Getting Tattooed

It’s 9pm. The officers just walked their last rounds of count for the second shift. In a few minuhand-tattoo-arm-17-df3da0cf330d4d29afb53628f0b241cf-jpg.jpgtes, the count will be cleared and the inmates will be moving around getting to where they need or want to be. There is a room in my unit where the dyes are being mixed together, the artwork design is being finalized, and the soft hum and vibration of a motor is being turned on. It’s tattooing time!

The word tattoo is defined as an indelible mark or figure fixed upon the body by insertion of pigment under the skin or by production of scars. In prison, well over 75% of the population have at least one tattoo, 50% of the population have multiple tattoos, and about 25% have sleeves of tattoos up and down their arms, legs, torsos and even heard and neck. There is one inmate who has every inch of his body tattooed except the skin on his face. It’s quite a sight to see.

I am one who does not have any ink spots on his body. Could I easily get a tattoo in here? Absolutely! In fact, it’s cheaper to get one here than it is outside of prison. The artists in this place are probably just as good if not better than the ones out there. They use their make-shift tattoo guns that are made from beard trimmers or fan motors, ink pens, hobby craft needles, and a wide variety of dyes that come from pens, markers, paints, and actual food to create their magnificent artwork.

Actually, an inmate could get in trouble for getting a tattoo in prison as well as the person who does the work. Make-shift tattoo guns are not allowed on the compound, thus disallowing all the fresh ink marks. Does it stop people from getting them? No way! They’re criminals; they live life on the edge! So during the evening times after count, when the officers are nowhere to be found, tattoo shops are in business.

Before coming to prison I never even considered getting a tattoo. In my opinion tattoos are ways of expressing oneself. I’ve seen all sorts of tattoos, from explicitly graphic artwork to pictures of their kids or family, and others have a bunch of crazy and unique designs. Nowadays I’m definitely not opposed to tattoos or even getting one. I just would never get one here. If I decide to get one when I leave this place, I would probably get tattoos of Bible verses that have impacted and meant something to me.

When I was competing in the Tough Mudder competition before coming to prison I had Philippians 4:13 written in permanent marker on my back. I competed with a shirt off and during the race a number of participants asked me what that said. In case you don’t know, it says “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” For reasons like that I would consider getting tattoos, as an expression for my love of Christ.

Did you know God has tattoos? Yes! He tells us in Isaiah 49:16 “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Now that is pretty cool. I truly believe He tattoos our names as an expression for His love for us. When He looks down at His hands He sees and knows our names. When He was dying on the cross, our names were already on His hands, right next to the nails. And when He looked over at His hands while hanging on the cross, He saw our names and was reminded that He was dying for us. He never has and never will forget us. Just as God expresses His love for us with an engraving of our names on His hands, think about how you can express your love for Christ in a bold and profound way! Don’t be afraid to let your love of Christ show forth in all your ways!

Eyes on the Prize

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It was the bottom half and last of the seven inning game with the score tied at 14. In steps the number four clean-up hitter with the bases empty and one out. Standing at 6’4” and weighing near 250 pounds, he was tops in the league in homeruns this year, with one already in this game. We had miraculously just scored eight runs in the top half of the inning to tie the game.

This was game two in the best of five series for the Seagoville Federal Prison softball championship. We had won all three regular season games against this opponent. But they had taken game 1, 10-9, in dramatic fashion. With another loss of this game, our backs would surely be up against the wall with a do or die game three.

I was playing a deep left field where the power hitter loved to pull the ball, a few steps away from the warning track. He was not known to hit little bloopers over the shortstop or third baseman’s head, so playing him deep was a safe bet.

Pitch one was a ball. Then came pitch two…..a perfect lob pitch in the heart of the plate to the behemoth of a batter. He swung mightily. At first crack, I thought to myself, game over, a walk off homerun. Then I saw the ball being launched high in the air, and knew it was not going to be a homerun, not even close. I needed to start running, and not just running, but sprinting, as I was playing him extremely deep and the ball was going to land in no man’s land right between my shortstop and me. So I took off after the ball. My first thought was that there is no way I’m going to get there. But the ball was hit so high and I kept getting closer and closer to the ball with each stride. My shortstop was sprinting right at me, and I at him. If someone doesn’t call it, I thought to myself, there could be a nasty collision. With me having the right of way, I decided to call him off, not yet knowing if I could even get to the ball.

The ball kept hanging up and all of a sudden I realized I’m going to get there. I took one last glance at my shortstop to see if he had heard me calling him off and to see if he was coming to a stop. With that one glance, I made a key error, and took my eyes off the ball. I needed to trust my shortstop that he would get out of the way. But I didn’t. And with that split hesitation the ball came barreling down on me too fast, hit the top of my glove and bounced to the ground. Error E-7. I was humiliated and embarrassed. I don’t remember the last time I missed a fly ball, especially in a championship game. There was no excuse. I had failed myself and my team.

As the story goes, the batter reached second base on the error. The next batter reached and was forced out at second by the following batter. Two outs. Then another walk to load the bases, following by a game winning single. Game over. We lost 15-14 and down two games to zero.

Unfortunately, we lost a nail biter game three as well, to earn second place honors for the season.

How many of you have ever had an experience like mine or had a child experience that? How many of you have ever seen professional athletes commit errors due to taking their eyes off the ball? If you are a St. Louis Cardinals fan like me, you’ve witness a lot of errors this year, including the missed pop flies. But it happens. No one is perfect. Committing an error does add excitement and drama to the game, especially in the later innings.  Keeping your eyes on the ball is very important to a batter and a fielder, especially a ball that small and with speeds exceeding near 100 miles per hour, depending on the league.

Keeping your eyes on Jesus is also important, actually much more important than a baseball game. He is the author and perfect of our faith. To live effectively we must keep our eyes on Jesus. We will stumble if we look away from Him to stare at ourselves or at the circumstances surrounding us. We should be running for Christ, not ourselves, and we must always keep Him in sight. When we face hardship and discouragement it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. But we’re not alone. There is help. Many have already made it through life, enduring far more difficult circumstances than we have experienced. Suffering is the training ground for Christian maturity. It strongly develops out patience. By keeping our eyes forward on Jesus, it makes our final victory sweet!

Fix+our+Eyes+on+Jesus

 

 

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It’s been three days and I still hobble and limp around when I walk. The soreness doesn’t seem to want to go away. I guess the older you get, the longer it takes for your body to heal after such a grueling event.

On the 4th of July weekend I was challenged to take part in a compound wide competition called the “Ironman” at the rec yard. No, it was not the 2.1 mile swim, the 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run called the Ironman Triathlon. This Ironman challenge was a cross-fit type event that needed both endurance and body strength to complete.

When I was challenged I was very leery because the only training I had done was play softball and volleyball, which I did not consider training for this event. I had also participated in an abdominal class a few days a week and I do pull-ups every other day. I hardly do any running these days, unless you count my homerun trot around the bases while playing softball. HA! So overall, I would not consider myself to be in tip-top shape to participate in this type of challenge compared to the other participants. But I am not one to refuse an athletic competition, so I signed up for it. My goals were to finish the course and not come in last place.

The competition had 22 total entrants, ranging in age from mid-20’s to mid-50’s, all of whom were in great workout shape…..except me! The course consisted of fifteen different obstacles and challenges: running, calf raises, hanging leg raises, army crawls in the sand, walking lunges, jumping rope, sit-ups, jumping jacks, medicine ball throws, and burpees (which are squats, kick-outs, push-ups and jumping jacks all together in one), just to name a few. Each consisted of a large number of reps. I know I had my hands full, but was up for the challenge.

I was assigned to be in Group 3 of 3, with 7-8 participants in each group. My group actually had the overall winner in it, so the pace he set was incredibly fast. If you dared to keep up with him, you were destined to suffer the consequences. So I kept to myself and set a nice consistent pace throughout the race. It was not too fast, but wasn’t too slow either. Yes, the course was very difficult.

I used muscles that I didn’t even know I had. But, I finished the course in one hour and eleven minutes, 5th in my group of 8 and 13th overall. I, along with some of the participants and spectators, were shocked that little skinny me actually beat almost half the participants. To be honest, it was excruciating, but fun also!

I truly believe that God helped me every step of the way to get me through the challenge. When I was tired and exhausted and wanted to stop, something inside of me kept pushing me forward. It was exhausting and the roughest challenge I have ever participated in. Even though God has blessed me with athletic ability, and I am thankful to Him for that, I still rely on Him to help me succeed. I needed His strength to get me through to the end.

I had a basketball poster in my room growing up that said, “Do your best, and God will do the rest.” In prison, each and every day, I strive to do my best, and know God has my back to accomplish the rest. I’m looking forward to the rest of my life to see what He has in store for me!

can do

Fireworks

Fireworks of various colors bursting against a black background

Ooooo…….ahhhhhhh!  That’s what you hear from the mass of spectators in unison as one explosive firework after another brightens up the sky. For thirty minutes the head of the spectators are tilted back with their eyes glued to the sky as the annual 4th of July fireworks display is being shot off. It’s that time of year when millions across the country will go to their local parks or fair grounds to watch the fireworks show.

As a kid growing up my family, friends and I would make the one mile walk to Bluebird Park with our flashlights and blankets to sit on as we participated in the 4th of July festivities and to watch the big show in the sky. Before it got dark there would be bands playing in the amphitheater, food trucks, and a number of carnival games. As a kid, I absolutely loved it. Actually, I was more obsessed with the fireworks than anything. The week leading up to the 4th of July neighbors in our subdivision and others nearby were shooting fireworks off at night. My favorite time was the next morning after hearing these neighborhood fireworks go off.  My brothers and I would hop on our bikes, scour the streets for the exploded fireworks, and collect them. Every once in a while we would find a firework that had not ignited, and we would take it home with us to shoot off at a later time. Why we would collect used fireworks, I still have yet to figure out today. But we did that for several years and actually hid them underneath the steps going into our house so my mom wouldn’t find them because we weren’t allowed to touch fireworks. Of course, she knew they were there the entire time and a week or so after the 4th, they all ended up in the trash.

Maybe I got my enjoyment of fireworks from my Grandpa. Whenever I was at the Lake of the Ozarks over the 4th of July with Grandma and Grandpa, he would buy all sorts of fireworks to shoot off the boat dock. In fact, he always bought so many that the neighbors would all come over to watch our own private display.

When I think back, though, my favorite 4th of July was in 2001 when I was camping in the San Juan Forest near Durango, Colorado on top of a 12,000 foot mountain. From up there I could see fireworks in four different states. As high as we were, it was hard to see them, but the location away from all mankind was all that mattered. We didn’t actually need to see the fireworks because we could look up and see the beauty of the stars from where we were. And that was unbelievable!

During these past four years of being in prison, I have only seen two fireworks displays. One year the compound was kept open until the park across the street was finished shooting their fireworks off, so we were able to stand outside and watch them. Last year, we were locked inside the unit but I was able to watch them from a window. This year, unless the officers let us go outside, I will be unable to watch the fireworks, as the building I’m in now has no windows that face the park. But that’s OK. I’ll be out soon enough, enjoying the beauty of the colorful lights in the sky on a 4th of July in the future.

So why do we do it? We celebrate the 4th of July because it’s the birthday of our nation and our independence day. But why do we shoot off fireworks? Simply because John Adams wanted us to. Before the Declaration of Independence was even signed, he envisioned fireworks as a part of the festivities. In a letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, he wrote that the occasion should be commemorated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

And so we do. The first commemorative Independence Day fireworks were set off on July 4, 1777. The Pennsylvania Evening Post wrote that in Philadelphia, “The evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.” The paper noted that “Everything was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.” That same year, fireworks also lit up the sky in Boston. By 1783 a large variety of fireworks were available to the public. The tradition continues today as our way of celebrating, not just our independence, but fireworks are used at weddings, birthdays, community events, Cardinal homeruns, New Year’s Eve, and other celebrations in a large or small scale.

I’m wondering if there will be firework celebrations in heaven. I can only imagine that as each Christian passes through the pearly gates of heaven, a huge display of fireworks will be shot off, as Christ and the multitude of angels and others are celebrating the entrance of yet another Christ follower. Maybe even our names will be in the sky with a huge display of lights. What a sight that could be!!! Can’t wait to see if that happens!

Enjoy your 4th of July, your Independence Day, and give thanks to God for all your blessings in life……especially the freedom you have!

It’s Pay Day!!

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In the spring of 1996 at the end of my sophomore year in high school I went to two places and picked up job applications….. Lix Frozen Custard and Bagels. I had just turned 16 and was ready to make the big bucks. I chose those two places of employment because I loved ice cream and I loved bagels. Good enough for me!!

I filled out the applications and turned them in. After a few days I took the initiative and called both places to talk to the manager to see if they had reviewed my application. I first called Bagels and Java. The hiring manager was not in at the time and was told to try back later. I then called Lix Frozen Custard and got the manager on the telephone immediately. Within minutes I was hired, asking when I could start.

I was ecstatic! My first real job, making just above minimum wage at the time of $5.25 per hour. I ended up working at that place for two years and then moved away to college.  With this being my first real job ever (oh, I had some grass cutting jobs before this), I learned quite a few valuable life lessons: people skills, time management and work ethics to name a few. But the best part was that I could take home any ice cream that was a messed up order. Let’s just say our freezer at home was always full! HA!

In prison every able bodied individual is required to have a job. Jobs consist of being a cook, a unit orderly, working in laundry, sewing military uniforms, officiating sports games, cutting grass, collecting garbage, librarian, or working in the office. There are about 100 different types of jobs in this place. The only inmates exempt from work are those with a medical pass, the elderly, and the handicapped. Of course, there are some inmates who can find a way to get out of work. For example, you can pay another inmate with commissary items to do your job. As long as the job gets completed, the officers don’t seem to care.

For the most part, inmates are entirely in charge of the functions of the compound. If food is not cooked, we don’t eat. If the bathrooms aren’t cleaned, they stink. If the grass isn’t cut, it looks like a jungle. And so on, with everything.

Since the weather has turned nice outside – actually in Texas it started turning nice in March – my work hours have increased. I actually have two jobs. I love to work and love to stay busy. So I have chosen to take on two jobs. I have been a librarian for nearly three years now as one of my jobs. And this is my third spring/summer season of being a sand volleyball official and my first year as the league commissioner. I work 30 hours a week in the library and 17 hours a week officiating volleyball. I’m also in charge of scheduling and organizing the games, but that comes with the commissioner duties.

If  I officiated volleyball outside of prison for 17 hours, roughly 17 matches, I would make at least $25 per match which would come to $425 per week. In prison (drum roll please) I make a whopping 37 cents per match per hour. Yes, that is cents, not dollars. For one hour’s worth of work, I can buy one Ramen Noodles for 30 cents. Because the air conditioning bill is so high here, inmates have to pay a portion for the cool air (or so I like to think) to work in air conditioning so I get paid even less working in the air-conditioned library at 21 cents per hour. Thankfully, I have enough money to pay for a manila envelope at 15 cents to mail out my crocheted hats. But I have to work extra long to pay for postage. HA!

Since sand volleyball has started up in March my paychecks have been around $50 per month, about $1.56 per day which covers five minutes out of a fifteen minute phone call and one small Hostess item or snack from Little Debbie. Not bad!!!

Money isn’t everything, though. I have survived just fine these past 51 months. Of course, my wonderful parents have helped me considerably when I needed it, and I do crochet hats for my “hustle.” But God has specifically told us in Hebrews to keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have. In 1 Timothy it says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

Money can be a god to many people. It can hurt and destroy many people’s lives. Why does it seem that many rich people seem to be unhappy and always wanting more; yet those with less are content and happy? You would think it would be the other way around.

Growing up I felt money could solve everything. Well, actually, it can do alot, but only temporarily. Being in prison and living on less than $2 a day really opened my eyes to the simple things in life and not money. Sure, it is nice to treat myself to a pint of ice cream every now and then. In fact, I’m getting one later today at commissary. But in my opinion, it won’t make you any happier in a couple of hours when it’s all gone. It’s a temporary high.

Money is nice to have. But it doesn’t get you into heaven. It may bring you happiness for a little while, but having Christ in your heart and getting into heaven will bring you an eternal lifetime of happiness. If you have money, enjoy it, and then use it to further God’s Kingdom. But don’t make it your god. Make Jesus Christ your one true God.

1 Timothy

Sharing A Room

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Growing up through elementary school, I had the privilege of sharing a bedroom with my younger brother Eric. We had bunk beds in the room and we would alternate weekly sleeping from top to bottom. At bedtime both of us were hardly ever tired, as a lot of kids aren’t when they are forced to go to bed. Instead, we would lie there and talk or even play games.

I can still remember one game we played using the ceiling fan in the room. Whoever was on the top bunk would put an object on the blade of the fan, turn the fan on, and the person on the bottom bunk would try to catch it. I like to think of it now as improving our hand to eye coordination and reaction time. Every once in a while we would make a loud noise diving for the object. Mom or Dad would hear the noise, come up the stairs, tell us to settle down and put an end to the game until the next night.

I also remember one night before bed we caught lightning bugs outside. We put them in small Dixie cups, covered them in aluminum foil and poked holes in the foil for the lightning bugs to breath. We brought the cups inside unknown to our parents and hid them in our closet. I’m sure you can imagine what happened next. Shortly after lying down, the room started lighting up all over the place. “Oh, no! We’re going to get in trouble again!” We immediately had to catch them all as quietly as we could and throw them out the window.

I can’t tell you the number of times I went to bed sweating as a kid with the activities we played instead of trying to sleep. Good times and good memories of my childhood days!

From Middle School through High School I had a room to myself and my two younger brothers shared a room together. But in college, I once again shared a room with multiple other guys. Sleeping with snorers was and still is very tough for me. During my junior year of college I would drop tennis balls from the loft where I slept onto my roommate who slept below me on the couch to wake him up because of his loud snoring. And during my senior year I would throw footballs at my roommate who slept in the bed next to me to wake him up from his snoring.

Even now in this place I have roommates, also called cellmates or cellies. In all, I’ve had around 30 cellies in 50+ months of being locked up. I can’t say we play games that make us sweat right before bed time or catch creatures to bring inside as pets. But I have had my share of some good cellies and some not-so-good cellies, smelly cellies and clean cellies, murderers, drug dealers, gang members and sex offenders, Christians and atheists.

As I write this blog right now I have no cellie. He went home last week. And let me tell you…..it feels great to have the room all to myself. It’s been a week now with another week to go before another Christian brother moves in. In the 50+ months I’ve been locked up, not including the past seven nights, I’ve had a total of five nights all to myself. This is by far the longest stretch without a cellie for me, and I am enjoying every minute.

Not that it is quiet in the unit, as there is no door in my room, but just sitting in solitude without anyone else around can be very peaceful. That’s why I get up at 5am to have my quiet time with God before any of the other inmates wake up and cause a ruckus.

Everyone needs quiet and solitary time in their life. Both are very hard to come by here in prison. But when it does happen, I take full advantage of it. Look at Jesus! He always took time to get away from everyone to pray in solitude and focus on His Father. With the busy-ness in one’s schedule, we too, need to take those time outs to focus our minds on God. He does not want you to forget about Him in your fast-paced life. Take time for Him, whether it is early in the morning or before settling in to bed at night. Whatever time fits your schedule, I encourage you to do it, and make a habit of it. Even serving time in prison my mind is at peace. I begin each day off on a great note when I take time to worship Him in whatever quiet I can get.

be still

The Rainfall

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It was around 6:00 on a Sunday evening. I was on my way to school to take care of a few things before classes started for the week. This was my first teaching job right out of college and I was living in Hawaii. I landed a dream destination job right off the bat. I couldn’t ask for a better location, especially one with ideal weather conditions year round. I had been teaching for a few months now, so I was familiar with the school and the surrounding areas, especially the local beaches. On my way into work, it had started to get cloudy, looking like we were in for a little rain. We were nearing the winter months, which actually was the rainy season.

Fortunately, the past few months rain was seldom on my side of the island where I lived and taught. All that separated the west side from the east side of the island of Oahu was a mountain range smack dab in the middle.  The east side was always wet, and had very lush vegetation. When it rained hard, it rained extremely hard, sometimes up to ten inches of rain at a time.

On the west wise, where I lived, it was rather dry. I was yet to experience a severe heavy downpour….until that night. I lived only two minutes from the school. Most days I would usually walk or rollerblade. However, I pretty much stopped rollerblading, as I had a nasty spill on my way to work one day while going down a steep decline.

Just minutes after I walked into the building, it started to sprinkle. I didn’t think much of it. Like always, it would stop as fast as it started. But on this night, the rain kept coming down harder and harder. I was sitting in my classroom working away when the soft sound of the rain hitting the roof got my attention. The noise continued to get louder and louder, almost to the point of not being able to concentrate. I looked outside and could hardly make out the houses across the street. I knew then that this downpour was not going to stop. We were in for some serious weather.

I had only planned on doing some work for about an hour. I lived on top of a high hill, so I know I didn’t have to worry about flooding. Before leaving, I checked each of the classrooms and moved the important items away from the doorways and put a few things up, just in case the rain would spill through the doors. Each classroom door exited outside, like a typical California or Florida school, and a hard rain could allow water to seep in  under the doors. Thankfully, there was a lanai with an overhang over each classroom and the walkways which would help the situation.

After I locked up, I rushed to my car and drove off. I lived on top of a hill about two minutes away. It was about a half mile accent to get to the house I rented. As I turned the corner to go up the street in the blinding rain, a wall of water hit my car. It seemed as if a river was running down the length of my street. The one and only word that came to my mind was “AWESOME.” I’ve never seen so much rain water at one time.

With the rain continuing to pour down, I slowly drove up the river, hoping I wouldn’t be swept away. I had an SUV at the time that sat high off the ground so I felt pretty safe. With my windshield wipers on full speed, I could just make out how fast the current was flowing on the side of the street. With the street at a slight angle, most of the water drifted to the sides. After observing this, with my adventurous and dare-devilish mind in full swing, I immediately said to myself, “It’s body board time!”

As soon as I pulled in to the garage, I jumped out instantly. I yelled to my roommate to get the camera and an umbrella, while I changed into my board shorts. He knew exactly what I was thinking without me telling him anything. All he could do was shake his head in disbelief and laugh. I ripped off my shirt and shoes, grabbed the body board, and made my way out into the torrential downpour. My roommate cautiously followed me. As I walked to the edge of the street, and stood in the current, I almost lost my balance as the eight inches of water almost pulled me off my feet. While under the umbrella, my roommate started snapping pictures. I belly flopped onto the body board and took off. My roommate tried his best to keep up with me, but I soon left him behind in just seconds. I literally felt I was on a Class 5 white water rafting trip. It was awesome!

Thankfully, there are no sewers in Hawaii, so I knew I would not be going down a man hole. To say the least, the speed I was going was breathtaking. As I neared the end of the street, with the current slowing down, I got off the body board, turned around and started making my way back up the street to the starting point. With a huge smile on my face, and my roommate laughing, I took a few more trips down the river before the rain started to taper off and the river became non-existent.

What a blast it was! With only a few scraped elbows and knees, it was definitely worth the rush. Sometimes life brings us things we never expect…..good and bad. When that happens, be prepared! Yes, plans have to be changed, but in order to get through, we must just do it! Body boarding on the streets in Hawaii!!!! If you ever get that chance, don’t pass up the opportunity. It’s a memory you’ll never forget. I know I won’t.