TRAIN, NOT TRY

How exactly DO you change your thoughts to align with our Maker and trust Him exclusively? How DOES one acknowledge HIM in all ways in everyday terms? This is my challenge, and I have the time now to practice and train to get it right.

First of all, I know I have to train to do this as it is not something that comes naturally to me. After all, we are all sinners and want to be our own god, lord over our own lives. I cannot just try to do well, as to me that implies I attempt something, give it a shot, but try gives me an out if I might fail. It is so weak a word, has so many variables to the outcome that I know I must do better. If I train, then I know I can improve. It’s just like any sport I have participated in, practice makes progress as my wife liked to say. If you want to get better at any aspect of basketball, say, you practice it and train with the proper coaching to achieve success. You don’t try to get better, you train. Olympic athletes don’t just try to win a gold medal, they train. Doctors, lawyers anyone wanting to do a better job at anything must train in their various fields to improve, not merely try.

Also, with training, the idea of failure is viewed differently. Every time you do not reach your goal – don’t win the game, fail to medal in the Olympics, not save the person from drowning, whatever – you learn something that will serve you next time. When I only try and don’t succeed, the most common next step is to give up and do something else. Thank goodness Alexander Graham Bell did not simply try to make the telephone but trained so his mistakes would propel him further along the creative path to finally have success. Ditto Thomas Edison, who said “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.”

So it is with following the Lord with all my heart. I cannot do it halfheartedly as I did before on the outside. I need to let Him be in control, then train to trust Him with my decision making. And how, pray tell do I do that? Exactly. Pray. The Bible tells us this life giving Spirit first gives life to our spirit (Romans 8 v10). Then from our spirit He spreads the divine life into our soul to transform us. This is why I go to all the Bible studies and read scripture on my own, to be transformed into that better being. I am training in each study, each service, not simply trying, just as if there is a prize at the end, which actually there is I believe: eternal life in Heaven with The Father.

As with any endeavor of training, it is a process, not an end. So I continue to train to be a better follower of Christ, to be more like Him. It seems I am often better at failing than at succeeding, but that is because the bar is now set so high. My thoughts are in need of control – take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”, says 2 Corinthians 10 v5. So obviously I have a great deal of work to do! As described in the book of Acts, I am equipped to do just that if I get out of the way and let Christ work in my life through His advocate, the Holy Spirit, which is given to us when we give our lives over to Him. What a blessing to have Him there whenever I need Him, and even when I don’t. So I find myself in constant training to make the necessary inside corrections and transform my life while inside corrections. It seems rather simple in a way but proves difficult often because of one’s surroundings.

In the program, one of the rules is no pornography. It is a simple rule that makes good sense since this is an intensive sex offender program, where other people, usually females but not always, are viewed as objects and not people. I have no problem following that and the other rules of the ISOP. Some do. In fact just this week a couple of guys were caught with pornography, Butt Man magazines to be exact. How they got them inside is still a mystery to me. Does the mail room allow such smut in here knowing the situation and programs run here, or are they oblivious and turn the other way after viewing them themselves, wink, wink, nod nod. Or are they complicit with getting them in here, as with the cornucopia of drugs floating around, any kind you want and can afford by the way? Not sure, but this I know: I was lost and now I’m found as the words from Amazing Grace tell us, and my eye is on the prize of eternity, not some magazine or other forms of pornography. I think of all that and cringe. After all, that is what started this whole downward spiral that ended up bringing me here. But the addiction reigns still in some and always will pull at the fringes I guess.

So I continue on this journey back to wholeness with the Lord’s help. It often feels, however, that I am on this trek alone and everyone else is just watching. A couple of guys in this program go to the same Bible studies I do which is helpful, but they don’t seem to carry it on back in the dorm all the time. So I crave all the support I can get as I know this is a life long journey that will have to continue on the outside.

Helping to that end it is a great joy when my older brother visits monthly and has coordinated with my wife to bring a food package when he comes. We are allowed two packages per month totaling 50 pounds, food, books whatever. (it used to be 70 but the CO union lobbied to lower it) His visit alone would be great, but then he tops it with real fruits, vegetables, whole wheat bread and more (and sometimes chocolate chip cookies!) from the outside. Such a blessing since the food in here is still repetitive, bland and overcooked. It is amazing what one can do with a microwave when pushed to it. We had a toaster oven, but when it broke they have not replaced it. His visits are even more touching because he does not drive, so his wife has to bring him the hour or so up to spend time with his penitent brother. As I said, it is a true blessing to have their support.

I have also found a great Saturday Christian study that meets twice a month. Seems Chuck Colson founded Prison Fellowship when he was incarcerated back in 1974 for Watergate related incidents I frankly do not remember. The program is run by inmates with an outside pastor coming in with one or two musical accompaniments. It is great to hear and be a part of the group which is designed to help inmates stay close to Christ and carry that relationship to the outside. There is a vast library of books on loan that you can take out till the next meeting, something I have started doing.
No trying here. I am in serious training on my new walk in a relationship with and following Jesus Christ.

CARRYING ON

My first super bowl behind bars. Probably will note several other landmarks along the way of this bumpy ride, but this is the first after the ugly holidays spent inside corrections. Ugly because they were pretty barren, lonely and empty in here with little celebration save what the church tried to offer and well meaning friends provided in the way of Christmas cards. I remember I did have a surprise visit from my former pastor and her family, and my wife came before Christmas, but it certainly wasn’t the same as being home with all sorts of family around. The true meaning behind the Christmas celebration was all but lost for the majority of guys inside. I asked several why we celebrated the holiday and several really hadn’t given it much thought but remarked it was about some baby being born.

Yeah, some baby. Only the King of Kings, God in the flesh, our Savior born of a virgin as predicted 400 years earlier in Isaiah. The only bigger day of celebration is His resurrection from the grave, defeating death, sin and the grave, but that was way beyond the comprehension of most in here. Yeah some baby.

Also ugly was my birthday celebration, or lack of it. Oh I did get several cards from people on the outside, many beyond my family. At mail call the CO made a game of announcing my name, then waiting till I stepped back to announce it yet again, and again. Guys knew it was either my birthday or some celebration. But no cake, party or anything. Actually it was the first time in a long time I wanted to celebrate my day of birth, as usually I down play it. Guess it was the nature of where I am and my mental state.

Now it is one of the biggest days of the year on the outside, when so many televisions sets around the globe tune in to the final championship game of the football season. Many inside corrections are planning to watch, though it was destined to be shut off before the ending till an edict came out at the twelfth hour that would enable us to watch the game to it’s completion. I know several guys have bets on the game, more flags and food than real money, though I do hear some of that is wagered as well. Being a New Yorker, I favor the Giants over the new England Patriots. Some guys in here want New England, but time will tell this Sunday in Super Bowl XLII.

Meantime my program keeps rolling along. Each day we discuss various topics presented by the counselors in hopes of viewing determining factors that led us to our IO. We can then, hopefully, in their jargon, defuse any future potential incidents that might cause us to offend. We are to look for hidden triggers, watch seemingly unimportant decisions, and stay tuned to our thoughts and thought progressions. The work is basic but interesting, and I take copious notes. Along with the handouts they give I have already compiled a large folder full of information which I frequently review as I pore over information that helps me understand what I did and why. It isn’t pretty, that’s for sure, and I fight the guilt and shame everyday with God’s help. We have plenty of free time and it’s up to us how to use it. As mentioned previously, so many guys do so many things with their time, mostly wasting it. I have never been one to sit by and watch the world go by, so I am constantly active with working out, writing, reading or the above studying. I normally watch very little television not only because there is only one but also because it usually is tuned to stuff I don’t care to watch (cops, Jerry Springer, Wheel of Fortune, etc). The writing I have done is what you are reading now as well as letters, other thoughts, dreams and documentation. Unfortunately when my bags were stolen on the move to this dorm, a couple of notebooks were with the missing stuff. I know some of what was in there but am so sorry I lost the musings when I was on drugs and simply terrified of coming into a place I knew nothing about and was so foreign to me. I remember bits and pieces of things, but I also remember some things I wrote during that period didn’t seem to always make sense. Of course I was reading with a clearer mind things written when not so clear which matters little as they are gone now and I have had to recreate old news. I can imagine someone trying to decipher what I was talking about and not having a clue.

Dorm life is getting a little easier as people are getting to know each other. There are a couple of guys “graduating” from the program after over a year in it, one because he is scheduled to go home soon, so I hear rumors that there will be some room changes. It sure would be great to get out of this 12 man room even though I finally am on the bottom bunk. I actually have been pretty blessed – a term instead of luck or fortune which my favorite outside pastor always uses when he comes here on Thursdays – as my bunkie was in the infirmary for a few days and I was alone. No movements or noises to wake or disturb me, which was almost heaven on earth.

The Structure Team that governs the dorm has changed some people and I have just been named a Librarian, someone who generates historical data for the program’s in-house meeting and keeps track of any in-house books for circulation as well as a couple other duties. Each Friday afternoon we stay in the dorm for special Structure meetings and in-house work and discussions. Led by inmate leaders picked by the counselors, we sit in rows behind the officials and follow rules read at the beginning of each meeting. I guess that will be one of my jobs now starting this Friday the first. I am not nervous at all at being in front of this group of guys. Some get terrified. Others, I noticed, sweat profusely. Regardless, I have had tons of practice.
Being the boss of my own manufacturers representative company on the outside gave me numerous opportunities speak to groups, interact with officials as well as supervise my 1 1/2 employees I had at various times. I further was president of the local Chamber of Commerce, been a school board member and then president at the private school my children attended as well as chairman of various church committees over the course of my life. And I couldn’t forget the fact that I was trained as an English teacher, teaching and coaching in high school for six years. So I felt I would be able to represent any position in this Structure system of our dorm very well. I had read that less than one percent of all inmates have a college education prior to their incarceration, in fact over 50% were illiterate, so I knew I had to be careful not to ‘lord’ it over anyone. After all, they had degrees in street education that I lacked, and many had prison credentials that in here would trump any sheepskin I possessed.

So reading a sheet of rules did not seem to be a big deal to me when given the position by the counselors. They stressed the importance of these rules and seemed to want to make sure I was up to the task. I assured them I was, and since I think they are getting to know me in the program because of my responses and participation, I think they agreed.

My goal is still to complete the program and make my first board next March, getting home to get on with my life and make things right with my wife. I truly feel God is turning my life around and giving me new hope to carry beyond these prison walls. I’m not exactly sure how that will all work, but I know it starts with my family. I need to stay right with them, God and everyone or nothing will matter. So doing the right thing in here is vital. I keep below the radar and stay compliant in everything. Do the most menial of custodial tasks – cleaning toilets – and I make them shine, giving glory to God in everything I do. I do not want to get tripped up by anyone’s game playing or antics, so I steer clear of drama queens and the day room, as that is where most shenanigans occur, even though it is in plain site of the CO’s bubble.

Being here gives me plenty of time to practice my new mantra as stated before, Proverbs v 3-5, which requires inside corrections in my thoughts and actions. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.”
It is so true, and I now practice doing it and not just thinking it, carrying on inside corrections.

TRUE POWER

One benefit of the Intensive Sex Offender Program (ISOP) we all now participate in is the reality of our situations. All of us in the ISOP are here, incarcerated, for some type of sex crime. There is no denying that, though several claim their innocence or being framed. The nature of some of their crimes goes beyond my understanding, but they are real, and here we are, face to face with that fact daily. Everyday we are learning about our IO (instant offense, the crime that brought us here) and what caused us to do what we did and why, although this would have been better to learn prior to doing what we did so as to prevent it. Regardless, for those of us who want to learn and change, and yes, there are a few of us, it is helpful and interesting. Some are just going through the motions and will say or do whatever is required to get through this program and get out. Fortunately the counselors seem pretty adept at picking those characters out, though not always. From some of the conversations I hear back in the dorm I realize some put on a very good act. I do not want to do that, an actual repeat of the make believe world I lived in that caused all my problems on the outside.

Of course I have always been interesting in learning. That was one of the reasons I became a teacher, to help others learn and enjoy doing so. I worked at making high school English at least pleasant, as it was a required subject, so all had to partake to graduate. In fact, my final year teaching I had all seniors and was named faculty member of the year, quite an honor at the time. It was a testament to my involvement with making learning all phases of English, even Shakespeare, more enjoyable. It also spoke to how I was driven to be the best in everything I did, though I thought I did it on my own strength.

So learning inside corrections about ourselves and the nature of our IO actually is enjoyable for me. Some is a review of psychology courses I had taken in college or information I studied at other times. However, all is directed toward our crime and why we did what we did with the purpose of preventing any further evil-doing transgressions against others. In my case, it is easy to apply the information I learn to what was going on in my head at the time of my offense as well as after. I am so interested in all this that I have taken to reading extra articles and even books on sex addictions outside of program reading. As usual, I am a sponge for something like this that interests me.

However, the magnitude of what I had done to so many people was once more made evident, and with that, the shame and guilt returned. I often do not feel like eating, though I am not sure if it because of the food in here or my emotional state. I just feel like running away (can’t) or quitting the program (shouldn’t) as we are constantly bringing up hurtful issues. If I did quit, however, I would lose my ‘good time’, get no parole opportunities and have to stay here till I maxed out, which would be seven years. Not an option for me, as each day proves a challenge let alone more years.

This time there are no meds or Priest to help as I had in county jail and maximum security prison when I first arrived. I do have my weekly Bible study people, though trying to talk one on one with them is difficult. The pastor of Mid-State is nice enough, but I don’t know him that well and don’t know how I might connect for further talks.

So I talk to the only person I know who will listen without condemnation: Jesus. It might sound odd to some, but I have learned that He is always available and actually wants to hear from us. So I pray often for wisdom and discernment as well as compassion and forgiveness. I feel quite low many days and nights due to my transgressions and need that connection with Him to steady my unevenness, be the anchor for my wayward actions.

And I have to report, it works most times. I come back to the dorm after program at lunchtime or after the afternoon session ready to bawl my eyes out and have to put my head in my pillow and just pray away all the drama I have caused. It still is not safe, even in the program, to show weakness, as word travels quickly and there are always lions ready to pounce. When I thought of that it reminds me of the verse in the Bible, John 10 v10 “The thief (meaning Satan) cometh not, but to steal, kill and destroy.” And yes, they are often dressed in sheep’s clothing in here, feigning help and comfort only to try and extort something – an advantage, procure a debt, or even something as base as food, all with the assurance of keeping your trouble or concern quiet. Right. Even a newbie like me learned that lie. After a good conversation with Him, or even quietly listening for His help, I feel better, more relaxed and able to go on better.

As my friend from Fishkill had taught me – and is a common phrase in here – pressure bursts pipes, meaning you have to take care of things or they will explode, often in your face, and cause more havoc. So I know I have to deal with these issues as they come up, no matter how painful they are. I attempt to contact my wife when I can, using one of the two wall pay phones out in the day room to reach her. But connecting with her is not always easy, nor is getting a free phone. Then, of course, your conversations are very public and anyone can hear, or at least watch your demeanor. Unlike the reception dorm when I first arrived here, we have no phone booths like they had. I enjoyed that privacy, even if it was only apparent privacy.

In the evenings, when not at Bible study, I venture to the gym for basketball or weight work, both taking my mind off the troubles of the day at least for the time working out. Maybe that’s why the time seems to just fly by when there. And of course there is game night which really serves to change my mood.

The team I had joined was actually made up of Muslims. Little did I know this when I agreed back that night soon after my arrival, though I was so anxious to play I didn’t care. Now I see guys I have played with in open rec and even some from the program on teams I play against. Fortunately we are doing well in the league, so I get lost in the game and not my troubles for the forty minutes we play. Everyone seems to treat me well enough, though one or two seem bent on doing their own thing, something that gets us in trouble in the game and something our ‘coach’ dislikes. He was the one who recruited me, so he’s cool with my Christianity, but I think those one or two others are not, hence their reticence to pass to me., though I did notice last game when crunch time came, I saw more of the rock.

So I guess it really takes a conscious effort to stay close to God, my true source of power. As the bumper sticker says, “You’ve tried everything else, try God.” I can attest the benefits of doing so are immeasurable and help me through this Jumanji world.

HOPE IS ALIVE

Yes, where IS God in all this? Have I again left Him out and taken the reins of my life back? It appears so.

When I was a youth, I was into church and studying Christ. I even taught Sunday School when I was in high school as the Methodist Church was low on adult volunteers. Plus the fact that I was into scripture and sharing it. Then I went away to college, a place where many turn from their roots, and I experimented with many different religions, attempting to find the one, true answer to why we were here. Of course, without Christ at the center, I was never really able to find any answers, only temporary solutions that pointed back to me being in charge. So I went about directing my own life, relying on my own understanding rather than God’s. I actually took it to a new level of arrogance and selfishness, resulting in my instant offense. (IO)

So now, inside corrections, I read the Bible and go to Protestant Services on Sunday. I attend Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday night Bible study where I usually see the same group of guys attending, with some variation. A group of about 18-20 go to the various studies on any given night. The Sunday night leadership alternates between a volunteer lady and an outside pastor. Monday’s is run by three men who have been volunteering to come in and minister to inmates for about 5 years. Thursdays, my personal favorite, is hosted by a reverend from the outside who is really alive for Christ and been helping guys for over 10 years. So I am definitely getting inspiration from my studies. So why not give everything over to Christ? Why not make those necessary inside corrections and “Trust in the Lord with all my heart” as my new mantra from Proverbs  3 v5 tells me? Good question.

It’s so easy to fall into old patterns where I make the decisions and follow through, leaving little room for others. I do what I think and say most of it too, though I am much more guarded in here than on the outside. Only after the fact, in quiet meditation or prayer do I ponder the events of the past day or week and see how and if it measures up to a Christ like standard. I know it would be easier to check with Him first and avoid so many pitfalls, but I am still learning to do that.

In fact, with all this new intensive sex offender program stuff coming at me it would be advisable to do just that, pray first and seek direction rather than just plow ahead. So far in the program we have learned some new terminology and concepts, things we later will apply to not only our IO that brought us here, but also to our lives. At least that is the hope of the counselors and some of the inmates. I am one of them. But as I say, I need to involve Christ earlier in the process is what my Christian counselors tell me. I agree. But doing it is another thing.

So why is it so difficult? I never got to this point as an adult on the outside, not really being a true Christian and following His word, so I am definitely out of my league here. And it’s not like I do not know of the benefits of doing so. I have found a peace that defies logic. Less than a year ago I was terrified of prison, unable to function without drugs. I did not think I would make it through another day, even my bid let alone get to the point where I felt I was at peace with this place, all because of my new faith, the one and only thing that gave me hope. I could not give it. No one around me could. Even my family was at a loss. (understandably so) Only the hope in Christ that little Peruvian priest told me about made any difference, made me see that God had not forgotten me, not deserted me because of my actions as I thought He had, though I would not have blamed Him if He did. This peace allowed me to take pause during transitions into a new facility, new jobs, switching dorms, losing property and getting into the program I so greatly desired. It allowed me the peace of mind that nothing else could do.

That was the hope I carry today. The hope of getting through all this: prison, the program, daily life inside corrections, all of this. So it was important for me not to forget He who gave me that hope.