Email improves communications for Vermont prisoners

My wife and I during a visit at FCC Petersburg

My wife and I during a visit at FCC Petersburg

While I was serving my five years in Federal prison, the BOP rolled out an email system for prisoners. It allows inmates to correspond with friends and families on a more consistent basis. In Federal prison you get 300 minutes of phone calls per month, or about 10 minutes per day. While it was a blessing to be able to speak to my wife almost every day, it was difficult to deepen a relationship or deal with issues that cropped up. Plus, I was shipped off to FCI Elkton in Ohio which was about 9 hours away from home, so our visits were very limited.

It looks like states like Vermont and others are implementing a new email system for their inmates to help improve communications with family. This is a good step forward, but hopefully they will not use it to replace personal visits as some institutions have tried to do with video chat systems. Nothing can replace the personal and intimate moments inmates experience with their family during visits. This should never be replaced by technology.

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!!

Prison Entrepreneurship Documentary – The Last Mile

last mileI ran across this documentary short on a technology incubator program in San Quentin called the Last Mile. It is heartening to see people willing to take a chance and step outside of their comfort zone to provide opportunities for inmates, even those who have done a great deal of harm. The fact is, 90 percent of prisoners will get out one day. Do we want them to learn to be better people or better criminals while they are in prison? I would hope we can agree that we are better off when we provide opportunities for these individuals to learn, to think, to gain insight into the fact that there are options to a life of crime.

Through the Paul Project we are working to help individuals and their families prepare for the prison experience, to encourage them to make the decision early to use the time they must serve to improve their chances of success once they are released. And ultimately, to share God’s amazing grace and his ability to transform lives. We would be honored if you would support us in these efforts. Please help us by donating here – Thank you and God bless.

What a blessing!

man-raising-handsOne of our clients is in jail awaiting a transfer to prison to begin serving a 13-year sentence. His mother reached out to us a couple of months ago asking for help in understanding what to expect and how to help her son prepare for the next 13 years. My heart breaks whenever I hear about these stories, but I’m so grateful we have an opportunity to be of assistance. We corresponded with the mother and her son, providing information, encouragement and suggestions about how to prepare for incarceration. I also shared the Good News of Christ with them. I just heard from the mother that the son has connected with some Christian men in jail, he is safe and that he has accepted Christ as his Lord and savior. Praise God!! This is definitely an answered prayer.

This by no means guarantees he will be safe or have an easy time in prison. But it does mean he now has eternal security and has access to the strength and wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit to help him navigate the uncharted waters of the next 13 years. Please keep them in your prayers. And please reach out to us if you or a loved one is facing prison. We are here to help you, pray for and with you and to provide you with encouragement and hope.

Journal entry – 6/10/2011- Average day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother entry from my prison journal from FCI Elkton:

Low-key day. Nothing too extraordinary. Feel pretty good. Grateful for everything God provides. I had good talk with Brian (friend). Very grateful for his friendship.

Haven’t talked to Lisa yet today.

I’ve been trying to avoid negative people. They seem to be everywhere here. So many people just don’t have Christ and are unhappy. I think they would be unhappy even if they weren’t in prison. They are missing the peace that with a relationship with God.

Praise God!!

Comment (2/19/15) – I had many days like this in prison. Especially after the first year or so. After a while I began to see that I can be content no matter my circumstance (Phil. 4:11). That I can use the time for something positive and that there are opportunities to help others and get out of my own head. Also, I appreciated having one or two friends with whom I could talk about things going on outside and in. I didn’t trust many people, but did find a couple on which I could depend.

8 works of literature written in prison

progressInteresting article about 8 works of literature written by men in prison. I certainly don’t agree with numbers 5 and 7, as they go against my values and faith. And I love that they included number 4, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, one of my favorite books  The 8 authors are Martin Luther King Jr., Marco Polo, Nelson Mandela, John Bunyan, Adolf Hitler, Sir Thomas Malory, Marquis de Sade, Boethius. Another author who did much writing in prison, and who I highly recommend, is Deitrich Bonhoeffer. He is an incredible theologian, pastor and Christian.

I thought I might work on a book while I was doing my time. But I decided to wait until I got out in order to have a much fuller perspective of the experience and not be colored by the environment. I did keep a journal and used the time to gain insight into who I was and who God wanted me to be. I highly suggest using your sentence to do the same. You will come out of it with a much clearer understanding of yourself and those around you.

Questions for the Paul Project

prisoners_watching_tvThe idea of starting the Paul Project was first sparked by our experiencing the fear of the unknown as we faced our own prison sentence. What fueled it was corresponding with a man facing a 10-year sentence. In a number of letters he sent me probably two dozen questions about what to expect in prison. As I responded to his questions he expressed his gratitude and let me know how helpful and comforting it was to have a clearer picture of what he might face. As I mentioned before, I’ll be answering his questions from time to time.

One question he had was around prison rules, both written and unwritten. I may post a few pages of one of the rules documents once I get it digitized. It would be an understatement to say that there are many written rules for each facility. And while the basic rules are the same, each compound does operate differently. There is very little orientation conducted so most of the time you’re going to be learning as you go. I asked a lot of questions and found guys who were willing to guide me through my first months. There are rules about counts, movement, contraband, drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, ID cards, mail, education, visiting, laundry, and much more.

Some unwritten rules relate to dealing with other inmates. For example, in a TV room seats are usually selected based on seniority. If someone has “claimed” a seat and you’re in it, unless you are willing to fight for it, you better move on. And unless you have a majority of guys behind you (or some juice) don’t even think about turning the channel. I’ve seen more fights over TV in prison than I have over anything else.

While there is a lot to learn when you get to prison, it is important to understand the written and unwritten rules as soon as possible. It will save you a lot of stress, and help you avoid potential physical threats and time in the hole.

Facing the Fear of Going to Prison

overcoming-fearI’ve been corresponding with the mother of a man facing 25 years to life in prison. Her son is awaiting trial and is feeling a great deal of fear. I can relate. Those 9 months between the time I was investigated and the time I was taken into custody were so stressful for me, my wife and are families. Like this woman’s son, because of my fear I lashed out in anger at those closest to me, especially my wife. But I learned that I can be forgiven for all that I did and that what really matters is what I do with that forgiveness. Do I honor it with my actions? Or do I continue in the behavior that got me here?

Ultimately, it was up to me to use the opportunity of prison to become a man of honor and integrity. And prison really was an opportunity. How many people are able to escape the distractions and desires of the world and have the time to focus on becoming a better person. To study. To grow in body, mind and spirit. While I will never be pleased with what I did to get to prison, I will always be grateful for the time God gave me to focus on His word and serving those around me. As I told someone the other day, prison was a foreign land for me, it was a mission field.

So the fear you are feeling is normal and part of the process. But it does not have to paralyze you. You can move forward and prepare for the years ahead of you. You can use prison for the good. But it is an intentional decision. And the sooner you make that commitment, the easier it will be to follow through on it.