Raging Fire

 

Colorado fire

It was the summer of 2002. I had just finished my first senior year at Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin (Yes, that’s right, I had two senior years). I was gearing up for another fun-filled summer working as a counselor at a Christian sports camp called Kanakuk Kamps in Bayfield, CO, right outside Durango in the southwest corner of the state. Before moving out west for the summer, I was working the month of June for my Grandpa as a carpenter, building a department store inside a mall.

A week into the job, I got tragic news that fires were raging throughout the entire state of Colorado and were slowly making its way to Bayfield. The fires were still a good ways from the camp, which was only in its second year of existence, but the director of the camp sent emails to all of the workers and future campers of the potential danger and ever threatening situation. He told us all to pray unceasingly. I thought to myself that surely God would spare a camp built to further His Kingdom and to tell kids about Jesus. So I prayed daily for the camp and that the summer would go on as planned.

Each day I received updates. And each day the fire crept closer and closer to the camp property. Then I got word midway through June that the area and the camp had to be evacuated. All the campers were sent home and the counselors were told to leave for a short period of time, but to check in daily. It was a sad day, especially with the pictures I had received of the fire and devastation in the area. I can still remember the pictures of Vallecito Reservoir, which was only five miles from the camp. The reservoir, which the camp used for skiing and tubing, was ever so low because the water was being used to contain the fire. In the background of the pictures, the entire mountainside was engulfed in fire and smoke, flames shooting as high as 200 feet in the air. I was shocked, saddened, and confused, and figured any day the camp would be burned to the ground.

I was sadly anticipating the dreaded email saying that K-Colorado was no longer standing. Finally the day had arrived. I woke up early, getting ready for work and checked my email. There it was. I was not ready to start the day on a bad note, but knew I had to read the somber news. So I opened it, and read it. And what do you know! The first words I read and I can still remember today were………It’s a miracle! The camp was spared! It truly was a miracle. I knew I had to experience the catastrophe firsthand and see the devastation with mine own eyes to truly believe how big of a miracle God had performed.

A few weeks later the workers returned, new campers arrived, and the camp resumed normal operations. I made my way to the Durango area in July. I was actually excited but also nervous with what my eyes were going to see. When driving through Colorado, I could see small fires throughout the state. But thankfully none were near the southwest corner.

After the 18 hour drive from St. Louis, I finally made it. Words can’t describe what I saw. charred treesUpon nearing the camp, all I saw were black and charred trees. There was hardly any green vegetation. Houses were burned. Grassy fields were black. I was in a state of shock. I thought to myself, how could K-Colorado be up and running with all the devastation around? Then I saw the most beautiful sight in the blackened forest. In the middle of all ugliness, there stood our camp – green trees, flowers blooming, clean cabins and buildings. It was like heaven in the midst of hell! A beautiful sight to behold!

The fire did actually reach the property and burned a number of trees, but only on the outskirts of the property. The camp is in a valley between two small mountains. We were told by the firefighters that the fire came racing down one mountainside at blazing speed, literally stopped when it reached camp property, sent flames 200 feet in the air shooting up and over our camp to the other mountainside, and continued its devastating path, bypassing us entirely. They said it was an amazing sight to see. I was told the evacuation happened very quickly; there was no time to pack the summer equipment away. Ropes on the edge of the property used for climbing and zip-lining were left out, as well as rubber walking mats used for traction to walk on the steep slopes. One of the coolest things I saw was the blackness of the trees surrounding the rubber mats and yet the rubber was not burnt nor molted in any way. The fire literally went up to the mat, singed the edges, and then stopped. The ropes were not burned, despite the trees around them that were burned to the ground. And not one single cabin or building had smoke damage or any type of damage whatsoever. God’s thumbprint was literally pressed down on the camp, and the fire skirted right around it. There are other stories and pictures I could talk about, but I think you get the point.

God is a miracle worker! Nothing is impossible for Him; especially stopping a raging fire that was destroying everything in its path. If He can do that, He can work the impossible in your life today, tomorrow, and the rest of your life. Keep the faith. The God of miracles has your back.

One, Two, Three, Four…….

counting

The lights flash. The televisions turn off. A moan of disappointment is heard among the inmates. Slowly but surely the inmates rise out of their chairs and make their way back to their cells. It’s 9pm. It’s Count Time!

Count Time is when every inmate on the entire compound is counted by the officers to make sure everyone is accounted for and have not escaped. It is done every day at 4pm, 9pm, 12am, 3am, and 5am. On weekends, an additional 10am count is done. Let me tell you….it gets old fast. But everyone gets used to it. The 10am, 4pm, and 9pm counts are called stand-up counts. When the two officers that count your unit pass your cell to count you, everyone must be awake and standing. They do the stand up count to make sure everyone is alive and ticking. Seriously.

My very first cellie in county jail told me that back in the 70’s he killed his cellie (welcome to being locked up, Craig!) because his cellie blew cigarette smoke in his face. (This was when cigarettes were allowed in cell prisons). He cleaned up the mess and made his dead cellie look like he was always sleeping during count time. Unfortunately, after a few days, the room started to smell and eventually his body basically exploded. He was forced to tell the officers what he did. That incident is one of the reasons for a stand up count. (and yes, it’s a true story)

Thankfully, during the 12am, 3am and 5am counts, they let you sleep. But they do shine a bright mag light on your face. Since I’m a light sleeper, I’m often aroused from my sleep. Yeah, I guess you can say I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in 47 months now.

It takes anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes to count the entire unit. Unfortunately, there are some very “special” counters here….. counting inmates can be a very difficult task for them. The numbers of the two officers that count each unit must match up before the count is cleared for the unit. In my opinion, counting the inmates should be easy for them. But when they add the top tier and the bottom tier together, it seems to be a little tricky. HA! My record for most recounts during one count time is four. It took nearly an hour for the count to be cleared. This one particular officer continues to work here. She has gotten better, though. On average these days, she usually only has to recount a couple of times a week. But we all groan when we have her as an officer in our building responsible for the count. I can’t imagine why!

Once the numbers are matched up in the unit and the entire compound is accounted for, the count is officially cleared and we can leave our cells and go back to our activities. When I’m finally free from this place, and I’m at home during the times of 10am, 4pm and 9pm, and I randomly stand up, don’t ask questions. You’ll know why!!!! (This was written so you have an idea of what a day is like in the life of an inmate.)

Taking the Plunge

luana-fallsAs I make my way up the rock face alongside the 20’ waterfall on the island of Oahu, I think to myself, “What am I doing?” I consider myself an adrenaline junkie, so doing this type of thing is what I live for. Yes, serious injury or even death is always a possibility. But I’m also the guy that says to take chances. When you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it. And today I’m feeling it!

As I reach the top of the waterfall and get to my feet, I turn around and look back at the mass of people gathered around the 20 ‘ x 20’ pool of water. This will be the last time I see these people again, as well as the pool of water, until I’m halfway down the 50 foot blind leap of faith along the Luana Falls. I wave, smile, and turn to follow the local Hawaiians through the dense forest as we skirt our way along cliffs and through the raging creek beds. Just getting to the top of the jump is an adventure in itself. But after twenty minutes, with sweat pouring down my face, we get to our destination.

A look of fear immediately comes across my face, as the locals all start to laugh. I peer over the edge. I see moist leaves and branches mostly, with glimpses of the water as the leaves rustle in the wind. I also hear the thunderous roar of the waterfall. That is why they call this the blind leap. Over the years, the vegetation has drastically grown thicker and more dense. And that is why the jump is so exhilarating, even to the locals, as the jumper comes shooting out among the trees into a dark blue pool of water.

As the locals start to jump one after the other, it’s almost my turn. My stomach starts to turn into knots with a queasy feeling inside me. The guy before me does a reverse swan dive leap through the leaves, I hear his splash, and then a cheer, and step to the edge. It’s my turn. I look to my left and gaze at the valley below….this cliff is way higher than I thought. But I’m not one to step away from something like this. It’ll all be over in seconds. With only one local left behind me to jump, he points and tells me to jump through a tiny opening in the leaves where it’s less dense and safer. I look down one last time and can just make out a few people waiting for my descent through the leaves. I take a deep breath and jump.

I hit the small opening dead on and shoot through the leaves in less than a second with forty feet to go. The crowd is screaming. I feel like I’m flying. The free fall is an incredible experience, feeling like I am in the air forever. But in just seconds my feet touch the water and the rest of my body plunges through the surface. I swim to the top, pop my head out of the water as the throng of people cheer.

It’s over! I did it! As I look from the water, back to the top of the cliff, I think to myself, “What was I thinking?” But I loved it!!

I’ve actually done this jump quite a few times since that day. It got easier with each jump. But the feeling in the air was always the same. I’ve had many experiences jumping off some pretty sweet cliffs in my lifetime. But this plunge is never to be forgotten!

How many of you have ever taken a plunge into a pool of water off a cliff? How many of you have ever taken a plunge into a swimming pool? Or how many of you daily take the plunge into God’s Word?

That’s the reason I’m writing this specific blog, to encourage you to daily commit your life to His Word. Whether it’s five minutes a day or thirty minutes a day, God wants you to get to know Him on a personal level. I know in my past with my busy and chaotic schedule outside of prison, I hardly ever plunged into the Word. It took a prison experience to daily commit my life to Him.

My alarm is set for 5:30am every morning before the mass of inmates start to stir. And for a half hour every morning, in the quietness of the unit, I plunge into His Word. I couldn’t ask for a better way to start the day. And I couldn’t ask for a better feeling. It doesn’t get much better than that

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!

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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