May 2006

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Depression, Facing Serious Illness 

May 5, 2006


I believe that bitterness is to the soul what cancer is to the body. I have seen for myself the effects of a bitter spirit, and it is tragic.

Because I am a "Mobility Guide" during the morning hours, a part of my job consists of helping and escorting the prisoners who are partially or completely blind. So earlier today when I was summoned to the D-North cellblock to pick up the man I would have to escort, it happened to be the same guy I had to take to the Infirmary this past Monday.

I found my Native American friend to be as bitter as ever. He was complaining non-stop during our walk through a succession of corridors enroute to the Infirmary. He bickered with the correction officers when we got there, and he bickered with them on our way out. And while he was being treated for his medical problems he argued with the nurses. He’s definitely not a "happy" resident.

I told him, "Bob,* you have to let go of things. You’re going to end up with a heart attack." But he quickly replied that he will never stop being angry about the Vietnam War and his years in the military that left him sick with Agent Orange poisoning and a body scarred by shrapnel.

Nevertheless, "Indian Bob" is a decent person. I’ve known him for years and he is well versed in the law. He’s well respected by the men in the general population and they hold him in great affection. Yet I think that if he doesn’t get rid of the bitterness that’s eating away at him, he probably won’t live much longer.

*Bob is not his real name

David Berkowitz

May 7, 2006


Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.

Psalm 18:36

During this morning’s worship service my chaplain called for testimonies from anyone who recently had some answers to prayer.

So when it was my turn to speak I told the congregation how the Lord Jesus healed my body from excruciating pain in my lower back and along the sciatic nerve in my right leg. I was in this condition since the fall of last year, I explained. I was in pain all day long.

I then went on to say that, according to the prison’s medical staff, my condition (degenerative joint disease) was going to get progressively worse. I was told that at some point I may even lose control of my bladder and, as a last resort, I may need surgery.

Yet throughout this ordeal I continued to pray and trust in the Lord. Then I said to the church, one morning I awoke from sleep to discover that the pain was almost gone. And within a few days all the pain vanished as mysteriously as it began.

I said that I have no doubt Jesus the Messiah answered my prayers. My hope, I told the congregation, was and is in Him. God has always been good to me, and I let the men know it.

David Berkowitz

May 8, 2006


This morning I had to travel to and from the prison’s Infirmary to escort a sight-impaired man who needed his medicine. Then in the afternoon I went with the guys from the Intermediate Care Program to the recreation yard. It was a very productive time because I was able to spend almost two hours with Paul. During our conversation he confessed to me that he was struggling with depression.

And later on, after I left Paul, I went to talk to Bill. He was sitting listlessly on a bench. His sad countenance was a giveaway that he too was suffering from the same malady.

In my opinion depression is like a carnivorous demon that eats away at the soul of a person. It can crush and oppress a man’s spirit.

Depression, on occasion, also surfaces in my life. But at the same time I know that God loves and cares for me.

Paul and Bill, however, do suffer from several recognizable "mental health" issues. I told them, though, that they should never feel ashamed when the dark clouds of despondency come. Through Jesus Christ, I assured them both, we can have the victory. His light, I explained, could replace the darkness and send Satan to flight.

David Berkowitz

May 10, 2006


I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

Matthew 28:20b

I had a quiet and uneventful morning. I only had to escort a sight-impaired man to the sergeant’s office for an interview which lasted about twenty minutes, and then I was done.

This afternoon, however, I was with the men from the E-North cellblock. And while I am grateful for the chances to help whom I could in this special unit, I must admit that sometimes a "spirit of depression" tries to gain entry into my mind. But when I sense this beginning to happen I will pull back a little and pray.

Because of my job which I prefer to call a ministry, I am surrounded by men who are in dire circumstances, and who also suffer with varying degrees of mental illness as well as spiritual oppression.

Some of their inner despair, I believe, comes from the realization that each man has damaged or even ruined his life. They’ve also destroyed relationships they once enjoyed with their families. This they are living with continuous regret in addition to whatever guilt each one may feel as a result of the crime or crimes he committed.

Depression, therefore, is a natural outcome of a life lived badly. And I too have wrestled with it. It comes from having to deal with my own memories, failures, and regrets. But I have also observed a spiritual aspect to some depressions in a number of these men: I’ve had both kinds in my life.

Yes, I know that Christ has forgiven me. In His eyes my sins and failures no longer exist, and I am glad. Yet at times the reality of being separated from my father who recently turned 96 breaks my heart. The pain of being away from him is beyond words to describe.

Nevertheless, God’s grace is able to sustain me. I also believe He understands my pain and my occasional struggles with depression. Likewise I am reminded that Jesus has promised to be with me always. This is the most important thing.

David Berkowitz

May 19, 2006


Within the past few weeks my prayer life is being renewed and revitalized. I pray every day. But for a couple of months, however, it has been hard to pray. The depth of my prayers has been shallow, and heaven’s "Throne of Grace" seemed inaccessible.

Now, for whatever reasons, a new season of devotion is awakening within me. I have become more energized, and I’ve been able to arise before dawn most mornings to seek the Lord in the privacy of my prison cell, whispering prayers to Him confessing my sins, asking for help with my shortcomings, and gladly interceding for those who are in varying degrees of need and distress, as well as for different situations in churches and in nations.

The Lord Jesus helps and encourages me to pray. And for reasons I cannot explain my heart has been heavy for the orphans in Rumania. Tens of thousands of these little ones, and many who are now in their teenage years, are destitute, lonely and hungry. They do not know Christ. They’re living in despair.

Among my prayer list are hundreds of people in crisis. There is Carolyn M. (Norfolk, Virginia); Robert M. (in prison in Virginia; Molly (who was recently left paralyzed from the chest down after a horseback riding accident); David W. (who has a wasting disease and lives in constant pain; Michael M. (who is in a New York City hospital and is dying from AIDS); Tim (a man in his 40s who suffers from paralysis and is confined to a nursing home in Indiana), and there is Margaret who is in deep depression.

There is also "Pastor Kelly," a youth pastor in Lexington, South Carolina, who has a serious medical condition. And I just learned this afternoon via a letter that my dear friend and brother in Christ, Lars, has been diagnosed with a cancer called "Myeloma." He is in intense pain, too.

The list goes on, and there are enough needs and problems to keep me on my knees for a long time. Thus I hope that other Christians will join me in prayer for these individuals. Amen!

David Berkowitz

May 20, 2006


The Bible says that life and death are in the power of the tongue.* With our mouth we could encourage or discourage someone. We could build up a life, or destroy it. A cruel word, for example, could send a person into the throes of a deep depression from which they may not recover.

This was impressed upon me yesterday when I received a letter from friends in Canada. They’re a married couple who are devout Christians. They support various ministries, especially those that help the persecuted churches in Third World countries, and they love Jesus. Yet they have also been afflicted by various medical problems. Most recently the husband, Larry, has been diagnosed with cancer.

And when the wife, Gina, called a prayer line to ask for help and advice, the "counselor" at the other end told her that God was "chastening" them with ‘many diseases." Gina then asked me what I thought of this.

I was livid. After I read Gina’s letter I had to stand up and pace back and forth for several minutes to ease my mind. I don’t believe I have ever heard of anything so stupid and insensitive, and coming from a Christian counselor no less!

I wonder what this counselor would have told the apostle Paul if he had called to ask for prayer for his "thorn in the flesh"? What would she have said to Job had he dialed the prayer line to seek comfort over the sudden deaths of all his children, and to ask for prayer because of the boils which covered his body from head to foot?

Likewise it would be interesting to know what words this counselor would have given to Epaphroditus, who was a faithful minister and one of Paul’s trusted companions. The bible says that he had become extremely sick and was very close to death "because of the work of Christ". (Philippians 2:25-30)

It was the Lord Jesus Himself who said that while we are in this world we shall experience trouble. (John 16;33) And the apostle Paul said, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18).

I cannot find it anywhere in the Bible where it says that Christians will never experience loss, pain, sickness or hardship. In fact we go through what everyone else does. But the difference is that we have a divine source to call upon and trust in for help comfort and strength. Our God is all-powerful. He can fix a problem or change a situation merely by speaking a word.

Now I’m sure this counselor meant well. Yet the advice she gave was so foolish that, had my friends not known the Scriptures for themselves, their faith could have been damaged.

Unfortunately, however, many individuals do get hurt. Poison counsel is given and they become discouraged. They fall under condemnation and false guilt. Then many of these victims stop going to church altogether. They depart from the faith and are ruined.

Obviously, therefore, not everyone should be giving spiritual counsel.

I shared my thoughts with Gina and Larry because they asked me to. I also advised them to report the matter to whoever is in charge of this prayer line. The leadership of this ministry needs to be more selective and discerning with whom they allow to answer the phone.

At the same time, however, what happened to my friends has caused me to search and examine my own heart. I also counsel others. So I want my words to be good, wholesome, and only what the Lord would want me to say.

I must always be careful not to be proud, rash or reckless with what I say. This is a big responsibility because, after all, the Bible says that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. (Proverbs 18:21).

My prayer is that I have a wise tongue. I also ask God’s forgiveness if I have ever given incorrect and hurtful advice.

(Larry and Gina are not their real names)

*Proverbs 18:21

David Berkowitz

May 24, 2006


About fifteen minutes ago a small squad of correction officers entered the cell block wearing their protective gloves and carrying nightsticks. They came to take a prisoner to "The Box".

I don’t know what he did or had been accused of, but the prisoner is a young black man, maybe in his early 30s. He was living in my cell block for about a year, and although he never talked much, he was clearly the angry-brooding type.

No matter where he went in the facility I would observe Scowl Face walking stiffly. His muscles remained tensed in such a way that he reminded me of a lion getting ready to pounce upon its prey. He gave off bad "vibes", too. So he was oftentimes seen sitting alone in the dayroom. His unfriendly face and his body language bespoke a clear message: "Stay the heck away from me!"

I do not recall ever seeing him smile. On occasion I saw him arguing with a fellow prisoner or with a staff member. Men with seething rage are a common sight in here, and Scowl Face was and obvious case of consuming fury.

I had watched as the team of guards who, along with a sergeant who stood by in his standard supervisory role, handcuffed Scowl Face behind his back. Then with the cuffs locked in place they marched him out of the building. He gave them no resistance and he did not say a word. The entire operation took about five to seven minutes, and Scowl Face was gone.

Taking a prisoner to "The Box" is a routine event. After a man is handcuffed, and assuming he offers no resistance, he is then escorted by several guards along with a sergeant through the facility’s corridors to an area far from the regular cell blocks. It’s benignly called the "Special Housing Unit", which the staff usually refers to by its abbreviated name, "SHU".

SHU is basically a prison within a prison, and it is reserved for those who commit the most serious of disciplinary infractions. A greater majority of the men, however, when they break a rule end up confined to their own cells for twenty-three hours per day. They will also lose all their privileges such as the opportunity to use the telephone, go to the commissary or the main recreation yards, or take a daily shower.

The one positive thing that I remember about this man was when I was sitting in the dayroom having an impromptu Bible study with a few of the guys, when I noticed him looking at us and listening intently to our discussion. But when I smiled at him and politely asked if he’d like to join us, he immediately grimaced and said, "Naw". Yet he continued to watch and listen.

Mostly, though during the few times I said hello to him in passing, he would merely mumble something under his breath and continue walking, never making eye contact.

Now, unfortunately, Scowl Face is going to have plenty of time to stew in his anger. He’s really a lonely man who needs God in his life.

David Berkowitz

May 25, 2006


The population of men and women in America’s jails and prisons continues to be on the rise in most states.

A recent article in USA Today said, "Nearly 2.2 million people---1 in every 136 U.S. residents---were behind bars in 2005."

This was a quote from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

According to the story, some states such as Montana and South Dakota had increases in their populations, but the states of Vermont, Idaho and New York, the number of inmates in mails and prisons was down slightly.

The article went on to say that "Women now account for 12.7% of the jail population, up from 10.2% a decade ago."

For quite some time I have been saying that our nation’s correctional facilities are one of the biggest mission fields. After all, the Lord Jesus came into this world to save sinners. And where else can such a large concentration of broken, devastated, troubled and wayward lives be found that in these places?

The harvest is truly ripe!

Source: USA Today, Monday, May 22, 2006 (Page 3A) by Donna Leinwand

David Berkowitz

May 27, 2006


"---but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18

God continues to open doors of opportunity for me to show His love and kindness to my fellow man.

I have been able to befriend a Muslim prisoner. Because he lives in the same housing area as me he will often come to my cell to talk. We’ve been discussing everything from mundane matters to the Bible, the war in Iraq, world events, and even the environment.. He’s very current events conscious and stays abreast of the news.

Earlier this year when his mother became ill he had oftentimes come to my cell to ask for prayer. His mom, he told me, was a Christian. She died a few months ago and it was a big loss for him.

Like many men who are incarcerated he did not have a good relationship with his father. His dad was, in his own words, the proverbial "rolling stone". He fathered a handful of kids by different women even though he was married to one.

His mother however, was the foundation of his life. Therefore, during this past Mother’s Day he was feeling down. So we were able to talk at length about our mothers.

He was raised as a Christian although he never placed his faith in Jesus. Nevertheless he knows of my beliefs and we have regular discussions about the Bible.

I have also been assisting him by writing letters to Family court. He is smart but not well educated. So I will sit with him and act as a secretary to get the necessary details. Then I’ll go into my cell and compose a letter from him to send to the Court. He is fighting to keep visitation rights to his only child, a son who is in foster care.

God has His ways of breaking down barriers and gently gaining entry into men’s hearts with the gospel. It is not always by the preaching of men that the gospel is spread, as important as preaching is. But in this situation God is melting the heart of a Muslim man through the deeds of kindness as well as by demonstrations of Christian love.

David Berkowitz

May 31, 2006


I rejoice for the opportunities I have had during the month of May to share Christ with my fellow prisoners. But I am now beginning to experience a degree of physical and mental exhaustion. In addition, with regard to another matter, I have begun to seek the Lord’s will concerning the role He would have me to do within the confines of the church that’s behind these walls.

It’s been more than two years since I became the "pastor" of the congregation, even though I never call myself by this title. Technically, however, we have a paid chaplain who is in the view of the prison’s officials, our approved pastor and leader.

Thankfully my chaplain is a sincere man of prayer and faith; he’s a good and godly example to our little flock. I am likewise under his authority. Yet the men consider me to be the inmate pastor, and this is something I never wanted, but I have accepted it as God’s will for a the present.

Nevertheless, at this time I am seeking the Lord’s direction with regard turning over the reigns of pastorship to another man, who is doing a life sentence, and whom I believe to be well qualified. He also is bilingual, which is a big plus.

So for now this matter is before the Lord, and I am patiently awaiting God’s response. I am confident that, in due course, the right decision will be made.

David Berkowitz

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