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.

 

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.

 

Defibrillation

It’s 6:12 am. The sun is still making its rise above the trees. The rooster is delighted in morning, and calling for all to rise. The birds celebrate the new day in glorious harmony.

I sit in my office and attempt to put my thoughts together in an organized manner. I have to get out the brewing conflict between my head and my heart, not sure where to begin.

The last five hours I spent with my newlywed have become lost in the weeks other one hundred and sixty-three. I look for those lost hours, hoping to recall his touch. I attempt to visualize his perfect smile that lights up his big brown eyes. I long to have those eyes looking deep into mine. I yearn to taste his sweet lips on mine. I close my eyes and imagine the comfort of his strong, loving arms wrapped around me. I can faintly recall the way he runs his fingers through my hair, singing softly in my ear, encouraging my rest there with him. My ears beg to hear his laugh.

Sometimes I forget these treasures of mine. Sometimes I wonder if I suppress their memory to attempt to simultaneously suppress the pain of missing them.

I need a refreshing.

My refreshment costs a lot.

Sometimes the bank is empty.

Today it seems overdraft.

The last couple of days have been emotionally charged. Attempts of celebration fell short to depression. America rejoiced in freedom, I pleaded God for it. I know He has already made me free (John 8:36), but I am chained to the man I became one with. I love being chained to him. I want to be chained to him. But, I want to be chained in freedom with him; free to chase one another across the green grass as the smell of the burning grill penetrates the air, free to hike, hand in hand, the trails at the local state park, free to paddle board the Susquehanna, free to enjoy the presence of family gathering…together.

I make every effort to grasp each blessed moment with passion and joy, without my partner, my best friend, my heart. I give the first fruits of my morning to being filled by the Spirit, so these efforts become more fruitful. The love in my heart responds to each blessing with, “I wish Jacob were here,” and the moment dulls.

They seem to only be lived at half existence.

My heart aches a little bit more. With each ache there is a withdrawal from the bank of endurance. I strive for an attitude of gratitude but am at times found hidden in the weeds of covetousness. Watching others experience the joy of life together is excruciating. Temptation to quit on this path predestined for me becomes overwhelming. Ideal.

I have to take that half existence and make it sound full, because the one I love will vicariously live it all through me.

That’s a lot of pressure.

To be a persons escape makes you feel like somewhat of a defibrillator. Even defibrillators get worn and become unusable.

I desperately crave my five hours.

I crave even more the giver of life. I crave the One who can fill me up and help me persevere this difficult terrain of marriage, made more difficult by the boulders of imprisonment. I crave my Healer who is able to give life to these dry and weary bones. I crave He who renews my mind and cleanses my heart.

More of Him. Less of me.

The more there is of Him, the more life there is in me. The more life there is in me, the more life there is in my marriage.

Love is sacrifice.

I give myself away.

 

Grief Released

It’s like waiting for your wedding day again, but you don’t know the date. Before you know it there have been 376 days of waiting. The pain growing deeper with each one. Pain cunningly turning into grief, spewed like venom at the one you are waiting with, and for.

My love language is touch. I crave the touch of my husband. I crave his tender and passionate kisses. I crave the consummation of our marriage. I crave to know him how a wife ought to know her husband. Completely.

I crave a single moment, a single breath, of privacy with my husband.

During our last visit I watched a man, married the same day as my husband and I, walk into the visiting room with his overnight bag and sit at the FRP table. His belongings were being searched and logged, while his wife waited temporarily in the parking lot to be taken back for their first private moments together.

I know my call is to rejoice with them, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Instead I wonder, somewhat angered, how is this possible? Why have we not received our approval yet, let alone a date.

“The Family Reunion Program (FRP) is designed to provide approved inmates and their families the opportunity to meet for an extended period of time in privacy. The goal of the program is to preserve, enhance, and strengthen family ties that have been disrupted as a result of incarceration.” (doccs.ny.gov)

My husband was approved for the program back in 2011 and enjoyed many of these with his mom and brother, even after our marriage. It was incredibly straining to know your husband was on one of these visits, and you weren’t able to be there with him.

I had incredible bitterness, though I knew how special and important this was for him. My selfishness was eager to cry out, “If I, your wife, can’t be there with you, how dare you go!”

The truth is, I can’t fully understand just how vital and freeing those forty-eight hours of FRP are for the inmate. I can only imagine that my craving for this time is magnified a hundred times more for my husband.

That pains me even deeper.

We pray. We hope. We wait.

I know we don’t wait alone. I know others married the same day as us continue their wait also. Even more, I know others who applied before us still wait. Some have been waiting years, many. I praise God that won’t be us, and I pray that He gives us peace and strength as we wait on Him.

I know He carries and matures me through this.

I am reminded once again to be mindful of what I pray. He hears, and He answers. In my prayers for patience my Jehovah Jireh has provided me ample opportunities of practice.

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

I trust fully in Him. I trust fully in His good plans for my life. I trust fully in His perfect timing and His perfect will. I trust fully in His faithfulness. Greatest of all, I trust fully in His love for me.

He loves me so much He gave me His all. No good thing has He, or will He, withhold from me. (Psalm 84:11)

This is my grief turned back to hope.

untitled

 

Phone Jones

I feel like a sprinter on the blocks. I eye the competition, men in adjacent cells, all ready for the dash. I hear the door to the C.O.’s bubble open and shut. He drops his book bag and the clipboard he uses to take the afternoon list for chow and recreation on the desk. His keys jingle as he enters them into the lock box. Buttons are clicked and flips switched to open the gate at the end of the company. It slides back slowly and loudly clangs against its steel frame. That sound is our signal.

“Runners take your mark.”

Simultaneously each of the twenty-two cells on the tier are opened, and the sprint to the two phones in the day room (recreation area) begins. These two phones are a lifeline for forty-four men and their families. One of our few links to the outside world.

The winners reach the circle followed by fellow racers who begin to form a line of progression.

“Every time it’s the same two people! Why can’t we alternate?” one gripes. It’s inevitable that the two cells closest to the front are always the victors, indicating an unfair advantage.

“Man, they Phone Jones!” another says.

A “Phone Jones” is someone who lives on the phone. Every time they have an opportunity to use it they’re on it. The extremists have little consideration for others. Every time the gates open the race is on.

We are the privileged few of 2,200 men at Attica, we are the honor block. We have more time out of our cages for recreation, and recreation means a chance on the phone. We are allowed a half hour each morning until lock in, as general population goes to the yard. Our company officer assists with the escort of forty men to the yard at a time while we remain locked in.

The time allotted to the yard is one hour, which begins at first movement, not when all men are finally out in the yard. So as quickly as they go out, they are escorted back in. Meaning we also are locked back in, giving us maybe fifteen minutes in between to use rec time.

We are released another half hour before afternoon chow. The remainder of the day is very similar, locking in and out, being out no more than an hour at a time. Our affliction on honor block is light in comparison to our fellow prisoners. On average the general population in Attica Correctional Facility is given two and a half hours outside of their cells. That is all the time allotted for all men to use the few phones.

Those few phones were once run by gangs that shared it with their cronies. This system was changed last Mothers Day when a young man, on his third day in Attica, was stabbed to death for his use of the phone. Now, the C.O.’s run the lines.

Each block has nine phones for nearly five hundred prisoners. Prisoners alternate phone days according to their number, odd or even. Calls in the yard are limited to ten minutes, which begins with the call of your name over the loud horn, giving them less than ten minutes every other day to connect with their loved ones.

Connecting with those who love you assists in reestablishing your relevance and self-worth. It is of vital importance.

I’m a “Phone Jones.” Even an extremist at times. No excuses! I am what I am. I love my family, and have a need to connect with them and maintain strong familial ties. They are my treasure.

My heart aches also for my peers, I watch them suffering, struggling to hold on to the already weak connections that remain for them. I see them walking the yard with depression, despair, and desperation on their gloom faces. When their name is called for the phone, it’s as though they’ve been granted freedom.

Because family is the prisoners freedom.

They’re someone important again, someone special, someone loved.

Gloom turns to smiles and joy. If you stand close enough to the phones you are able to hear fathers wishing their children luck on their next school test. You can hear sons singing happy birthday to their mothers. You can hear husbands praying to and for their wives, assuring them all will be okay.

You can hear many men cry. Though you may not see tears on their face, their countenance tells of their deep pain.

Tragically, the phone is often called the stress box because of the news it can deliver; sickness, death, divorce.

Some men dial and can’t get through. They try the same number dozens of times, for years, praying for at least a ring. One ring can mean someone still cares. That they took the time and money to set up the prepay account, meaning they share in the same hope of connection.

I write my wife nearly everyday, and call several times, which I am incredibly grateful for. I hope these compensate for my temporary absence. My voice and hers…it’s as though we’re touching, and I long for the time we’ll be together out there, in the world.

 

Higher

My eyes were closed. My hands on each side of his smooth, freshly shaved face. I love touching his always soft skin. His forehead was gently pressed against mine. The more than thirty different conversations in the room had forsaken my ears. There was silence, except for the sounds of our breathing that seemed to intensify.

The most intense pressure was building within me. It was an eruption of understanding of the love between my imperfect self and this imperfect man, which continues to evolve. It was the first time I had ever been COMPLETELY lost in anything other than worship.

It was intensely beautiful. It was intensely difficult.

It was our first visit in a week, and our first visit as a family in the new year. We were all overly excited and starving for each others affection and attention. We hugged and talked, played a board game and cards. We talked some more.

As the boys ate their pizza lunch we began discussing our vulnerable hearts, opening ourselves wide for potential wounds. I was struck with a dagger I didn’t see coming. It wasn’t meant as a malicious strike. A simple and gentle confession of my beloved’s heart and needs left me feeling as a failing wife. My pride swelled and so did the passion.

Before I knew it I was walking away from the table for a reprieve. With only two options, I headed to the bathroom for a breath of not so fresh air. I wasn’t ready to walk out on the visit.

I returned to the table and the heated discussion. We were both eager to lead the conversation which led to interruptions, poor listening, and deep frustration. My stubbornness shut me down, and left my reconciliation pursuing husband out in the cold feeling defeated. It was obvious in his silent and now physically distant body.

Two hours remained in our weekly five-hour visit.

I invited him to partake in our daily devotion reading. He invited me to a peace agreement first. My stubbornness said, “Fine, I’ll read it alone today.” He gently took the Bible from my hands and was insistent we get right first. My flesh wanted my own way. My heart repeated two words, “one accord.”

I wanted the Christ in me to win way more than I wanted my flesh to win. Quickly repenting I drew my husband in to a tight warm hug. I rubbed the back of his head that rested on my shoulder and whispered in his ear, “I love you. I’m sorry.”

What had been a fight to drive our points home had become a fight to get in the most apologies and kisses. Love was flowing like a river pounded with torrential downpours. It became overwhelming. It metastasized. I wanted so badly, more than anything, more than ever, to show my husband how deeply I love him.

I wanted to makeup with him the way a man and his wife should. It was excruciating.

My husband and I have been married eight months and thirteen days. We still do not know each other physically. It is one of the most insanely beautiful and painful things I’ve ever endured. No, it IS the most beautiful and painful thing I have ever endured.

The entirety of this union is upheld by the strong, powerful, gracious hands of God. The entirety of this is far above me. I fall deeper in love with God. I fall deeper in love with my husband. I fall deeper into understanding of the tremendous favor I have poured out on me day after day.

Some looking from the outside are disgusted and confused. I am in awe. I sing praises. I confess, God, Your thoughts are so much higher than mine. Your ways are so much higher than mine. Blessed be Your name forever and ever. Thank You. Your grace is more than sufficient for me. I will ever love and trust You.