Chad, a prisoner I am writing to
Life in a prison is intense, amplified, and I believe that the struggle for those who seek an inner relationship with God is also more intense. If only for the reason that they cannot get away from others. They can go into their cell, in some prisons, yet the noise can be overwhelming, I am told. There is violence, stabbings, and lockdowns. In the winter, from what I have learned, they keep the place cold, and one prisoner I write to says they allow no jackets. Though I am not sure that is the same in all prisons. Each has their own rules, which are very strict.
It is true that many have little use for those in prison. Though it is often because of a certain stereotype that may be unconscious. As well, I guess, that there are many in prison who do fit the most damming descriptions of that stereotype. Yet as is often the case, many do not fit that at all. Some are chronic offenders, even then, not all are dangerous, they just have some serious impulse issues, and perhaps because of that, they do need to be locked up. However, in writing inmates, many will cause the negative picture of prisoners to lessen a bit when their humanity is experienced.
I am writing a fellow named Chad. Another prisoner, with whom I have been writing for quite a while, gave him my address, with my permission. Chad, let me know right off that he did not want anything from me. No money, not even stamps, etc. He just wanted someone to write to. He comes across as someone who is very intelligent but has some serious emotional problems that he is dealing with. I guess his shame over his past, is the greatest obstacle for him. From the little that he has told me, he has had a very troubled background. Yet he admits that it is not an excuse for his past life. He feels a great deal of shame for the pain he has caused his parents. He told me that he is not a victim, he is responsible.
From my own inner experience, I understand how deep wounds can go. I do believe that most of us have them, mostly hidden from sight, but if anyone is trying to become a decent human being, they become aware of a downward pull that exists in their souls. There are many ways to self-destruct, not all of them obvious to others, or perhaps even to those who are living a life that is leading to their disintegration. Our ways of dealing with pain, well my ways, are for the most part not healthy, and in some ways of dealing with life, they can be life-threatening. Food, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, overwork, seeking power over others are the false gods often followed. My main struggle, I guess is with food. I eat to ground myself, or so I think, but it never works. So the constant disappoint has helped me to resist this tendency enough to not actually be a threat to my life, at least in the short run.
Chad has his own demons, and he is fighting them there at this time. Because of the intensity of living in a lockdown, the struggle is not something he can escape into. He has to face the issues, or become worse, and may even die. It is a tough place to be. Yet, is it not the situation for most humans?
Religion can be screwy, like anything else in life. Many people do not have the time, nor the inclination to seek time to study the depths of their faith, in order to outgrow the simplistic fundamentalism that often gives answer that are band-aids, and do not help in dealing with the deeper issues that have to be faced, experienced, and not rejected, or made into something demonic.
Chad shared with me his struggle to hope and to trust in God. He is used to the opposite in his life. Here is what I shared with him. It is not hard, I am simply going by my own experience with my own journey towards God, and to grow in love and trust. There is no easy path to that.
“Thank you Chad for your open, honest, and down to earth letter. Each person is unique in their walk with the Lord. So it is good not to compare yourself with others, or what they say about their love of God, etc. However, to learn from others is something different entirely. Your struggle is understandable, but just get through each day, and at least once a day, stop what you are doing, and stand before God, and make an act of trust in His love for you. You can do that first thing in the morning, or before you sleep, or do it both times. When you feel overwhelmed, chaotic, do it then, just pause and raise your heart in trust to the Lord. It does not matter what you feel, or your emotional state, but to say you trust God, comes from a place deeper, from that seed planted by God’s grace in you. God is always ‘Yes”. While we, because of our past and along with how we were beaten down by life, as well as our actions, and yes our many faults, and failures…can lead us to having a hard time understanding that. Just pray every day, don’t worry about how you feel. Yes, acknowledge your feelings and emotions, but they are not an obstacle to your loving God. When you fail, continue. It is in our failures that we grow in trust because we know that we are received by a loving, compassionate, infinite Father. What keeps our love alive is our seeing to understand that love. That is what you are trying to do at this time, to understand why God can love you.”
To embrace who we are, and to face our past, and how it affects our present is not easy. It is not about self-pity, or even giving into shame, but a simple ‘yes’ to what we have done, before the “YES” of God. The journey towards trust in God is not about denial, but a radical acceptance of who we are, and our need for grace, mercy, and compassion.
While all of us are unique, yet there is a commonality of experience that unites. I also shared this:
“I have had many struggles in my life. When young I went through what you are going through, (most struggle with their own inner pain) you will grow beyond that. Just remember that the Holy Spirit prays in you, even when you do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirit groans within you in your prayers and longing for God’s love. You are doing better than you think. Just continue each day to deepen your trust in God’s love for you. It is a slow journey, so do not look for a quick fix, in this world. For most of us, it is a slow journey, just keep making the next step. Do not fear the suffering that is part of life. Learn to pray with it, not to seek escape through what we call ‘sin’. The way to joy and healing is to simply embrace who you are in the presence of God’s love. Unite yourself to Christ Jesus, who lives in your heart, and feels what you feel, you are not alone. That is the true test of faith, to believe that.”
Not sure how long he has left in prison. He talks about getting out and going to live with his parents until he can get back on his feet. Many prisoners greatest fear is coming back in. I learn a lot from writing prisoners, both the good areas of their lives, as well as their bad. I do no pry, but they share with me more often than not what they have done. My only concern is that they learn to live in society, stay away from what drew them into crime before they went into prison. Only one prisoner is older, in his late 50’s, who was a career criminal. He is now ill, and will soon be released, he is worried, but he told me, that this last stint in prison has made him face his own rage and anger and to deal with it. If he can learn to control it in prison, I think he may have a chance when he gets out.
Our past has a hold on us, yet we are not defined by it. What defines us is our choices, those choices that come from deep within, are what leads to healing.--Br.MD