VOLUME MARCH 2004
March 1, 2004
A NEW CHAPTER
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose
It is time for a new chapter to begin in my life. Several
major changes are happening right now, and I don't have a choice about them.
It's the Lord who is ordering my steps. Likewise it's the
Lord who has ordered the steps of others.
For during the past few months several dear friends have
mysteriously walked out of my life. Yet the Lord has remained faithful and He has caused new friends to walk in.
Human behavior is a puzzle to me. For almost as if on a prearranged
cue, a handful of dear friends whom I have known for years, have disappeared.
At one point our hearts seemed to be knit together. Yet,
one by one, they each went their separate ways. And none of them knew each other: they all live in different parts of the
This has been painful for me. I suppose that some deep-seated
and fearful feelings of rejection and abandonment have resurfaced in my heart as a result of this.
I loved them and I was good to them. I tried my best not
to overburden them with anything. Yet they left.
They never said why. They simply stopped writing. They stopped
visiting. They've gone out of my life, perhaps forever, although it has taken me awhile to realize it. Now, however, I am
learning to accept this as God's will.
I have been mourning the losses of those who have moved on,
of course. But I am also rejoicing over the new friends who are now in my life.
As expected, though, the enemy of my soul has used this time
of change and pruning to sow discourgement. He has tried to fill my heart with doubt and fear.
It's scary when people unexpectedly end a relationship. And
Satan will attempt to use this period of inward shaking to his advantage. For he is a master of illusions. He is also a liar
who tries to make things seem different that what they really are. He's been doing this for centuries.
Yet in the midst of the uncertainty of change, God's word
has come alive in my mind. His word has filled me with hope. It has brought me comfort and peace, while doubt and fear have
Now I've begun to understand that God is doing something
wonderful. His divine purpose has allowed me to be stripped of the ones who, somehow, although I love them dearly, may have
held me back at some point.
The Lord has been showing me that, at this time in my life,
certain relationships had to come to an end.
God has broken my emotional attachments. He has painfully
pruned me so that, farther down the path He is taking me, much spiritual fruit will come forth.
I am still going forward. Yet I am also learning that my
soul must find its rest only in God alone.
March 6, 2004
In the prison system there is never a guarantee as to how
long an inmate will remain at a certain facility or when he will be transferred.
Many times such transfers are not based on a man's behavior,
good or bad. Often it is a lowering of one's security level classifiaction. Most frequently, however, it is simply a "facility
need" to bring in new men and move on those who've been at a certain prison for awhile.
At the housing unit (cell block) where I live, I have a handful
of friends who I've gotten close to. So during our mealtimes I usually sit with three other inmates. The four of us sit together
because each table in the dining area only seats four men.
These men and I share our meals and we talk amongst ourselves.
One of them is Gernonimo (pseudonym) a 65 year old Native American who is almost blind and who needs to be taken in a wheelchair
whenever he leaves the cell block. He has many serious medical problems, too.
The other two are Taso (also a pseudonym), an Hispanic man
who's in his 30's, and Nostrand Barton, (also a pseudonym), who is completely blind and has to maneuver throughut the cell
block and prison by using a cane. He also has to have another inmate who's trained as a "mobility guide" go with him at all
times. Nostrand is 63 years old.
Both Geronimo and Taso are doing life sentences like I am.
Nostrand, however, is only doing about five years for assault. So, as often happens, during a routine evaluation of his progress
here, the prison administration re-classified Nostrand as being at a "medium security level" as opposed to his original status
as "maximum security".
For Nostrand such a lowering of one's classification usually
means an impending transfer. And this is exactly what happened.
He wanted to stay with us, but an inmate never has a choice
about such a thing. So to our dismay, several days ago a correction officer came to the front of Nostrand's cell and told
him to gather his things. He was being transferred. Geronimo, Taso, and I knew we'd never see him again.
Nostrand is a black man who was born in South Carolina. He
came to New York City as a teenager along with his mother and grandmother, and a bunch of siblings all in search of a better
He told me that he did okay for awhile doing various jobs
as an unskilled laborer. But he had a penchant for alcohol and marijuana, and eventually cocaine, that got him into trouble.
He went from job to job, and then into poverty.
In a conversaton we had many months ago, Nostrand told me
that his closest brother died from cirrosis of the liver as a result of alcohol abuse. He himself became an alcoholic living
Then one day tragedy struck. Nostrand, who had good vision,
was drinking in his girlfriend's apartment. He got into an argument with her about the television. However, when he fell asleep
on the couch, his intoxicated girlfriend went and got a carving knife from the kitchen and stabbed him both eyes.
I cannot imagine the pain and terror that Nostrand experienced
at that moment. Bleeding profusely from both eye sockets he managed to scramble out of the apartment and into the building's
hallway where someone called the police.
From hereon life would go from bad to worse for Mr. Barton.
His girlfriend, he said, ended up having a nervous breakdown. She went to jail for awhile and then, according to him, she
moved to Missisissippi to live with her family .
He, however, had to adjust to his blindness. Now only in
his 30's, he would be handicapped for life.
Through a New York City based Social Services agency, Nostrand
eventually began to get therapy and be taught how to live with his condition.
I've looked into his face a thousand times and he doesn't
even have eyes! But he does possess a will to make it. By God's grace he has endured more than thirty years without sight.
Unfortunately, being blind did not end Nostrand's addictions.
He said to me that when this first happened he was so angry that he began to use cocaine. He ended up as a homeless person,
and he survived by becomeing a panhandler on the subways colleting coins and handouts from sympathetic passengers.
In his favor was the fact that as a kid he learned how to
play the harmonica. Ironically both he and Geronimo are accomplshed harmonica players. On occasion they would entertain the
inmates during our mealtimes with songs, at least until a guard would yell for them to stop.
With his perpetually ragged look of unkept hair and lots
of missing teeth, along with his always wrinkled clothing, watching Nostrand play his harmonica reminded me of the legendary
character, "Mr. Bojangles."
Always smiling and displaying his usual happy-go-lucky attitude,
Nostrand kept the rest of us laughing a lot.
So when an officer showed up to tell Mr. Barton the news
about his transfer, we all got very sad.
Later that day I watched as some of the inmate porters helped
Nostrand to pack his belongings. He didn't have much property to take with him other than his State issued clothing and his
work uniforms, some hygiene articles, all his tobacco, and of course his little harmonica.
Then seeing him head out the front entrance of the housing
unit the following day gave me an empty feeling. Fortunately for him though, he will be out of prison in less than two years.
Mr. Barton has some children who are grown. Although they've
never visited him while he's been incarcerated, usually once per month he'd call them collect.
Still, inspite of his cheerfullness, Nostrand is a lonely
man. He frequently talked about winning the lottery and then going back to South Carolina to buy some land and buld himself
I don't think he'll win the lottery any time soon, however.
Knowing Nostrand, I have the feeling that when he returns to New Y ork City, he's going to pull his harmonica out of his pocket,
plop down on a sidewalk someplace, put a lilttle pail in front of him and panhandle again.
Nostrand will go back to serenading the crowds. A survivor,
he will again live off coins and handouts and Welfare. A genuine Mister Bojangles.
March 9, 2004
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living
My next door neighbor was just transferred to another prison.
I will call him Danny, not his real name. I've known him for about five years.
He was a member of our chapel congregation during all the
time he was here. But he was also a terror and a thorn to us with his continual bickering, murmuring and ridiculing. He complained
about our chaplain, the choir, and almost all the Christians who attend our services. This was a daily thing, and he was constantly
sowing discord among us.
Danny is doing a sentence of "25-years to life" for an exceptionally
brutal murder that happened in Manhattan. He repeatedly stabbed a wheelchair-bound man for a small amount of money. He was
on a Crack induced rampage at the time, and several years ago his case was briefly featured on Court TV.
Danny was a tough case. Sometimes he would drive me crazy
with his constant cussing, lying, and smoking. He was so rambunctions. When he walked into the chapel or when he came into
the cell block it was as if a tornado had arrived.
I had many conversations with Danny. Other Christians tried
to talk about God and the Bible. But there were many more times when he tried to initiate a conversation of gossip.
Throughout the years he was here at Sullivan Correctional
Facility he received many warnings from men who spoke to him in love, asking and admonishing him to stop attacking others
with his toungue.
Danny was also asked repeatedly to start cooperating with
the spiritual leaders of our congregation, and with the lay ministers and Bible teachers who come here to help us. It was
to no avail, however.
Danny never listened to the elders of the church. He never
listened to me. He was as stubborn as a mule.
Then, the day before, a correction officer came to his cell
and told him to "pack his things", because he was being transferred the following day.
As soon as the officer walked away, however, Danny began
to cry. He then called to me and asked me to stop by his cell as soon as our doors opened again. He needed someone to talk
to as he was upset and unsettled by the news.
For Danny the bottom had dropped out. He was told that he
was going to Sing Sing, one of the worst and most violent prisons in New York State.
The gangs at Sing Sing are vicious. Inmates get sliced and
stabbed almost daily by fellow prisoners who use knives, razors, box cutters, and even finely sharpened can tops.
On occasion men die from the violence; many are maimed for
life and carry the scars of thier battles on their faces, necks and backs.
When Danny was on the streets living in his world of drugs
and hustling, he was like a wild man surviving by his wits and by sheer luck.
I recall the worn and haggard look on his face when I saw
him on television. In the program he was being questioned in a police precinct by several NYPD detectives where he evntually
gave them a full confession.
Ironically, Danny comes from a family that's fanancially
well off. But at some point, when he was in his early 20s, he made the choice to sell drugs. He then got badly addicted from
sampling his own supply.
Over time the streets consumed him. Now the gangs of Sing
Sing, like the Bloods and the Latin Kings, may end up consuming him. Plus there's drugs and corruption in this place, too.
Sing Sing Correctional Facility is about thirty miles north
of New York City in the town of Ossining in Westchester County. It is an old fortress-like facility on about fifty acres of
choice real estate along the east bank of the Hudson River. The area surrounding the prison is picturesque. Inside the prison,
however, hangs a pall of anger and fear.
Shortly before it was his time to leave Sullivan, I stood
before Danny and firmly told him that a line has been drawn at his feet. I ran my right foot across the floor of the tier
I believe the Lord instructed me to tell him that as soon
as he gets to this next facility, he is going to have to make a decision as to whether he will run with the gangs and troublemakers,
or with the Christian inmates he would find there. His choice will be between the "world" or Jesus Christ.
Just then the officer called out Danny's name and told him
that it was time to go. So he and I embraced and I gave him a big brotherly hug. I also promised to keep him in my prayers.
March 11, 2004
FOCUS ON THE FAMILY
I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight:
I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.
God has been so wonderful to me. He's been faithful. The
Lord has been enlarging the territory of my testimony, and He has been doing far more than I could ever ask, think or hope
for (Ephesians 3:20).
Likewise the Lord has been giving me the desires of my heart.
For He knows that I long to lift up His name so that He will be honored and glorified.
Thus as many who read these journals know by now, Jesus Christ
opened a door for me to be interviewd by Dr. Bill Maier of Focus on the Family, one of the most respected Christian ministries
in the Nation. Dr. Dobson hosted the program.
I did this interview on August 6, 2003. Seven months later
the interview was aired.
I listened to all three segments (from March 8 thru 10).
It wasn't easy for me to hear the many references to my past.
But overall I believe that Christ was honored, and I hope
that everyone who listened to the interview was encouraged to get closer to the Lord.
I hope, too, that the Focus on the Family listeners were
encouraged to become more involved with nimnistries that reach out to prisoners and their famillies as well as to young people
who may be struggling with the issues of life.
In an Associated Press article which appeared in a newspaper
called THE STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE (Monday, July 28, 2003, ppA-11,13), it said that the prison population of the United States
of America is now at "more than 2;1 million" men and women, as a "2.6 percent increase" since the Bureau of Justice Statistics
took their last count in 2001.
So what does that mean for evangelical Christians? It means
that correctional facilities have become wide open mission fields of spiritually hungry and brokenhearted people who have
sinned greatly, and who desperately need forgiveness and restoration from Jesus Christ.
And think how many victims have been left behind by the crimes
of all these offenders. It must surely be a staggering number. And these victims need our prayers and they need a healing
touch from the Lord.
But getting back to the interview, I tried my best under
difficult circumstances to share my faith.
Two prison guards sat directly in front of me during the
Inmates and officers were walking back and forth in the corridor
outside our room, some stopping to look into the windows and gawk.
There was also a lot of noise in the building while we were
recording. But you wouldn't know it from listening to the finished program. Some obviously gifted person from Focus on the
Family's productein department did a great job elliminating the background noise.
All told, however, I believe the Lord, in a sense, cut through
the bars and bypassed the walls of this prison to allow my story of hope to go far into the world.
March 12, 2004
My adoptive father is a good man. He tried his best to raise
me and help me under what were often very difficult circumstances. This is because I was a problem child with many emotional
and behavioral problems. I was a hard case for my parents to deal with.
But while I often perplexed and exacerbated my father, he
and I also had many good times together.
I remember the times when my dad and I went to the movies.
We laughed so hard while watching "The Odd Couple". We also saw "West Side Story", which became one of my favorite movies
of all time.
Over the years my dad took me to a handful of baseball games.
We went to Shea Stadium to watch the New York Mets play. And we went to Yankee Stadium, too.
When I was about eleven years old my father took me to my
first night game. We watched the Yankees play under the bright lights.
My dad and I also went on trips together. Along with my mother
we went to the observation deck of the famed Empire State Building.
The following year my parents and I journeyed by ferry to
the Statue of Liberty, where my dad and I climbed into the crown of Lady Liberty's head. My mom, however, opted for the elevator.
I didn't blame her, for as it was quite a hike to go up the hundreds of feet of staircases.
Once my parents took me to the Planetarium in Manhattan where
we were able to look into the solar system. Then on several other occasions we went to the Museum of Natural History to see
the fossils and dinosaur bones from ages past.
For many years my father was an avid bowler. He was the one
who taught me how to bowl. He got me fitted for my first bowling ball which he purchased for me as a birthday gift. My dad
also taught me how to ride a bicycle.
A number of times during my childhood my parents would take
me to Bear Mountain State Park, whenr my dad and I went hiking while my mom stayed at the inn.
And for many consecutive summers, when my dad was able to
close his little neighborhood hardware store for a week, my parents took me on vacation to Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains.
Every summer we'd rent a bungalow cottage in the same little
town called Bolton Landing. I love the lake and the beauty of the surrounding mountains.
I enjoyed swimming and getting splashed by the small waves
from the speedboats and tour boats. Occasionally I would fish from the side of a small pier. My dad and I would also take
a rowboat out into the huge lake.
Yet in spite of the bad turn of events my life eventually
took and even during the times of my tumultuous childhood, I believe that overall my father and I had a good life together.
Yes, there were the bad times. There were many days when
my parents cried tears of grief because of my bizarre behaviors and rebellious ways. Still, in my mind, the better days do
Furthermore, I don't hold anything against my father for
having to work six days per week, ten hours per day, as he struggled to make a living in his small store.
My dad grew up during the Gread Depression. He know what
it was to be poor and to have just enough to get by. So working all those hours was for him a labor of love, and I am grateful
to have such a hard working father as a good example.
In the community he lives in today, many people know him
for his gentle spirit. He's known for his kindness and generosity. And for many years he has been the President of the Local
Tenant's Association. His neighbors trust him for his wise advice and geood leadership.
Of course when I was an emotionally immature adolescent I
did not see all these qualities in my adoptive father. I was so foolish and ignorant. But somewhere in life I awoke to the
inner beauty of this man.
God has blessed me with the privilege of knowing and having
a great dad. I am so thankful.
March 16, 2004
AN IMPERFECT STORM
It's snowing again! The heavy wet flakes began to fall around
11 o'clock this morning. It's now 7 o'clock in the evening, and it's still snowing hard. Perhaps 8 to 10 inches will accumulate
before this is over.
I happen to love the snow. So a crippling storm doesn't bother
me at all.
Aside from this, however, I am concerned for my neighbor.
His name is Richard. Like me, he's a Christian. We go to the chapel together. It's also nice having such a quiet and decent
Over the years of my incarceration I've had to live next
door to some very angry and disruptived men. So Richard is actually a gift from the Lord. Like me he spends a lot of time
in his cell praying and reading his Bible. I cannot ask for anything better than this.
But poor Richard has been struggling with a major issue.
His wife left him. He learned this last week. He's been married for a handful of years, and he has children.
Like many marriages and relationships where the man of the
family is behind prison walls, it is a hard thing to maintain.
I've been praying for Richard and encouraging him as God
leads me to.
Expectedly, Richard has been depressed, although he's trying
hard to smile through this ordeal. Yet his smile, I can tell, now seems like a mask. His eyes reveal the truth He's is great
pain and I know he his hurting.
Richard has been following Christ for about two years. So
he's still a young Christian.
I told him that he doesn't have to put up a false front,
and that it's okay to cry. Because tears are, at times, a part of the normal Christian experience. Lots of sad things happen
to us as we journey through this world. And one day, as the Bible promises, God will wipe away the tears from our eyes.
I also told Richard that I will continue to pray for him.
And I reminded him that Jesus Christ will never leave or forsake him.
Richard's grief and pain will last for awhile. This is reality.
For it surely hurts when someone you love walks out of your life. Yet I reminded hm that God will always be present in his
heart to bring comfort.
I explained to Richard that the Lord is not looking for a
spiritual superman. He simply wants us to trust in Him with all our hearts and even with our very lives. That we are to always
rely on God's grace, as it is a part of the learning process to grow in the grace and knowledge of Him.
I have no doubt that one day Richard will come to fully understand
March 17, 2004
HOUSE OF PAIN
Yesterday I wrote about my friend and neighbor, Richard.
Recently he received the news that his wife has decided to file for divorce. She just could not deal with the loss and loneliness
anymore, and she wants to move on.
Unfortunately, Richard is not the first and he won't be the
last prisoner to suffer tremendous loss because of his situation.
Prison, you see, is such an unusual place. It's a melting
pot of emotions.
Men who committed some of the most vicious and heinous crimes
a person could imagine, cry at night for their mothers, and for their wives and children.
They, like me, have thrown away our lives by committing a
crime (or crimes). And once those outer doors of the prison slam shut behind each of us, we desperately want our lives back
The reality is, however, that once those doors close, they
will stay shut until the parole board orders them to open again. Or some other extenuating circumstances come about, such
as a man winning his appeal through the slow and straggling judicial process.
By its very nature, prisons are places of pain. Yes, there
are various amenities: visits, mail, a recreation yard, work assignments and some basic schooling for those who need a high
school equivilency diploma.
Yet, in spite of these privileges incarceration is a hellish
ordeal. For there are many things a man experiences that, in this setting, get amplified many more times.
There's loneliness, hopelessness, anger, despair and frustration.
There are explosive situations that happen beween inmates, or between inmates and the guards that can become violent. Men's
minds are set on edge and nerves are rattled. There are many hours of monotony, too.
Locked behind these walls, the pain of missing one's family
is magnified. Some men go years without seeing a family member. Over time relatives die off or move on, or they just disappear.
In addition, there is an inner gnawing fear of being forgotten
about, that many inmates try to numb by watching endless hours of television or by playing long hours of card games. Still
other men try to lose themselves in pornography and sexual fantasies.
It is the loss of people and things, and the broken ties
that even commitments of love cannot maintain that probably cause a prisoner the most pain. And while some men survive and
quietly endure their losses, others unravel and lose their minds.
There is pain and loss at every turn. And such is the result
of beng a criminal. The Bible calls this reaping what a man has sown. It is a painful spiritual reality, and, I believe, only
the love and forgiveness of God can lessen the hard blows so that the inner pain at least becomes bearable.
March 18, 2004
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I
am thy God: I will strengthen thee: yea, I will help thee: yea, I will hphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.
Last night I stayed up very late. I had a longing to pray
and pour out my heart to the Lord.
I've been feeling lonely and even a lilttle depressed. Perhaps
this is because of some changes that are going on in my life with certain loved ones who are now leaving or who have already
done so. I wrote about this in my journal entry for March 1st.
My heart has been heavy with grief. Yet in the darkness and
midnight quietness of my prison cell, the Lord touched my soul. He reminded me, as He's had to do so ofhen troughout the year,
that I am the apple of His eye.
Jesus, my Messiah, loves me so much. He has rescued me from
the hand of the enemy (Psalm 107:2) and placed me safely into His arms.
Jesus my sweet Savior has been an ever present help in my
times of trouble. When I'm lonely He's right there with me because He lives in my heart. And He has promised never to leave
or forsake me.
So after my time of prolonged prayer, the Lord strengthened
and encoraged my mind and heart.
Ged reminded me that He hasn't forgotten me. He has been
faithful to sustain me all these years. He has protected me from many dangers because He loves me.
I still do not fully understand why God would love such a
wretch, but I'm glad that He does.
I am indeed a free man.
March 23, 2004
GOD AT WORK
God is quietly working in the hearts of many prisoners. In
correctional facilities all across America men and women are repenting of thieir sins. They're coming to Christ. Some are
doing so out of desperation, but if this is what it takes, then it's worth it.
Multitudes of prisoners feel they've hit bottom, and they
find there's no place left to go but to Jesus. They have no one else to look to but towards Christ.
Like the popular Bible story about the prodigal son (Luke
chapter 15), when this wayward son was broke, busted and disgusted, he finally came to the realization that his life was a
mess. He was homeless and was living like a pig. He was at a dead end.
In fact he probably would have been dead in a few more days,
save for the fact that he came to his senses and made his way back to his father's house.
And God is indeed a loving heavenly father who is waiting
for each of us to come to our senses. He wants us to freely admit that we've sinned and done wrong, and that we cannot fix
anything; not even our broken lives.
Furthermore, to make it easier, the Father sent His son,
Jesus, to go and find us. For we're to lost and to injured to make it home without His help.
Thankfully, Jesus Christ is gently picking up His wounded
children. One by one, He's carrying us home to God.
March 27, 2004
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through
our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:57
For the Christian to expect to go through life without getting
bruised, abused and scarred is to live in a dream world. The Bible instructs us to brace against Satan's blows. We should
not be shocked but rather be prepared when spiritual attacks come.
If we are to walk as Jesus walked, we could expect the same
occasional mjstreatments--the abandonment by family and friends--being mocked and joked about--being lied on--harrassed and
This world can be a cruel place. And because this world is
Satan's temporary domain, confrontations with the powers of darkness are inevitable.
Yet this is why God gives us His Spirit to live in us. He
leads and guides us into all truth. His Spirit is also our shield and helper. And with Christ we are always in victory, as
long as we walk in submission to God, and through the Spirits's help, stay obedient to Him.
I am learning, too, that we can walk above our troubles.
We can be triumphant so that not even the gates of Hell could prevail against the church.
This of course doesn't mean that we will never experience
any pain or discouragement. Actually there will be plenty of both. Yet for the faithful Christian there can also be the sweetness
of victory that our God will give us, that will lessen the pain which comes from our trials as wll as eliminate all discouragement.
But to be such an overcomer we must stay in the race.
March 29, 2004
And I will restore unto you the years that the locust hath
eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
With Spring comes the hope of restoration. In the realm of
nature what has been dry and dead, brittle and brown from winter's frigid cold, blooms back to life.
In the Sprintime lush green grass fills the fields and hills.
Life seems to begin anew.
As with nature, restoration is a blessing that human beings
can also experience. It is a gift from God.
After all, Jesus focused lot of His ministry on mending broken
hearts, and bringing healing and forgivness into lives that have been damaged by sin.
God can even restore the years we've wasted. He has been
doing this with me.
He removes, remolds, reshapes and rebuilds inside of us what
other people, demonic entities, or even our own stupidity, self-desrructive ways and carelessness, has ruined.
God can make all things new, even broken relationships. And
by faith, I believe that the best days of my life are yet to come.
This is the end of the March 2004 Journal