Talk Online, Prisonbid, rehabilitation, son in prison.

#156 I dare you! (retro) #159 How can you keep him positive (retro)

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