Grocery Shopping

It’s 6:00 am. Inmates are anxiously waiting for the compound to be opened for the day. A crowd is gathering around the door. Empty laundry bags are in their hands. It is eerily quiet, considering half the unit is up, all waiting for the rush to begin. Keys are heard rattling from the officers’ hallway. An officer is making his way to the door. It is just about Go Time. At 6:01 as the officer nears the door, an announcement comes on the speaker and says, “The compound is open for the day.”

Instantly the door is unlocked. Within 30 seconds, hundreds of inmates have pushed, shoved, and squeezed their way out the unit door into the inner compound. The majority of the inmates who got out the door first are now sprinting. As a man falls to the ground and scrapes up his face, ten others are leaping over him, continuing their run. Tables are jumped over. Bushes are run through. Within one minute of the compound being opened, the line is already 50 people deep. It’s commissary day!! (Or,  grocery shopping in the outside world)

It’s quite a scene to witness a mass of people coming from all corners of the compound to gather in one line at the commissary building. Running is prohibited on the compound. But try being that officer telling the hundreds of inmates to walk. It just doesn’t happen. I once approached an elderly man. Picking himself off the ground he tells me that once every few months he takes a spill. Another inmate comes back to the unit with his commissary bag in hand and blood dripping from his face. I asked, “What happened?” He responds, “I fell face first jumping over a table.”

Every inmate is allowed to shop once per week. The commissary is only open two hours in the morning and two hours during lunch, Monday through Thursday. And with almost 2,000 inmates on this compound, unless you get in line early, you will be turned away, as the wait will exceed the two hour time limit. Each inmate is designated a specific day to go. So if you are not able to go on your day, or you are too late getting in line, that’s it for the week. You will have to try again next week. It’s an extremely slow process for some odd reason, and can actually take the whole two hours to get your items. If you want to purchase snacks, foods, and various hygiene items you must get in line on your assigned day. Not a great system, but it is definitely worth the wait to get the items you need and want.

Thankfully I have never been injured or been involved in any skirmishes while trying to get into the line. But I do laugh and smile watching the old men with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs make their way to the store. I’m shocked at how fast some of them can move when they want to get in line.

Just a typical day in Federal Prison – Grocery Shopping Day!

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The Wait is On

patience

“Chow Time!” says the officer over the speaker system. “Line up at the door.” And then we wait and wait for the doors to be opened. Once the doors are opened and we walk to the chow hall, we have to wait again to get our food. Every 50 minutes during the day and evening time there is a move we must make. Once the move is announced, we have to line up at the door and wait for the door to be unlocked. We have to wait in line to use the showers, the bathroom, and even telephone. Do you notice the theme here? In prison, the officers are known for making us hurry up to wait. On average, at least one hour a day, sometimes much more is spent on pointless waiting. But that’s the way of life in prison.

When I first got to prison, all the waiting time was difficult for me. But as my time here progressed, waiting got easier. I learned to carry something with me to help with the waiting, like a book or magazine or even a crossword puzzle.  I know to never leave anywhere without my green binder full of magazines, puzzles, even letter writing material. My waiting time is definitely not being wasted. Unfortunately, for some inmates waiting time brings out the worst in them. They are constantly complaining, arguing, and sometimes a fight will even occur. Patience is something that needs to be learned here.

I can’t say I’ve ever waited and camped out for days in a line for a concert or sporting event ticket like others have. But I have had to wait in my share of lines for hours and hours, especially for roller coaster rides at amusement parks or waiting at the airport for a vacation. Those waits are well worth the wait. It can be tough to wait in lines especially when the end result isn’t always the greatest: checkout lines at the store, traffic jams to pass the construction zone or accident, and especially lines at the DMV (Why are those who work there always so angry or crabby anyway? I think when I get out, I’m going to get a job there and turn it into a happy DMV! HA!) Of course these days when waiting people just pluck away on their cell phones to kill the time. Face to face social interaction with others seems to have come to a standstill. Maybe God put you in that line for a reason to talk with the individual next to you? Just saying…..

As I write this, I’m exactly three weeks away from being able to leave this place and start my life all over again. Unfortunately, though, I will not be able to go. Most of you don’t know nor ever will know that it is very easy to get sentenced to prison, but extremely hard to leave this place. On sentencing day, the judge gives everyone a release date. That date is constantly changing though, with earning good time and programs that reduce time. However, more times than not, inmates shoot right past their release date and continue to wait. An inmate’s paperwork has to be absolutely perfect in order to leave here. That means every T needs to be crossed and every I dotted. Because an inmate is not in charge of their own paperwork, the judicial system takes their time getting everything squared away before allowing one to enter society again.

In my file there is some messed up paperwork so I am still uncertain as to my release date. Yes, I continue to wait. No, it’s not right. But then committing a crime is not right either. And yes, this system is very messed up. All I know is that this is out of my control, and that all I can do is pray and wait. God is in absolute control and knows what He is doing.

Look at all the people in the Bible that had to wait – Abraham, Moses, David, the Israelites, Joseph. The list could go on and on. The end result always seems to be worth the wait. Do I want to leave this place? Absolutely, Yes! But this is where God needs me right now. I don’t like it. But I’ll continue to follow Him and listen to Him. And when it is time, God will say, “You ready, Craig?” and will immediately release me from here.

I know that when I leave this place my life will feel so great that my years in prison will definitely have been worth the wait! I look forward to that day!  Please pray that my file gets straightened out and I can begin my new life outside of prison!

Imagine

“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person. There have been so many stories about the lack of courtesy, the impatience of today’s world, road rage and even restaurant rage. Sometimes, all it takes is one kind word to nourish another person. Think of the ripple effect that can be created when we nourish someone. One kind empathetic word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”   Fred Rogers

Time for Church

empty-churchOver the Christmas holiday weekend, someone from the other side of the fence…..prison fence, that is……had this great idea to purchase a softball, hollow it out, stuff it with tobacco products, and throw it over the fence into our recreation yard. Of course, an officer found the ball, and shut the rec yard down the entire three day weekend. The temperatures just happened to be in the 70’s which made it even tougher to sit inside all day.

Because the rec yard was shut down, along with the library, the chapel was the only place open to everyone. It was amazing to see all kinds of inmates come to attend the Christmas night service. Yes, God works in all sorts of ways !!

In the two and half years that I have been living here, I’ve never seen the chapel so full. It was incredible. Yes, a lot of them only came to get away from their unit for an hour, but still they came. This made me do some thinking about church attendance. Why are the Christmas church services and the Easter Sunday services always the most attended services of the year, not just in prison, but outside of prison, too?? Are those the only times people feel the urge to worship God? Are those the only times they feel the need to put God first? Too bad for them, and too bad for God.

For the most part, I go to church every weekend, unless someone has come to visit me or the compound is in lockdown. I have a group of guys that I regularly sit with. There is one guy in our group who usually needs to be reminded and asked if he’ll be going. Even if he doesn’t feel like attending, we still urge him to come along, and he usually does. This guy is not even a Christian, but yet regularly attends church more than most and has been attending church with us for the last year. His view on religion is that he is open to all of them. But yet, he only attends the Christian services. He hardly sings, and sometimes even falls asleep, but he keeps being drawn back week after week. A few guys and I have had our talk with him about God, and he does listen and asks questions. But he just doesn’t want to commit. I pray one day that someone or something will get through to him and the Holy Spirit will move in his heart.

Why is it that people only attend church when they feel the need to, like a personal problem they are going through, or a special occasion or holiday? When inmates are asked to come to church with us, the number one reason is “I don’t worship with hypocrites.” Isn’t that like saying I don’t worship with sinners. Imagine if Jesus didn’t hang out with sinners!!! Where would we all be?

What kind of church goer are you? Are you that person that only attends during special seasons and only to please your Mom? Are you that person that puts God first and knows that weekly church attendance is what He wants? Why not make this the year of your resolution to attend church on a more frequent basis. Attend weekly, like my friend, even if you don’t feel like it. Just imagine what blessings God could have in store for you if you put Him first each week. Your relationship with Jesus will grow, and He will work in your life in ways you cannot even imagine. May He lead you this year to new heights in your walk with Him as you meet Him each week in worship.

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