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!

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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!

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