Wasted Time

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This week I am posting a poem that has been around awhile and was written by an inmate. This poem doesn’t originate from anyone that I know, but most behind bars can identify with it.

The time that I’ve wasted is my biggest regret,

Spent in these places I will never forget.

Just sitting and thinking about the things that I’ve done,

The crying, the laughing, the hurt and the fun.

Now it’s me and my hard driven guilt

Behind a wall of emptiness I allowed to be built.

I’m trapped in my body, just wanting to run

Back to my youth with its laughter and fun.

But the chase is over and there’s no place to hide

Everything is gone, including my pride.

With reality suddenly right in my face

I’m scared, alone and stuck in this place.

Now memories of the past flash through my head

And the pain is obvious by the tears that I shed.

I ask myself why and where I went wrong.

I guess I was weak when I should have been strong.

Living for the drugs and the wings I had grown,

My feelings were lost, afraid to be shown.

As I look at my past it’s so easy to see.

The fear that I had, afraid to be me.

I pretend to be rugged, so fast and so cool

When actually lost like a blinded old fool.

I’m getting too old for this tiresome game

Of acting real hard with no sense of shame.

It’s time that I change and get on with my life,

Fulfilling my dreams for a family and wife.

What my future will hold I really don’t know,

But the years that I’ve wasted are starting to show.

I just live for the day when I’ll get a new start

And the dreams I still hold deep in my heart.

I hope I can make it; I at least have to try,

Because I’m headed toward death and I don’t want to die.

 

I encourage men to not look at their incarceration as wasted time, telling them that instead this should be a learning time. A time in which God is using to mold and shape real men of God. Though many would agree with me, the words in this poem still reflect how many of the incarcerated feel! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what brings hope to all those who are incarcerated and we as Christians need to go behind the bars of prison to share this Good News!

Teach Them to Dream

This following poem was written by a father that helps facilitate our Fatherhood program in the prison that I serve at. He wrote this poem begging fathers to become the daddy’s to their children that God has created them to be.

My only intention is to expose the flaws in our system,

And the life we have chose. We are our own foes…

Kids left to the streets with no daddy’s, and no goals.

No ambitions…mama got to beg us just to clean up the dirty dishes.

She is disrespected in her own house. Why…because daddy is still missing.

With daddy gone some looked to the streets for what’s missing at home.

It’s tough trying to raise up kids on your own

Mama is doing her best, but she can’t do it alone.

And it’s tough coming up when daddy ain’t there

And it’s hard for a kid to comprehend that life ain’t fair.

And when you’re living like this…it’s even harder to care.

Are we the ones that caused this division?

How do you think I feel about daddy being in prison?

I came up without a father so I know what it’s like.

I spent my first 15 in the street, and my last 15 doing life.

Now my daughter is coming up without me in her life.

It doesn’t take a scholar to figure out that none of this is right.

So how long are we going to let our baby’s cry into the night?

Open up your eyes men…and step into the light.

Let’s put an end to this cycle and start a fatherhood revival.

Supporting every football game and every piano recital.

Be a father for your kids and repent for your wrong.

Tell them that daddy apologizes and he wants to come home.

You can go where you want to, and you determine how far.

Teach ‘em how to dream and show ‘em the stars

And tell ’em daddy loves them…simply for who they are.

A Father’s Love

The following is the testimony of an incarcerated man inside the facility that I serve at.

My grandfather killed himself when my father was 12 years old. Grandpa was a bad alcoholic and had been raging around the house, threatening my Grandma and my dad. My dad talked him down, do Grandpa took my dad into the bedroom and shot himself in front of him. My dad never really recovered. Years of jail and prison, abuse drug abuse and alcoholism, and severe depression.  I don’t thing I ever saw my dad when he was not high. When my dad was not in jail, he was often absent, sometimes disappearing for months or even years at a time. No-one knew where he was or what he was doing. I remember driving around town with my Grandma, maybe going to the Wal-Mart or Kentucky Fried Chicken, and just staring out the car window, desperately looking for my dad. Sometimes I thought I saw his car and I would beg my Grandma to stop and see. She never did. Years of abuse and stealing had numbed her. She loved my dad and never turned him away when he came back, but she couldn’t bring herself to look for him.

When I was sixteen, I got hooked on drugs and soon had to start selling to maintain my habit. Drug-dealing is not a safe profession, and so soon after my beginning, I got robbed and fell into debt with my suppliers. A few months later, and I would be arrested for the murder of a drug dealer. My dad came to see me in the juvenile detention center. He promised me he would stick with me. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a father. He had been through this; he could guide me, protect me.  I never saw him again.  He killed himself a few days after Christmas.

It is hard to grow up without a father, but even more-so when where you are growing up is prison. When I first got here, I felt so alone. So abandoned. My mother and grandmothers were still with me, but there was an emptiness, a hole, where my father should have been. I had no man to teach me to be a man. About a year after coming to prison, I signed up for a Christian religious retreat. They were feeding nice food, stuff you couldn’t get in prison, so I thought it would make a nice weekend. It changed my life.

“I am not alone.” “I am forgiven.” “The Father loves me.” I had never heard these things before. It touched me so deeply to know that there was a Father, a heavenly Father, who wanted me. Someone who would never turn their back on me, or leave me. That weekend I wrote my mother. “Mom, I love you so much! You have always stood by me. You never left me or abandoned me. You are the best mother in the world. And I want you to know…now I have a Father, too!”

That weekend changed my life. My Father changed my life. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for the good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose. Some of the things in my life have been so bad, have seemed so terrible, but my Father in heaven has always been looking out for me, making sure it all turned out for my good. He had a plan for me all along. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. Thank you, Father.

An Unexpected Blessing

There is no denying the ability of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to come into a man’s heart and change him from the inside out. There is no denying the power of a changed life. There is no denying that when we learn to love each other, to care for each other, that people will be affected for the better.  Lives will begin to change when shown the selfless love of Jesus. Too often, we walk down the street, or through the mall or somewhere else, and we see hurting and needy people, but most of the time, we just pass on by. Indifferent, maybe. But sometimes, just reluctant to get involved. It’s not our problem, we say. We can’t help everyone. It’s not that we don’t care, but, really, I mean, what good could we really do, anyway? So we walk on by. And we miss our chance to make a difference, to heal a hurt, or even to save a life.

In our Correctional Facilities, there are housed what are considered the worst of the worst our society has to offer. Murderers, Rapists, Drug-Dealers, Child Molesters, Robbers, and Thieves. Some of these people are still pretty unscrupulous. Some of them are still wrestling with their issues. But in every prison and every jail there are also those who have made some changes, experienced some growth, and turned away from their former lives of crime. Some of these men have accepted Christ and have really bought in to what it truly means to be a Christian. Some of these men put me to shame. Let me tell you a story, a very true story, of compassion from the inside…

In this prison, there is a man named Jeff who has struggled with drug addiction and mental illness for many, many years. Jeff has been incarcerated for decades with Life Without Parole and has very little support from the outside. He works in the prison kitchen, and, from time to time, he can make a sandwich or two to sell, but for the most part, Jeff doesn’t have too much. Jeff’s story is not unusual for prison, but, actually, very common. Jeff likes to sing, and every once in a while, he will come out to the Chapel and sing a song or two to the Lord. I have talked to him many times and I know how he struggles. A joint or a pill or a shot of dope are never far away.

One day, Jeff got an unexpected blessing. His sister sent him $50. He was thrilled. I suppose maybe he should have thought about the future, maybe saved a bit of it, but Jeff was so excited, he went to our Snack Line, and spent it all: 9 Cheeseburgers, a dozen Pastries, a case of Coca-Colas, and plenty of Potato Chips. It was more stuff than Jeff had had in a very, very long time. Two grocery bags full of food. He was going to be able to pay off all of his debts and still have stuff for himself. He went back to his dorm, walked into his cell, and put the sacks on his bed. Two guys walked in behind him. A few moments later, Jeff had nothing. These guys had pulled a knife, put it to Jeff’s throat, smacked him around, and stole everything he had.

I would like to say that there was some justice to be had for Jeff, but, unfortunately, there was not. Angry, frustrated, miserable, and humiliated, all Jeff could think to do was get his own knife and pay these guys back. Instead, he went to the prison Chapel.

The Chapel was mostly empty. Jeff sat alone on a bench, crying softly to himself. If he stabbed these guys, he’d be locked up for a year or two, he’d lose his job, he might even lose his life, but he didn’t know what else to do. As he sat there, another inmate named Sean walked by, stopped, and sat down beside Jeff. “What’s wrong?” he asked. Jeff couldn’t speak. Sean put his hand on Jeff’s shoulder and just sat there. After a few minutes, Jeff finally croaked out, “They took it all” as he pulled out his receipt from the Snack Line. “Tell me about it” Sean said. It took a while, but finally Jeff was able to tell the whole story, and then he told Sean what he was going to do about it.  Sean sat quietly for a minute or two, looking at the receipt. “Jeff,” he said, “If the Lord Jesus could give you all of your stuff back, everything on this list, right now, could you forgive these two guys who robbed you?” Jeff choked up, unable to respond. Sean asked again, “If Jesus gave it all back, right now, could you forgive them?” Jeff finally nodded his head. “Yes” he croaked. “Come with me, then.” Sean said, as he got up and walked out of the Chapel. A few minutes later, they were standing at the Snack Line and Sean was making an order: 9 Cheeseburgers, a dozen Pastries, a case of Coca-Colas, and a dozen bags of Potato Chips. He handed the sacks to Jeff, said “Jesus loves you, Jeff”, and walked away with tears in his eyes. Sean spent his own store money, not just so Jeff could have his stuff back, but also to save the two thieves lives and to keep Jeff out of trouble. He did it out of love, because Jesus loved him first. He is walking the Christian life, deep behind prison walls and fences.

Today, Jeff is doing well. Still working in the kitchen, trying to make it. I see him from time to time. The other day he came out to the Chapel to sing…

Getting Beyond The Lid

 

letter-writing

This letter was recently shared with me by a father that is incarcerated. Although he is hundreds of miles away from his children and behind razor wire and chain linked fence, he still chooses to be a positive influence to his children. I believe you will be blessed as you read this letter that he wrote to his children.

Have you ever felt like you’ve poured “Your” everything – heart, mind, soul, and strength – into a valuable project and even though you are waiting for it to bloom…it never does? Well, I have. In fact, several times. By no means would I ever boast to know everything; that would be foolish. However, I have learned this from experience…if you want to get beyond the lids of life you need God and for me it was as simple as that.

Some folks won’t accept advice unless it comes from a qualified advice giver. That’s right. Who wants medical advice from a mechanic? However, if that mechanic has survived a medical crisis that I am now experiencing, then maybe the mechanic actually knows more about my situation than a doctor who has never actually experienced it beyond his diagnosis. I’m no mechanic or doctor, but I do have some experiences that could qualify me to share a little advice about getting beyond the lids of life and it may help, if you are inclined to listen.

  I’ve survived the high school experience, I even graduated. I was a teenage parent, maybe not a good one, but what can you expect from a teenager? I’ve been in love with young ladies, older women, money, marijuana, music, and even making love (to put it nicely). I’ve served as a soldier in my family, in the street, and even in the active duty military.

I’ve dreamed of being famous, wealthy, and respected, and did whatever it took to pursue those aspirations, “All I wanted to be was…the richest man in your city.” I even made songs about it. I’ve been addicted to the game and played games with addictions. I’ve been a loving father as well as a dead beat dad. I’ve been engaged, married, and unfortunately divorced. I’ve been liked, loved, and hated; I’ve been unemployed, an employee, and yes, I’ve been the boss. I’ve owned this, that, and the other, and then I’ve turned around and lost all.

I’ve lost people that meant the world to me and I’ve survived dreadful pain that I thought would never heal. I’ve been a great inspiration to some and a drastic disappointment to others. I could probably fill this entire page with the things I’ve started, but never completed. Know anybody like that? I’ve been poor, hungry, and angry; I’ve been tired, hurt, and done wrong by those I treated right. You may not have been through any of this…but it doesn’t mean you won’t. That being said, maybe we should have a conversation.

As people, we have a tendency to “start over” when we don’t actually have to. For example, someone has already invented the wheel, so why not start from where they left off, instead of starting from scratch? Finally learning this simple lesson has worked wonders for me.

In the Old Testament Bible culture, the word “Son” is “Bane” and it means, “One who builds on the family name.” In order to do this, we must know what others in our family have already built up. Obviously, it is impossible to build on the dreams of our parents that we don’t know they had.

I am guilty of not being a good son, in that I did not purpose to build on the dreams of my parents; and I am guilty of not being a good father, in that I did not actually teach my children to build upon anything. My excuse is that I didn’t know, but of course we know what they say about excuses. The fact is this: The moment I started producing children, it became my responsibility as a man to learn what I didn’t know. None of us are exempt.

Unfortunately, it took me over 36 years of surviving foolishness to finally come to this realization. Hopefully, you will acknowledge what I am writing and get it in less time…maybe not. Either way, it won’t stop me from advising you on lid raising. I do this because I love you.

I remember how my Uncle Naman offered me the opportunity to drive trucks with him. In essence, he was presenting me with a chance to raise my lid and build on the family name. Because Uncle Naman is a man of God, I would have not only learned to drive trucks, I have no doubt that I would have also learned a lot about the Lord. I realize today he was trying to fill the father role in my life where my biological dad was absent. Maybe if I had taken his loving offer, I would not be incarcerated at this time.

Today, I have grandchildren I have never held and adult children I haven’t embraced in over 10 years. One thing I think we all know from experience is this: tomorrow is not promised. Yes, I’ve been down some roads, physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, but so have you and maybe we can learn from each other about getting beyond the lids of life. I would be honored if you built on my experiences instead of starting from scratch, but since I’m still building I am not beyond using your experiences as building blocks.

The greatest disadvantage of starting from scratch is that we often make mistakes that someone else has already figured out, it wastes time that could be spent more productively. As a business man, you know I hate to waste time, and as a minister, I love to talk about the Lord.

In the Holy Bible I found a treasure of helpful information and a wealth of building blocks. God has already figured it all out if we would only listen. That lesson alone took me 32 years to learn. After trying almost everything else, God’s way not only made perfect sense, His ways actually work. Today, not only has He got me beyond the lids in my life, but now I am honored to build on the family name of God.

I heard it put this way by an old woman of God. She simply said, “Son, you need to try Jesus.” It took a while, but I finally took her advice and the lids were lifted; in fact, they are still being lifted. So as I stated before, “If you want to get beyond the lids of life, you need the Lord, and for me it was as simple as that.”

Heartbreaking Disappointments In Ministry

acceptable-man-cryThere are always disappointments in life regardless how hard we try to avoid them. In the last several years of ministry I can think of several disappointments that I have faced. One of those was with a man who came to the chapel one day with the goal of accusing me of being unfair with him.  After yelling insanities at me for some time, he left the chapel visibly upset. I wish I could tell you that I talked to him the next day but I never got that chance as he was pushed down the steps in his dorm that night and died. I was gravely disappointed! I asked God why? He was not a Christian but I had been involved in his life a lot through him being enrolled in my classes and his frequent chapel visits. I was disappointed because here was a man that I had grown to love as a person but yet after all our talks about forgiveness and redemption he still hadn’t chosen to follow Christ.

A few months ago I was faced again with another disappointment that impacted me even more. A man that had lived in the Faith Based Honor Dorm at the prison, who had been released a year ago had his picture back in the news. According to the authorities this man had robbed a Gas Station at gunpoint and ending up killing the attendant. This was a man I had spent a lot of time with, someone that I had seen making an effort to do right but always seemed to stop short of surrendering to God. I can still vividly remember the day that he was released and how he asked me to pray for him. I still remember the fear on his face but the determination he voiced.  I remember most of all the last words he said to me before we parted, “Chap I will be ok.”

When I saw the news I couldn’t help but shed tears.  Why God? Why didn’t he surrender to you? Why didn’t he make it? Why? What could I have done differently? Today there is a family that lost a loved one, someone’s daughter and the man responsible is someone I had a chance to impact. I understand that God is the One that draws men to Him, but I still feel a responsibility to make a more effective impact on the men I serve at prison. Pray for me as I continue to serve my God by proclaiming Christ and discipling inmates daily inside of prison. Pray that men would surrender to Jesus and that I would never have to see another chose hell over heaven.

Blessed By 2016, Excited For 2017

As 2016 is coming to a close I cannot help but stop and reminisce the many blessings that God has bestowed on us this last year.  This year did come with its challenges but never was there a time that God’s love and grace didn’t shine through.

Amidst the challenges that we faced in prison we were still able to end the year knowing that God was at work in the hearts and lives of the men that I have privilege to serve. One of these men is Jared. Jared showed up one morning to my “Knights of The 21st Century” class just to get away from the stressful environment in his prison dorm. During the class I noticed that he looked like he was troubled by something so I asked him to stay behind after the class was dismissed. This being the first time I had met Jared I didn’t expect him to open up to me but rather wanted to introduce myself and offer my time if he ever wanted to talk. We spoke briefly about his new prison sentence that had placed him inside the prison that I serve at as well as how he was adjusting to living inside of a maximum security prison.  Little did I know that day that God would use me in Jared’s life the way that He did. Today four months later Jared is a surrendered follower of Christ and has been clean from using drugs for 36 days. This is only one story amidst many more that I could share with you!

As you see ministry can be extremely rewarding, men’s lives are being changed, the chains of bondage and addiction are being broken, but ministry can also be heartbreaking at times. It can be difficult, sometimes. There are so many men that I encounter daily who are so close, so heartrendingly close, to making a decision for Christ. They are on the cusp of a life-changing decision but have not taken that final step in 2016. But as a follower of Christ I have been challenged to rest in and trust that the God that I serve is working in their lives and someday very soon they too will be my brothers in Christ. So as I press forward in 2017 I will continue to seek to glorify my God by discipling, equipping, and mobilizing the church inside of prison to join me in reaching out to these men and encouraging them to repent and surrender their lives to Christ.  Join me in 2017 and engage in prison ministry, whether it’s at your local prison and jail or partnering with me through prayer and financial support and let’s make an impact in the lives of the men and women that are incarcerated!

If you are interested in partnering with us financially check out our “Support” page!

Christmas Inside of Prison

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Based on personal experience and observation, the prison holiday experience was bleak and dismal. Despite their tough demeanor, the young inmates looked lost during the holiday season. When I walked by the unit’s telephones, I heard the longing for home in the voice of a young man whose arms were covered with violent tattoos. Although some correctional officers acted somewhat nicer, many officers were nastier than usual. The correctional officers serving their shift on the holiday were just as unhappy as the inmates to be in prison on December 25th.

Inmates serving life or long sentences faced the holidays in stride. After so many years, for their own sanity, the older inmates were immune to the holidays. They went about their business as if it was a normal day in their abnormal world.

One bright spot during this bleak period was holiday mail. As you walked by cells, you saw inmate’s looking at their holiday mail and Christmas cards from family and friends.

The visitor’s room was decorated for the holiday season. The visitors and inmates sat on rows of chairs facing each other. Despite the holiday, I watched correctional officers stopping a young child from sitting on her father’s lap. The father gently placed the crying little girl back into her mother’s arms.

Some inmates tried to act as if it was another normal holiday season. For many inmates, it was simply a relief to have the holiday season come to a close.

Written by Bradley Schwartz and originally posted on http://www.prisonpath.com/christmas-in-prison/

Thank You For Another Year

thAnother year has come and gone since Thanksgiving 2015. What a year it has been! Many things have changed in the last year, some good and some not so good. But at this Thanksgiving time I want to consecrate on the things that we can be thankful for. In this last year I have seen men who for the first time surrendered their lives to Jesus. I have also experienced a large interest from men wanting mental and spiritual growth! When I think of some of these men, one comes to mind whom I would like to share his story with you.

Sam is an older man that lives in our Faith Based Honor Dorm and has been locked up for a long time. Due to Sam’s rough family life, he and his sisters grew up in the foster care system and lost contact with each other as they were dispersed into multiple foster homes. After reaching adulthood Sam continued to live his life the best he could and was delighted when he found out that he was about to be a father to a little girl. Her birth meant the world to him since he really didn’t have anyone else he could call his own. His life with his little girl was short lived when he found himself sitting in a jail cell after being arrested for murder. Broken by their separation he recalls spending many of his nights crying, wishing he could be with her, hold her and love her. He wondered would he ever get to be at her high school graduation? Would he ever be able to teach her how to drive her car? Would he be able to walk her down the aisle at her wedding?  These questions never stopped they haunted his every day and his every night? Nothing could erase them not even the exhausting court appearances and the final life without parole sentence. Once in prison he had his daughters’ mother bring her to see him as often as she was able, but one day many years later he got a phone call that devastated him.  The phone call was from his daughter as she informed him of his worst fear, his precious girl was pregnant. She was still so young, why would she allow this.  His prayer had always been that his daughter would find a kind Christian man that she would marry before she would get pregnant. It seemed as if his prayers hadn’t been heard. Knowing her father would probably be upset she went on to inform him that her mother had told her to move out of the house because of it. Angered and disappointed he told her that he was deeply upset and hung up the phone. Several days later he received a letter with these words from his daughter written on it. “I thought you would understand but you turned your back on me just like everyone else. Consider this to be my last correspondence with you ever. Your grandchild will never be told about you, so do not try to ever reach out to us.” Sam knew instantly that his daughter was serious and that he had messed up any chances to ever have her in his life again.

Now you may think why is this story something to be thankful for.  The reason that I share Sam’s story is because that’s not the end of his story. This last year after being in prayer for some time he received a letter from his sister whom he had last seen as a child.  She had found him through a Google search and wanted to hopefully build a relationship with him. He was overjoyed and began talking to her on a regular basis sharing his story. His sister being touched by all that had happened decided to try to find his estranged daughter and talk to her. She was successful and the two also began a regular dialogue. After some time his daughter decided that she should at least send her dad a note even though she was still angry with him and friends that is where the healing process began. This last year Sam went from having no family in his life to now this Thanksgiving having his sister and daughter visiting him at the prison. He is overjoyed to see how God has redeemed his family and whenever I see him around he always stops and gives me a hug and says, “Thank You for praying!”

This Thanksgiving I am grateful to serve a God that loves us even when we mess up. I am thankful for a God that is in the redeeming business and allows me to have a front row seat to see these redemption stories daily. I am also grateful for the many people who give of their resources to make it possible for me to be able to serve in this capacity. Thank You!

An Attack on Family

Family_Portrait

One of the institutions that God designed in this world is family. We know from looking around us that family is under attack in this world. In fact I believe it is on the top of Satan’s to do list to destroy this institution. He seeks to turn husband against wife, wife against husband, children against parents, parents against children and sadly He has been successful. The divorce rate is around 50 % and there are approximately 18 million children across the United States growing up in fatherless homes. Many of these fatherless homes are due to the fact that over a million fathers are incarcerated in the United States. This is the very reason why I believe courses like “Inside Out Dad” are important inside of prison. I have made this course from National Fatherhood Initiative, a priority in the prison I serve at because I want to help fathers increase their involvement, responsibility and commitment to their children and the mothers of their children even while incarcerated.

Another interesting fact is that the family is one of this country’s most valuable weapons in fighting crime. Prisoners who receive visitors, maintain family ties, and are released to a stable home environment are more likely to succeed in leading productive, crime-free lives. Families provide an incentive for prisoners to grow, learn, and change. It’s not always easy, but parents in prison can contribute positively to a child’s upbringing through letter writing, phone calls, and family visits. This is why it is important to pray for the families of the incarcerated and help them remain connected if at all possible.

I believe one of the overlooked set of people in this world is the families of the incarcerated. When the father goes to prison it creates a void in the home. There is really no way to replace it! I would like to challenge us as Christians to reach out to the families of the incarcerated. They are all around you, it may be your neighbor, the person you work with, or the family you attend church with. Reach out to them, not with a self-righteous attitude but with a caring one. They get judged daily by people just because their father has been incarcerated. When you caringly ask a mother how her child is coping with her father’s incarceration and offer to pray for the family, this is as much a ministry as sending children to summer camp or providing Christmas gifts. In fact, it may be even greater. We as Christians need to make time to boldly bring the needs of prisoners’ families before the throne of God! Or maybe you’re okay with the status quote. I’M NOT!