So, to paraphrase a Groucho Marks joke; there I was in prison, staring at a deer in my state issued greens. How he got in my greens I’ll never know!
A simple thing like walking from my dorm to the grievance department twice a day for work – we returned for lunch – afforded me some great outdoor time. While only about a quarter mile, it was outside and the view was great. It expanded over several fields, down a little valley and up the opposite hill to where you could even glimpse a bit of the super highway. I could smell the fresh cut hay of those farmer fields and, if lucky, see deer grazing as I slowly walked to work. I could hear and see birds of all kinds. It reminded me of my childhood growing up on a dairy farm in central New York. But then I would think of my father and what he would have thought knowing his son went to prison on a pornography charge and I have to think of something else.
I grew up on a dairy farm, working hard for a kid. But it really was enjoyable work for the most part. Even the shoveling of manure, cleaning the gutters in the barn wasn’t that bad. Only in the cold weather were things difficult when we tried to stay warm performing our work. The barn, with over 60 head of cattle, was actually warmer than our big old farmhouse. But the summer time made it all worth while.
When I now walk to and from work, I remember working in the field like the farmer presently was doing. Cutting, raking, baling and hauling the hay. That was then, this is now, and I had kept going through all those youthful times and progressed forward, so I now must do the same. One more step at a time toward getting out just as I had done one more thing at that time to get through, doing any number of things farmers do to get things accomplished and finished.
Another similarity I noted were the strict rules and their enforcement. It was just like my strict and authoritative father. His way or the highway, similar in both places. Unfortunately, I transferred the traits of my earthly father to the Heavenly Father I hardly knew and was more afraid of than drawn to. Only now since I have given myself to God have I learned more about Him and His unconditional love for me. Maybe that is why it seems so overwhelming, that anyone could love me despite what I have done. Growing up on that farm gave me a great work ethic and taught me the value of working for what you want. Regrettably, often as a kid and later as an adult, I tried to take short cuts and get the results I wanted without the regard for others, quite different from the family atmosphere in which I grew up. I often worked at circumventing the rules but now had to conform to them. Trying to reconcile all that has happened, all that I have done and the resulting consequences made it hard to see how my dad, or my Heavenly Father, could look favorably toward me. It is still especially difficult when visitors from that past come to visit.
As when my sister-in-law came to visit last week, another simple thing but a total surprise. And she came bearing gifts. My wife had told her how valuable certain things are in here and can be used to trade or barter for other things. Since real currency is difficult to come by and is only put in your account, not handled by the inmates, anything of value and negotiable was prized very dearly. Like cigarettes, flags (stamps) and even toilet paper, especially in the maximum security facilities I found out. I had recently learned to roll cigarettes, rollies as they were aptly called, to trade for food. I bought a pouch of tobacco from the commissary and proceeded to acquire whatever quality food I could by trading the rolled cigarettes. Fresh fruit, chicken or even the coveted coffee cake when they would serve it in the mess hall. Fresh vegetables or other healthy treats from guys packages was what I went for mostly. Oh yes, and those great little dixie cups of Bryne Dairy chocolate ice cream! It was amazing what guys would trade for a simple rollie. And real cigarettes were better. So when she brought me a whole case of Marlboro’s –Thank you Jesus!
Again I had the problem, though, of reconciling the past and present. How could she be so gracious to me after what I did to her sister? Why would she show such favor to a selfish egomaniac like me? Take time out of her busy schedule, drive over two hours and bring me a gift? Could I have done that if the situation was reversed? Is this the love of God showing through His people that all the Pastors in here were talking about? Wasn’t I supposed to do the same? When you begin not liking yourself, it seems it is often difficult to fully appreciate others and their kindness to you. I was certainly overwhelmed.
On the walk back to the dorm, carrying that brick of Marlboro’s, smelling the fresh cut hay, seeing God’s beauty and abundance all around, I could, for those few moments, cherish His love and the simple things that I felt even here inside corrections.