Sunday, April 10, 2011

Volunteers Wanted

"Hands that help are holier than hands that pray"

I got the cell to myself for a weekend. My current cellie is it Kairos, a four-day Christian retreat, held in the prison's gymnasium. Kairos is Greek for "the right moment." It's a nationwide program ( It's a good thing. I went through it myself six years ago at my previous unit. The waiting list is many years long. Many inmates may initially sign up only for the food which is home cooked and brought in by the truckloads by ministry volunteers. Everyone who attends comes away with so much more-- refreshed, inspired and often changed. It's a powerful experience regardless of one's faith. The food is incredible – – all the stuff we've only been able to dream about for years since our arrest: fruit, homemade cookies and pies, real hamburgers, real chicken, catfish, pizza and even a ribeye steak cooked to perfection. Prisoners are encouraged to go back for seconds and thirds because the volunteers know that this may be last time any of us will ever see such delicacies. But the real treat is all the free world folks who participate over the weekend, and volunteer themselves. After so many years of being mistreated by prison guards and staff as the scum of the earth, here are group of sincere, caring people who did their best to reach out and show their unconditional love for you. Iheir eyes you are one of God's children you are forgiven. It's palpable, you can feel how much they really do care about you, about you as an individual, and it touches your soul. It breaks down the most hardened heart; by the end of the retreat, everyone has cried at least once, even the biggest and baddest among us. There's a lot of sharing of stories. Inmates are asked to stand and talk about how God has come into their lives or how they have been changed since being incarcerated. Best, though, are the Kairos volunteers who come to give their own testimonies .Some are recovered drug addicts and alcoholics who describe a road to hell many of us are familiar with and how they were saved by the people and the power of love they discovered in the church. Some are former prison inmates who can relate to what we're going through and offer advice. I'll never forget the volunteer who told us about the murder of his wife and the rage it filled him with for so long. He intentionally got himself locked up in the County jail to find and kill the man arrested for the crime. Later, on an intentional drug charge, he went to prison bent on the same mission. Word of his plan got out he was incarcerated far from his wife's killer. Once he was released, he eventually sought solice in the church where he was counseled to contemplate forgiveness, something he never thought he could do. But he eventually did. Later he even visited the man in prison to tell him so. His message to us was that we need to forgive everyone and everything we believe has done us wrong in order for us to get over it and move on. That we cannot progress spiritually until we have real forgiveness in our hearts. His talk had a profound effect on everyone. Being able to endure such a trial and transformation and then be able to talk about it is a real service to mankind. The most touching moment during the retreat, I'd say, was on the third day when everyone returns from a church service to find a large paper sack with their name on it at their assigned seat. The sack is filled with dozens of cards and letters written to them personally by Kairos volunteers and children in Bible school, telling them that they are loved, that God loves them and that everything will be okay. From the kids we are also colorful crayon pictures with their names and ages. We were given about an hour to go through them all. For those inmates with their own children in the free world, it was an especially poignant moment, but everyone shed buckets of tears. The letters are always kept to be read over and over again. Remember: for the past many years, we spent each and every day being degraded ,humiliated and hated and verbally (sometimes physically) abused. To be reminded of the goodness of people like this and to think that someone may actually care about us is almost too much to handle. By the time we've went to Kairos, we had become institutionalized: we basically had forgotten what the free world was like and that such kind and loving people exist. It was a shock to the system. Such an emotional experience that most of us could not even talk about it afterwards. We were left in a daze, changed for a time, if not forever. There is a lot of positive, constructive stuff that goes on in Kairos, of course. Being an evangelical Christian organization, the focus is on the Bible and accepting Jesus as your Savior. At some point, each inmate is counseled privately and encouraged to be baptized as a Christian. This was the only thing I had a hard time with, myself, but was happy to see the fire and brimstone condemnation kept to a minimum. During my own counseling session we had a mini debate about the validity and significance of the crucifixion, which I think unfortunately eclipses Christ teachings. Needless to say, it didn't go over so well and I felt bad for the guy: he really wanted to convert me and save a soul. I hope he realizes how much the Kairos retreat did help me at the time, regardless.

"There is a dark night to which the soul passes in order to attain the divine light." --St. John of the Cross

On a morning in August of 2005, four years after my arrest, I received notice that my writ of habeas corpus, my most important appeal, had been denied. Any chance for a resentencing hearing and a fair sentence had been riding on this appeal. A federal appeal was the next step, but the arguments would be the same. I no longer had any hope and certainly no faith. I felt that there was no way I could endure another 21+ of this man-made hell before I finally qualified for parole. So I decided to end my life. Death was infinitely better than the alternative. I laid on my bunk with a razor blade in one hand and feeling for the pulse in my neck with the other. I tried to make peace with what I was doing. I said my goodbyes to Mom and the world at large. After some time, I was finally ready and I visualized making a deep cut to get it over with in one smooth motion. Just before I sent the signal to my hand, the cell door opened and an inmate stood there excitedly: "Hurry up, man, they're doing Kairos! They didn't pass out lay-ins last night. Were on the list, were going! I'm getting everybody over here. Let's go!" He ran off and I laid there for a long moment. I had put myself into a trancelike state and was a little out of it. I still had a firm grip on the razor blade. I thought," Who cares, who needs it. I had forgotten ever signing up for it years before. I was upset that I had been interrupted .I would have to start the lengthy process all over again. But then I recalled all ths stories about the amazing food to be had Kairos and I figured this would actually be a fine way to go: my last meal, as it were. So I hesitatingly, reluctantly. Left for the first day of Kairos.Did Kairos save my life? Was it Divine intervention? Hard to say. All I know is that if that cell door had rolled one second later, I would be history – – and that guy who came to get me would've been faced with a very troublesome scene. Thank God for the both of us. Over the next few days, something changed in me. Seeing all those wonderful people from the free world and how selfless they seemed was an inspiration. As I said before, in prison it's easy to forget the goodness in the world, and these "Saints" were a reminder. If they could go out of their way to help others, so could I. If they could overcome obstacles and tragedy in their lives, I could to. By the end of the weekend, I decided that committing suicide was a pretty selfish act and that as difficult as life in prison might be, rather than live for myself, I could live for other people – – maybe my fellow inmates. Following the Kairos retreat, although I didn't become baptized, I did begin studying everything I could to do with theology and spirituality. I felt there might be something to all this religious hocus-pocus. I wanted to learn not just about Christianity but about all the world's religions. And thanks to my mother's love and generosity, I could study a great deal over the years. One good book's bibliography would invariably lead to many others. Any book I requested no matter how obscure, she would send me. And I'm forever grateful, as she knows. These days, I'm into "Ramtha" material which I consider my "graduate" work. Super highly recommended; really neat stuff. ( I've learned so much since then. I feel that all my big theological questions have been answered. I've gained tremendous insight into the true nature of reality ie. The meaning of life. I know without a doubt that we are all spiritual beings having a physical adventure here on earth. I'm no longer afraid of death but moreI'm no longer for life, no matter what or may be. I wish everyone could know what I no one have the pieces self-assurance that comes with it. I feel that the best way can help others to stay share my favorite books and what I've learned. So to do what I can from this prison cell, there is mistake meant Please visit and please spread the word. And be sure to read the books! "Teach people to teach people." There are a variety of prison ministries that do what they can, usually offering Bible studies and religious publication; but Karros is the only one that says has such an obvious impact. They seem to be the only people who actually come into the prisons here in Texas, and that may be the case nationwide. Their volunteers make an effort to visit at least once a month, meeting with inmates who have previously gone through the retreat. If evangelical Christianity isn't your thing, then you're out of luck, but there are a large number of prisoners they do help and it's great just to see some friendly free world folks wandering around once in a while. I wish there were other religious organizations – – other face – – who visited us in prison, and there probably are in the northern, more enlightened states. Anyone who comes here to share their light and love is greatly appreciated, and they can be guaranteed a large receptive audience. Prisoners are starving for such contact, and most of us have a real interest in learning about spirituality and how can help us become better people. Learning anything for that matter. Unfortunately, the sad fact is that prisoners are Aren't high up on anybody's priority list. After all, were exiled and dams; people are afraid of us. Not to mention the walking into prison voluntarily is not something many sane people ever consider doing. Those who do are performing a real service not only for inlet mates but their effect but for their community and society in general Due to state budget cuts, Texas is losing all of its prison chaplains, which is understandable, I suppose. Any religious service/programs will have to be conducted by free world volunteers. Most of prison systems educational programs are also suing history. However, people in prison need teachers, especially spiritual teachers. Any volunteers? Thanks, as always for listening and caring. Bye for now – – Eric