We’re Having a Baby

Positive.

The line was faint. But it was there.

“Thank you Lord.”

I did my best to maintain a poker face as I made my way back to the table where my Beloved sat. I wondered what he was thinking, what he was feeling.

He rose from his chair, moving slowly around the table to pull out mine. His eyes desperately sought the result. Putting an arm around him, I kissed him gently, and through an unmistakable smile whispered, “We’re having a baby.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

He repeated the question a couple more times. Finally receiving it, he began to shout “Hallelujah. Yes. Thank You, God!”

Like most married couples, we very much wanted to have children together. He stepped in without hesitation to father the two children I already had. I love watching him interact with our boys. We still wanted to have our own. We prayed diligently for this.

Our current and temporary circumstances make it incredibly difficult to give it a good effort. In our 760 days of marriage we have spent 13 of those in private.

We are thankful for each one.

After each one we hoped, prayed, and waited. Each one hurt a little deeper.

Through the pain we trusted God and His perfect plan for our lives. If another addition wasn’t part of those plans, we determined to joyfully find contentment in the love and favor we’d received in each other and the boys.

During our eleventh private day together, we were notified that there was an emergency in our family. Torn to pieces I left early. By the grace of God, and mercy of the staff at the facility we were able to reschedule our visit for three weeks later. This unexpected visit was Gods awesome provision. Sweet redemption.

His love didn’t stop there. The following Sunday at church I entered into worship with the rest of the body. Almost immediately I heard the still small voice whisper, “Psalm 127.” Nothing else. I took a mental note and continued on in worship. “Psalm 127” persisted. Diligence is a characteristic God has been working in me recently. Perfect practice.

I sat down, picked up my bible and read. I wasn’t familiar with that particular Psalm. Immediately I was encouraged. It was verse three that I couldn’t seem to get past. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” I read it over and over, receiving it for myself. I began thanking God. I read the rest of the Psalm and rose again in worship.

I was looking forward to sharing the Word with Jacob who would be calling later that evening.

That weekend my sister was up from Florida. I had the privilege of hosting her. Sunday was her final day here. I’d invited the rest of our siblings and their families to come spend the day.

My house and heart were full.

My brother-in-law heard me tell my husband and was interested in hearing also. I told them about worship, and brought the bible out to my sister who read it aloud. Just before she got to verse three, I declared in front of my family, “This is what I am claiming!” Suddenly I had a room of witnesses.

It would be another two weeks before a test could confirm the Word.

I believed in my heart, but throughout the following week my mind had its doubts. When I found myself listening to my mind, I began to pray and give thanks.

“Father, thank You. I am so happy to be having this child. Though I hurt that Jacob won’t be here to experience the fullness of this pregnancy with me, I am so thankful that I will be experiencing every single moment with you. I dedicate this child to You, God.”

The following Sunday at church God poured out more love and confirmation. My Pastor announced we would be having a baby dedication. He led that dedication with the reading of Psalm 127.

A few days later the test confirmed everything my loving Father already had.

We’re having a baby!

 

Finally the Bride

My body was shaking. I couldn’t tell if it was nerves, or the cool late April air filling the van. I rolled over towards the driver seat to see my sister sleeping well. I didn’t want to disturb her. She was doing so much already.

I wasn’t nervous to marry Jacob. I was nervous that I wouldn’t get to marry him.

At Attica Correctional it always seemed that the guards did all they could to deter visitors from coming. Their shallow mentality was that we were no better than the “animals” they caged. Their disrespect and mistreatment didn’t stop with the prisoners, but rippled out to us who dared love them.

Morning came quickly. The bus from New York City pulled up to the gate, indicating that the facility van was soon to follow. My sister was now awake and I began to prepare her for what was ahead.

As the van pulled up, we jumped out to stand in front of our vehicle.

“Regular visit or wedding?” the driver asked.

“Both, I am wedding and she is regular,” I said as I pointed to my sister.

I received number one, and Cassie would be called as number two for regular visits. She, along with my mother in law, Liz, would be our witnesses. Only three visitors were allowed at a table with each prisoner. The boys and I would be maximum for our table. Cassie and Liz would sit with one of Jacob’s dearest friends. I was excited for Cassie to meet him and hear his incredible story.

We boarded the van as soon as we were given our numbers. We waited as the driver finished handing them out. The van filled quickly with women in curlers and pajamas, wanting to be the first in the bathroom to use the mirrors for their hair and makeup.

Once unloaded at the visitor center, we made our way inside. There was a rush to the counter to get visitor passes. Each pass corresponded with the number we had previously been given in the parking lot. We filled in the name of the prisoner we were visiting, their DIN number (or state name), as well as our name, address, and signature. With Liz still not there, my sister filled in as much as she could.

The civilian working behind the desk was notorious for being rude and showing her power in incredulous ways. I was always sure to be kind and respectful. She joyfully disclosed that her time on staff was coming to an end, making her final days even more difficult than before.

“Wedding people, you have until 8:30 to be back in this visiting center, or you won’t be getting married today” she said.

Looking at the clock and then to my sister, we dashed out the door to catch the van back to the parking lot. I would have about a half hour to prepare for my wedding.

I was highly favored to be able to drive down the road two minutes to a dear friends house. She was also a wife of a prisoner, and previously married inside Attica’s walls. She knew exactly what I was enduring. She kindly opened her home to myself, my boys, my sisters, and my aunt to help me get ready and share in that experience. Her hospitality was enormous, even offering breakfast.

I tried to not get anxious about the small amount of time I had to get dressed. We were as efficient as possible, getting my hair and makeup done at the same time. My sisters helped get the boys dressed and ready, while I finished the last-minute touches, including the special jewelry Jacob had a fellow prisoner make specifically for the occasion.

I made sure to stop and take a few pictures with my amazing family, before racing back to the facility.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling

We would have to be careful driving back, the Attica police were notorious for setting up speed traps every weekend just outside the prison. It was nearly 8:30. We parked once again in the lot we had spent the night in .We waited eagerly for the van to pick us back up. It was the only way to get back there. The gunners in the watch towers would shoot any “trespasser” who tried to walk or drive in themselves.

I looked around the people mingling in the parking lot as they waited their turn for processing. I was looking for my mother in law. I did not see her. I hoped she was in the visitor center.

The van finally made its way to pick us up. The visitor center was now crowded with several women waiting to get married, their children and witnesses, all the people from the NYC bus, and regular visitors who had driven themselves.

I immediately began to look for Jacobs mom, as well as his best friend, Antonio, who had come from NYC, to take part in our special day. They both were coming from the hotel where we all celebrated the night before. Antonio was once behind the walls with my husband. After twenty-two years of wrongful incarceration he was exonerated with DNA evidence. This was his first time back. He was exceptionally calm and brave to be facing that place, but now as a free man. It meant a lot that he was doing that in solidarity and love for us.

I located them towards the back of the center. Antonio, who arrived after the bus,  had a high visit number. He wouldn’t be processed for hours.

I went over towards the front of the center to wait for our call. I kept looking in my hands to be sure I had all I would need; the ring, the receipt to prove it was $150 or less, my driver’s license, the boys birth certificates, the money for the justice of the peace, the money for our vending machine lunch, and money for pictures. Now, it was hurry up and wait. And wait we did, for at least an hour.

My nerves began to creep up as the clock approached 9:30. Our paperwork specified that all those getting married should be in the visiting room by 10:00, and ceremonies would begin promptly.

Finally the first call for processing came, for regular visits. I was slightly frustrated and anxious to make it to my husband, and regular visits were getting precedence.

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, regular visits only,” called the woman at the desk. She held the visitor passes that we’d previously completed in her hands. I gave my sister instruction, to grab the ticket and make her way to the van, which would then drive them to the facility entrance for further processing.

It wouldn’t be that simple. As my sister reached for the pass, the agitated woman said, “This isn’t all the way filled out. Who didn’t sign it?”  Liz explained that she wasn’t there when it was filled out, but she is here now, and can sign it.

“No, you’ll go to the end of the line.”

The end of the line was nearly in to the hundreds at this point. That would mean they would be processed by noon, if they were lucky.

Liz calmly and reasonably negotiated, apologizing for the inconvenience, and asked for mercy, which fell on a hardened heart and deaf ears. She refused. I stepped in, begging, explaining that I was getting married today and these were our witnesses. I began to exclaim that my sister and I had slept in the parking lot since a little after midnight. She wasn’t moved. The other visitors began to get agitated that the van was being held up.

I walked away to grab Antonio for further intervention. His intervention was to calm me down, and pray with and for me. Before I knew it, I heard “Thank you, God bless you,” coming from my mother in law. My two witnesses glimpsed back at me, Liz with a look of reassurance, and my sister with a mix of sadness and anger. She couldn’t believe the incident that just occurred.

I thanked God, and came back to a spirit of peace, understanding that the enemy was only trying to steal my joy and rob me of the tremendous blessing of marriage. I prayed earnestly for years for my husband. In Jacob, God had given me more than I asked or imagined, which is why I call him my Ephesians 3:20. Our union was drawing near, and the enemy was working harder.

Finally, “1, 2, 3,  weddings only.”

That was me. Almost there. I grabbed the boys and loaded the van.

I stood waiting to be called for processing with another woman about to get married. She was waiting for a call from the Sergeant to see if they were going to allow her visit. She had three children with her, which would put them over maximum capacity at the table. The only exception was if the youngest child was under one, they could be considered a “lap child.” Her youngest was less than a month over one year old. I prayed with her, and asked the Lord to move in her favor.

“Rouse” the guard at the desk called. It was my turn.

“Stand against the wall and look at the blue dot” the officer commanded, “no smiling.” They were taking my photo to send through their data base, making sure I had no outstanding warrants. Once I was cleared there I would make my way to the metal detector.

“Shoes and anything with metal in the tray,” said the officer who began sifting through my belongings.

“Once inside you’ll stop at the package room and drop off the ring and receipt.”

After getting our hands stamped we made our way through the heavy steel doors. I took one glance back to the woman waiting with her children, encouraging her to keep the faith. I hoped with all hope I would soon see her inside.

The package room was right outside the visiting room. I had stopped there many times picking up packages my husband sent home with me. I rang the bell once. The guard behind the window took the ring, and reviewed the receipt.

“You can’t have this ring, it is more than $100” he said.

“My paperwork says anything up to $150” I rebutted.

“I don’t think so, but I will inquire” he said as he began to close the window. “Take your pass and go to the visiting room.”

Feeling nearly defeated I turned and walked to the visiting room. I handed my pass to the guard at the desk who would assign us a table. My sister and Liz were already seated. My sister, looking at my face looked back at me with the same frustration and pain she could see all over me. The morning had been so trying.

A day that was to be filled with joy had so far been filled with trial and tribulation. I felt so discouraged.

I walked over to where they sat, even though I could be terminated for “cross-visiting” and explained how I may not be able to give my husband the ring I had bought him. Ready to cry, I walked over and sat down at our assigned table waiting for my groom.

Every time I heard the familiar clicking of the prisoner door, I turned to see if it was opening for me. A few clicks later, the most beautiful man God ever created stepped out from behind the short wall. His immediate smile melted every frustration away. HE was why I was there. His love made it worth it all. I didn’t care if there was no ring. I didn’t care that I was in a prison visiting room about to get married.

Dressed in a white, perfectly ironed shirt, he wrapped his strong arms around me. I looked in his big brown eyes, reminding myself that in mere moments I would legally call him Husband.

This was the man God made specifically for me to love for all of eternity. No matter what the morning circumstances were, I remembered my high favor.

 

 

 

 

The Bride to be

I tried to remain calm as the clock ticked closer to midnight. I wondered if this was how every bride felt the night before her wedding, or was it just the prison bride? 

My siblings and I sat in the hallway of the hotel snorting with laughter. Just about every room on that first floor wing occupied a family member, new and old. I was so grateful they were all there to support Jacob and I with their unconditional love. 

The lines outside the facility would begin forming at midnight, as they did every weekend. With several weddings taking place, it was bound to be worse. I wanted all the time I could get with my husband on our wedding day. With processing taking hours, I would need to be one of the first in line.

Around midnight my sister Cassie and I began to load her van with everything we would need the following morning. 

Making one final stop to the room where my boys slept with their Aunt Peanut, I kissed them gently. I would see them in the morning.

My sister drove the fifteen miles to the castle that stood lit up like a city in the dark. There was only one other visitor parked before us.

We both looked at the barb wire, gun towers, and cement wall that was my wedding destination. Attica Correctional Facility, home of the deadliest prison riot. A massacre that shed so much blood it was likely still in the water. 

It certainly wasn’t the beach, or country setting I had always dreamed of. But, behind those walls lay a man, locked in a cell barely larger than he, who exceeded all my dreams. I wondered if he was sleeping. What was he thinking? I imagined he had everything out, ironed, and ready to go. Probably asking the same questions I was.

I whispered, hoping the wind would carry my message to him, “I’m here. I can’t wait to marry you today. I love you.” 

I closed my eyes, dimming the lights that filled the parking lot. I pulled the blanket to my chin, curling up in the passenger seat to sleep, though I wouldn’t get much. 

Transit-Part 2

Auburn’s front gate, with its dark steel bars, stood formidable. A plaque hung on the entrance talking about its history. That history included Auburn’s first prisoners keeping worms for silk, and assisting in one of the worlds first electrocutions.

The lights from the city beat down on its high walls. Thick snow flakes cast shadows over the compound. The bus entered the front gate with twists and tight turns. Suddenly a garage door opened up and several inmates dressed in full winter gear rushed the bus. They immediately opened the under panels and pulled out dozens of white draft bags. They moved quickly. In minutes, the bus pulled into the confines to the back entrance.

We were escorted off the bus into another building with bullpens. These were the most filthy of all. They were long, dark tunnels-caves. We waited until the officers finished their break. Once again our shackles were removed. We were sent to a nurse who asked the same questions as the men in Wendi. When we finished we were told to go out a back door, outside, and then into the cell block, called “The Depot”. The cells made me feel claustrophobic. We were made to double bunk. Logos of gangs and alias’ were tagged over every wall. The steel sink and toilet were crusted with the remains of its last occupants.

My bunky was a young spanish kid named Mike. He was from the Bronx. He was quiet, yet alert. We fumbled through the cramped space. The dim light at the back of the cell gave everything a gloomy look. There were no roaches though, as Auburn legend claimed.

The noise was non-stop. The moment we hit the block a thousand screaming voices hit us. It seemed everyone was playing a different kind of music. It was a contest to see who could play it the loudest.

The gallery was sixty plus cells long, with three floors above. Two porters passed out bed rolls. I recognized one of the faces. I said hello and asked if he remembered me from Comstock a decade ago. Vic was the camera man in Comstock’s visiting room. He was a giant with a full beard and dark skin. He had lost quite a few pounds and was now slightly balding. A rolled up cigarette hung from his lips. He nodded in acknowledgement as I passed by.

As my bunky and I settled in to our quarters for the night Vic came over and began to tell me about what he’d been through in the last eight years. It involved a couple of trips to the box. I didn’t inquire further. Seeing a familiar face was encouraging. I felt remembered.

Transit strips you of who you are.

More prisoners were escorted to their cells down the company. Three who were on their way to the upstate box remained handcuffed all the way. Once they reached their temporary cells, the cuffs were finally removed. As the officers passed by Mike and I each asked about the evening meal. We would be having more sandwiches. Once everyone was locked in the meal would be delivered by Vic the porter. Once it arrived Mike tore through his, devouring the contents in seconds. He laid on his bunk still hungry. I spread the two packets of mustard on the white bread, looking at his dissatisfied face.

I peeked in to my brown paper bag and saw the two broken up chocolate chip cookies. I offered them to hungry Mike, whose face lit up with joy.

After the light meal I paced back and forth to stay warm. Mike bundled himself under the thin green blanket, white sheet, and his state issued jacket. We made small talk. Mike told me he was on his way home in February and planned on becoming a mechanic. I told him about my transfer and where I was headed.

I shared my testimony with him.

I told him about how the Lord had moved in my life, how He blessed me all along the way. I spoke to him about my wife and children and how God blessed me with them. I shared the message of the cross with him and asked him if he’d like to pray. Surprisingly he said yes.

Before the night was over Vic brought me a tray of food to the cell. It was hot, and filled with rice, beans, chicken, and corn bread. I split the tray with Mike, and had enough to share with a neighbor as well. I was thankful that three of us men were able to eat a hot meal that night. We were alone and cold, but the kindness from a familiar face made that all go away, if only for a few moments. We were able to laugh about our dismal conditions.

The smell of cigarette smoke-filled the gallery. Some had smuggled them in their rear-end. They shared them around the gallery. Once the officers did their final walk Mike and I knelt down and prayed. I asked the Lord to press upon his heart to seek Jesus and accept the free gift of salvation. Unfortunately Mike didn’t make a confession of faith that night, but a seed was planted.

I slept with my head to the gate, though the noise kept me from getting much sleep. In the morning we were told to strip our beds and get ready to rollout. We were served another meal in a brown paper bag. Two cold eggs, four slices of bread and some apple juice. I drank the juice and nibbled on the bread. I gave the eggs to a neighbor.

We made our way back to the loading area, and again were strip searched in small closets with curtains. The cold shackles were placed on us and we were sent back to the cave to wait for the bus. Some were shackled to a new partner. I was alone, being the only one headed to Elmira. I was also able to sit alone on the bus once we boarded.

Before the bus pulled off the same speech was repeated. This time however, we were threatened that if we were caught talking we’d lose a bag of property for a few weeks. No one spoke the entire trip.

We first passed through Seneca Falls, and then headed down Seneca Lake. I saw the vineyards my wife visited so many times. That brought me great peace. I even saw places she worked, and restaurants she loved in Watkins Glen. I must have smiled the whole way to Southport box.

In Southport seven men boarded our bus. All were getting out and headed to new spots. One was Zey, who I had been in Attica and Comstock with. He was headed to Sullivan near New York City. He’d gained weight and now had a long, thin scar on his right cheek. Catching up on our lives, he noticed the ring on my finger and congratulated me on my marriage. It made me smile as he shook my hand a second time.

The bus rolled out shortly later. In just a few minutes we had arrived at Elmira. I was the only one to get off the bus. Everyone else remained eating another bag lunch. I felt bad for them. Some wouldn’t get those cuffs off until late that night. As I got off I said a few goodbyes and thanked the driver for getting us there safely.

I entered a large draft processing room escorted by another officer. As soon as we were inside he removed my cuffs and left me alone. I stood alone as dozens of men in reception passed by. Some were getting haircuts while others were getting their photo id’s. I recognized some of the men from the day before in Wendi, wondering why we had separate rides. I could have skipped “The Depot” but would then have missed the opportunity to share the gospel of peace with my bunky Mike. God is good.

I was directed into a room to see yet another mental health nurse. She asked a dozen questions and sent me on my way. After obtaining my photo ID I was escorted by two officers to the cell block, and placed in a clean, single cell. I was relieved to finally have arrived.

My trip was over, but my work was just beginning. I was excited, mostly because I was now so close to home!

 

Transit-Part One

“Damn bro, what happened to you?” a voice screamed out as we sat aboard a large white van within the walls of Attica.

“I was in Orleans and I got shot by some homies (blood gang members), cause I’m crip” a young raspy voice replied.

I turned to identify the men conversing but I was restricted by the ankle shackles that linked me to a six-foot-five white guy who boarded with three different carry on prescriptions for his mental health condition. His name was Brian, and he was going back and forth to court in Canandaigua battling a paternity dispute.

“Where you headed bro?” the first voice asked.

“To Bear Hill” the young voice replied.

“Man, when you get there you gonna get tore up. The bloods run that spot. When you get there you should pop off on the first person you see.” the first voice advised. This guy was a self-proclaimed addict. He bragged about being in upstate box several times. This was his fourth trip. He spoke about how he caught a dirty urine for smoking a deuce (k-2 synthetic marijuana)  in the recreation yard. He fell out in the middle of Wyoming’s yard, nearly overdosing. He laughed the entire time he told the story.

We were all in transit to various places throughout New York States penal system. Some on disciplinary transfers, others on preference.

For nearly two years I had been attempting to escape Attica. The two and a half hour, one hundred sixty-four mile trip my wife and sons traveled every week to see me was becoming too much to deal with. In June of 2015 I submitted an area preference transfer with my counselor. I was told by several staff persons who I worked for that I would have no issues reaching Elmira, a place thirty minutes away from home.

Elmira is part of a three prison hub. Five Points, Auburn, and Elmira make up that “area” preference. Though my request was submitted for Elmira, New York state had the ultimate  say in where I landed.

Within two weeks my request was approved. I was eager to confirm my destination. That was difficult to do when two different staff persons told me two different places. One was adamant I was cleared and set to go to Elmira. The other, looking it up on the computer with me in the room, confirmed Auburn. In frustration I revoked my request and settled on remaining in Attica. The burden of what my wife and children endured began to burn my heart. Six months would pass until I was eligible to resubmit the request. That following January I put back in.

I knew I was gambling. I had thrust myself into every program and work assignment while in Attica. I had made myself as comfortable as you can get in prison. Yet, no matter how good I had it, what my family faced was unbearable.

I wish I could say I was brave and bold, with no fear of the unknown. That was so not true. I honestly was afraid. Afraid of starting over. Afraid of meeting new people and establishing new connections and networks. So I prayed. And when I felt the fear rising up, I prayed again. Slowly the Lord brought peace my way.

It took about eleven months to be approved. One morning while on the phone with my wife the officer told me to pack up, I was on the draft.

A feeling of relief overcame me. I was excited about leaving. I had been behind the walls of Attica for just over eight years. I hadn’t seen a car, trees, or even people going about their everyday lives. I longed to see life outside. Most of all I wanted to give something back to my wife and children. The time to do that finally came through for me.

The officer let my wife and I finish our call. We prayed, standing in the gap for one another. After the call it was time to pack up. Nearly eleven years of incarceration had to be stripped down, folded up, and stuffed in to four draft bags. Each bag was a foot and a half wide and three feet tall. I debated with myself on what I wanted to keep and what had to go. One bag was filled with all my legal work. Pictures of my family, my bible, a couple of pairs of shoes, a few articles of personal clothing, and some toiletries all made the trip, along with the state issued greens I was mandated to bring. Everything else was given away to men surrounding my cell.

The block officer logged everything on an “I-64” form. Some how it got lost along the way. All my stuff was packed up on Wednesday, December 14, and I was left in my cell with a blanket, sheets, and a few snacks. I spent that night writing goodbye letters to friends I most likely would never see again. Some of whom pulled together that night and made me a meal they delivered to my spot.

By seven-thirty the next morning I was on the move. I was led to the draft room with six other men. One was on his way home. The rest of us to new facilities. We were corralled in a small bullpen and fed trays of dairy and fiber. The very worst combination you could eat while on the road shackled to another man. After another hour we were taken out one by one to be strip searched, then sent off to another area where we were shackled. We each had cuffs around our wrists, a chain around our waist, and one ankle shackle. The second ankle shackle was connected to another man.

Our first stop was Wendi. We were escorted into a holding cell with other travelers. The whole trip there was depressing. The van windows were too high above the seats to look out of. I could only look out the front windshield, which gave me car sickness. In the holding cells we were fed bologna and cheese sandwiches, apple juice, and two sugar cookies. Quickly the cell was filled up by men awaiting the next leg of their journey.

One elderly man rambled on about different spots he’s been, spanning nearly forty years. Others talked about different times they were lifted on different substances. A few argued about which prison was better and the privileges offered there.

The most bizarre moment was a nineteen year old kid with his face to the bars of the cell, his baby fat spilling out into the gaps as a he screamed a call, “Woo, Woo…Woo, Woo.” It was a call to his brothers in arms. His high-pitched voice sounded like a wounded child weeping.

Men in beige robes and shower shoes began to file through in single file lines. They made their way to the barber’s chair in one corner of the long room. Then they were made to go to the shower stalls on the other end. Once they were bald and clean they were escorted one by one to see a mental health counselor. Before they were allowed to enter the escorting officer told each man to close their legs and remain seated.

The door to that brightly lit room remained open as the counselor asked a host of questions, “Do you feel like you’re going to hurt yourself? Do you feel anyone else is going to harm you?”

The bullpen continued to fill up. One officer noticing this kindly opened the adjacent holding cell. I nearly dragged Brian’s large frame over with me. There was more room and a toilet. Nature was calling. I asked Brian to move with me to the restroom. He turned his back as I went, and I as he. A four-foot concrete wall was the only privacy we were afforded. A small fun house mirror hung above the steel sink. I looked in to it hoping part of me still remained.

More men came from all parts of the state. The cages were full of all different ages and races. The elders were given a seat. Brian and I stood as much as possible, preparing for the long trip ahead.

Finally we were told to move out. Before I was called I asked one of the porters to pass a message on to two old friends that I knew were there among the small population. I had joy in making a connection in an unfamiliar place.

One by one we were unshackled from our partners and given individual ankle shackles. We headed out in the frigid temperatures in the thin state issued jacket to make the second part of our days journey.

On this van we all had a window seat. The officer at the front gave a speech, “You’ll be stopping in Auburn for an overnight stay. It’s a two and a half hour trip if we don’t get into any mess like on the way down here.” The pudgy officer chuckled and continued, “The bathroom is for pissin only, PISSIN ONLY” he elaborated. “And make sure you close the lid. I don’t want to smell that crap! Oh, and this is a quiet bus. No talking!” he added.

After a sergeant boarded the driver pulled off. The snow fall was heavy that late afternoon. I had hoped to be in Elmira that evening. That wasn’t the case. Instead I was going to be staying the night in what is called “The Roach Motel.”

The driver moved slow through the rural roads and highways. The bus slid at times on the slick roads, extending our trip by an hour, but we got there safely.

 

Last Attican Love Letter

The mailbox had become one of my favorite sources of communication back in the latter part of 2014 and into 2015. It still is. I’ve always loved getting mail, not bills of course, but letters and cards. But when I began communicating with Jacob directly, I was eagerly at the mailbox everyday, sending and receiving intimate letters that quickly revealed depths of great love.

When I say intimate I don’t mean in a sexual way. I am talking about letters that opened the bleeding hearts we both had. We revealed secrets, shame, dreams, and joys. I loved exploring this man’s heart and mind, until I realized, I love HIM! All of him.

This man has faithfully written me almost every single day since we began communicating in June, 2014. I have two boot boxes full of his letters. They are in chronological order to boot. (I like my puns intended. 😉 )

Jacob and I have toyed with the idea of posting some bits of our love letters on the blog. If you read the blog, thank you, you are aware that Jacob was put on draft and transferred out of Attica. He wrote his last letter inside of those walls on December 14th, sending it out the following morning as he departed.

I want to share bits of that letter with you, our awesome readers, to set you up for his piece describing his transit out of the facility where we met, fell in love, and married. Sadly, one of the most horrific places in NYS will forever remain sentimental in more ways than one to us.

“Dear Firefly,

I love you so much.

Exactly eight years and thirteen days ago I entered these prison walls. I was twenty-one, and scared to death. But I had faith in a God who promised to protect me from all danger. He did that and so much more. Like Joseph in captivity, God made me to prosper. I met His greatest gift in here, and married her-you, my lovely firefly.

Now, in just under a day I’ll be leaving this place, to a temporary place until the Lord brings me home to you and our sons. I’m excited to go on this journey, to finally show my commitment in full to us and our marriage. I love you Samantha, and I am for you.

You told me to record all my thoughts and feelings on this move for you, so I will try.

I had about two hours to sort through all of my property and see what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to get rid of. Everything that I wanted to keep had to be marked down on a form called an ‘I-64 form’ and then had to be thrown into four white draft bags, which are as wide as a waste bucket and as tall as a normal garbage bag.

It was hard trying to downsize to that degree. Seeing my bag of wrappers from treats you sent me was hard. 😦 It almost made me cry. Then I gave my tv and typewriter away. Then some books, shirts, blankets, and a sheet. I brought the important stuff. Omar helped me get most of the things into my bags. I was thankful for that.

When I was done packing up I cleaned this place up and then got a quick shower. I’ve been in this cell since 2pm.

So, how am I feeling? Really excited. It’s like a new journey. A new adventure! I pray the Lord prepares a place He desires for me there. I pray it is where we hope for. I haven’t left this place in so many years. It will be good to see the open road, cars, trees, animals. I’d love to see some deer. Maybe even a few dogs and cats.

I’m sad at some of the people I’ll be leaving behind. But, many good, close friends have left me from here, so it’s part of the process. I’ve written about ten guys goodbye notes. There’s a lot of memories here. I’ve never been in one place for this long in my life. I’m ready to go. I won’t miss the atmosphere that is Attica.

I am free and forever will be. Never will I become institutionalized.

…This is the last letter I’ll be writing you from Attica. I love you firefly! With all my heart.

May the Lord watch between you and me while we are absent one from another, and may the peace of Christ be with you always my love. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

All my love,

your loving, faithful, committed Husband.

 

The Draft

I have recognized in myself a coping mechanism that involves me being able to “shut down.” I have learned to suppress emotions well, both good and bad. As I seek healing in this area, I am able to easier, and more quickly, identify when I am in this mode.

Two days ago I was able to admit I had reached that place once again to my helpmate over our morning telephone conversation. He is helping me discover what triggers these emotional suppressions so that we can take victory over this. Honestly I answered, “I miss you. I hate that I have to consider the weather and how it will affect the next 164 miles of road conditions, when I want to see you. I hate that I only see you one day a week, and now with winter here, it may not be that often. I want to be with you, and I can’t.”

The pain can become overbearing, the longing; exhausting.

No sooner had I spewed out the true triggers when my husband replied, “I’m on the draft.” “What did you say” I asked, though I heard perfectly what he’d said. “I’m on the draft, the officer just read the list and called my name.”

“Stop it, Jacob. Don’t mess around like that.”

“I’m serious babe.”

I listened as my husband turned his attention to the officer reading his list of movement for that company, “You called my name? Can I finish this call?”

It was real. This was happening. There was no suppressing the emotion anymore. I began to sob, and protest, “No! No, Jacob, no. I don’t want you to move.”

I was scared for my husband. So scared.

My husband has resided at Attica Correctional Facility for more than seven years. He has developed a rapport with officers and inmates alike. He is well-respected by both, though there are and always will be sour apples on both sides of that fence. He earned his way to honor block where he had more privilege. His cell was slightly larger, though still far too small for any human being to be comfortable in, let alone a six-foot two grown man. He was able to shower daily, not something you get to do in “population.” He had increased accessibility to cooking gadgets where he and his mates made meals together.

The two greater privileges were being away from population, where greater danger hazards existed, and the increased phone availability. Not that there were more phones, but fewer men to use them and longer calls. Five minutes longer. My husbands safety and our communication are top priority.

My husband became very involved in programs at the facility, teaching men about PTSD, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and anger management. He was a part of two youth programs that he viewed as ministry, and loved deeply. Children from nearby high schools and sometimes colleges, are given a guided tour, and then sit down with select “inmates” to ask questions about their experience. Sometimes the questions ran deep and personal. Those were the questions my husband invited most, as he saw it as an opportunity to reach kids who may find themselves on similar paths as he had been on at their age. He hoped with each day of these programs that he could reach just one child and “help save and change their lives.”

We began our Family Reunion Program visits just a few months ago. Our fourth was scheduled to take place in twenty-one more days. We had our meals planned. We bought gifts for the boys and were going to have our family Christmas. This was part of my shut down. I couldn’t wait for it to get here.

All of this would be lost now.

He will start all over again.

My husband sacrificed it all to be closer to his family. To provide for them in the only way he knew how.

His sacrifice is HUGE.

I continued to cry. Trying to understand what would happen now. He would be “keeplocked” for the remainder of the day. No leaving his cell until the officer in charge of transport would take him out the following morning.

For “security purposes” he, nor anyone in his family, would be told where they were moving him or when he would arrive.

We finished our phone call in prayer, lifting one another up, with as many I love you’s as we could possibly fit in. He was strong and brave, reminding me of Gods promise to work all things out for our good. (Romans 8:28) I was praying earnestly for God’s continued favor and protection.

It has been 48 hours since I have heard my husband’s voice. I have no idea where he is. I have no idea when I will speak with him again.

When I call a facility they tell me that the system only indicates he is “on the bus, en route.” “I’m sorry, I can not give you any more information than that. No one will be able to tell you where they are taking him. You will have to wait for him to call you, or try back later this afternoon.”

Yesterday, I sat looking out the snow falling over our yard, smiling at the thought of my husband being outside of those 30 foot concrete walls for the first time in more than seven years. YEARS! I thought about how everyday people travel the roads, robotically, ignoring the surrounding landscapes, taking it all for granted. I pictured my husbands beautiful smile as he took in sights he has not seen in those long, grueling, years, and places he may never have seen. This lightened my heart.

As I continue to walk by faith, not by sight, I am able to see more of the goodness of my God, my Abba, who loves me. I was able to turn my prayer into praise and gratitude.

I praise God for His timing. Jacob was on the phone with me when he was told of his transfer. I heard it from his mouth. I didn’t have to hear it from a fellow inmate, or a fellow inmates wife, as often is the case. I praise God for the compassion and kindness in the officers heart to allow my husband and I to finish our call.

I am most thankful for a husband who loves me so incredibly selflessly. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13 Both my husband and I have this verse tattooed on our bodies, and more significantly, in our hearts.

There has been a sacrificial laying down of each of our lives in this marriage. That’s why this love is so powerful and strong. That is what gets us through these incredulous circumstances. God’s grace and our love.

By faith we walk. By faith, I will see my husband more than once per week, only thirty miles away from home. Merry Christmas to us, what a gift! By faith, next year our Christmas gift will be executive clemency, having my love home…for good…where he belongs.