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.

 

Advertisements

Approved

For fifteen months my wife and I have endured a separation most couples never have to. We have not shared a single moment alone. There was no honeymoon. After six months of being legally married we could apply for the privilege. That was in the form of the Family Reunion Program. A program offered by corrections to strengthen family ties. During this time the Lord’s grace kept us.

It happened on a Thursday. The humidity was suffocating. I waited for the 10:30am departure to the electric gate. This is where prisoners go to pick up packages sent from home. You also meet with different staff in the guidance unit. That’s where I was headed.

I had been placed on a new counselors case load, and scheduled to meet her that day. The call to go came at 10:45. In quiet lines, the other inmates and I marched down the sticky corridors that led to A-Block. Our sneakers and boots lifting from the cement floors sounded like someone was peeling off a piece of tape repeatedly. Some men carried green net bags to put their packages in, others toted folders of paperwork to share with their counselors. I had a pen and a half of an envelope I used to scribble down a few notes that I wanted to discuss.

Six of us split as we were waved through the gate by an officer who didn’t seem interested at all in carrying out his duties. He sat at a podium outfitted as a desk. The Buffalo news crossword puzzle in front of him. A plastic soda bottle with a small amount of brown liquid was in his hand. Every few moments he brought it to his mouth and spit more of the liquid out.

The officer grabbed our passes without acknowledging our presence, then directed some to the right and the others to a holding pen on the left. I was sent to the pen to wait on the counselor to escort me back to the office.

Just sitting in that area is draining. Dozens of people converse at one time about some of the most bizarre topics. That day was different. There were only three men waiting, and were all spread out, staring  off into the blank whiteness of the walls.

Two men entered in just after me, speaking quietly to one another. The taller of the two had a red beard down to his chest and a long ponytail. His companion was short, stocky, and years younger.

“I mean I’m in here for that too, but it wasn’t a minor. He’s a pedophile for crying out loud, ” the taller one said, as he looked up and scanned around the room. His associate nodded, but didn’t make direct eye contact with anyone, as if he had a secret to hide. The two continued their conversation in the back, away from the ears of the rest of us.

A few moments passed and the steel doors slid open. Standing on the other side was a woman with blonde hair descending just past her ears. The first year counselor took me back to a wing with a dead-end. There were rooms on each side of the hallway resembling rows of cubicles with higher walls, and doors with plexiglass windows.

Her office seemed meager. A bulletin board was screwed on the wall with posters of exotic vistas; white sand beaches, waterfalls, and thick green forests. There were shelves full of binders, and one filing cabinet on the back wall. All in easy accessibility of her squeaky wheeled chair. There was a hole in the back wall no wider than a sheet of paper. It looked into a brightly lit larger room with more filing cabinets and desks. It reminded me of a drive-up window at a fast food restaurant.

She asked me a series of questions in relation to my safety in the facility. We spoke about my program needs and what I had accomplished over the years. We even set a couple of goals on my case plan. When I saw an opening I asked about the status of my application for FRP. I prepared myself for the usual answer of, “It’s still being processed.”

She typed something into her computer, then mentioned I had been approved since November 2015. I quickly brushed it off and explained that was when my application was sent to Albany for review. She offered to ask the coordinator of the program. Stunned by this generous offer I shook my head yes.

Leaping from her seat she told me to follow her. We made our way to another claustrophobic cubical. “I have a guy here who wants to know the status of his FRP application.”

After hearing my name the coordinators hands went up as if relieved. She picked up a form from her desk and began explaining to me that I had been approved.

Every ounce of me lit up. I sat elated as she told me the next steps my family and I had to do to complete the process. I shook my head in agreement to everything she said, excited to finally make it this far.

I must have floated back to the block. A weight had been lifted and all I could do was thank God. When I arrived back I was able to call my wife and deliver the great news.

We were finally approved.

 

Finally Free

“I’m afraid God. I’m afraid I’ve made a mistake. I’m afraid to trust. I’m afraid to completely break down the walls. I’m afraid God.”

Escaping the comfortable grips of my air mattress I determined to not “waste my wilderness.” I packed up my thrift store-bought nine west with my morning essentials, slinging it over both shoulders as a makeshift backpack. Snatching up my water bottle I made my way to the hiking trail.

Stepping into the shade of the woods was like stepping into a new world. Everything seemed more alive. Including myself. I was desperate to reach the small community of modern-day caves half way down the trail. Tree branches had been intricately woven to create a tent like structure. One of the caves was constructed around two boulders that made up its walls. This one was my favorite.

On top of its walls was where I met with God.

Taking a panoramic, I envisioned fierce zombie wars with my boys. I could see Caleb running toward them, slaying as many as he could with his sword. Deegan, hiding low in his cave, shot the ones Caleb missed. Jacob, head of the tribe, shouted protective exhortations.

It hurt to acknowledge the deep desires within my heart.

Better to practice contentment.

Deeply inhaling the fragrance of pure organic freshness, I began to unpack my bible, journal, and devotion. My fearful heart led me here and was still begging for acknowledgment and resolution.

“He’s not faithful to you. He’s a con man,” so many warned.

Logical enough. So I listened. I reasoned. I contemplated. Pulling my cell out of the middle pocket of my mock backpack, I checked the time. His counselor would be in. One call and peace could be restored.

Fear winning.

I committed ahead of time complete honesty to my husband no matter what answers I received. Staring down at the phone in my hand I heard a gentle whisper, “free indeed.” I immediately remembered the altar call at our healing service at my home church four days prior. The Holy Spirit spoke freedom over me.

I am free indeed! A gentle nudge of truth in the quiet of creation.

It was Him and I.

Yet so much fear.

What does one have to do with the other?

Looking up toward the brightest of all spotlights, I sat on Gods stage and made a choice

“You, God. I want You to speak to my heart what is true.”

“Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done marvelous things! Do not be afraid…” Joel 2:21-22

Without my permission bursts of water streamed down my smiling cheeks. Spreading my arms like a soaring eagle I rejoiced, “I’m sorry. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You. Yes! I say Yes, I say Yes, I say Yes.”

Freedom.

This marriage, as difficult the path, is MY GIFT. Every part.

Beautiful purpose. Crazy journey. Incredible love.

There is no fear in love. (1 John 4:18) There is no freedom in fear.

I am free indeed.

I never made the call. I confessed all to my battle buddy. His patient, humble heart forgave me and peace was restored.

I didn’t return to my tent the same. There was a change.

A break.

A renewed steadfast Spirit within me.

I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

Singing through smiles I made my way to the last morning major class of writers conference. Finding it difficult to focus, I gave thanks. The week had been highly insightful, inspirational, and informative. I wasn’t ready to leave, though I was looking forward to start practicing all I’d learned, or at least some of it.

Taking advantage of my lunch break I began tearing down the tent. Video game sounds suddenly filled the air. My husband was calling.

“Hello” I said.

“Hi baby girl, how are you? How was class?”

I gave a quick recap and inquired about his meeting with his new counselor.

“It was good. The usual six month review. But, I had to make a major decision.”

I stopped in my tracks, “What do you mean?”

“I had to choose between three dates.” He said.

The only thing I could muster was, “Shut the front door!”

Laughing with the love of a husband, MY husband, he promised sincerity.

Our much-anticipated honeymoon was approved by the State of New York.

Tears and laughter once again burst out of me. The conclusion of my amazing week in Montrose concluded alongside the painfully dry season of physical intimacy with my husband.

My newlywed.

Freedom.

We have the joy of counting down once again. It is exciting to imagine what our first private moments will be like.

Perfecting our love. Growing deeper.

Worshipping God.

 

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.

 

The Cameras Are Coming

You can hear the drills echoing through the brick walls. The vibrations can be felt on your feet. Private contractors, who are more than likely milking the state, have been working to put up cameras and audio recording devices at every corner of the prison. This is in response to the vicious culture that has gone unchecked for nearly fifty years, likely longer.

Since 1971, the year of a deadly Attica riot, this menacing culture has birthed the ideology that C.O.’s are executioners and deliverers of punishment. When in all actuality their duty is to watch and report, not assault and murder.

The surveillance equipment was once again recommended after three officers brutally assaulted an inmate. The incident was written up as an assault on staff, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. Wyoming County District Attorney believed the cameras would have helped, “Having cameras will only protect the truth, and that is never a bad thing.”

When the installation process began it certainly didn’t seem as though they were being implemented for officer safety, as the first area they went in were each of the two visiting rooms, approximately twenty in each. The claim was that cameras would oversee visitors, making sure protocol was being followed, as well as reducing the level of contraband exchange. I’m sure they also want to be sure we cons aren’t enjoying ourselves too much.

It took over a month for the job to begin, and after the visiting rooms were well equipped the work stopped.

No more cameras.

Months lapsed with no work being done, while men continued to be dragged out of their cells and beaten. More false reports were filed as inmate on staff abuse, allowing officers to go on paid medical leave, while the prisoner was sent to the “hole.” The Special Housing Unit is no vacation and length of stay varies. Inmates in this area of the prison are on twenty-three hour lockdown, with one short hour in their outside kennel. In addition they are awarded a new charge of assault, which can carry a minimum of three to six years, served consecutively.

Though some officers want to make sure we inmates know who they are over us, more often than not they desire no witnesses to their assaults. We’re threatened to get off the gates, meaning look away. If it happens to be your neighbor, you have to pretend you don’t hear his screams, or the awful sound of his head being smashed off the floor or walls.

The officers usually come in threes. The first initiates contact, as the second awaits his tag in. The third is on the lookout.

That’s what happened when they jumped K.C.

We began pairing up in two lines, making our way to the yard, when a C.O. demanded him to take position on the wall to be frisked. The same officer had been harassing him for weeks. The remainder of us were told to go outside with the command, “Forward!”

I tried to keep my eye on him as we exited. I stared at him over my shoulder as the line slowly moved. I didn’t want to leave him. His hands were pressed flat on the wall, and his feet spread shoulder width apart. His long dreads, the color of polished coal, were in a neat ponytail down the middle of his back. His large brown hoody was tucked into his pants. He didn’t move, just stood there with his head hanging low. He read like a book, he knew what was coming. In the last moment he turned his head, making eye contact with me. I attempted to return an encouraging countenance, but we both knew it was far from reality.

The officer closest to him took the bottom of his baton to my brothers spine. The force of the hit made his knees buckle. His hands slid down the brick wall, reaching for the floor. A couple quick jabs landed on the back of his skull and then he turned. His defense struck one of the guards in his midsection, folding him over. As K.C. tried to stand he was rushed by a swarm of adversaries. The line at that point stalled. We stood watching as our neighbor was pummeled.

Our escorting officer resumed his role and pushed us forward with several shouts, “Move, move, move!” We fled the scene and entered into the yard two by two.

The rays of the sun beat down warming my exterior, while my interior was feeling chilled. I went straight to the weights. The loud bells rang double time, indicating a violent altercation had occurred. The sound of pounding boots and jingling keys could be heard in the halls leading to where I left K.C.

It was an all too familiar sound.

A slaughter was unfolding.

It sounded like they were dragging his body across the floor, as I stood by an open window above the weight pile pretending to work out, but intently listening to the commotion. K.C.’s moans were muffled with gargling, likely from a mouthful of blood. He begged his tormentors to stop. “Please, no more” he cried.

The assault continued.

The windows were abruptly slammed shut, and that was the last I ever heard from K.C.

His subtle Caribbean accent that melted into piercing cries softened the hardest of hearts that afternoon.

When rec was over, we were escorted like kindergarteners back into the same corridor. Everyone searched the walls and floor for evidence of the incident. Tracks of crimson mixed with dirt led into the block. A winter hat lay in the center of the floor, leaving men to walk over it as though it were a piece of trash. Those, to me, were K.C.’s remains.

The contractors were brought back to work right after the humiliating Clinton escape. Cameras began popping up in the yard and corridors, and in the gym and hospital. Several were put in the stairwells and on companies in cell blocks. The places they should have been installed first.

It seems since the cameras have come the bad apples of the correction pool have been bidding out of their positions. They’ve traded in their plush posts in bubbles with microwaves and televisions for guard towers and AR-15’s. Some have transferred out to other facilities, perhaps where the lack of cameras will permit their continuance of mischief.

Soon they’ll be working on my company. I wonder how long it will take them to complete the job.

Is Attica safer? Perhaps. But at what price? The blood of men, who may not have been innocent of their crimes, but who were serving their time and did not deserve the torture inflicted on them. Many of those men I considered friends. Sometimes, we are all we know.

My biggest question, will the cameras change the culture of hate and brutality of Attica, or will the determined predators discover new ways to pounce their prey?

Sadly, I think it’s going to take something much greater than video cameras.

 

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

 

Like My Big Bro

Thomas was like a big brother to me. I fulfilled the counter role very well, annoying him every chance I got. When I’d get under his skin he’d retaliate in a humble manner that was disarming, but his words would hit your core.

He always tried to steer me in the right direction in life and my spiritual journey. It was only right when I had gotten engaged I go to him for some sound advice.

My search for guidance was very specific. This amazing woman had two, young, wonderful boys. Not yet having any children of my own I had become very focused on how to become a great step-father. I sat down with Thomas and asked the questions straight out, “What must I do to become a great step-dad?”

Thomas is a genuine brother, and an experienced step-father. I’ve had the privilege of meeting two of his children and saw the impact he had in their lives. They both adored this man, with no regard for his sentence of twenty-five years to life for murder.

He wasn’t a father who could physically be at the big games, graduations, or there when they received their first broken hearts. He read about them in letters, and saw pictures of those magic moments, always cheering and encouraging them on from his space inside Attica Prison.

Witnessing his ability to so dramatically influence those tender lives from the inside out, I was confident he had answers I needed.

My brother could be somewhat long-winded at times, as many wise men can be, but this time it was simple. “To be a good step-father you have to take the ‘step’ out of it and love them like they are your own.”

The words as he spoke them sounded poetic. There was no elaboration necessary.

That truth struck my nervous heart, but loving an extension of my soon to be wife would come easily.

Becoming a father is quite the call. It requires tremendous patience, the ability to be creative, and able to handle criticism. It requires sacrifice and time- just about all of it. I have learned to become supportive more than ever before.

I was nervous because I had no example of how to be a father, mine had been mostly absent. I’ve lived with a fear that I would make the same mistakes my father did. I didn’t want to be present but absent emotionally. I want to be able to support my family financially. I often pray that God blesses me with a selfless heart so that I have the ability to place my wife and children’s needs before my own.

After all, true JOY is…Jesus, Others, Yourself

41mFOiGfXbL