I have to tell you I am feeling a bit afraid, not so much for my own death, but about the possibility of leaving my wife alone and in a financial lurch. And also my faith is not as 100% as I’d like it to be sometimes.
But today, before I went to read Our Daily Bread, a devotional I follow, I prayed to God and asked him, “Please have a word for me here today”.
And this was a relevant part of what it had to say today:
“Wisdom through the awful grace of God” is a remarkable statement. It means that God’s grace fills us with awe and gives us the opportunity to grow in wisdom during life’s most difficult moments.
James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). James says that this wisdom is grown in the soil of hardship (vv. 2-4), for there we not only learn from the wisdom of God, we rest in the grace of God.
Now before this I thought, God brought me through the whole prison experience and although at times it wasn’t always obvious that he was there watching over me and helping me grow through the experience but afterwards it was so very obvious. So I thought, and God is now bringing me through this experience, and just like the prison experience it is frightening and will no doubt involve some considerable discomfort. But God will carry me through this just as he did prison and he will help me grow from it.
I want to share some of the ways God helped me through that time in prison. I feel called to do so. And I hope when this is said and done I can say the same for this experience.
First, there my initial incarceration in King County Jail. They put you in something the prisoners referred to as “The Fish Tank”. They called it this because it was a big room with a glass side through which guards could observe from a centrally located guard post.
The room was designed for 12-14 people but there were typically 23, so not enough beds, some of us had to sleep on the floor. I spent some time sleeping on the floor.
For 23 people there was one toilet, one urinal, and one shower. You can probably imagine how that worked out.
I had been on Ritalin for ADHD symptoms but they took me off. I had a Bible there, tried to read it, but couldn’t get through a single verse before I’d lose focus. I was frightened like I’ve never been in my life. At one point though while I did have a bunk and at a position where there was a window I could look outside and see downtown Seattle, on the bottom of the shelf holding the bunk above me was scratched, “Jesus Loves You”. I believed it and I can’t tell you how much comfort I found in that.
Then I was transferred to Shelton state prison which is the states intake facility and they decide where to send you from there. I was so afraid of this that I did not sleep for three days prior and when I got there, about midnight local time, I was very tired and wanted to sleep. The cell mate I was stuck with kept waking me up because I snored and it got heated but before it got physical I was removed and put in solitary confinement.
So I am there and I am afraid and I am praying and by this time my body had adjusted to not having Ritalin so I could actually read, so I read the Bible, paced my cell, and wrote letters to my wife.
It seemed like God wasn’t listening, for the first month, nothing seemed to happen. But then I started getting what I called lesson dreams. They involved situations where I was not getting what I wanted and became angry and treated my family badly, and then the same dream would repeat with a different ending only in the second ending I would respond to my family in a loving proper way.
I was still very much in denial, blaming pretty much everything external to me for my actions, my father leaving, my psychiatrist not listening to me when I expressed concerns over improper feelings, you name it.
I was writing my wife one morning when I heard a loud booming voice say, “You are responsible for the suffering you have caused.” And at first I continued with my usual denial, but then I finally said a prayer and said, “You are right God, I >AM< responsible for the suffering I have caused.”
As soon as I said that prayer it felt like 10,000 pounds being lifted from my shoulders. I had many times in the past asked for forgiveness but I never felt forgiven, and now I knew I was forgiven, by God at least, maybe not so much by people. I had suffered severe anxiety for the previous 25 years at least, panic attacks, all totally consuming anxiety and nothing worked in any lasting measure or with any degree of completeness. I’d been on Xanax, Klonopin, and probably a dozen SSRIs and Welbutrin, although some of them provided some degree of short term relief, none provided long term relief. I’d also been in talk therapy this entire time.
Now the anxiety was gone, and now I knew the source, I had to primary fears, the fear of death and going to hell for past sins, and the fear of being alone.
Now there in solitary God made his presence to me and at that moment I knew I would never ever be alone. And I knew I wasn’t destined for hell. And I also knew why I hadn’t been forgiven before, it was because I had asked without repentance and the reason I hadn’t repented is because I was blaming my actions on external things over which I had no control and thus could not change and thus I could not change or repent. As soon as I stopped doing that repentance and forgiveness were possible.
Even then though my faith wasn’t absolute. I questioned whether I had just not had an psychotic episode, the result of all this time in isolation and whether the lack of anxiety wasn’t just placebo.
I knew placebo was a short-term effect, rarely lasting more than about six months, and this happened at 11:11AM on November 21st, 2009. I thought interesting time that, all one’s, the first number, maybe signifying a new beginning. Anyway, I was asked where I’d like to go, I said Monroe because it was closest to my family, instead they send me to Airway Heights, outside of Spokane, 300 miles from my family, where visits didn’t happen.
But when I arrived, I was welcomed by a group of three Christians, one of whom was the biggest guy in the unit, and they invited me to Chapel. Before this time I had always loathed the Christmas season, and I also never really understood the appeal of heaven. Mindlessly sit around and worship my creator? What fun is that I thought? What a dreadful existence. My state of being was rather like what George Carlin once expressed, “Oh I believe in God, I just don’t like him very much.” But this time I went and in the Christmas service I sang praises to God and I felt joy with an intensity I had never ever experienced in my lifetime. Here in prison, 300 miles away from home and I’m experiencing joy! And I knew at that point what the appeal of heaven is, what utter joy it will be to be in God’s presence continuously, forever.
By April 2010, I still wasn’t experiencing any anxiety and so I went off my meds, Paxil at the time, cold turkey. You’re supposed to taper down, I didn’t, I just stopped and I experienced absolutely no side effects or withdraw symptoms, no anxiety. Still to this day I am not on meds and do not need them. So definitely God changed me that day for good.
At one point I was celled with a black man who was a preacher. I do not know what his crime was, he never related it. But like the person in Shelton, he was intolerant of my snoring and would keep waking me throughout the night. The cell was also on the ground floor and the cinder block walls do not provide much insulation. And they only allowed us two crappy cotton blankets that were very airy and provided little warmth and it got very cold in the winter there.
I’m really wanting out of this situation and I’m praying to God for help. One day I am showering and there is a noise that I did not recognize as a fire alarm, so a guard comes over and writes me up. I don’t know what the end result will be but I am sitting at a table later that day with a couple of my Christian friends, and the guards come up to me with cuffs. We had just read Isaiah 41:10:
“Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’“
And when I saw the guards I said rather loudly, “My righteous right hand, My Ass!”, I was angry at God for allowing this to happen, it seemed so unfair.
And so I spent a week in solitary, no big deal after having spent two months there, and when I returned, my former cell had been reallocated, and I was stuck in a crowed four man cell temporarily but every one of my new cellmates was Christian and easy to get along with, then I was placed in a new cell on the top floor, where it was warm, with a Christian who was easy to get along with. So God was looking out for My Ass, and the rest of me, which at this point really felt like an ass, all along, and used this seemingly unpleasant incident to improve my situation.
And as I mentioned, I was welcomed and later befriended by a group of Christians, one of whom was the largest person in the unit, an X-Hells Angel, who was blown up in Viet Nam, went into a six month coma. and after he came out of it, brain damaged from the explosion, joined hells angles, got drunk and shot someone. He was there for life. It seemed so totally unfair, he didn’t ask to go to Viet Nam, he was drafted, then he is injured and as a direct result of his injury ended up taking a life. Well that’s how we treat our veterans. But his befriending me I think kept me safe there.
I worked hard to take advantage of programming offered there, and did sufficiently well that as a reward they offered to let me go to where I wanted to and I was then transferred to Monroe.
Monroe was a blessing in many ways. Where Airway Heights was a modern facility, more like a college dorm than a prison in terms of the physical facility. The cells had wooden doors and we weren’t locked in. We could exit and go to a common area. There were common restrooms instead of toilets in the cells. The stalls actually had partitions so you didn’t have people watching you while you did your business. The staff there must have got their training in Nazi Germany, there were some real sadistic bastards there. They would make their nightly rounds about once an hour and smack the wooden doors loudly with their maglights so sleep was interrupted every hour.
Monroe was the opposite. The buildings were ancient and primitive by contrast. Toilets in the cells. Steel doors which were locked at night and sometimes during the day if something happened. But the staff, these people were dedicated to rehabilitation, not mere housing and most of them really genuinely cared.
There, we had nice wool blankets that were warm, and the staff didn’t get anal about exceeding your blanket quota. The blankets were identical to a black army blanket I had as a kid and I found considerable comfort in their familiarity.
There I was able to see my family but only my wife and first born son came, Raymond and Edward did not come. Edward moved out before I came home and has not communicated with me since. I do hope God will bring us together sometime. I know he is angry at me for harming his sister and I understand that. At any rate, I got to see at least a part of my family regularly and that was good.
God brought many people into my life there, Steve McColm, a wonderful therapist there really took the time to get to know each of his clients and he had a gift for helping us to understand what lead us to offend and to develop effective strategies to avoid creating any more victims. He didn’t dictate to us but instead assigned us things to do that would help us discover these things ourselves. He also introduced us to a form of meditation called “Mindfulness meditation”, and then a group of Buddhist volunteers came into the prison and offered a class on it which I’ve found very useful and still apply today.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the ways God helped bring me through that experience, just a few highlights. The point is he was with me through that, and now I know he will be with me through this health crisis. I do feel that ultimately he will bring healing and I will grow from the experience, no matter how unpleasant.