The following was a letter I sent to my former pastor on the outside with the hope of getting it published in the local church newsletter. I had been very active in that church, having served on several committees as well as Session, the governing body prior to my imploding and coming here to the State imposed time out. While some might think I was continuing to put on my happy face for outsiders, at this point I was truly starting to feel the joy and peace Paul talked about and live that existence even inside corrections.


As we approach the joyous celebration of our Savior’s birth I wanted to send my greetings to all at the First Presbyterian Church of Ontario Center. It has been another year of highs and lows, joys and sorrows, struggles and transforming relationships for our family and me, as it may well have been for all reading this. (Feel free to drop me a note about yours!)

I cannot escape the lasting thought this year of the strength and faithfulness of our Lord and how he expresses it daily in so many ways. Though behind the fence, I can still take in his earthly majesty as displayed in nature all around this campus I am lucky enough to be able to walk. I also feel it in every letter, visit, prayer, package or call and am so very enriched because of it all. As my daughter “Little Wanderer” says in her blogs she is able to do, I too have learned not just to mouth how precious each moment is, but to live it and absorb it just as she reports she is able to do. Oh sure, I still glance ahead 23 months to my hopeful release, but knowing more fully my values and priorities. I try even in here to seize each minute and do something positive, something good or helpful, to do the “next right thing” as Pastor Cheryl counseled me so long ago. It has taken me a good deal of time and misfortune to fully absorb and implement, especially after being denied parole and work release in a short period of time, but the rewards are endless and worth it. Believe me, it sure proves a challenge in this, as my daughter has aptly dubbed it, my Jumanji World. I may get down, think this zaniness will never end as I am surrounded by bizarre people and events, often comical, sometimes scary, but I know I must keep playing this “game” to make it out and back to whatever normal will prove to be when I get there. Maybe the same is true for many of you in your own life. May you recognize as I have the one holding the controls, using Proverbs 3: 5-6 daily just for that.

Several months ago I was blessed with a single room, which really makes life here easier in many ways. Fortunately too, I have gained the respect of civilians, CO’s and other inmates because of my work in Transitional Services, the Mentally Challenged Unit, and leading the Full Gospel Chapter. All in all, I have it as good as one can in such a place. I make every effort to keep busy, and rue the weekends and days off, though I have projects for those times as well. Talk about abundance!

I can assure you, your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated and returned daily. I sincerely hope you all may enjoy the spirit of this season and allow it to continue throughout the New Year. I pray peace for you all and the world.

Your brother in Christ,


So many things have been happening over the past few months. The best thing is time has been passing. I work, actually enjoying it, play basketball and referee, participate in three Bible studies, facilitate Full Gospel meetings twice a month, tutor, read and generally keep to myself. Sounds like my life outside corrections in many ways. Maybe that is one reason I am not panicking about life in here. If you would have ever told me I would be where I am right now and be okay with it I would have said you were crazy.

Most guys leave me alone even with my scarlet SO label. Most CO’s don’t even give me a second look when I walk around the campus as they know not only am I harmless but that I am on a mission – either going to or from facilitating classes somewhere, or running an errand for one of their own. Yes, I have been summoned to do that more than once. I also do letters for them as well as the weekly class schedules and data reports. Once you start those things, especially the latter which they definitely are not good at, there is no going back. They must have conversed with some counselors who informed them I was doing work for them such as form letters, data reports and class scheduling. A light must have gone off as a CO at work, familiar with my resume work on the computer, inquired if I could help him with something. It is not a good idea to tell them no, even if I didn’t want to aid them. Besides, it gets me out of jams I am sure as they know to be kind to OT. It also helps on holidays, even some weekends, when they still needed to do their reports and I could get out of the dorm to do them.

In fact there was one night, after reports of several gang activities, when we inmates were all on our way to a building that housed the gym, weight room, law and regular library when upon entering the building we saw a wave of blue shirts (CO’s) descend upon everyone, throwing guys against the wall, yelling and barking orders, night sticks waving, sometimes connecting. Too scared to do otherwise I kept walking, looking straight ahead. When I got to the weight room, normally abuzz with conversation and activity, I was the only one there. No one made it to the gym either. It was very bizarre and frightening. What was going on? Would they come after me too? After a few minutes, which seemed like forever, guys slowly started appearing but no where near the normal numbers. Guess there was a crack down to show who was boss inside corrections, and it wasn’t us. That I was the only one who appeared to make it through the gauntlet was also scary. Maybe my work for their compatriots had paid off.

There were other times of equal strangeness, generally good. Of course there are a few CO’s who want to show their power and control, but so many seem to go out of their way to be nice to me. On visits, for example, the routine is to be strip searched prior and after each visit. That protocol, especially on the before check, is many times overlooked which gives me a few extra minutes with whoever is visiting. The after search is often greatly shortened, except where a couple of tough CO’s are concerned, who want to go by the book, right to the very end of bend and spread.

So my feeling toward CO’s is quite different from when I first arrived inside corrections that is for sure. I was scared for my life from everyone and everything back then, terrified as to what might occur, not really knowing what I didn’t know. Now I am on friendly terms with several CO’s and doing work for them. I even have some congregate outside my classrooms when I facilitate to listen in because they are fascinate, I am told, as to what I am doing with fellow inmates.

I also am feeling very differently about prison in general. Time is seemingly flying by, with me going to work and evening activities just like on the outside. I am always on my guard, as you never know when someone will pop off and take you with them. Pressure bursts pipes was a common refrain in here.

But I also am seeing a great deal of respect from many inmates, probably because of all the work I am doing for them – letter writing, tutoring, resume work – and word spreads, as it does so easily inside, or outside for that matter. So in general I am getting comfortable and as a result, peaceful, about my extended time here. You might even say I am developing patience through situations where I had no choice but to be patient. Even though I have another two years till I reach my conditional release (CR) in November 2011, I am settled into life inside corrections.

Coupled with all the new I am learning about myself and working to apply, my life is in as good a place as it could be considering the circumstances. I am actually feeling how God is in control of things, not me. After all, I could never have orchestrated well how things were turning out since my getting hit. Getting a single room in the honor dorm, keeping busy with all types of activities, achieving success in many of those with recognition from staff were all part of His plan for me. My plan was to go home. But who knows how that would have worked out with my wife being distant and me not on solid ground with all I had done. The truth is I am still in need of more time out away from everything and everyone back home to learn those inside corrections that will develop me into a better person, a true follower of Christ, a disciple, not just one who talks the talk.

And more than ever before I enjoy that work of learning Christ’s ways and following them. It is not just a Sunday thing or something I do because it has benefits. Oh there are benefits for sure, as I know He is protecting me in here as evidenced by my mere survival amidst such chaos and cruelty, mental, emotional and physical. I do it because it is a greater satisfaction than I have ever felt anywhere or any time. Greater than any accomplishment I have achieved, longer lasting than accolades, more meaningful than any trophy or awards. But the greatest part is the peace that surpasses all understanding that the apostle Paul talked about in Philippians 4 v7. I can actually say I now am experiencing it, living it. My goal is to continue to do it the rest of my time here and carry it outside corrections where the true test would be seen.

Who would have thought I would be in such a place in such a place.


One day

After working diligently to recover from all that has hit me in the past few weeks and having a great day where Ms. Sowich (my boss) was very complimentary, I was able to give my SA proposal to Mr. Smith (a post release sex offender program idea) and I had a good day facilitating Phase III, I returned all smiley and happy to my dorm where a letter from my daughter awaited. Always such a pleasure to hear from her and something I greatly look forward to, this one dropped my like a knockout punch. She very easily and honestly told me of her hesitancy to become a girlfriend to a guy out of fear of broken trust and betrayal, basically like I did to her and her mom. If it can happen after years of marriage, she wrote, it could happen any time to her.

Now years hence one may look at this and feel differently. Now as I re-re-read her beautiful letter, it hurts so very much to know I caused this doubt and pain in one so otherwise able and pure. To think what could be or could have been with her had this not occurred is hurting me also. She again said how her heart could not take any more pain so that right now she doesn’t want to get serious with him – or anyone. She said she had thought for a while she might want to, but then talked herself out of it like jumping off the high, high diving board. Sure, you can do it. But when you actually climb all the way up there and the wind is blowing and the air is so crisp and you can hardly hear the people down there talking or even hear the water it’s a different story. No thanks. She had told Jared let’s be bf/gf. Then she feared the worst – abandonment and broken trust as happened with me – and changed her mind.

I just felt so heavy like a ton of weight came upon me. I could not even cry it was so heavy, so painful and in some way even shocking. I was supposed to go to eat. I didn’t go. Then I was going to work out first mod and play basketball in the second mod but knew that would be too much. I write this after getting through the weight work out – more punishment for me which I deserved – and then felt the need to come back and write this. I wanted to process things a little more. In all this she had asked me what she should do and I wanted to be clear with her. Be herself, not thinking of what I did will necessarily happen to her. (again) Jared is his own person, and if it does happen again, she is experienced already and hence more prepared? Ugh. Even the sound of that stunk. She’s entering, actually is in, prime time and already skeptical about close relationships due to my infidelity and selfishness. Thanks Dad.

I also was very proud of her when I started out reading her letter as she was named honorable mention all NCAC conference middle player for volleyball! To me that was quite an accomplishment, especially due to her familial happenings the last two years with no direct father support. That she was one of the top 18 players in the league was so wonderful to me. Fourth best blocker in a league of 10 teams too at 5‘9” versus the other girls 5’10, 5’11, or 6’+”.

To me this seems to be a grown-up feeling I felt as a kid, that of being worthless. My dad would tell me that and say I should have done better or I was stupid for thus and so. It hurt so much, thank God my competitiveness led me to keep going or I might have killed myself way back then. Or him. I spent years, many YEARS working to get his approval. When I finally did, it was great, but felt a little empty at the same time.

As an adult I wanted to be the best damn dad there was cause my daughter and son deserved it. I worked so hard at it that it often overshadowed being the best husband – and that relationship suffered.

So I tried as the kids were older to please my wife. But I reverted back to doing things to try and please her to make her proud of me rather than facing her, talking with her and hashing out our problems or really working to fill her needs. I worked even harder, just as I had as a kid/youth with my dad.

Probably that is why it is so heavy on me – years of stuff weighing me down. I realize it at last now, but it is heavy none the less. My daughter is wise beyond her years and has her mom’s insight into people and relationships, just like her brother has. What a blessing. Of course it can also be a curse as it seems to her right now because she can see things clearly, not through the cloud of love or emotions only. That takes years for most people – almost a lifetime and major crisis for me.

All that is great in the big picture I suppose. It tastes like dirty water right now. And it is still very heavy.


Hello from the Inside

It is with a great deal of sadness that I report the findings of my recent parole board appearance. I went into this endeavor rather prepared, or so I thought, with a great deal of hope, trying not to pay heed to the many naysayers and doomsday prognosticators. After all, I had completed all my programs, especially the dreaded Intensive Sex Offender Program, had a clean disciplinary record with no tickets. I had tremendous support from my family and friends and community, (many of you reading this) something I was told was essential for anyone about to reenter society. There were many accomplishments to my credit, including the recent acquisition of my Department of Labor Certificate of Counselor Aides I representing over 2000 hours of training and work. I had served, or would have at the time of my release, the minimum part of my sentence, 2 1/3 years.

The three panel board said that after a careful review of my record, my personal interview and with due deliberation, they determined that if released at this time there was a reasonable probability that I would not live at liberty without violating the law, and that my release at this time is incompatible with the welfare and safety of the community.

So the negative voices were correct, that no sex offenders make it out on their first appearance. They “hit” me with 24 more months. The “nature of my crime” and all SO’s are lumped together here, such that no one serves just the minimum sentence, but stays to their conditional release (CR), which is 2/3 of their maximum bid, seven years in my case, hence to my CR in 11/16/11. Although I go to the board again in March of 2011, it is highly unlikely they will release me then either, as evidenced by the numerous other SO’s who end up staying at least till their CR or longer.

Oh yes, I can appeal, but the grounds are shaky and the process equally grim, taking at least the amount of time till my next board. So much for being honest and owning up to your inexcusable decisions. Taking all and doing all that is required, even being effective while locked up gets you nothing. I now, once again, am faced with dealing with all the shame, guilt and humiliation I felt from day one, and am now reliving the pain I caused family and friends all over. To that, I am truly sorry. To all those reading this or who know me, I apologize. To my feeble mind, it was not supposed to be this way and I was to be out in July to help harvest blueberries.

So please forgive me if I am slow to respond to your mail. I am, as all affected by this, working through this decision the best I can in a very unfriendly, and for the most part, unhealthy place. If at all possible, I ask that you lift up and continue to support my family with prayer or any way you feel led, as they too are suffering. It is, and always will be, of my own doing, and would be so much easier to bear if it did not so impact them and others.

I know now more than ever I must rely on God, though presently I feel He has taken the last train out of my life as well. And I don’t blame Him. He may forgive me, but I still am paying the price and having a difficult time accepting that forgiveness. I am attempting to hang onto the scripture that says He will never leave or forsake me, as I need Him to direct my paths.

I also have to deal with being rejected for the Work Release Program. I had thought that might be a saving grace after being hit by the parole board, but I guess God has other plans for me. That is sure hard for me to grapple with and I need prayer support accepting all of this for those willing to do so.

I sincerely thank you for your continued support.

James Van Wagner