Mom

Growing up as a kid, I was blessed to be surrounded by many loving family and friends. I have two younger brothers and an older sister and we are all very close in age. Of course, as kids we had our arguments and fights, but for the most part we got along pretty well. I must say my parents who have been married for 41 years raised soDSCF8531 (2)me great kids. My coming to prison was definitely out of character as to what you would expect from someone in my family, but that’s a whole other story.

What I wanted to write about today is my mom. I know Mother’s Day has recently passed, but it’s never too late to write how important and impactful both my parents are to me.

In elementary school each year there would be an essay contest on “My Mom is the best because….” The winner from each grade would get a framed copy of the essay to be given to his or her mom on Mother’s Day. Each of my siblings was awarded first place at least once during our elementary school days. Here is the winning essay I wrote:

My Mom is the best because she takes me to a whole bunch of places like Six Flags and Cardinal baseball games. When we are at stores and if want something most of the time she will buy something for me but not all the time. She says I need to save my money. My Mom also puts me on sports teams and she sends me to a good Christian camp that costs a lot. Even though she can barely afford it, she still sends me because she knows I will enjoy it, and she gives things up so I can go.Every Sunday she also drives me to church and Sunday School so we can worship. My Mom is the best and I’m glad God put us in the same family.

 As a kid I took everything my parents did for granted. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I really appreciate EVERYTHING they did for our family. I don’t think I’ll ever realize the amount of time my mom spent in a car driving us around every single day to our countless numbers of sports practices, games, and activities. And then at the same time she made sure we always had three meals to eat each day, clean clothes to wear, and always helped us with homework. How in the world can one person have time in the day to accomplish all of these tasks? The house was always clean, too. She dusted everything ….there was never a speck of dust in the house. Funny story, though…the reason why my mom cleaned every room and crevice in the house was because it was her way to snoop around and see what kind of mischief we were getting into. There was nothing that we could hide from her. She found everything. One day when I was away from the house and she was “cleaning,” she stumbled upon some money that I had hidden years ago and had forgotten all about. So I guess her “cleaning” was good some of the time! HA!

I never saw my mom smoke or drink alcohol, and I only heard her curse once in my entire life. We were on our way to a basketball game, and she was driving us, of course. It was raining, and a car suddenly stopped in front of us. While my mom hit her brakes and was skidding towards the other car, out slipped the “D” word. Thankfully, she didn’t hit the car. But my siblings and I all looked at each other in shock and couldn’t believe what we just heard. We all silently chuckled. She was human after all!

She taught me countless numbers of life lessons, set amazing examples, and poured out her love each and every day. One of her favorite lines when she punished one of us was, “This hurts me more than you.” I definitely learned from my mistakes, especially when it came to being grounded and missing my sports games because of a poor grade.

One of the best qualities about my mom is her love for Christ. She would always find time (I really don’t think she ever slept) to spend with God. Whether it be a devotional, reading the Bible, or in prayer, she would always put God first in her busy schedule. She is definitely an imitator of God. She gives, gives and gives again. And she always got us up for 8am church every Sunday morning so we could go as a family….and then she taught Sunday School at 9:30. Heaven forbid if we ever had a sports game during church because church always came first, and we had to miss the game. I was never happy about that, but today it definitely helps me with my decisions when conflicts arise between God and other activities. God needs to come first.

One of my favorite quotes I had on my bulletin board in my room she wrote was, “No matter how I’m acting on the outside, I keep loving you on the inside.” She is definitely not to blame for the mistakes I’ve made in my life. She set the bar high and has helped me become the man I am today. She is by far a role model to many, especially to me, and one I strive to be like every day. My mom is the best because no matter what I do or how I act, she continues to love me unconditionally. Thanks, Mom. I love you.

(My Dad played an important part of my life too…..but that’s for later!)

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Mom’s Angle: The Wait

This is the fifth post written by my mom, with my permission. Other articles can be found: Looking Back (11/2/14), Looking Around (1/15/15), Looking Ahead (5/25/15), Looking Up (11/4/15).

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Waiting is a hard thing. Waiting in line is especially hard. When we wait in line it’s for a purpose. We wait to purchase our items as we wait in a line at the cashier.  We wait in line to get tickets we just have to have. We wait in line for our turn to go through the gate at the airport. We wait in line to go through the car wash. We wait in line to get into the stadium to see the big game. We wait in line for our turn at the amusement park. We wait in line to go through the drive through. We wait in line for the ATM. How many hours a week do we wait?

But recently there’s a new wait in my life. I have to wait in line in order to visit my son in prison. This is a line like I’ve never seen before. It’s a line full of all kinds of people….people of every age, nationality, color and race. Some people are just like me; others not so much. But we are all in line for one specific reason – to see a loved one who is serving time in prison. And because of that, we are all like one big family. We all have a specific goal in mind and we are all excited to wait in this line. We talk, we laugh, we share stories.

The line is a numbered line. Oh, we don’t receive numbers in our hands, but each person knows what number they are when they get in the line. There is usually one person at the beginning of the line who can tell you what number you are. That person is the designated line keeper, someone who you need to report to if you have to get out of line for something. It’s important you know your number because only five people at a time are called into the check-in room. The sooner you get in line, the sooner you will get in to see your loved one. And if there is arguing in the line about where you should be, the guards can shut down visitation for that day. So we get in line and stay in line and wait until it’s our turn. The line is outside, rain or shine. And I have stood 2 hours in the rain in order to get in. But it’s what we do as we wait.

When you pull into the parking lot…..usually about 2 hours before visitation begins…..you walk quickly over to the building where you check in. You don’t want to dawdle in the parking lot because others can get in line before you and that could mean a half hour or more of line standing and less time to see your loved one. So you take your car keys and driver’s license and hurry to the line. You are not allowed to take anything else with you……no wallet, no phone, no candy, no pictures, no fit bits. Just the clothes you are wearing and your ID and keys.

Speaking of clothes, there is a dress code. It’s interesting to hear clothes stories as we wait in line. We are not to wear shorts, sandals or any kind of open toe shoes, no high heels (they could be a weapon), no sleeveless shirts, no khaki colored pants or shirts, no brown colors, no solid green, no orange. And these rules can change each time you go, depending on what guard is working the gate on that particular day. We have seen many people leave the line and drive down the road to Wal-Mart to get something that is acceptable to the guard. Whether it’s shoes or pants or tight capris or leggings, they have the final say so and it does no good to argue. One lady told us she wore the same hoodie three times in a row, and the fourth time she wore it, it was not allowed. Why? Because the guard said so.

People come from all around the country to visit. Some drive in; many fly. There was a man in a wheelchair and his wife who came to visit their son. They flew from the west coast to Dallas because it was the man’s 80th birthday and the couple wanted to celebrate his birthday by visiting their son. Besides the wheelchair, he was on oxygen. The guard would not let them bring in the extra oxygen tank because “that’s the rules.”  So their visit was short. But as they would say, “Well worth it.” Those who drive may leave at 4 in the morning in order to get in line. One family of an inmate (mom, dad, wife, sister) flies 3 times a year from the east coast and visit 3 days in a row. One of the days it’s only the wife that goes in so she can have some time with her husband by herself.

You take a chance every time you visit. There have been times when the prison decides to have a family day so only those with children can visit. Now if you have driven a long ways to visit and have no children with you, they could cause some aggravation. Or the time when the prison was in lock-down mode for five days, so no visitation days then. It’s a risk you take, but it’s a risk you must take.

Visiting an inmate is one of the most important things anyone can do for an inmate. Most inmates do not get any visits from family or friends. But for those of who do visit, it’s worth the hassles and the rules. Visiting allows you to actually sit next to your loved one and hug them and touch them. We see young wives visiting their husbands and sitting next to each other for six hours holding hands and staring into each other’s eyes. We see kids getting to sit on their dad’s laps and kissing him and talking and laughing with him. It’s good for both the inmate and visitor to have that contact.

As you stand in line with the others waiting with you, for that short time you are together, you are bonded with them. You all have a story to tell…..how many years your loved one has been in, how many prisons he has been in, how far they have traveled, how often they travel. You have something in common with them and yet you don’t share the details of the crime that was committed. You see, that’s not important. What’s important is that their loved one is loved and that those in line are eager to get inside to spend a short time with them, to see that they are OK, to hear how things are going, and to be reassured that life is going OK.

Any inmate will tell you that on a day to day basis, receiving mail lifts them up. But an actual visit in the flesh is truly priceless. It’s hard to visit….it takes several days from your regular schedule, it’s expensive to travel to see them, it hurts to see them in prison, it’s hard to walk away at the end of the day and know they are not coming home for a while. But I know it’s important to visit. God tells us that when we visit someone in prison, it is as if we are visiting Him.

We have visited Craig in three different places now. At the first place we were only allowed a 30-minute visit one time a week. Since we lived 7 hours away, we did not go very often. And when we did, we talked through a telephone and looked at each through Plexiglas. But it was good to go and see that he was doing OK. The next place was an 8 hour drive for a 2 hour visit. This time we could sit with him and touch him. Again we only went one time while he was there because of the distance. We have now visited Craig five times in the two years he has been at this place. It’s a 10 hour drive, but we do get a 6 hour visit. Definitely nice! And it’s nice to just sit and talk all that time. You may think you would run out of things to talk about, but it doesn’t happen. We are able to talk about important things, about not-so-important things, and about silly things. He shares with us and we share with him what is happening in our lives. It’s always a good visit. We get to meet his friends in prison who are just regular guys like Craig, and their parents who are just regular people like us.

Prison is a dark environment and nobody wants to be there. But when an inmate gets a visit, he knows someone loves and cares about him and that brings a light into his little area of the compound. And that may be what he needs to keep him hopeful until the next visit.

Waiting in a prison line is a good line to be waiting in. And as I look around and see all the different kinds of people, I imagine it will be like another line I will be in someone……the line getting into the Pearly Gates, where I will see people of every tongue, every tribe, every people from every land. All those waiting to see the King of Glory! What a line that will be!!

What Does My Future Hold?

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This week in all the federal prisons across the United States it is National Re-Entry Week. It’s a week when re-entry programs are taking place throughout the prison system. Every day there are programs that are dedicated to a certain area that may help an inmate when leaving a prison. I have attended half-way house programs, chapel programs, and health and fitness programs. It’s a great way to start thinking about jobs, life goals and changes that need to be made to better one’s life.

As my time gets closer to the door, I have been thinking, and others have been asking, what I want to do with my life once I leave prison. Attending these programs this week really got me thinking about my future, and how exciting it’s going to be to start my life all over again. God has definitely given me a second chance to better my life and to live a life more for Him. I’m looking forward to it!

My future is fuzzy. As I write this, I really have no clue what type of job I will find. I know there is a chance that it might be very hard to find a great job with the word “felon” tacked on to my name. When I first get out, I might have to resort to flipping burgers, washing dishes, or even cleaning bathrooms. Now I know there’s nothing wrong with those jobs, but I want to find something else. My job applications could very easily be passed up or placed in the “Do Not Hire” pile due to my past. I may not pass the interview when they ask why I haven’t worked the past few years. There are so many unknowns at this time. All it takes is for that one person to give me a chance, and I know I’ll be able to prove my worth. If you’re that person, please let me know! I won’t disappoint you!!

Ideally, I would love to work my way up the line in the golf course industry. I had such a great time during that one year before getting locked up, working on the maintenance crew at a local course in St. Louis. I could definitely see myself working in the offices at a pro shop, or who knows…. maybe finding a job working for the PGA tour down the road. Anybody have any connections they could pass on to me?

The good part about my life is that God has it all figured out. No matter where I land a job, it is exactly where God needs me to be during that point in my life. I am eager to see what is out there for me. Who knows? God could be leading me down the path that never in my wildest imagination I could ever see myself doing. But if it’s what He wants, I will follow. All I know is that when I get out of here, I want to serve the Lord more, putting Him first in my life, and continue growing in my relationship with Him. Hmmm….…..now that I think about it, maybe He wants me to be in the ministry? I could totally see myself taking His Word with just the clothes on my back, to the deepest rain forests in the Amazon. Now that would be awesome!! But whatever comes my way, I’ll do my best, and let God do the rest.

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if serving the Lord, not man.” Ephesians 6:7