Tag Archives: living

I went to jail. This is what I learned.

I went to jail. My hands were sweating. My breathing got heavy. I wondered if anyone I know would see me. I wondered what people would think.

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I started in booking. There was a guy near me in cuffs and he was getting patted down. He slipped off his shoes so the officer could search his socks.

“Turn this way,” I heard as he was instructed to have his mugshot taken. One to the front, one to the side.

Wow, this is real.

I looked to my left and saw a waiting room full of people who recently came out of a police car. They were waiting their turn for processing and meeting with the magistrate. Eyes were rolled. Heads were in hands. There were no smiles.

I saw the holding rooms where inmates would sit for hours or even days until they sobered up or decided they wanted to cooperate. I was told the windows were regularly replaced because people would smash their fists, or heads, into them.

Behind me was a padded room.

Clang clang clang. An officer walked by dragging shackles behind him.

I was so glad I could walk out at any time.

I receive a lot of mail at my office. Some are addressed to me, some to our senior pastor, some just to the church. Some are thank you letters from our ministry partners, some are newsletters, some are advertisements for mission trips. Last week, I received a letter that was unlike anything I had received before. This letter was from an inmate at the county detention center.

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The handwritten letter was photocopied and sent to many churches in the area pleading for Bibles for the inmates. Our church does not have a prison ministry of any kind. We have some members who participate with a local ministry by playing basketball or softball at prisons around the Southeast, but we don’t have any formal affiliation with the local prison.

This letter certainly piqued my interest and I wanted to know more about this inmate, the chaplain and the ministry in our detention center. After a quick search of the public database, I found that the inmate who wrote the letter was no longer there, but I contacted the chaplain who offered to take me on a tour of the facility.

I was excited for the opportunity, but as I drove to the detention center, I found myself growing more nervous. I’ve never been to jail before, so my presuppositions are strictly based on TV shows like Prison Break, reality shows like Locked Up and movies like The Longest Yard and The Rock (Say it with me in your best Sean Connery voice: “Welcome to The Rock.”)

The tour and discussion with the chaplain were very humbling and it was a privilege to be allowed access to the detention center. Here are a few of the more tangible things I learned.

  1. When you enter, you have no privacy. Each inmate is innocent until proven guilty. That’s a given and I was reminded of that very early on the tour. But, you have little to no privacy. As we stood in the processing area, the chaplain described the routine for incoming inmates. These people were feet away either being processed or waiting their turn. I wanted to interrupt and say, “Stop talking about them…they’re riiiiiight heeeere and can hear you.” As I already described, at the very moment we started talking about mugshots, there was a guy having his taken. Real life stuff.

    Each inmate’s records were there for the processors to see and review. Their past records were on display for those who had access. This is how God will judge one day. All our records will be on display. Nothing will be secret, nothing sacred, nothing hidden. My past is nothing to be proud of. My sin is wretched. But, through Christ, God sees me as clean.

  1. We saw the inmates the way God sees us. The chaplain mentioned this statement in passing, but it struck me as quite profound and it caused me to literally stop in my tracks to consider that statement. Looking out across the maximum security wing, I could see slivers of windows each filled with a set of eyes staring at us as we walked freely around the prison. I knew nothing of their crime other than they were guilty of breaking a law. But, hearing those words from the chaplain helped me see that in God’s eyes, my sin is no different than theirs. Romans 3:23 tells us that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” My sin is every bit of disgusting to God as those of the inmates. My sin may not break the laws of our country or state, but they break the commands of God.

    But, there is great hope. In the very next line Romans 3:24 says “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” By faith in Christ, I am able to be presented as pure and holy before God at the time of judgment.

  2. The unknown is terrifying. We stood in one of the more moderate security pods and the inmates walked around us. Some played cards, some were mopping the floors, some were making phone calls and some were separated in an exercise area just pacing. I’m embarrassed to say that I felt like I was in the middle of a jungle and I didn’t know which plants or animals were friendly or threatening. For a while, I tried not to make any eye contact with the inmates. I didn’t want anyone to think that I might be staring or judging. Some of the guys seemed like they did not belong. Others, it was obvious that they had been there before.

    Over time, I started considering how I would feel if it were me wearing the orange jump suit and locked up 22 hours each day. I would want love. I would desire friendship and a kind word. So, I began to make eye contact and greet the guys who walked around me.

  3. The officers and guards are amazing people. I met several Christians who worked with the inmates each day. They were steadfast in their job of keeping order and making sure the inmates conformed to the structure and expectations of the prison. Simultaneously, they were prepared to share the Gospel if initiated. They treated the inmates as brothers who needed help, because that is exactly what they were. The inmates may have been broken spiritually and apart from God, but they were not to be written off.

    I heard stories of attacks, people high and in a rage and others with several mental disorders. The officers who operate the facility are brave. I certainly could not experience what they have and continue to come back to work each day. They do a wonderful job of protecting our community and keeping the safety of the inmates as a priority. Everyday they go to work and see people on their worst days, but they press on. They should be commended.

  4. The ministry needs are real. The chaplain told me they go through 100-150 Bibles every month. Legally, they are only allowed to hand out a Bible if an inmate requests one. How terrible would it be to not be able to respond to that request? This is no different than a believer or someone desiring God in a country where the Gospel is forbidden. It should break our hearts to have someone crying out to read the Word of God but to have no resource to obtain it.

    After challenging our missions committee with the letter from the inmate, they wasted no time in committing a portion of our budget to purchase the Bibles they need. In a few days, we will have 600 NIV Study Bibles ready for inmates to consume God’s Word and learn of its offer of redemption and hope.

  5. The Gospel is real. I was told of stories of murderers who committed terrible, violent acts and will be locked up the rest of their lives. But, through the Gospel, they have been saved, purified and redeemed. One day, when they are no longer held to the laws of man, they will be seated in heaven as forgiven children of God. What great hope that gives us!

    It is estimated that about 85% of the people at the detention center are good people who made a selfish and poor decision. The others fell in to a spiral of crime or drugs. No matter the purpose for their arrest or incarceration, the concept of prison ministry is 100% real. These men and women have hit rock bottom and have nowhere else to turn but to the hope of heaven through Christ. Lives behind bars are not lived that have ended. In our very nature, we desire a higher being. When we struggle and want to cry out, we want someone to hear us.Many of the inmates have an idea of who Jesus is, but they lack a committed relationship with him. How will they gain this if they don’t have access to the Gospel? How will they have access to the Gospel if we don’t respond?

If you are interested in providing funding or actual books for the detention center in my community, please let me know. If you want to provide Bibles for your own detention center, contact the local chaplain and ask about their requirements and needs. For my local center, they can only receive books that are still sealed in the box from the publisher so no tampering can be done. The preference is for the books to be delivered directly to the prison. As for the type of Bible, they like to have KJV or NIV versions and large print would be a great added bonus since many inmates have poor site and no glasses. There are many option and some great deals at http://www.biblica.com.

Some Bibles are published specifically for prison ministry and include testimonials such as this one: http://www.biblica.com/en-us/search/?filter=&q=free+on+the+inside

The ones my church is sponsoring include study material like this one: http://www.biblica.com/en-us/niv-outreach-bibles.aspx?product-variants=1223

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I sold shot glasses to a second grader.

5:44 a.m.

I’m awake. One minute before my alarm. My wife is not. Headed to the bathroom.

6:05 a.m.

My wife is up and somehow already downstairs. She has not had coffee.

6:15 a.m.

We’ll call this the “before” shot. Which one is not the morning person?

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6:38 a.m.

The first shopper shows up for our 7:00 start time. “Don’t let me get in your way,” he says. Don’t worry dude, I’ll just carry this table around you. Buy our stuff.

The day of our yard-sale-slash-great-purge-of-2014 came last Saturday. We had five folding tables worth of stuff, boxes on the ground, stuff on the sides, stuff stuff stuff. People were shopping for over 20 minutes and we were still pulling more and more items out of the garage.

The combination of our witty, simple, yet effective Craigslist and newspaper ads (“Come buy our stuff!”) and my wife’s penchant for fine poster skills made our yard sale the most hoppin’ place to be in the greater Moore/Duncan area. Our cul-de-sac looked like a used car parking lot and I even threatened to start selling off the cars.

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Yard sales are a great opportunity to people watch. At least, I think some of them were people. Here are a few of the characters we encountered.

Brass Knuckle Tattoo: Yeah, Brass Knuckle Tattoo was a chick. The tat was very strategically placed smack in the middle of her thigh. The baby in the stroller she was pushing is going to love having friends over to her house one day. BKT hung out for a while, but didn’t buy anything. I don’t think we had much that matched her look.

All-Change Woman: I have no problem getting change. It adds up just fine. But, this one woman pulled out all her dimes on purpose. I’m not sure if she didn’t like the price, but she passed up several larger bills en route to making our cash box jingle-jangle. Thanks for always giving me something to count All-Change Woman.

Buy it Anyway Guy: The conversation went a little something like this:

“How about $5?”

“Well, this is $20 brand new and it’s still in the package. How about $15?”

“I don’t really need it.”

“OK, thanks for coming.”

“Oh, what the heck. I’ll take it anyway.”

Urine Stank Lady: Elizabeth and I both started freaking out when we caught a whiff of something. We both asked, “did the cat pee on something out here?” We sniffed around our garage, the driveway, looked in boxes and came up with nothing. But, there was one common denominator. Urine Stank Lady. I don’t know what kind of Irish Spring she was washing in, but I want no part of it. Much like Pigpen or the Pied Piper of Pee, once she was gone, the smell followed.

La Abuela Española: She will do her best to talk you down from your starting price…in another language. We usually have phases at our yard sale. The early birds, the old folks, the people with kids, but mid-morning is usually the time we see the Hispanic families. They all come together and file in with multiple vehicles. The families are as kind as can be and buy a good bit from us each time, but I’m relatively certain that the grandmother of the bunch relies on her language deficiency as a bargaining tool. I speak Español un poquito. I used my Spanish on mission trips and managed to get by pretty well. I know I answered her pricing questions efficiently in her main language. It wasn’t that hard to tell her that each pair of women’s shoes cost “dos.” Still, she cocked her head to the side, looked at her daughter and asked her for the price instead. We did this with four pairs of shoes. She paid uno.

Buys Nice Things Lady: Buys Nice Things Lady is a recurring character at our yard sales. We know three things about her. She has three kids. She has a daughter in college. She buys nice things. Anytime we have a designer brand by the time she arrives late morning, we know she will buy it. Some people will ONLY buy our really used, really crappy stuff. Like a nasty bed pillow with my head grease all over it or one utensil out of set of four. These people avoid anything name brand, even though it is in great condition and priced no differently than the rest of our stuff. But not Buys Nice Things Lady. She knows what she wants. Sometimes she wrinkles her nose almost like she doesn’t really want to buy something or doesn’t really know what it is, but she knows. That’s just her way of bargaining. But, this year, Buys Nice Things Lady wasn’t there. We were pretty let down. We had a lot of nice stuff for her that went to the thrift store. We were counting on you, Buys Nice Things Lady. You heartbreaker.

Trophy Husband: I know this because that’s what it said on his shirt.

$1-the-Next-Day-Guy: Our yard sale was Saturday. On Sunday I was trying to take a nap and heard the doorbell. A guy drove all the way back here because he remembered seeing something that he should have bought for a friend. The item was a brand new swaddling blanket for $2. He asked if we had it and we managed to pull it out of the thrift store stuff so my wife could consign it. She retrieved it from the garage and handed it to him. He gave us $1. No negotiation, just $1. He was so charming we hardly noticed. Perhaps I was caught off guard because he was wearing the shirt I sold him yesterday. It looked way better on him. Dang. 

Bought-a-Free-T-shirt-Guy: $1-the-Next-Day-Guy has an alter ego as one who pays money for things that others got for free. I’d like to thank the chiropractor in Port Orange, Florida for giving me that shirt at that festival thing that one time. I got fifty cents for it. Boo-yah. I also gave a $50 shirt to the thrift store. Whatever, I sold a free shirt.

Second-Grader-Who-Bought-Shot-Glasses: Yep, I sold two shot glasses to a second grader. What? Don’t look at me like that. It’s not like I bundled in a bottle of Jack Daniels. We haven’t consumed any alcoholic beverage in many years, but we still had beer, wine and cocktail glasses that were given to us at our wedding or accumulated in wilder times. Our neighbor’s daughter came over to shop at our yard sale and wanted to get her mom something. So she left with a set of earrings and two shot glasses. I’m guessing she thought they were small, cute cups. Hey, a buck is a buck, right? (*Side note, I also gave her a beach ball and nearly passed out from blowing it up as a way to make myself feel better about selling shot glasses to a first grader.)

At the end of the day we made $561.45 $554.29 plus two Sonic milkshakes and significant progress toward paying off the car and minimizing the amount of stuff we owned. We took a Jeepload (standard unit of measure) to a local thrift store, so we have a decent write-off coming our way. We have sold a shelf and a chair on Craigslist and have more things posted on eBay, Amazon and Facebook. 

 

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I hate my car payment (part I)

In 2012, with a new daughter on the way and a big job promotion in the midst, we decided that we were going to get a bigger car. My wife had a Mazda Tribute that was completely paid for, but the room in the back seat was going to be tight with two car seats.

After nearly three months of us shopping around online and my father shopping auctions in Florida, we purchased a 2010 Ford Expedition. We traded in her Tribute, put down some money and worked out a 1.85% rate through TD Auto for a portion of the car. This worked out to a payment of $344/month. This was all within our budget and very manageable.

Here’s the challenge, that was two years ago. In late 2013, I left that big promotion, cut my salary in more than half and became a missions pastor. I wouldn’t trade that for my old salary or any bonus. I am in love with what I do every day. But, with the new salary come some adjustments. Over the last nine months, we’ve been doing just fine. Health insurance is more expensive, we don’t have dental insurance yet and we’ve picked up some life insurance. Still, we’re getting by just fine. But, I’ve grown to really hate having that car payment. It’s time to do something about it.

I’ve been all over the world this year on mission trips and visited some of my closest friends who sold nearly all their belongings and crammed the rest in a few suitcases. I’ve been in their homes and apartments and they live very simply, but comfortably. I look around my house and I see junk drawers, full shelves and excess.

My attitude is changing. I try to do all my work as paperless as possible. I despise clutter. I’m fascinated by people who can pack a suitcase efficiently and live in 180-square-foot homes (this won’t be me, but still…). I’m ready to eliminate waste, unnecessary keepsakes and stuff I haven’t used in years and put those things to good use.

A few weeks ago, we decided that we were going to finally (after 9 months back in our house) have a big yard sale. The money was initially going to go into savings, but we’ve determined that it will all go to aggressively payoff our car payment. As of this writing, we have $6765.69 left to go.

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But, I have an envelope. (Dave Ramsey, eat your heart out!) That envelope, which simply says “car” in blue Sharpie, is slowly growing as we purge things from our house. I truly believe we have $6700 worth of things we do not use in our house. I believe that for the financial security and savings for my family, we can find it and sell it. That will be the topic of some upcoming blog posts on how we find, decide, struggle and sell those items in order to pay off our car.

So far, I’ve taken to eBay and Craigslist to get the ball rolling. One of the first things we listed was my grandmother’s dining room table and six chairs on Craigslist. I sat at that table for countless Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It was one of the few things physical things I held on to after my grandparents passed away. I think I liked the idea of the table more than I liked the table itself. We converted our dining room into a playroom for the kids and had no more use for it. I checked with my family to see if anyone wanted it and they declined. So, we sold it yesterday and pocketed $220.

I’ve used eBay to sell some DVD series and Blu-Rays that we were more likely to get a couple dollars from online rather than a dollar at a yard sale. Additionally, I found that I had a ton of cologne (that I rarely wear) sitting in my bathroom closet. I started selling some barely used bottles and discovered there is quite the hot market for the smelly stuff online. I sold two bottles for over $60 combined and there’s another one that is 2/3 full going for $28 right now with a couple days still left to bid. Crazy stuff.

Years ago, I ordered a DVD from WWE.com. Yes, I’m aware of what I just wrote. I bought the history of the Intercontinental Championship because I’m a geek. I got a set of WWE action figures for free just for ordering. Evidently, those were pretty rare and I ended up turning a free gift into $36. Not too shabby. If you’re interested in buying any of the junk high quality items from my house, you can click here. I have over $216 sitting in my PayPal account right now with more pending.

Now, this is not going to be easy. We have a lot of things in our garage that we easily recognize as items we no longer want. However, I am a sentimental person by nature. I see some things in my house and I remember where I was when I bought it, or who gave it to me, or why I bought it. I’m going to struggle to get rid of things. I’m not sure how deep we are going to have to cut in order to reach $6700, but I believe we can get there. It’s going to take some time. Sooner than later, some of the research we are doing about pricing is going to get really hard. I know I’m going to struggle with wanting to hold on to items in case they increase in value in the future (like the old-school Nintendo, Gameboy, Sega, tons of G.I. Joe and wrestling figures that are worth a ton today, but I sold long ago.)

The outcome is worth it. Decluttering is nice, but the emotional distance between me and “things” is going to be liberating as well. Knowing that we have one less payment to make will be fantastic. It means that we will be able to save again. We’ll be able to start putting some money away for retirement again. We will be able to plan for something exciting for our 10th anniversary next year. Then, we can figure out how we get rid of a house payment!

<Insert shameless plug to come to our yard sale on August 16th>

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