Every Monday through Friday from 12 noon to 3pm I am in a program called RDAP which stands for Residential Drug Abuse Program. It is a nine month program that can be quite intensive. One most give speeches, presentations, skits, and a wide variety of other activities that can get you out of your comfort zone. There is a morning session and an afternoon session with about 100 inmates in each session. Since it is a residential program, all 200 of us live with each other in a separate dorm for the entire nine months. We all bond and get to know each other quite well. For the most part, the program is about changing your attitude and making better life choices. In my opinion it has changed me tremendously for the better. The stories I’ll be able to share when I get out will make you laugh, cry and even shock you. But these stories can truly help change a life.
For the past few months I’ve been trying to figure out ways to be able to witness to the other inmates about God’s love in a more successful way. I know I’m hard on myself and set my standards high, but I feel like I’ve been dropping the ball. And lately, I feel like God has been tugging at my heart to do something “big” for Him. Yes, I lead prayer groups, attend church, and talk to others frequently about God, but to me that just doesn’t seem like enough. So I prayed that God would give me an opportunity. And what do you know, God answered!
For the first hour in RDAP each day we have a large group meeting called “community” where all 100 inmates, including the four drug treatment specialists, get together and talk. I believe I talked about “community” in one of my earlier blogs. Briefly, we share news, events, stories, place ice breaker games, and just talk among each other. We also do a lot of clapping and encouraging of one another. There is also an activity called “word or thought of the day.” Each day an inmate is assigned to the task of choosing a word or thought of the day. Then the next day he must discuss the word or thought he chose and share with us what that word or thought means to him and how it applies to his life. After he is finished talking about it, a few other inmates get an opportunity to talk about that same word or thought and what it means to them. So when an inmate was asked what word or thought he chose, he blurted out “forgiveness.” My eyes got wide, my heart skipped a beat, and I knew tomorrow would be the day I’ve been praying for, an opportunity to share in a “big” moment. Whenever we talk it has to be brief, so I had to prepare something that was short yet powerful. So this is what I came up with and shared that day on “forgiveness.”
When I think of the word forgiveness I think of all the forgiveness I have received in my lifetime – from my family and friends to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Most of you know that I am a Christian, and forgiveness is a big part of my life. However, forgiveness has not always come easy to me. There has been many times where I have held grudges and have resented people because of what they did to me. I held on to the past for too long and built up way too much anger. I just couldn’t let it go. I would constantly think of ways how to get back at people. Fortunately, it has taken this prison experience to teach me how to forgive and forget, to move on and let go of those past experiences that have hurt me. How can I expect to be forgiven if I do not forgive others? How can I move forward in my life if I do not let go of the past? Upon entering prison, I knew I had to make changes to my life – not just in regards to forgiveness but to my attitude in general. Believe it or not, I was a very angry individual. Yes, I had God in my life, but I was still very lost. Thankfully, these last two and a half years in prison have done wonders to me. I’m not that guy who walks around ticked off at the world. I’m not that guy who is negative and complaining all the time. I’m that guy who has found a sense of peace, that joy deep down in my heart. Why? Because I have forgiven myself. I have forgiven myself for the wrong I have done to my life, for the pain I have caused myself. I forgive myself because I have finally let go of the past and have given all my troubles and worries to God. God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for us, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He truly forgives us by the sacrifice He made. I know I’m moving forward each day, walking around with a positive attitude, smiling, forgiving those that have wronged me, including myself, and asking for forgiveness to those I have wronged. My deep desire to live the way I believe Jesus had in mind when He said that those who have been forgiven much love much. I have been forgiven much by many, and as much as I would like to be free of these prison walls, I have resolved that I want God’s will for me more. If this is where He intends for me to be, then I will serve Him here to the best of my ability. My body is confined, but because of God’s forgiveness and abundant grace poured out on me – someone who does not deserve it – my soul is at liberty and I am set free. Because I have received and have given forgiveness, I have a peace in my heart as I seek to do the will of my Father.
That’s what I shared with the group. Oh there’s more to my story, but it’s because of the forgiveness and grace of God that I am what I am today. Thankfully, God gives me the opportunity to witness, especially to inmates who don’t know Christ. I’m not sure what hearts were touched that day, but I do believe God softened some and the seed was planted.
And to you, my friends, if I have hurt any of you in the past, I am truly sorry and seek your forgiveness. I pray that you will forgive me for the pain I have caused in your life. Will you forgive me?