Trust and Obey

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There is a deep black hole in front of me. There is no way around. Unless of course I turn back. I think of Lot’s wife. A pillar of salt. I don’t want to be a pillar of salt. And I know that when I take that step into the abyss there is already a hand waiting there to catch me. The strongest, safest hand I’ve ever known.

I know that taking the step would not be a fall at all. It would be a place of rest and exaltation. My flesh fears. My Spirit is overjoyed.

So many times I have been Lot’s wife. Turning back. Choosing what I know. Choosing to live in worldly comfort. Which really is no comfort at all.

Today, I am not Lot’s wife. I am the Lords. And I am Jacobs.

Today, I take that step forward. I say Yes, Lord. I am excited. I know His plans for me are abundantly good. More than I can imagine. I step out of the broken chains of fear. Fear is a liar.

The deep black hole represents the unknown. Having loved control greater than faith, I have missed countless adventures because I said no, or not right now, to the unknown.
This morning I am preparing for my last day at a job I’ve had for the last four years. It was a job I loved and hated all at the same time. It was a job that sustained a wife of a prisoner, with two (now three) children. A single income household.

It is difficult enough to thrive in today’s economy. Add the burden of an incarcerated loved one and the cost of living sky rockets. At least if you want to maintain a strong familial bond. The billion dollar prison industry sucks the already impoverished dry. It can’t and won’t let its money (people) go.

The prison system is nearly devoid of mercy and second chances. It leaves men (and women) who are able and willing to be productive members to their struggling families, as well as society, in a costly world of slavery. Instead of a system of education and rehabilitation, the world has created a system of oppression, hate, and failure, leaving too many of those entrenched in it hopeless. The recidivism rates are witness to this truth. Too often my husband has witnessed men return to the magnetic force the prison system has become.

Today as I say goodbye to the faux comfort of worldly living and the bondage of circumstances, I say yes to the beauty of faith. I trust God to be the Provider that my husband, Jacob, can’t be, though he eagerly desires to be.

Today, I give myself away to be used for pursuing a ministry that exemplifies peace for ALL men, especially the voiceless, forgotten, and shamed.

The days are evil. With my redeemed life, I say yes to redeeming the time given me. No more fear. No more worldly pursuits. No more complacency to the prison slave labor.

By the testimony of the House of Rouse may God get all glory forever and ever.

Romans 12:18, Ephesians 5:16, 2 Corinthians 5:7

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Hit & Misses

The hours slipped away fast as we laid next to each other. It was the early morning of our last day together on our bi-monthly trailer visit. It would be our last for a time. A pillow separated our bodies. My pregnant wife placed it there for comfort. It irritated me, standing as a semblance of the great divider on the horizon.

For the few days we were together I spent each night as a watchman. Finally being able to cater to my brides needs. If she got up during the night, I did as well. I was her companion waiting outside of the bathroom for her, or sitting at the side of the tub as she took a relaxing soak.

I’ve missed the majority of my wifes pregnancy. I had to find things out about the baby over the phone. I felt my daughters first movements in the womb by stretching out over a small table my wife and I sat at in the visiting room. I heard my daughters heartbeat through the joy in my wife’s voice.

When my wife attended doctor and ultrasound appointments I scheduled my own with a peer of mine who was once a respected gynecologist. For every ailment associated with my wifes pregnancy I conferred with “Doc.” He was instrumental in helping me to understand what my wife was going through. Doc set my heart at ease; giving me advice and remedies to pass on to my wife when the physicians left us with more questions than answers.

At nine am we get the call that it’s time to go. The bags are packed and taken to the van. Our hearts and minds are on the devastating feeling that departure brings. I stuff the sorrow  deep down. I’m incapable of processing it. I embrace our sons and hug my wife tightly not wanting to let go. I don’t know the next time I will see her. I palm her belly and speak to our daughter, “Daddy loves you baby girl. I can’t wait to meet you.” Then I kiss her.

I stood at the gate waving at the van until it’s out of sight, then I went back inside to pray for their safe return home.

For the next few hours I clean up the trailer remembering each moment we spent in every foot of it. I’m amazed that the greatest times of my life have been spent behind the wall.

I won’t be there for my wifes next appointment, which may be her last. Tomorrow makes 39 weeks of pregnancy. Our daughter could arrive any day in one of two hospitals-one of which is just over a mile from where I’m confined. It stands there, visible from parts of the prison as a cruel joke. So close, yet so far.

If my relative were on their death-bed, God forbid, I could go and pay my last respects to them. Yet, I’m denied the joy of welcoming my daughter in to the world. I’ve contemplated injuring myself the day she’s delivered so that I’d at least be in the building when she takes her first breath.

I don’t feel like much of a father, more of a donor. I want to be there for my wife. I want to hold her hand as she pushes life into the world. I want to look in her eyes and share the joy of coupling Sophia to her chest for the first time. But I can’t because of the mistakes I’ve made as a teenager.

The fate of my future in my daughter’s life is in the hands of the governor of the state of New York. He can decide whether or not I will see my daughters first steps or hear her first words. I pray he shows me mercy.

 

Home

I woke up next to my husband one week ago today. Side by side felt like home. He wasn’t thrilled about the pillow between us, though grateful his very pregnant bride was able to get some sleep. I was delighted to have such a hunk next to me, and found myself concerned about the level of my morning breath.

It is a rare occasion to roll over and find the love of my life on the other side to share morning conversation and giggles with. He tried to convince me that I have a small snore, and it’s “the cutest.” I don’t snore.

Amidst the laughter were deep drawn stares revealing pain of the realization we had less than twenty-four hours remaining. Back to reality. Separation. Restrictions. Longing. Hadn’t we just walked in these doors of privacy?

We did our best to hide the pain and flow with joy, but we knew this departure was going to be our hardest yet. With three weeks left in pregnancy, it was our last FRP (Family Reunion Program, known to the majority as “conjugal visits”) until the state approves the addition of our daughter, Sophia, to our application.

Sophia must visit three times before she becomes eligible to spend alone time with her father. Once met, Jacob will send our application to Albany. The last application to Albany was returned after more than half a year.

My husband has fulfilled more than half of his minimum sentence. More than eleven years of incarceration for a decision one of his associates made. Yes, my husband made bad choices. My husband carries a responsibility in the full scheme of events on that very tragic night, as well as the days to follow, but he was not in control of the choices made by his associate who committed the actual crime.

He was still in his teens when this crime was committed. The state condemned him to twenty-two years to life in prison.

In eleven years Jacob has maintained a sobriety from drugs and alcohol, which are by no means hard to come by. He has remained “ticket” and fight free in the extreme hostile setting that is prison. Not a single record of offense. He has been extremely pursuant of transformation and rehabilitation, taking part in as many programs as possible. He’s continued his education while maintaining a perfect average every semester; speaking at commencement. He taught others, led peace initiatives approved by faculty and staff, facilitated and encouraged at risk youth, participated in a documentary, all while maintaining a healthy and supportive family unit, and most importantly growing in faith.

Jacob was once a troubled child. He went to prison as one. He is no longer that child, but a man, a good man having a child of his own.

The days since our FRP have been painfully frustrating. Jacob is ready and desperate to come home and provide for and protect his family. According to New York State’s own standards, he is eligible.

But we wait.

Life doesn’t.

That’s the painful part we want others to see and have compassion for.

We are about to bring the most glorious gift God has given us into this world. We will experience it physically separated, yet united in deep love. We will have our own struggles in these beautifully blessed days ahead. We are overjoyed and focused. We know that in the end, we have one another and God.

We wait. We hope. We pray. We act. We walk in faith.

We know God has a plan and a purpose. We pray our story will be used to glorify God and promote reformation to a corrupt system entrusted to carry out justice and correction. We pray that those who have earned and demonstrated their ability to lead productive lives be granted their freedom in a timely manner. We pray that society can rise above and say let’s have compassion, let’s work together for the betterment of humankind. Let’s try love instead of hate. Let’s forgive rather than harshly abuse families with unproductive punishment of the masses.

One body may be locked behind the walls, but each of those bodies is connected to another. There is a chain of human hurt and imprisonment.

I am thankful to have a husband strong in the Lord and the power of His might. Our marriage would be impossible to manuever otherwise.

We are able to focus on God and the blessings he overflows our cup with.

We hope in Him.

We hope for reformation of a failing system.

We hope in our future.

Together.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I (we, who are one) hope in Him!” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul(s) who seeks Him. Lamentations 3:24, 25

Why Me

Writing is my release. I’ve come to learn that words have power. Great power. In releasing my words, I find great healing. There’s a rawness; a see-through-me vulnerability that I otherwise hide from.

Today I need healing. 

I lay in a hospital bed next to my eldest son who requires a different kind of healing. I stare at his sleeping face. The last two hours were spent trying to get him to breathe. He gasped for air as his lungs wheezed loudly in rebellion. His body gave little contribution to our efforts. His head got involved and sent him in to panic mode, inviting his heart to join the party with high rates of speed. His eyes of fear began to shed droplets of water that ran down his cheeks.

The panic spread and was trying to consume me. My child was in serious struggle. For just a simple breath. 

I pulled him as close as I could. I prayed. I prayed in my prayer language. I sang. I said the name of Jesus over and over. I rubbed his chest. I whispered his strength in his ear. I kissed his head. He began to calm. 

After the storm passed I lay next to Deegan in the small hospital bed face to face. I turned praise music on my phone and began to sing along. His eyes locked on mine finding trust, love, and a peace that allowed him to fall asleep at last. 

I didn’t move. I lay there looking at his face when suddenly my eyes began to release droplets of water as  he had earlier. 

“Why God? Why me?” 

I miss my husband fiercely, wishing he were here with us. An extra reinforcement of peace and love. I wish my son didn’t have to fight so hard to overcome illness with his incredibly special body. 

But, my why me was a “Why do You trust me so much? Why have You chosen me to love and care for such special people?” 

“What do I know about love?”

Yet God has made me rich in it. He has made me rich in story and testimony. 

He has entrusted to me the love and care of a special needs child with a life threatening illness. He has entrusted me to love a cast out, someone society has deemed an animal incapable of change. Both lives oppressed in separate ways. Both lives precious and easy to love. 

“Why me?” 

Because I believe in Him and He believes in me. And because all of us are worthy.  

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.