Speaking of Prison (Preparation)

paulprojectspeech

Speaking about the Paul Project at the Christian Legal Society monthly meeting.

We had a great opportunity to speak with a number of lawyers last Friday when the Paul Project spoke to the Raleigh Christian Legal Society. While it was a relatively small crowd, there was some great interest in our story and our ministry to provide encouragement, information and support to individuals and their families facing prison time. We had questions about safety in prison, how our marriage survived, what we can do to help others prepare for their prison sentence and how we came up with the idea for the ministry. We shared how God used the time to transform my life and our marriage.

Thanks to Rik Lovett and the Raleigh Christian Legal Society for the opportunity. We would love to speak with other organizations about the Paul Project prison preparation ministry. You can reach us at david@paulproject.org or at 919-602-9612.

Feeling free, inside and out

man-raising-handsI can’t explain the feeling I felt so often in prison, that I was more free behind that razor wire than I ever was on the outside. I had been a slave of some addiction from the time I was 9 years old. You name it, I’ve been dependent upon it. Drugs, pornography, food, sex, alcohol, work, fame, money, I tried everything I could think of to fill what Blaise Pascal called the “God-shaped hole in my heart.” But nothing worked, at least not for long.

But one day while I was at FCI Petersburg walking the track on the yard I realized that for the first time in my life I did not have an active addiction controlling my life. That finally, I was truly free. Chuck Colson said, “Prison is nothing compared to the bondage of sin.” I couldn’t agree more. That day as I looked out through the fence, I could honestly say that I felt a sense of peace and freedom I never felt on the outside. Thankfully, that feeling has persisted since I’ve been released.

Where did this peace come from? For me it came from surrendering my life and will to Jesus Christ. To admitting that Christ died for me and that through His blood I am saved from the bondage of all kinds of sin. That I no longer need to try to fill that God-shaped hole.

If you have not taken this step, I hope you will. If you have. Welcome to the family!!

Corrie Ten Boom – Forgiveness, Hope and Faith in Prison

hiding place

If you haven’t heard of Corrie Ten Boom, you have missed out on an amazing testimony of perseverance, faith and hope in the face of awesome suffering and tragedy. Corrie and her family were the subject of the book and movie called the Hiding Place. The brief version of the story is that the family lived in Nazi-occupied Holland in WWII and provided sanctuary to Jews who were being persecuted by the Nazis. The family was caught and all were sent to concentration camps, Corrie and her sister Betsy to the same ones. Corrie was the only one who survived. Despite her loss, she was able to forgive not only those who betrayed her family, but also the Nazis who killed her family.

One story I particularly appreciate takes place in one of the concentration camps that held her and her sister. Corrie was miserable because of the horrendous conditions, including overcrowding and an infestation of fleas, and complained about it to Betsy. Betsy urged her sister to be grateful for all they have, including the fleas. Betsy could not bring herself to do so,  but Betsy continued to encourage her. It turns out, as they planned to hold Bible studies with a Bible they were able to sneak in, they learned that the guards hated to come to their particular barracks because of the flea infestation. Corrie finally learned to be grateful for everything, even the fleas. What a great example. While I never experienced anything close to Corrie Ten Boom, I did try to have the same spirit of gratitude for everything God provided, even the bitter cold in Ohio, the lack of A/C in sweltering Petersburg and the rats and roaches in Atlanta holdover.

P.S. I strongly recommend reading the book The Hiding Place and seeing the movie by the same name. I also suggest these books by her:

Tramp for the Lord

 In My Father’s House

 Amazing Love

 Not I, But Christ

 

Questions About Prison – “Were you afraid of getting hurt in prison?”

shoulderthrow1I’ll be answering questions we’ve been asked about preparing for prison and doing time. If you have questions you can send them to us at david@paulproject.org and we’ll do our best to answer them. One of the most common questions I get asked is, “Were you ever afraid you would get hurt in prison?” To be honest, yes, there were times I was fearful for my safety. This was usually around one of my transfers where I was exposed to a new environment, new people and new stressors. But as time went by I learned to put my trust in the Lord and have faith that no matter what happened I would be OK. Even if I was assaulted, I could survive. I did see some people get hurt in fights. But most altercations are avoidable if you avoid getting involved in things like drugs, sex, gambling and even trying to control the TV. One study states that about 7 percent of inmates reported being injured in a fight. So it does happen, but not as often as many think. And the risk is higher as you increase the custody level. It doesn’t hurt to get into shape and bone up on some self defense before you enter prison. If nothing else, it will help you feel more confident.

I’ll continue to answer questions along the way and welcome your queries. Take care and God bless.

David Chatham

Christmas in Prison – Part II

PRISONERSI spent five Christmases in prison and each one was emotional and filled with joy, regret and hope. Joy for what Christ did for me in coming to earth to save us. Regret for all of the people I hurt over the years I lived so selfishly. And hope for the future, that God has a plan for me, to give me a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Most Christmases in prison were spent watching TV, reading, calling Lisa and other family and in worship. I found it was better to be busy and focused on the positive. I would also give small gifts to the few friends I made in prison. They weren’t much, a t-shirt, a candy bar and a card, but it helped us to feel a connection to something bigger than ourselves. I also tried to anonymously give a small care package of food and toiletries to a brother in need.

My calls to Lisa were both joyous and sad. It was nice to hear her voice and know she was still supporting me. But it was tough hearing her and other family members celebrating without me. I just prayed for their joy and peace. It isn’t about me anymore. In my previous life it was ALL about me. In prison, I learned the joy that comes with putting others first.

This year is my first Christmas out of prison and for that I am so grateful. I think about those still in prison (and their families) and pray for them to find peace and joy in the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!! (Luke 2:1-20)

Grateful for Prison

Gratitude-2I may be one of the few people who will say they are grateful for their time in prison. Now I’m not saying I enjoyed prison or want to go back, but I am saying that the time I spent in prison resulted in so many positive things in my life and the lives of those around me. I’ll list a few so you get an idea of what I’m talking about (and see that I’m not crazy). First, God helped me use the time to learn about discipline, integrity, honor and sacrifice. Before prison I was a selfish, self-centered, dishonest and focused on my own desires. In prison I was able to experience the discipline of daily prayer, scripture reading, working out, and studying various subjects. I practiced serving others and worked on sacrificing my own desires in an effort to help my family and those around me. I learned to turn down opportunities to gain comforts at the loss of my integrity. (Romans 12:1)

Secondly I learned how to be a better husband. This may seem odd, that I could improve my marriage from 500 miles away. But I read books like Sacred marriage and practiced LISTENING to my wife instead of demanding I be heard. I worked on encouraging her instead of tearing her down. I practiced being honest and on speaking in love. Ultimately, I came to understand that marriage is not just a contract between a husband and wife, but also one between husband, wife and God. That the only way I can serve my wife is to serve God, and the only way I can serve God is to serve my wife. (Ephesians 5:25)

Thirdly, I learned to love others and have compassion for those for whom I use to have contempt. Prison can take an angry person and make them even more bitter. A prejudice person and make them even more racist. I learned to look beyond race, culture and religion to see that we are all God’s creation and that we are to demonstrate the love that Christ showed on the cross. I learned to tell even those who wanted to do me harm that I loved them and that God loved them. You should have seen the looks I got:) But it worked and I was able to walk with my head high and my heart full of love (most of the time). (John 13:34-35)

Finally, I learned about humility and service. One of my jobs in prison was cleaning the bathroom for our building and another was wiping down the tables in the dining hall (chow hall). I came to understand that I am called to serve God in all that I do, even cleaning toilets. And that I am no better than any one else. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t always sing hymns and shout for joy as I was scrubbing the shower or wiping up nasty tables, but I did work to have a spirit of service and humility in my daily life. Something that was sorely lacking in my previous life. (Colossians 3:17)

My point here is that while prison is not something I wish on my worst enemy, it can be the opportunity we need to stop, reconsider who we are, and work to become the person God wants us to be.