In December of 2018 President Trump signed into law the ‘First Step Act’ (FSA). The new law is the first sentencing reform law in many, many years and became effective January 1, 2019.
Among the provisions in the FSA is one that, for select crimes, will give eligible inmates an opportunity to earn additional good time beyond the 54 days that will already have been granted (FSA clarifies how many good time days we are to receive and it is to be increased from 47 to 54 days). In order for an inmate to earn this additional good time they will have to meet established criteria which includes participating in “programming.” What constitutes the programming specified in the FSA has not yet been defined and therefore is the subject of much speculation among inmates.
This past week was sign up time for Adult Continuing Education (ACE) classes that will start soon. When I arrived and got in line I noted that the line was over 200 feet long. (NOTE: I signed up for my ACE class on day 1 of sign ups; the line on day 2, the final day, was also about 200 feet long.) In the three years I have been here the line has never been that long; not even close. As I stood there I wondered what had changed. Could it be that the inmate population had become more desirous of education since the previous sign up twenty weeks previously? I really doubted that. As I waited for my turn to get into the room where the sign up sheets were laid out I listened to the conversations around me. I was listening for reasons for the high number of people signing up for the ACE classes. A theme surfaced. I heard people repeatedly referring to the FSA and programming. You should know that ACE classes are currently referred to as programming, but if they qualify as programming cited in the FSA is not clear. The thought expressed by those commenting on the FSA and ACE class programming was the hope that once the content of FSA programming was communicated it would include BOTH ACE classes AND credit for all programming completed prior to that communication. In other words, they were signing up for ACE classes now in the hope that they would be rewarded with extra good time later.
When I returned to my cell after signing up for class I sat and thought about what I’d overheard concerning programming now in the hope of added good time later. It struck me that there were all these people chasing a potential reward because of a promise in this world. In effect, they were storing up treasures in this life, but what about in their eternal life? Are they storing treasures in heaven? In Matthew 6:19-20 Jesus tells us not to store treasures on earth but instead to store treasures in heaven. I know He was specifically addressing money but don’t His words really apply in all instances? Where are the 200 foot long lines waiting to get into the chapel? I’ve never seen one. My understanding is that this institution is about 70 percent Christian and what motivates long lines? Not an offer of eternal life but instead a worldly desire. Why aren’t they pursuing BOTH?!
When I told my wife what I was going to write about this time she responded with:
“We work so diligently and purposefully for worldly goals, achievements, wants and such and pay so little attention to the heavenly things that matter eternally. We have all done it. The world sets us up for it.”
Amen, my love. Amen.
To be clear: am I saying that people should skip the chance of getting out of prison sooner? Absolutely not! I want out! I’m saying that keeping your eternal life as your number one priority is where your focus should be; everything else is temporary by definition.
So, get into that 200 foot long line leading into your chapel and store treasures in heaven.