|Vol. 1998 No. 10
My name is Billy and I'm writing because a friend told me about your Pen Friend ministry. I'm a new Christian—in here you really need to be. I want to thank you for all those you must be helping as there is so little for us. So many of us feel we are not cared about, so it is nice to know Someone Cares; keep up the good work for us.
I NEVER FOUND THE TIME
I knelt to pray but not for long,It was the Book of Life.
I had too much to do.
I had to hurry and get to work,
For bills would soon be due.
So I knelt and said a hurried prayer,
And jumped up off my knees.
My Christian duty was now done,
My soul could rest at ease.
All day long I had no time
To spread a word of cheer.
No time to speak of Christ to friends,
They'd laugh at me, I'd fear.
No time, no time, too much to do,
That was my constant cry,
No time to give to souls in need—
But at last the time, the time to die.
I went before the Lord, I came, I stood with downcast eyes,
For in His hands God held a book;
God looked into His book and said,
"Your name I cannot find.
I once was going to write it down...
But never found the time."
BRIGHTEN THE CORNER WHERE YOU ARE
At the present I'm studying to
re-enter college. Would like to write to another inmate, not now but when settled in school. I will write my current Pen Friend though my Brother- in-law, who is a County Sheriff. You both are doing a great service for these inmates. I just wish that more people [so do we] on the outside would take more of an interest. We are a society that complains first and helps last. Dorothy
REFLECTIONS ON FORGIVENESS
from Signs of The Times.
His name Is Michael Ross, and his address is DEATH ROW. He writes: "I am the worst of the worst on my unit. I have killed more people by my hand than the rest of the prisoners here on Death Row combined. Yet, by God’s grace, today I experience more peace of mind and more true freedom than all these men. I'm not talking about physical freedom. My freedom transcends the physical world. It is a freedom that few understand; in fact, many here mock me when I speak about it. The freedom that I have experienced can only be achieved through the grace of God. I am grateful that God has forgiven the crimes I have committed against humanity. Whether the families of my victims will ever forgive me I do not know, though I pray they can. I do know that God has taught me to forgive those who injured me, and therein lies much of the freedom I have experienced.
An unwanted child. My mother was pregnant at 16 and abortion was not an option. So she married a man she did not love and bore a child she did not want. She had been abused as a child and as is so common, became an abuser. I was the brunt of her abuse. Later, in prison, I slowly came to realize that the anger I was harboring toward my mother was destroying my soul. We can find inner peace only when we realize that we must change ourselves rather than the people who have hurt us. I wish that I could tell you the process of forgiving was easy, that because I wanted to forgive, magically I was able to forgive. The anger and pain I was carrying along with bitterness, despair, and self hate.
From Joy Finch: I came from an abusive family and saw members beaten up physically and verbally. The Lord kept his hand on me, and I had a lot to forgive, which I did."
Marion writes: "I lived in Connecticut at the time Michael Ross was on his killing spree, and one of his female victims was deposited in a wooded area near my home. I hope he has balanced the issue of forgiveness with the equally important issue of repentance. When he has accomplished this, he will have come full circle.
From Chaplain A Taylor: Forgiveness is always an appropriate topic, most of us benefit hearing about it often. I would raise two concerns relevant to Michael's Ross' article in Signs. First, when you give a serial murderer national prominence, his victims’ families, friends, and any surviving victims are all subject to the horrors of the original crime. Secondly, Mr. Ross's only claim to notoriety is his predatory behavior.
Don and I have many real friends on Death Row. We do not believe in the death penalty, although it is Biblical. Our problem is that the system does not give each case an equal deal. The rich get richer and the poor get prison. There are now too many documented cases of men executed and found not guilty after their death. We have a friend on Death Row we do not believe is guilty. He was recently given the choice of Death or Life in Prison due to a legal technicality. Dear friends that is not much of a choice. Our friend, Dan Matthews, of Faith For Today, Steve's Pen Friend, told him God had work for him to do. Steve decided not to die, and that is a real penalty.
Chaplain Taylor's feelings are correct but we find it difficult for a prison Chaplain not to look for forgiveness and repent-ance. We also agree that giving press to this does no good for anyone but those who sell magazines. We have seen men like Don Hawkins on McAlester's Death Row in Oklahoma, and Willie Banner, on San Quentin's Death Row, lead many men to Jesus.
The visitors' parking lot is full of cars, including a blue Cadillac with the license plate NTRBLE. Visitors wait for the outer gate to click open. Pockets are emptied of money, matches, keys, a pocket knife. Shoes are removed so the guard doing the pat-down can check that nothing is taped to feet. An inner door buzzes open. It is Barry Pitzer's 14th wedding anniversary. He waits with his tiny daughter, her yellow party dress buttoned in the front instead of the back. A sign at the entrance reads
CHILDREN OVER THE AGE OF THREE WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO SIT IN THE LAP OF AN INMATE
a rule recently posted after an incident at a men's prison. Christina is just two, and she can sit in her mother's lap for two hours once a week.
Trudy Pitzer, 39, is pressed to the glass at the other end of the visitors' room, waving to her daughter and her husband, waiting to be strip-searched. Trudy is serving six to seven years for delivery of marijuana. She was awaiting trial when she found out she was pregnant. "I cried for two weeks," she says. "It was the wrong time in my life."
She had Christina in the prison nursery and kept her for five months. But she began to worry that a prison was no place for a child. Some psychologists say that an authoritarian prison environment may not be good for children, while others argue that bonding between mother and child outweighs the draw-backs.
When Trudy went on work release, she says, she couldn't keep the child in the halfway house. Barry was having trouble finding baby-sitters while he worked as an electrician. Desperate, Trudy ran away to Arizona, where the family made a life on the land for more than 18 months. Trudy was playing with Christina in a plastic swimming pool when the police arrived. She had to shout for Barry to come and get the baby as they took her away. Trudy got more time. "It was probably worth the extra year," says Barry. "At least Christina knows who her mom is."
Visiting hours is over. Mother and daughter wave as each waits to be searched again. (Despite the searches, drugs are smuggled into the prison, as random urinalysis proves.) "Bye-bye, Mommy," says Christina. Mommy cries. "I'll get out in time to see my little one go to school," Trudy says. She is up for parole in 1999.
How is your light shining in your daily life? Have you ever tried to do self-examination to see just where you are? Let's give it a try. Which term best describes your own situation?
(a) On the march;
(b) in retreat;
(c) under siege;
(d) AWOL (absent withoutleave);
(e) in active combat;
(f) on training maneuvers.
We pray that all of you will join us in active combat.
THE FOG ROLLED IN
It seems like it was almost a lifetime ago that we first drove across the Golden Gate Bridge going to San Quentin. We parked in the lot almost a half mile away from the prison, walked to the front entrance to start the process of getting in. In the background the foghorn blared its deep noise. The wind whipped as Yvonne and I walked toward the first check-point. Gates and more gates, bars and more bars as we went forward. Just inside the prison we received the keys to open the doors from there on, an awesome feeling. Our morning inside those cold, cold walls started with a devotional held by Chaplain Harry Howard. We had prayer with him and the inmates present, and shared with the Chaplain and the men.. After the devotional, Yvonne and I both carried large cases filled with greeting cards, Bibles, Christian reading material, stamps, and papers and pens. We used the full cases as chairs when inside. Our church then was "C" section, the hard core block of San Quentin. Our job was to take Jesus to the unwashed of this Hell Hole. "C" section is five tiers high with fifty cells to a tier. Across from the tier was a walkway where armed guards paced back and forth. It was here we got the nickname "The God Squad."
It was here we spent telling men about Jesus for two years. Most listened just to have someone to talk to, or to get something to read, or a stamp. Some listened to all we were saying and many accepted Jesus. We saw men who, tired of it all, took their lives. Some just lost it and went into a shell, to never come out of it. The stench of "C" section will be in our nostrils forever.
Yes there must be places like "C" and few are able to go to places like that in person to share the love of Christ. It was here that Yvonne met a man who had never had a letter or a visit in over seventeen years. It was here that the Pen Friend Program was born. It was here we would deliver death notices to men who had lost so much when a family member died. Some cried; to others it was just a little more to add to the gut-wrenching fear they already had. No, we do not like the things these men did to go to prison. We liked less some of the things they did to get thrown into the hole. But burning in ours hearts were the sounds at night of these hard- core convicts crying them- selves to sleep. Doing time is bad enough, doing hard time is worse.
Jesus sees all of us not as we were, not as we are, but as we can be through Him. We ask you, as we prepare once more to enter this kind of world, to pray for us, and to find it in your heart to reach in with Paper Sunshine to brighten someone's life.
George was a man who had been in prison off and on since he was 17. Now he was 62 and serving life without ever a chance to be released. When we met him he was 50 and a really broken man. I told him "To be Free in Jesus was To Be Free Indeed"
He said "So what?" As we got to know him, it was sad to hear of the total abuse this man had gone through when a boy. Beaten in ways that were not human, he became an animal. How do you get through to a man who had nothing to look forward to and nothing he wanted to look back at? A greeting card here, a stamp from time to time even though he had no one to write, reading material we passed out, a Christmas present—the first he ever got! Six months after we met him he said "WHY?" We told him we really cared about him because he was important to us. We told him with the Love of Jesus we loved him, and he cried. He cried for the first time in his life not from pain. George died several months later and we had not seen him, so we don't know if those tears bought Jesus into his life. Like many men abandoned by family, he is buried in a potters grave. We pray he got to share his bitterness with Jesus and that the pain was taken away. There are lots of Georges in prison. We have to wade through many to find them, but with your help it can be easier.
A letter is the warmest way to bid a friend the time of day.
A keep-in-touch that brings them smiles, across the very longest miles.
What a wealth of strength and hope is tucked inside an envelope,
Reminding loved ones that you are, at least in heart, not very far.
In any country, state or camp [or prison] there’s wealth beneath a postage stamp—
for memories that never age are written down upon each page.
Though it's oh, so nice to phone (one of the sweetest pleasures known),
those moments shared in
thoughts we send, can be read, and read again.
Take my hand if you would be so bold, for a journey through time and space.
We are going to travel at the speed of thought to a very lonely place.
It sits in the heart of a fertile valley, where fruits and vegetables grow.
Where horses run, cattle graze and there's no escape from the sun.
A large house in a small town, off Hwy 30. Ave 33 is the ramp you take, to visit this man doing time.
Thousands of me, from all walks of life, fathers and sons, even my wife.
We come in all sizes, all colors, and shapes, all ages, all backgrounds, some with no out date [release].
We are all human beings, if you can dream, you can apply, we need the same things that most do. A real friend, a visit, a letter or two.
For sure it’s not easy when you're not in control. Some people forget us, some families grow cold.
No matter the pain, the hurt of the year, I'll stand by my God who I love so dear.
It's a path in life that no one would choose. I pray for all men with the Lucasville Blues. Some plan of the future going to school. Be wise, do your time, don't let your time do you. Stay close to God, life's not a game. Without faith and belief the result is the same.
By losing our freedom, we pay the ultimate price. But when you lose yourself, your soul is on ice.
Stay strong, stand your ground, have a plan for the gate [release]; If someone loves you, they may be willing to wait.
Lucasville Blues is a frame of mind. It's a place in the valley where men do time.
God bless my soul and others as well, I tell you the truth, we all go through hell
Jimmy Valenti, Inmate Lucasville, Ohio
IT IS NOT SOMEONE CARES WHO IS WRITING THESE INMATES, BUT SOMEONE WHO CARES—YOU. PLEASE USE YOUR NAME, NOT OURS, ON BOTH ENVELOPES