This is an excerpt I have taken and edited from a letter written in July. I thought perhaps those who are following this blog, and are reminded to pray for my brother and his family, would like some specific ways in which to pray. These are the things that weigh on him.

“This morning I sat down and wrote out a sort of life goals/business goals list. They say a goal is only a dream until you write it down. So here’s to the first step in giving it some substance. It needs refined, but I’ll give you the recap so you have something specific to pray for.

Life Goals
1) Reconcile with wife and children
2) Service/ministry for Christ
3) Successful business operation

Challenges
1) Legal – parole after prison
2) Spatial – MO and/or KS
3) Financial – operating capitol
4) Debts & Child Support
5) Vehicles & Equipment
6) Impact of Registration
7) Relational Void
8) Willingness

What I Can Do Now to Advance These Goals & Objectives
1) Maintain correspondence with family and friends
2) Network with others around me with construction backgrounds
3) Read books on leadership, personal development, business, and construction
4) Learn Spanish
5) Stay physically fit
6) Strive to capitolize on every advancement opportunity available
7) Help those around me that are in need physically and Spiritually
8) Spend consistent time in the Word and in prayer every day
9) Strive to be continually more Christlike in thoughts and actions
10) Memorize Scripture and share the Gospel

So that, in a nutshell, is the direction I intend to go and part of the formula to get there. Obviously nothing is set in stone and may very well change. If you can think of any other ideas to add to the list, let me know. It’s hard to know what doors might be open, and which maybe irrevocably slammed shut by the time I get out. But a man without a goal is very likely not to achieve it. So, as Uncle Brad (Snelling) would say, “Now we have a plan to deviate from.”

Let me know what you think. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time for revisions.”

Remember to pray for my brother and his family.

I just finished reading a book by Ted Kitchens called “After Shock – What to do When Leaders (and Others) Fail You”. Gary Smalley and John Trent also contributed. After my life experiences, my perception of what the content might be, based on the title, was rather inaccurate. My first thought was, “Interesting- must be written to those who sinned, and were ostracized rather than helped.”
In reality, it was actually about leaders in the Church who sinned themselves, thereby betraying the trust of those in their care. In spite of my initial impression, it was a really good book, dealing with how to Biblically handle confrontation, sin, repentance, Church discipline, and restoration.

I can personally attest to the necessity of educating Christians on these subjects. We all can agree that sin is sin, and that the Bible teaches that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”– that is, until society labels it. Apparently once that happens, it is beyond the scope of God’s atoning grace, and outside the realm of the Church.
Few would probably agree with that last statement on an intellectual level. But how many practice it? Why is it that Christian’s have such a stellar reputation for “shooting their wounded”?

My friend, who was a Baptist Pastor for some time, told me that his wife was so burned by the Church that she refuses to even listen to preachers on the radio– except for Ravi Zacharias. And she’s not even the criminal! I can, at least to some extent, identify. I was legally barred from my own Church, and ironically, all I listened to for a solid year was podcasts of Ravi every Sunday morning while my family went to Church. Kind of an odd similarity.

One of the quotes in “After Shock” that really jumped out at me was this:
“There is always only one sin that excludes from the fellowship of God’s people, and that is not the specific sin that first evokes our concern. It is rather the sinning brother’s unwillingness to hear the pleas and admonitions of his brethren, the sin of persisting on the sinful course and of refusing to come to repentance.”
-H.J.A. Boumon, “Biblical Presuppositions for Church Discipline”, Concordia Theological Monthly 30.

Kitchens goes on to say:
“What about a Christian who is repentant but continues to struggle with a certain sin? Frequently a Believer will repeat an offense. He wrestles within and exerts a great deal of energy to overcome the problem. He is usually repentant and filled with regret. He needs a place where every type of hurt and injury can find a bandage. The Church must be that place where continuous prayer support and balanced Biblical teaching and counseling are readily available.  If our goal is restoration and reconciliation, a quick fix mentality will only frustrate everyone. We are all in this together… and if necessary, for the long run. The repentant Christian who struggles with recurring sin is to be forgiven, loved, and nurtured as often as needed (Matt. 18:22).”

This actually reminds me of a conversation I had with a good friend half a dozen years or so ago over breakfast at the Halfway House Restaurant (“halfway house” now has a totally different connotation to me). He was telling me of a struggle one of his friends was having over homosexuality. My immature Christian psyche went into repulsive knee-jerk mode, as I somewhat flippantly responded that I was glad he was the one who had to deal with it rather than myslef– as I didn’t think I could handle that! He gently reminded me that it was a sin, just like any other sin, and could be repented of, to restore the brother. I was a real self-righteous jerk in my mentality toward that. I was very impressed with the perspective my friend had about the whole thing though. I had just enough maturity to recognize the admirable trait that he was excersizing in the pursuit of this straying brother. I remember thinking, “Wow, if I ever was caught up in sin, that is how I would want it approached.”

Fast forward a few years, and here I sit, penning this letter from prison. Pride goeth before a fall, I seem to recall hearing somewhere…
My friend was practicing Galatians 6:1-2 “Brothers, if someone is caught in sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

What is our goal in interacting with brothers and sisters in Christ who are in sin? Justice? Retribution? Self-preservation?

Author Ron Sider put it like this:
“If the goal of Church discipline is restoration and reconciliation, then the attitudes and language we use should reflect that goal. Language about “the accused”, “court”, “trial”, or “punishment” has no place whatsoever in Church discipline. If Jesus calls the person who is sinning a brother, then we dare not think of him as the accused.”

Obviously, this quote is directed at the corporate body of the Church, rather than in a one-on-one sense. It would seem to me that if that is to be our goal as a Church, then it must also be present in a more personal attitude first. It is pretty difficult to give what you do not have. Therefore we must learn and practice these principles personally, if we are to have any hope of practicing them corporately.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and although I probably didn’t grasp parts of it, I do believe it was of great benefit in helping me understand the healthy path to dealing with a sinning brother in Christ. It is my daily prayer that I will be given the strength to practice what I learn, and the wisdom to know how to best apply it. I pray that God will give me the grace to interact with those who have hurt me in a way that will bring glory to Him.

In closing, I will leave you with a Scripture I read today in my devotions:
Jude 24, 25 “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

The Transfer

7/20/17

Dear Sarah,
My last pen is almost out of ink, so please share this with our folks in case I can’t write again until next Tuesday. As you know, I made it to Farmington. Here is the story of getting here.

We were given a sack lunch with peanut butter sandwiches at 3:20a.m. Tuesday, and told to get ready to leave. We were herded down to Shipping & Receiving, stripped down naked and given an orange jumpsuit to wear during transport. Then we were chained up with our hands parallel across our stomachs, forearms parallel and about 6″ apart and chained around our stomachs. Not an easy position to hold, even without cuffs. Then our feet were cuffed together with a chain just long enough to navigate the steps onto the Transport. We loaded on the bus and were off to Jefferson City, which is the central shipping hub. Upon arrival, we were sorted by destination into 8′ x 20′ dog kennels to await the connecting transport, still fully shackled up. With 30 guys in there, it was shoulder to shoulder tight, standing for 4 hours. Then we boarded the next bus, whereupon we were given another peanut butter packed lunch with a tiny juice. All the while still shackled up. It was like some weird Chinese contortionist trick to eat any of it. Some older or larger men, simply could not manage it. We then dropped off a few guys at Potosi, and again switched busses at **Bonne Terre. 13 hours after leaving St. Joe, we finally made it to Farmington. I didn’t drink or pee for 16 hours straight. *Those who couldn’t wait just had to mess themselves. We had been forewarned in letters, so those of us from J-wing were prepared and hadn’t drank much the day before. We were shackled the whole trip, and most still bear the effects in swollen ankles and bruised/rubbed skin. It was miserable. I’m guessing I will get to make the trek again when Ray County writs me back for hearings. Yuck. It was quite an experience. Gives me a whole new paradigm of sub-human interaction. But at least it was all legal, therefore, just and right.
The first couple days, I was in a cell with my favorite guy from Diagnostics, but today they transferred me upstairs to room with a big black guy with dreads down to his waist. This is his third time in prison, and he’s younger than me. He was reading a novel called, “Prayed Up”, so I asked him if he was a Christian. He said no, but if he had to pick a religion it would be Christianity because he sure isn’t “no f-ing Muslim or nothing!” That was as good an invite as any, so I grabbed my Bible and shared the Gospel with him. I think he was pretty much to stunned to respond… but he didn’t shut me down on it. Haha. I would never have talked to this dude, if we weren’t bunking together. I figure if I’m going to be labeled as morally deficient for the rest of my life, at least I can be morally deficient for Christ.
Well I’m about out of ink, so that’s all for now.

Bye, Ben

*From later conversations, I learned that one of the men on transport with Ben was very sickly. He had a colostomy bag and was not permitted to ever empty it during that 13 hour haul.

**There was an execution planned at Bonne Terre when Ben’s bus went through. He said that there were all sorts of news reporters stationed around there. How sobering to be that close in proximity to a pending lethal injection.

God Glorified From Cass to Platte to Diagnostics

7/14/17
“We had a big group transfer into our wing earlier this week, and now everything around me is completely filled up. Last night I led our Bible Study on the first 11 verses of Philippians. It went really well. I really like that book. Then after lockdown, the guys around my bunk wanted to do a study too, so I joined them in 1 Corinthians. So in all, the entirety of my day was spent either preparing, or teaching a lesson.”

7/15/17
“I think I mentioned that we had a huge influx of guys transfer into our wing from County. Well, the strange part is thay all knew each other, and came from the same place. I invited my bunky to come to our Bible Study the first night, which I was teaching on Philippians. He didn’t end up coming, but started asking questions about the Bible later that night. We ended up doing a small Bible Study on Corinthians with the guys in the next bunk over after lock-down. A couple nights of this go on, and one of them mentions that they came in from Platte County. I asked him if he knew John* [the first cellmate in Cass]. He kind of has this confused, wide-eyed look for a second, then slowly says, “Yeah…” Then he tells the guy next bunk over that I know John from Cass County, and that guy jolts upright and says, “Ben? You’re THAT Ben? You’re from some good people, man!”
I went from not having anyone in the bunks around me for the last month to being completely surrounded by all these dudes from Platte, who are all aware of what you guys [my folks] have done for John. They are all in total awe that someone who wasn’t even related to John would come visit him, not to mention try to get him a Bible, and put some money on his books. It’s totally unheard of, and most people’s family doesn’t treat them that well.
These guys aren’t even sex offenders. They are primarily drug offenders. So you can be confident that the ripple effect of your Christian interaction with the unbelieving John, has already had a profound effect, broader than anyone could have imagined! The guy who you are sending the Bible to in here is part of that Platte group, but prior to them realizing the John connection. That passage that says, “They shall know you by your works” couldn’t be more evident. In this situation, the greatest, farthest reaching testimony of Christ, has been conveyed without question, through your interaction with a decisively anti-Christian John. As soon as these guys made the connection, they immediately recognized the fact that only God could have brought them here in the same wing as I. The improbability of that is staggering! Even being in Diagnostics at the same time is improbable, but then all the other wings had to be full for them to put a bunch of drug cases straight into J-wing, which is predominantly a sex offender wing. Then to have them all land precisely around my bunk, which is the only way that conversation was even likely to have occured, is also very unlikely, at best.
Is that not the craziest thing you’ve ever heard? Oh, and then on top of that, had I been pulled out for the Ray County hearing yesterday, we also would have missed the connection, because the moment there are beds available in other wings, these guys will transfer out of J-wing. No real criminal wants to be associated with J-wing.
As it is, I was able to share the Gospel with my bunky right away (actually before they realized the connection) and do a Bible Study with some of the others.
Anyway, that sequence of events practically blew my mind! This is certainly not the arena I would have ever chosen to serve God in, but it is so encouraging to see how effectively He has used me anyway. Connecting the dots in a most unlikely, and truly Divine fashion to spread witness of Himself… absolutely mind-boggling! I was so excited I could hardly think of anything else last night as I tried to go to sleep. Just one more illustration of God truly being “The Grand Weaver”, as Ravi put it.”

*not his real name

The Highlights Reel 6/20 – 7/4

6/20/17
“A new fella came in this afternoon, and is in the bunk next to me. He is originally from FL, and has only been in MO for 3 years. He’s just a kid (20), and scared out of his wits. He has a tough past as well, filled with drugs. Never had a job in his life. His parents were police and military, and ended up getting shot dead right in front of him and his two siblings. He didn’t give me any details, but said it had affected him the worst of the three of them. I can imagine that would be rather traumatizing!
Since coming to MO, he has only been out of prison for about 3 months… long enough to get his girlfriend pregnant, and now has a 6 month old daughter. He will probably be out by the end of the year. Claims he’s going to try to straighten his life out so he can be there for his daughter. I hope he does. He’s got a lot of life ahead of him to continue on this current path. His current trajectory has a lot more prison time in it.
I hope and pray to be transferred next week [from Diagnostics]! I really want to be out where there is fresh air for July! And with the 4th coming up, if I don’t move next week, it will probably be a few weeks before anything happens again.”

6/25/17
“I have a new guy in the bunk next to me that came in Friday. I think I may have already written some about him in one of the earlier dated letters. Anyhow, I was praying for an opportunity to talk to him about the Christian faith, and literally the next day, he was telling me about his wreck of a life, and mentioned that he really wished he had a Bible to read… that opened the door for a long conversation on the issue and I lent him my extra Bible to read. He showed me some of his favorite passages in Matthew and we had a productive visit.
I’m really hoping I get transferred this Tuesday. I have been here more than 70 days now, and would really like to be somewhere there’s fresh air by my birthday [July 3]. There are some guys I’ll miss from here, but hopefully some will end up in the same Camp as I. Either way, the inactivity is really starting to wear on me lately.”

6/29/17
“I am still in St. Joe… we have had 10 people transfer out this week, which has freed up some space. I’m guessing ti will be a couple more weeks yet, with the 4th being next week. I am contemplating buying myself a Honey Bun pastry off canteen Monday to celebrate my 32nd birthday with. I’m not really sure I want to celeberate it though.”

7/1/17
“I have spent all afternoon with Catholic buddy, Tim, preparing a joint Bible Study lesson on Matthew 26:26-35. It has been so fascinating to hear the Catholic perspective on the Eucharist! It is also quite interesting to note that the only two theological differences we seem to have are on Mary as the “queen of heaven”, and on the sacraments truly becoming Christ’s flesh and blood. Rather minor points in the big scheme of things. Anyohow, he is going to read my book by John Piper, Desiring God, and I’m going to read his book, Champions of the Rosary. It really is fascinating how similar our core beliefs are. Perhaps it is due to him not being much of an apologist of Catholicism, although he was devoutly raised in it. Visiting with him over our Bible’s has been the most interesting and beneficial thing I’ve been engaged in over the past few months! Excellent conversation!”

7/2/17
“I started The Grand Weaver today, and applaud Pavel’s choice of book. Not just because it’s Ravi Zacharias, which would on any topic be worth the read, but because this book seems to so specially address the current stage of my existence (or very nearly, lack thereof). I am not the only one here with that perception, as there are already two others in line to read it after me. While we all know the frozen in time feeling of our existence, we are also (at least philosophically) painfully aware that the world continues on without us. That our children continue to grow and develop in our absence. That our wives, girlfriends, and family will, in many ways, have moved on without us. It is simply the way of things. Time waits for no one.
Those few of us that have the resources, or friends and family that are willing to support them from the outside, (like Tim and I) are able to continue to learn and grow in spite of our circumstances. Bible’s, books, magazines, etc. And of course correspondence is huge! Whether through cards and letters or over the phone, those are very important to us. There are surprisingly few that have them. For many, it’s an illegal hustle just to get the things they need, like soap, tooth brush, and razors. And you can’t help everyone.
I think my mind is sort of in a state of shock trying to process that it’s really July. Apart from the numbers on the calendar, there’s no logical reason to believe I’m about to be 32. Never though I’d live to see it. Never had any idea that I would ever have such a good reason to not want to see it either. There is undoubtedly some good reason for it, for there were many excellent opportunities to be cancelled out long before now. I just pray that I will be faithfully prepared for whatever that purpose is when it comes. As well as hoping continually that part of that purpose will include being a father to my children again, in a not so distant future.
This has always been my favorite time of year with swimming, fishing, fireworks, and parties. And of course, it’s Cowboy Christmas [rodeo season] in a different life. Good memories. I hope you all have a happy 4th! Blow something up for me.”

7/4/17
“I am having an excellent time going through The Grand Weaver book from Pavel. It’s another one I had to slow down on and take some notes to keep it all straight in my head. It’s really great stuff! I am about halfway through, and about to hit my 8th page of notes!
Check this out: “When you sow a thought, you reap an act; when you sow an act, you reap conduct; when you sow conduct, you reap character; when you sow character you reap a destiny.”
Now think on that for a bit… think of something in your life and see how it fits into the above framework. Now, add this to your line of pondering: “The next time you think about the power of your will, think not just of the immediate choice, but all the compromises to which one ill-advised choice could lead.”
A quick shift of topic: a dumb gangster kid named Trian is undoubtedly my least favorite person in here. Every now and again, I’ve thrown in a decidedly half-hearted prayer for the opportunity to share the Christian faith with him, while pointedly avoiding any interaction with him. Kind of duplicitous, I know. As I was writing this letter, he came over to ask me about my books, and ultimately, asked if he could borrow that book on Blaise Pascal, which to my thinking appears to be the most boring book in my possession (I haven’t read it yet). A rather interesting development for one whom I generally consider to be my arch enemy in here… on a slightly different but similar topic, my Catholic buddy Tim (who has been jointly leading a Bible Study with me on Matthew 27) suggested that we see if some of the younger guys want to help us prepare the lessons. He asked a young black kid, who I really like, and the boy was thrilled at the opportunity! A gangster looking Latino kid named Nick was going to be my target, but I had never interacted with him outside the study. So rather than just ask him, I prayed and figured I would just come up with a way to broach the idea the next day. Well, that night (last night, July 3rd) he came over to my bunk to ask some questions about some points I had made in the lesson the day before. I answered his questions and asked if he would be interested in working on some future lessons with me. He was really excited about the idea, and told me he had been trying to figure out how to do this stuff so he could tell his wife about it when he got out. Crazy, huh? I told Tim that, and all he said was, “It’s the Holy Spirit, man!”
Pretty cool stuff. Not exactly how I imagined spending my birthday and the 4th, but it’s hard to imagine a much more encouraging sequence of events given the circumstances.”

…to be continued again!

The Highlights Reel 4/20 Through 6/16

This is a recap of “highlights” taken from the letters written home in the last 6 months since incarceration. There are so many experiences that have been had and so much opportunity to praise God because of them! I’ve been dying to share these stories/letter excerpts, because it is incredible to see what God is doing in these most trying of circumstances. I, personally, have learned that God is well-acquainted with prisons and prisoners and He reveals Himself to them too.

4/20/17 – St. Joseph Western Reception and Diagnostics
“After spending almost a week in PC (protective custody, in “the hole”: 24 hour lockdown in a concrete closet), I was released into general population two days ago to J-Wing. This is, I believe, my third day in J, and it is a lot better. Good folks in here for the most part. There is a daily Bible Study, led by a former history teacher, that has 8-10 of us in regular attendance. He does a good job, and his tendency toward a teahcer’s thoroughness, really shines in content and his ability to engage his students. He has a Baptist background, and even went to the same Church as Minnick’s for awhie, although he doesn’t know them.”
Another excerpt, different letter, same people: “We just finished our Bible Study tonight. It was on Titus. A history teacher leads the study, and does a great job. We have to be a bit careful in staging it though, because anything involving three people is considered an “organized activity” and as such is prohibited… unless it’s a card game. A couple weeks ago, a former preacher and an eight men study group got to spend ten days in the hole for it. Fortunately we have rows of bunks that we can meet under, that make it hard for camera’s to pick up on it. The other group was in an open bay, so no cover.”

4/24/17
4:37 p.m. – Lockdown
“As I sat here reading my Bible, a new guy in the next bed over (it’s an open-bay with 40 bunks) asked me what I was reading. I told him it was my Bible, which illicited a surprisingly positive commendation from another new guy, who is a black, gangster looking dude. The original guy asked me if I could pray for his 11 year old daughter who feels like his drug problem is all her fault. He was high on meth last time he saw them, and pretty much told them as much. Specifically, “that he didn’t care at all about them, (3 kids & pregnant wife) and that he only cared about meth”, and stormed out of the house. He said he only got a short distance before changing his mind, and tturning back to go apologize… he got picked up before he got back. This is his 5th drug charge, and a parole violation. He could be facing up to 8 years. He was in tears as he told me this, and I nearly am just in recounting his story.
This place is full of similar stories, and at times, the pain is palpable. I prayed for his little girl, and his family, right then and there. He was very thankful, but it’s hard to know how to encourage people in such dire circumstances. Please pray that I’ll have the words to help him. The only thing that comes to mind is Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is near those with a broken heart, and will save those of a contrite spirit.”

4/29/17
“A big dude next bunk over has been asking questions about God, and just asked me to show him how ask Jesus into his heart to save him! Please pray for him. He has much to overcome. It’s his 7th trip to the DOC.”

5/9/17
“My buddy, next bunk over, (the one who just accepted Christ) just came over to excitedly show me his wedding ring that his wife sent in. Prior to that, I was the only one in the block that had one. It is pretty fun to see how excited he is about everything right now. He was an absolute wreck when he came in. This is his 7th time in on drug, theft, assault on an officer, and parole violations. And he’s only a little older than I am. He had told his pregnant wife, and their 3 kids (11 years old and under) that he didn’t care about them and that meth was the only thing that mattered to him, just pior to being arrested this time around. He was sure they were going to leave him this time around. None of the rest of his family are Believers, but were eager to forgive him nonetheless, and are fully supporting him through it. He asked me if he should come totally clean with his wife and mom about his behavior (he had been cheating on his wife and stealing from his mom to support the drug habit). I told him we should pray about it, and he should do whatever the Lord laid on his heart to do… which was a bit of a cop out, as I really wasn’t sure it was a very wise thing to do at this particular point in time. That night, he spilled his guts on it all, and they both forgave him, and his wife told him that she was there for him, and they could work through it when he got out.
Pretty cool for that kind of grace and mercy to be shown from totally unchurched people!
He asked his wife if she would start taking the kids to Church, and she was excited about the prospect. Hopefully this is a turning point for their whole family!”

5/28/17
“In other news, we had a transvestite join our Bible Study tonight.. which was a bit different, but who am I to judge. God can save anyone from anything. We also have a second Bible Study group that has sort of eveolved in this wing, that is larger than the first. I’m not sure whether to chalk it up to God working, or just general boredom, but either way, the Gospel gains more exposure! So, either way, it’s a praise. There are undoubtedly a lot of folks in here who need Christ.”

6/6/17
“There does seem to be a fair amount of Christian guys in here, which is kind of neat. But then, as the saying goes, “There are no atheists in a foxhole”. I’m afraid this probably equates, to some extent, to that. Either way though, it also results in most being willing to at least discuss the Christin faith. So it does have some advantages.
I just finished teaching a short series on the book of Jonah. There are a few guys with Study Bibles in here, that makes it easier to do a bit more in-depth research, which is handy. I learned a few interesting things about that whole story. For one, I didn’t realize that Jonah was a prophet in Israel, prior to his calling to Nineveh. In 2 Kings, there appears another instance of his work as a prophet. Secondly, in light of his previous interaction with God, in his role as a prophet, he had no illusions as to the character of God with regards to His lovingkindness, patience, and mercy. Yet, he obviously didn’t understand God’s omnipresence, or unwavering resolve in accomplishing His purpose in the lives of men. Jonah certainly came to a functional understanding of those truths though, by his failed attempt to flee God’s calling.
The text doesn’t give us much personal information about Jonah’s life, apart from his attitude, and actions. We don’t know if he had a family, with wife and kids, or if he was just a nomadic prophet.
What we do know is that God sent him to preach to the Assyrian capitol of Nineveh, which was Israel’s main enemy. Not a thrilling mission field. Especially knowing that God had promised them desturction if they continued on in their sin. Seems like that would be a rather good thing, to have the nation of Israel’s enemy capitol destroyed by God, doesn’t it? But God obviously had a different plan in mind, and Jonah was His tool of choice. Though even in the end, Jonah wasn’t happy about it. He was so unhappy, that he wished God would let him die, rather than have to see Nineveh spared from destruction.
In many ways, I can relate to Jonah’s predicament. This is not a mission fied that I ever wanted to be in. I did everything I could to avoid it, yet here I am. Yet, unlike Jonah, and by God’s grace, I have been able to have a relatively good attitude about the whole thing. For that I am very thankful.
…ironically, sympathy has never been one of my natural strengths, but is being greatly developed through this process. Perhaps due to my failed marriage, and indefinite separation from my kids, I can acutely sympathize with those around me. Certainly not my preferred avenue for developing sympathy and empathy, but quite effective.
I am quite certain that I would not be of much help to those around me in here without those attributes. Who knows what may ultimately come of it, but I am perfectly happy to pursue whatever it is the Lord calls me to do. I have been blessed with a divine level of contentment, for which I am grateful.
Thank you for your prayers.”

…to be continued!

 

 

The Ray County, Missouri Jail

Ray County. My first overnight stint in a county jail came in late November of 2015. My attorney had arranged for a self-surrender with a bond hearing scheduled for the following day. He said my worst-case scenario was that the Judge woudn’t approve the 10% to the court bond reduction, and if that happened, I could just go through a bonding company and be out the next day either way. That didn’t sound so bad. Surely anyone could survive a few nights in a podunk county jail… even one that looks more like a cheap pole-barn than a jail. Right? No big deal.

So, my wife gave me the hour and a half ride up to this building that looks more like a discount mower repair shop than a county jail, and I gave her my money and kissed her goodbye. I wandered in and let the Officer’s know why I was there. They were rather confused about the whole thing. I’m guessing that self-surrender is not really the Ray County way.
Little did I know that my perception of life was about to change as I entered another world. A world that, as a 30 year old country kid, who had never been in trouble with the law in his life, had no idea even existed. It was like the rural county underground of society.

I must have missed the sign at the entrance that said, “Please leave your humanity at the door”. Your rights as a citizen of the United States disappear when a prosecutor files sex-offense charges against you. Much has been written on the integrity of our legal system when it comes to these charges, so I won’t spend much time  elaborating on the issue. Suffice it to say, “sex-offense” is a broad category that can constitute of a public urination, someone saying you inappropriately touched a child (or minor), or any sort of statutory accusation– no evidence needed. If someone says it happened, it’s a slam-dunk for the prosecution.
I am not claiming innocence. I am guilty of what I pled guilty to. But I truly believe that many are not guilty.

They booked me in (finger print, strip search, bend and cough, get dressed in prison oranges) and tell me to grab a mat which I see on the grimy concrete floor. That will be my bedding. It is very ratty with stuffing falling out. Then they gave me a little plastic bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, state soap, and a cup with a spork. Ray County only allows white undergarments, so I had no socks or underwear to wear with my new grungy canvas orange outfit. They led me back to a long hall lined with cells on one side to “A-Tank”.
I was appalled at the conditions of the place. I have seen dog kennels that were considerably more sanitary. The ceilings were low with regular barn metal screwed up and there were rusty cages covering the lights. The walls were of 1/8″ plate steel, causing the acoustics of the place to be like the inside of a grain bin. The concrete floor was really uneven, causing the ever-present moisture from the constantly leaking toilets to puddle at various  places on the floor. Rows of welded metal bunks lined the walls of a space that looked like the inside of a shipping container. The bottoms of all the plating was rusted out and constantly flaking chunks onto the floor. No windows. In about a 15′ x 12′ common area, sat a table bolted to the floor.
The place was absolutely appalling! If someone kept animals in a place like that, PETA would be filing lawsuits left and right.
The lighting was dim and unchanging 24/7. The shower was slick with mold and slime from the rusting metal surround that went about chest high on two sides. Quite a first impression, wouldn’t you say?
I did mention that it was winter at this time, right? It was absolutely freezing! We all wore our ratty, smelly blankets to keep warm– even for meals.

I made it through the first night, anxious to get to the hearing, and ready to bond out.
At the hearing, I found out that the arrangements my attorney had made with the prosecutor were not about to be honored by the assistant prosecutor. No deal on the bond– period. The assistant prosectuor actually ended up shoving my attorney in the courtroom! The last thing I heard on it is the bailiff talking to the city Police Department, asking them to come to the courthouse to handle the situation, as it was a conflict of interest for them to handle it, because it was their assistant prosecutor who made the assault! Bizarre!

Back to the lovely facility I go. The second night, someone got this great idea to pile toilet paper onto a guy and set it on fire! Welcome to Ray County Jail. Fortunately, I wasn’t either of those parties, and smoke was the only impact it had on me. I later got to be quite well-acquainted with both of those guys, as I spent the next six weeks waiting while the courts got the bond issue straightened out. We all participated together in a correspondence Bible Study on Philippians from my Auntie Sue. Auntie Sue still sends me devotionals every single day since I’ve been in prison.
I continued a correspondence Bible Study with those men in Ray County after I got out. About a year and a half later, one of them was let out on probation, got a violation [for using social media video game], and committed suicide. Very sad. I met with him once the week before he died. I knew he was having a hard time with not being allowed to see his family, but didn’t realize he was on the verge of throwing in the towel. His father called me one evening, about a week later, to let me know what happened.
Hopelessness is a very real thing. Even Ravi Zacharias tells, in his book “Walking East to West”, of his own suicide attempt several months after his conversion to Christianity.

The other gentleman in that aforementioned fire scenario is right here in Farmington with me. Just recently, I began sharing some of the devotional things that my Auntie Sue still writes and sends me, and told me that he still has the one’s we did together two years ago.
Auntie Sue, you definitely made and impression for Christ!

Psalm 142 were the words of my heart during that time, capturing with clarity the state of mind I was in.

With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
    with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him;
    I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit faints within me,
    you know my way!
In the path where I walk
    they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
    there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
    no one cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
    for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
    for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison,
    that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
    for you will deal bountifully with me.