Life On The Inside – Part 2

My040 A Leg Up

A Leg Up

In the first entry of this series I wrote about the ways I spend my time.  In this, the second installment I’ll write about rehabilitation opportunities and their effectiveness.

If you’re in prison and have a drug case or if you have a documented drug or alcohol problem and it contributed to your crime, there is the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP).  This program requires the inmate to reside in a dedicated housing unit that serves about 160, about 8% of the population, inmates at a time.  The housing unit, coincidentally, sits directly below my housing unit.  I’ll explain the significance of this later.

The RDAP program is 40 weeks long.  During this time the inmates are required to attend Cognitive Based Therapy (CBT) sessions aimed at changing the way they think about drugs and addiction.  When taken seriously CBT is quite effective.  The issue is it’s not taken seriously by many of those in the program.  The recidivism rate for those that have taken the program is only a few points lower than those who do not go through the program.  The recidivism rate for those not attending is roughly 80% at five years verses 72% for those taking the program.  So why do inmates go through the program?

To get a year off their sentence.

Yes, if you successfully go through the program you are granted a year off your sentence.  This is, of course, envied by those who are not here for a drug related crime.  What amazes me is the number of people in the program that continue to use drugs while in the program.  As I’ve written before, drugs are readily available and used by many.  Those in the RDAP don’t use in their housing unit.  Instead they come up to my housing unit and get high with those using drugs in my housing unit.  In fact, there are three people in my unit that were ejected from RDAP for using drugs.  So getting high was more important than the year off.  That’s how addiction is though.

So with a recidivism rate as high as it is, why does the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) offer RDAP?  Because congress requires it.  Even though it is ineffective and churns people out every 40 weeks.  The majority of people are not rehabilitated.  The majority are in the program solely for the year off.  The BOP could save money by simply cutting a year off every drug case.

For sex offenders there’s the Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP).  The SOMP program here is non-residential so there’s no dedicated housing.  It also does not offer a year off of your sentence if you should participate.  It is also a CBT based program.  The effectiveness is not known because the recidivism rate for sex offenders is among the lowest of any crime at 3-5% at three years.  The SOMP program also serves about 8% of the population.

In researching SOMP prior to coming to prison I couldn’t find anything written by professionals in the psychology field supporting SOMP as a positive, effective, program.  I know very few people taking the program that weren’t ordered to do it during sentencing.

Am I doing SOMP?  No.  Most states require sex offenders to go through a similar program after release from prison and you’re given no credit for having done it during prison.  Additionally, part of the therapy is group based where you’re required to talk about your transgressions.  I understand the value in group therapy but there’s a problem.  What?

You’re encouraged (read that required) to talk about things you didn’t actually do!  That leads to new charges.  So why do people admit to things they never actually did?  Because if you don’t you’re listed as uncooperative and risk being ejected from the program.  This in turn causes issues upon release from prison because being ‘uncooperative’ is entered into your record which goes to your parole officer (PO).  It’s better to start with a clean slate with your PO.

Finally, most psychologists outside the BOP condemn the SOMP program because it negatively impacts the participants and has no basis in the reasons sex offenders offend to begin with.  It does not address root issues but instead tries to alter current thinking.  For example, I was sexually abused as a child and that would not be addressed even though there’s a correlation between that abuse and my crime.  So no rehabilitation in SOMP either.

Finally, if you have psychological problems there are trained psychologists here.  However, by their own admission, their role is to provide stability, not rehabilitation.  I see a psychologist once a month for about 6-10 minutes.  How on earth am I to gain any help in 6-10 minutes?!  Literally, the session goes like this:

PSYCH: “How are things going?”

ME: “Overall, not too bad.”

PSYCH: “Great! Thanks for coming in.”

The above was literally how my last ‘session’ went with the psychologist.  So I added:

ME: “Medical increased my Geodon dosage.”

PSYCH: “Okay, from what to what?”

ME: “From 80mg a day to 120mg a day.”

PSYCH: “Thanks for letting me know.  Is there anything else?”

ME: “I guess not.”

PSYCH: “See you next month.”

So no real rehabilitation through psychological treatment.

In essence, 84% of the population has no opportunity for RDAP or SOMP and for those of us willing to pursue psychological help we instead receive treatment to keep us stable instead of helping to improve our situation.

Prison is not what Congress or the BOP advertise.  It is simply a way to warehouse people for some period of time and from what I can tell, there is no real rehabilitation available anywhere in the system.  Their goal is to keep people stable so they’re easy to manage.

Rehabilitation rests in the hands of the inmates.  It’s up to the inmate to rehabilitate themselves.  I do this through teaching a class, reading a wide range of literature, writing this blog, and participating fully in my faith.  And where my crime is concerned, I spent the 15 months prior to my incarceration in intense psychological therapy.  I came into prison already rehabilitated because I knew there was little to no chance of true rehabilitation inside.

When you think of prison you have to know that most people go through prison essentially unchanged simply because there’s no real, effective, effort by the BOP to rehabilitate.  It’s no wonder the overall recidivism rate is over 80% at five years.

It’s sad really.

~jdoe

A New Perspective

I like to read daily devotionals.  Here, in prison, they are readily available.  I see a great number of people reading them.  One I read is Daily Bread and a second is Living Faith which is Catholic based. 

In Living Faith I recently read a devotional that suggested reading, and contemplating, Christ’s miracles though His eyes; doing so would bring a new perspective claimed the write of that day’s devotional.  Coincidentally, I was reading about Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes (Mat 15:32-38) and I decided to give looking at that miracle though Jesus’ eyes a try.

My040 A New Perspective

I asked myself ‘How could I ever claim to know them mind of God?’  I couldn’t but I could attempt to know the human part of Jesus’ mind, right?  After all, Jesus was God and man in one person so He must have had human thoughts and relations to the situation.  Perhaps, I could tap into these thoughts and reactions and create in me a new perspective and/or a new understanding.

In (Mat 15:32-38) we read that Jesus had compassion for the thousands who had come to Him because they had been with Him there days and had nothing to eat.  So Jesus called His disciples to Him and instructed them to feed the people.  At this point the disciples explained there was little food left to eat, “seven loaves and a few little fish.” 

How did Jesus look at this problem and how did He look at the disciples?  Were it me, I’d feel some level of frustration with the disciples because they should have relied upon their faith to provide all the food necessary but instead they turned to Jesus with some expectation that either He would solve the problem or send the people away hungry.  Jesus didn’t hesitate to call upon His faith in His Father and He gave thanks for the bread and fish and told the disciples to distribute the food.  And all went away filled leaving seven baskets full of leftover fragments.

I think the man part of Jesus would have reacted with disappointment that so little food was available.  I also think He would have had some level of frustration with the disciples because He had shown multiple times that all was possible through faith.  Jesus must have thought, “Why haven’t they learned to exercise their faith?”  Matthew doesn’t record any of Jesus’ reactions, only His action which was to do what He wanted man to do.  He behaved in a human way; He took the loaves and fish, gave thanks and broke the food.  This was what He expected man to do.  He acted as a man.  In so doing He gave the disciples another lesson.

So what new perspectives did I gain?  That in every miracle Jesus behaved as He wanted man to behave even to the point of physical demonstration.  I also learned that life’s obstacles were meant to test our faith and through faith we can overcome.  Another perspective was to be patient with those who aren’t as far, as mature, in their walk into becoming true Christians.  And something else…

When I really thought about the lessons Jesus tried to teach the disciples in this miracle I saw an extension beyond faith in the moment;  I saw faith over time.  In this single miracle Jesus foretold of how the disciples would work to spread the Word of God.  How?

If we look at the miracle of the loaves and fishes as an allegory for spreading the good news of the living Messiah then the disciples are the messengers, the food becomes the Word, and the multitude becomes mankind hungry for eternal life.  Just as Jesus sent the disciples to fee the multitude hungry for food He would later send them to care for the spiritual hunger of tens of thousands.  The miracle of the loaves and fishes was a small lesson foretelling the true mission of the disciples.

And so it is with us.  We are asked to take our little bit of faith and feed those around us that don’t know Jesus as our Lord and Savior and to spread God’s Word.  And in so doing our ‘baskets’ will never go empty and in fact we will end up with more than when we started.

After trying to look at this miracle as if I were Jesus I can honestly say I do indeed have a new appreciation for His way of preparing the disciples for their future role and I will now attempt to look at other miracles in the same way.

Won’t you join me?

~jdoe

Life On The Inside – Part 1

My040 Life On The Inside Part 1 Time
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

TIME

It’s been contemplated by deep thinkers throughout the ages.  Today, the greatest minds are trying to figure out if time existed prior to the creation of our universe nearly 14 billion years ago.  It’s on our hands and marches on.  We’re constantly trying to kill it and it waits for no one.

I have some friends who are very kind and send me postcards and books regularly.  The postcards give me glimpses of the world I’ll never see and the books help feed the intellectual part of me.  The books are an eclectic mix they find at garage sales and used book stores; they’re always interesting.

I received a book from them last week and included with it was a letter in which they asked me some questions about life in prison.  I thought I’d answer their questions here and give others a view into the realities of life on the inside.

This week’s question is : Does time pass slowly or quickly for me?

The short answer is, “yes”.

To understand how and why time passes both quickly and slowly you have to know what is, and is not, available for someone like me to pass time.  I’m more intellectual than physical which narrows down the choices of activities from which to choose.  My primary time killers are walking, reading, writing, and sleeping.

If I were more physically oriented I’d do more than walk.  As it is I have issues with my back, hips, and knees, consequently, things like softball and soccer are not available or feasible for me.  I’m also 54 years old and playing ball with guys in their 20’s and 30’s can mean serious injury; not to mention falling and breaking something.  If they were to start an “over 50” league I’d probably join but the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) isn’t interested in the medical cost associated with older inmates playing physical games.

There are also things like billiards and ping pong available but the lines to play are long, and truthfully, they don’t interest me.  Walking, for me, provides enough activity to control my weight.  It also gives me contemplation time.  As I walk I think through everything from cellmate issues to how I’m interacting with God.  Admittedly, most of my walking thought time is dedicated to my wife and family.  I work through sorrows and joys as I circle the track.  Walking consumes about fourteen hours a week, or about two hours a day, weather permitting.

Television could almost fill a posting on its own but I’ll try to summarize here.  Television is not equally available to everyone.  [DISCLAIMER – This inequality is not by BOP design, but is under the full control of the inmates.]  Television is valued inside the way money is valued by people out in the world.  It is controlled by a few and is exerted in this sense: Power.  In each housing unit there are five TV rooms; four have a single TV and one has five.  The four single TV rooms in my unit are broken down as follows:  one room is for Mexicans with clean paperwork (clean paperwork means they are not a snitch and are not a sex offender), another room is for all other Latinos with clean paperwork, a third room is for whites with clean paperwork and the fourth room is for blacks with clean paperwork.  To gain access to one of these rooms, based on race, you must show your paperwork to the people already using the room matching your race.  Since I’m a white sex offender I cannot use the white TV room.

The fifth room has five TVs in it and these are broken down into the following: one TV is all news showing either CNN or Fox News, the second and third TVs are controlled by the blacks with one showing all sports and the other showing predominantly black focused TV shows; the fourth TV is really one controlled by whoever gets there first except when it’s a sex offender and then it may, or may not, be taken over by a non-sex offender; finally, the fifth TV is controlled by sex offenders.  This all sounds great because every “classification” of race or crime has a TV to watch-except that the room is not large enough to hold everyone that might want to watch TV  and seats are “owned” by people and you cannot sit in another person’s seat.  There are physical altercations regularly over TV control (power over others) and seating (again, power over others.)  I do not watch TV ever, it’s not worth the aggravation of who can watch what and trying to find a seat that is not “owned”.

Also, I don’t watch TV because the portrayal of women as sex objects picks at my addiction to porn.  Remaining clean requires discipline and effort on my part so I’ve just cut out TV altogether.  Porn landed me here-I’ll never go back!

Some have asked about work inside.  Work inside prison is, by and large, a time consumer for only a small percentage of people.  By law, every inmate must have a job.  People in food service indeed work a fair number of hours, maybe 25 or 30 hours a week and get paid about $20 a month.  A portion of the 150 people in the facilities upkeep group work about 35 hours per week and are paid about $25 a month.  The remainder of jobs are very few, if any, hours in a week.  My job, for example, is to clean the shower stalls in my housing unit each weekend, from 4am to 5am.  I work about 8 hours a month and get paid about $22.  All cleaning jobs are well paid compared to other jobs.  I guess it’s because you’re dealing with others’ filth.  But to help you understand the wage realities, on average people are paid 12 cents an hour with the majority of people earning somewhere between $0, (even though they have a “job”) and $5.25 a month.  Anyway, work is not a time consuming activity for me.

Reading and writing:  I do a lot of the former and some of the latter.  I also do both in the housing unit as well as the library.

I read a lot.  Reading consumes more time than any other activity I engage in. When I first arrived here I read westerns-well over 100 of them!  I got into a western rut!  I’ve since moved onto thrillers and “real” literature like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.  I also read a lot of faith based and inspirational books.  I try to feed “zone out” time, intellectual stimulation time and spiritual development time..  Reading absorbs about 28 hours a week or 4 hours a day.

Writing used to consume me for 2 to 3 hours a day.  However since starting on the psychometric medication that has fallen to an hour a day on average.  Some days, like today, I’ll write for several hours working through the blog postings.  It’s something I enjoy and the time passes quickly.  Yet, writing still consumes only about 7 to 8 hours a week or about an hour a day.

Sleeping has displaced writing in terms of time passage.  I nap pretty much every day for about 90 minutes.  Napping obviously passes time quickly and I like that.  I know several people who literally sleep around the clock; rising only to eat and use the bathroom. Some people “do their time” sleeping because time passes so quickly.

To summarize, I fill my time with walking, reading, writing, and sleeping.  All of these combined equal about 8 to 9 hours per day leaving 7 to 8 hours for meals and unfilled time.  Meals eat about two and a half  hours a day leaving about 5 to 6 hours a day for boredom.  Boredom is a constant companion for not only myself, but for pretty much all inmates.  The BOP does not offer very much aimed at rehabilitation though they say they do-do not make the mistake of believing them.  To truly understand you’d need to experience prison life and I highly, strongly recommend never coming to prison.

So why do I say time passes both slowly and quickly?  Well, when I’m involved in one of my four pass times, time passes quickly, but when boredom sets in time drags.  When I think about it, it’s hard to believe I’ve been incarcerated over two years because in that sense, time has passed quickly, yet each day drags on and on.  Also, the weeks overall pass fairly quickly while, again, each day is long and can be brutal.

If you have any questions about prison life please feel free to ask.  I’ll do my best to answer every question.

Thanks for stopping in.  ~jdoe

Time and Time Again?

Anniversaries

Days we look forward to; sometimes with joy and sometimes with dread.

My040 Time and Time Again

My wife and I look forward to the anniversary of our first date with excitement because we’ve been together since.  That’s nearly 37 years!  On the other hand, I feel a level of sorrow as the date of my older sister’s passing rolls around.  She wasn’t even in her mid-40s when cancer took her.  Then there are those anniversaries that perhaps bring both good and bad feelings, maybe birthdays as we age.  I know I’m not looking forward to turning 55 next year, yet at the same time I do enjoy the recognition the day brings for me.

Recently, two anniversaries came hand-in-hand, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about them.

The first was the two year anniversary of my incarceration date.  On the one hand, it was exciting in that it meant that, in essence, two-fifths of my sentence was over leaving me with the challenge of getting through the remaining three-fifths.  I felt good about that.  On the other hand, it brought back into sharp focus the years of productive life I was losing and a reminder of the crime I’d committed.  So… some excitement and some sorrow.  It made me wonder:  How will I feel at the half-way point or even the three year anniversary?  Will I look at my time remaining as all downhill or will I feel even stronger about the wasted part of my life?

The second anniversary that followed immediately on the heels of my incarceration date was the 20th anniversary of this institution’s entry into operation.  We inmates were put on lock down for an entire day while the staff celebrated the day.  And it made me wonder:  Should we celebrate the life of such an institution or mourn its very existence?  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that I, and the others here, have a debt to pay for our transgressions.  Yet I still cannot see the joy in a society for having such places.  In the U.S. alone there are about 700,000 inmates incarcerated somewhere with about 50,000 waiting in holding locations for their institution assignment.

Isn’t celebrating the anniversary of such institutions sort of like celebrating the fact they’re all overcrowded with lives losing productive years?  When I made this connection I became upset.  I looked around at all the people who are capable, and willing, to return to society as productive, law abiding, citizens and yet are stuck here in punishment (the truth is that there is no real rehabilitation for anyone within the prison system so it’s all punishment).

My personal conclusion is that no one should ever celebrate the life of a prison but should instead mourn the need for and existence of, such an institution.

I wanted to check my outlook and so asked those I know inside for their thoughts around the staffs celebration.  Unanimously all said it was ridiculous to hold such a celebration because it couldn’t happen without the inmate population.  Several said they felt insulted and minimized beyond the scope of being punished for their crime.  Yet not one said that punishment was unfair or unnecessary except that all agreed that sentences are too long across the board.  But that’s another issue altogether unless you stop to think that maybe more reasonable sentences would actually reduce the number of prisons – and thereby reduce the number of institutional anniversaries.

I also asked one staff member how they felt about it and was told that it was really a day to recognize the staff itself.  My thought: Hold a staff appreciation day and call it that, even if it’s an additional day of staff appreciation for the year (they do hold multiple staff appreciation days already).

All these thoughts of anniversaries brought to mind something I was told by the psychologist I was working with prior to my incarceration.  I was growing anxious about the anniversary of the start of the investigation into my case and wanted to work through those feelings with her.  It was then she said: “There’s no such thing as an anniversary.  There are only days we attach importance to, sometimes unnecessarily and unhealthily.”  When I challenged that statement she replied, “Then tell me how today is actually different from yesterday,” and I couldn’t.  For example: When you get married, that day is different from the day before because you became legally bound to another.  One year later, however, you do not become unbound the day before the ‘anniversary’ so that on the ‘anniversary’ your status changes again back to being legally bound to your partner.  It actually makes a lot of sense.

And that’s why I’ve written this post.

We all have a choice to make about ‘anniversaries.’  We can invest whatever amount of emotional energy into the day we desire.  It is a choice.  I’ve decided not to invest negative emotional energy into the sorrowful ‘anniversaries’ that lie within my lifetime.  It’s not worth it.  My daughter was married on the second ‘anniversary’ of the start of the investigation into my transgression.  Should I feel sorrow and regret over my actions or excitement and joy for her new life each year on that date?  Wouldn’t the former taint the latter?  And why punish myself each year when I can celebrate my daughter and son-in-law instead?

Do yourself a favor, let go of the negative, sorrowful, ‘anniversaries’ and throw yourself into the joyous ones instead.  Life will become easier and more exciting. ~jdoe

Locked

My040 Keys

Keys

We all have them.  Keys to: our car; our house; our desk; suitcases; diaries; the shed in the backyard; and the list goes on.  They are simple tools that we use to facilitate our lives.  They come in many sizes and shapes and even colors.

But have you ever really thought about what they also represent?

Authority.

Power.

Control.

Those in authority have the power and exert control.

If not, then everyone would have access to everything. 

Imagine total strangers walking into your home or office or other place you hold important and private.  All those places where you keep things that others are not to touch or use or read or or or…

And keys are things we can become sensitive to and develop envy of those who have them.  In prison, exile, the guards all have keys and exert their authority and power over we inmates by controlling our movements and access to things like showers, laundry, socialization rooms, exercise and even food.  And of course freedom.

With all this authority, power, and control comes all responsibility.  We don’t really think about keys giving us responsibility because we’re lulled into a sense of security, but what if you left your cleaning chemicals available to small children and an ‘accident’ were to occur – who would be responsible?  You.  So in reality you accepted the responsibility of keeping the child safe when you accepted the key to that cabinet of chemicals.  And so it is with every key we’re given – we assume, and accept, all the responsibility that ownership, possession, of any key we hold brings.  But there’s even more to owning keys…

Trust.

How do we come by most keys?  Someone of higher authority provides them; that someone places their trust in us to be responsible and cautious and careful and caring and and and…

When we are given a key we are entrusted to use our authority to exert our power and control justly and fairly and responsibly; because if we don’t, there are consequences.

So, what of Jesus’s words in Peter’s Confession of Christ?  [Matthew 16: 13-19]  Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.”  Matthew 16:19

My040 Locked

Jesus is giving us the keys to His Kingdom; the keys to salvation and eternal life.  Jesus is giving us authority, power, and control.  Jesus is trusting us to be responsible, just, and fair.  Yet He’s also telling us there are consequences associated with possession of these keys.  This then, requires us to be cautious, careful, caring, and and and…  It’s a Big Deal to accept these keys because it’s a Big Deal that Jesus would entrust them to us – we humans who are so imperfect.   He knows we are likely to stumble and drop, or even lose, the keys He’s given.  That’s why He warns us of the consequences – what we bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven, and what we loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.  Matthew 16:19b

Accepting the keys is accepting, and assuming, a great deal of responsibility.  It can be scary though.

Why?

There are unspoken stipulations in Jesus’s offering of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven:  that you give your life over to Him by accepting, and confessing, Him as the Christ, your Lord and Savior; the ultimate authority.

Giving our life over to Jesus isn’t something to be done lightly because it’s a huge step in one’s spiritual journey.  And it’s worrisome to give control of your life to Him because our path isn’t shown to us in its entirety but is instead revealed to us step by step.  This then, reveals that there’s yet one more stipulation to our accepting the keys Jesus offers us.

Faith.

Faith does not always come easily because it is believing with conviction and without evidence or proof.  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary).  Therefore, accepting the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven requires an act of faith on our part.

Give your life over to Jesus and have faith that He will lead you into the Kingdom of Heaven – these are the unspoken conditions, in Matthew 16:13-19, that are placed on us in order to receive the keys He offers – the keys to eternal life.

Where am I on this journey?  I’ve given myself over to Jesus and working on the outwardly confessing of Him as my Lord and Savior.  I stumble every day, dropping the keys and fumbling around looking for them and picking them up.  It’s comforting to know though that He is there offering me a new set of keys should I lose the ones I’ve already been given; of course they come with His warnings and stipulations – and it’s a daily, hourly, moment by moment challenge because I am but a man.

Yet He trusts me.

Which means I have to have faith in Him – and in myself.

I hope you’ll pick up your set of keys and join me on this journey; together is better than alone.  ~jdoe

The Good Inside

Over the past few weeks I asked about twenty fellow inmates the following question: 

What’s the best thing about being inside and/or this location specifically? 

I asked because I wanted to write a posting saying something like, “It’s Not All Bad Inside.”  I thought that by asking others I’d hear perspective and views differing from my own.  What surprised me was that all the responses fell into one of three categories, each garnering about one third of the total.

The first category is:

“There’s nothing good about being inside or at this location.” 

Even when I pressed them to be more thoughtful they couldn’t come up with any positives about being here, inside.  Perhaps this response isn’t surprising on its own however it came from some of the people I’d thought were most pragmatic about their incarceration.  Don’t misunderstand, I’d rather not be here either, yet I am and I try to make the most of it.  When I fall into this line of thinking it slows time down and makes this experience more burdensome.

The next category is:

“It’s relatively violence free here.” 

I’m at a low security institution and I’d have to agree with this assessment.  It’s not that I haven’t witnessed, or heard of, fights but you generally don’t have to be constantly looking over your shoulder to know who’s behind you.  You do have to be aware of your surroundings but as long as you keep your nose clean you’re relatively safe – it is still a prison and you’re still dealing with people who may have been violent in their past.  One person even described this location as, “A highly dysfunctional community college campus.”  I don’t think I can agree in total but it is highly dysfunctional here. 

These first two categories made me think of all the people in the world, maybe billions, who would gladly trade places with we inmates – the homeless, the hungry, those in war torn countries, and those without sanitation or safe drinking water.  Would they say there’s nothing good here inside?  And wouldn’t they appreciate the lack of violence?

The final category is:

“Time is the best thing wherever you’re imprisoned.” 

Time to reflect and be introspective.  Time to look at your own history and envision a new future.  Time in these ways is the school of thought I think is indeed the best thing about living in exile.

My040 The Good Inside
Photo by Murray Campbell on Unsplash

When I was on the outside I took time to think but I concentrated on worldly things like material belongings, money, success, and feeding my addiction.  It’s not that I didn’t ever think about the truly important things in life like family, faith, and health but it was out of balance.  I thought too much about the former and too little about the latter.

It took being stripped of all the good things in my life to show me where I should have been focusing my thoughts and introspective time.  Now I can say without hesitation that there’s nothing more important than my faith, family, and health.  Think on it a while and I’m sure you’ll find this to be true for you as well.  I know it seems obvious that these are the important things in life but if we’re honest with ourselves we’d admit that we let other less important items cloud our thinking and take our eyes off the truly critical facets of life.

Keep your eyes on the true prizes of life.  ~jdoe

Roots of Faith?

I know in my mind and have faith in my heart that Jesus was born, died, and rose in triumph over sin that I may have eternal salvation.  I also know in my mind and have faith in my heart that God is active in my life every moment of every day.

Yet, my active involvement in my faith has changed.  I can attach this change to my starting medication to address the hallucinations I have and the depression I battle.

This brings into mind a question: 

What, if any, link exists between psychometric drugs and faith?

My040 Roots of Faith.jpg
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

My first reaction was there is no connection between psychometric drugs and faith, after all my belief in Christ as Lord and Savior remains solidly planted in my heart and mind.  But that’s not what changed.  So I needed to look more closely at what I felt had changed, that is, my active involvement in my faith; those things that bring faith into practice as praise and worship.

I feel I still live as a Christian – loving God with all my heart, soul and mind and loving my neighbor as myself.  (Mark 12:30-31)

I’m still attending church and singing in the choir.  But… other things I used to do like praying the rosary, reading the bible, and privately praying three times daily have turned into occasional activities.  Also, participation in the choir has turned into work and no longer fulfills me. (I must add here that there are also other issues with choir that feed my ambivalence.)

To answer the question of linkage between my medication and active participation in my faith I had to look at the roots of that which drives participation beyond attending church.

I feel I can eliminate the antidepressant as the cause of change.  I was once on antidepressants while on the street (outside this prison) and experienced a positive impact on practicing my faith by becoming more involved, not less.

Yet, what of the anti-hallucinogen?

I’ve learned, through work with psychologists, that hallucinations can spring from the part of the brain associated with creativity.  Once I learned that, it became easier to deal with those hallucinations the medication had not driven away.  But the implication is clear:  If the anti-hallucinogen quiets the creative center of the brain then how I see and feel and participate in my faith is indeed connected to the creative center in my brain.

This brings a new question:

Do I see negative impacts on other creative activates undertaken?

Absolutely YES!

My writing for this blog has become challenging and for my short stories has ceased altogether.  Also, the journaling I did on a regular basis has stopped.  Next, my passion around music has waned to the point that I don’t care to sing anymore.  Finally, and most importantly, I’ve found that I can no longer envision a future for myself once released from prison; from exile.

In summary then, all the creative activities that were alive in me have withered or died just as my active participation in my faith has also all but ended.

So a third question now arises: 

What role does the creative center of the brain play in one’s faith?

I once took the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) survey and scored 100% for both schizophrenia and delusional disorder.  I recall a fair number of questions around belief in an omnipotent entity (God).

Apparently, I’m not the first person to see a direct link between one’s faith and the workings of the mind – the creative mind.  The implication of that survey is that your faith is something manufactured by your mind as opposed to a belief, a knowing really, in an all-encompassing deity.  And aren’t hallucinations and delusional beliefs manufactured by the mind?

This suggests then that the part of the brain that creates hallucinations and delusional beliefs also creates faith, or at least some portion thereof.

It’s a scary thought really – that my faith is no more real than a short story written for pleasure.

Where does this leave me? 

With more questions than answers.

What to do?  I’ve decided to adopt an attitude of “just do it’ and renew, even if by habit, my participation in praying the rosary, thrice daily prayer times, and reading the bible daily.  My hope is that by doing these things as tasks I will rekindle the part of me that carried these actions as an integral part of my faith practice.

I’m curious.  I’d like to know if any of you that are on psychometric medication have seen a change in how your creative self manifests.  Am I alone in seeing a direct link between the creative center of the mind and faith?

I look forward to hearing from you.  ~jdoe

Sketches, Reflections of Father’s Day

“Who needs fathers?  We all do.  We especially need our Father in heaven, who forgives our parenting inadequacies for Jesus’ sake and who enables us each day with a fresh start.  Just as the loving father in Luke’s gospel welcomed home his lost son, our Father will one day welcome us into heaven together with all others who love and trust in Jesus.” 

~ Dr. Rodney Rathmann

My040 Sketches Reflections of Father's Day

This is jdoe’s lil-sis.

I have been reflecting and sketching out memories, thoughts.   Sparked by father’s day and receiving the most recent blog written by my brother (to be posted next time).  The blog post talks about the impact jdoe’s illness and medication has had on him recently – and in it he talks about having lost his ability to see his future.

The quote that ended jdoe’s last post, and opens mine asks “Who needs fathers?” … We all need fathers.  Our earthly father that God blessed us with, and our Heavenly Father God.

We lost our father earlier this year, so the months that have followed have found us with twisted heart when we read a card or letter from our Mom, now only signed ‘love Mom.’  Or the fact that we didn’t have to shop and send a father’s day card.  Our father for many years prior to his passing was locked in a prison of his own;  one that left him unable to walk, remember, and eventually talk.  For several years Dad was ever there, but darkening – his sun was setting.  This relationship we had with our father is not unlike the relationship my brother now has with his children.  My brother is locked in exile, physically removed from day to day family life and restricted in communication.  Yet, there is a fundamental difference – he is still fully available, and has life to look forward to – a new dawn over the horizon.

I thought I’d write this week’s post, remind my brother jdoe of the vibrant future that lies in-front of him with a strong family that he helped to build.  Remind him of the person he is.

Do you remember these words, bro?  Below is from an excerpt from an email I sent my brother a couple years back – I’d like to focus on the “Father” in him…

I thought about you a lot today.  And I was thinking, I cannot even start to imagine what it feels like to walk in your shoes.  All the feelings and experiences that lay behind you.  Looking out over what looks like very rocky ground infront of you. 

Then I started thinking about the man standing in those shoes, You, jdoe. 

This is the man I see standing in your shoes…

A devoted son, brother, friend, and father.  You have a deep well of love for family, friends, even strangers. 

A man that has raised four great children that have turned into wonderful, loving, hard working, respectful, fun, adults. You instilled family, just look how your kids like to be around each other. 

Your love for jane is deep and strong, obvious to anyone who sees the two of you together.  What an amazing example the two of you have set for your children and others.

Someone whom I, and others, look to for sound advice. 

Someone whom I, and others, can trust. 

You know what to say, and how to say it. 

Intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated to anything you put your head and heart into.  Through your daily demonstration, your children now also live these characteristics out.

Someone who has learned from his mistakes, and grown better from them.  Who now shares his experiences in hopes to help others.

You have a contagious smile and laugh, spreading joy and light.  Fun and playful, wise and thoughtful.

You are a talented artist, with cars, music, stories, painting rooms (lol), re-upholstering, well just about everything you touch.  You are willing to share your knowledge with those willing to learn.

You are thoughtful, tender and compassionate, strong and firm. 

A gentleman, kind and respectful.

Spiritual, believer.

Love Thou jdoe ~lilsis

Be Selfish In Prayer

My life is sort of like “Groundhog Day,” so when I realized this weekend was Mother’s Day I also realized an opportunity lost in not writing a post for Mother’s Day.   When my sister reminded me what this weekend’s post was about, we realized that it was perfect.  Mothers, just like Jabez, need to be bold and selfish in prayer.   Happy Mothers Day.

My040 Be Selfish In Prayer

I’ve been thinking that my prayers are too selfish.  I’m always asking God for guidance and blessings, protection and strength to resist temptation; especially strength for as an addict it’s easy to let my mind wander where it shouldn’t and become weak.  I feel I do a really good job in my rejection of temptation but I also feel I’m able to do so due to God’s hand upon me.

Recently, I began to wonder about my method of prayer and whether or not there was a better way to ask for God’s blessings and support.  So I asked the Priest here at the prison and he replied, “Pray like Jabez.”  I asked him who Jabez was and he said to find Jabez in my Bible.  I searched by consulting my concordance and I found that Jabez is mentioned only one time, and it’s in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10.

Have you read 1 Chronicles?  If not then you need to know that the first nine chapters trace the genealogy of man from Adam to Israel’s return from captivity; a time span of thousands of years.  1 Chronicles Chapters 1 through 9 is boring to read and many (most?) people skip these chapters, as I did, and miss the single person called out for his cry to God for a strong life.  Jabez, and only Jabez, is the focus of the author’s only record beyond the genealogical record.  One must ask, “Why?”

First we need to understand Jabez’s name.  Names in Biblical times often predicted the life’s achievements of individuals.  For example Soloman means peace, which is appropriate as Soloman was the first King of Israel to reign without war.  So what does Jabez mean?  It means ‘pain,’ or more literally, ‘he causes (or will cause) pain.  Jabez’s mother named him such saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”  What a way to live life!  Can you imagine living in Biblical times with a name that predicts you’ll cause, or have already caused, pain?  Knowing this, one might wonder how Jabez won the only spotlight in the first name chapters of 1 Chronicles.

The answer is in the way Jabez prayed!

1 Chronicles 4:10 reads

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil so that I will be free from pain.”  And God granted his request.

Note that last word, “pain.”  To include his name’s meaning in his prayer underlines the importance of one’s name in Biblical times, and the belief that one’s name predicted their life’s outcome.

Jabez asked for four things:

That God bless him

That God enlarge his territory

That God would keep his hand upon him

That he be protected from evil

It all sounds like good things to pray for.  It’s when you look behind these four requests that Jabez’s wisdom becomes more evident.

First, he asks to be blessed ‘indeed.’  In these times, adding indeed to a prayer was like our adding exclamation points at the end of a sentence – a form of almost demanding to be blessed.  It also means that the request is honest and almost pleading; a pseudo command.  Jabez was not afraid of sounding selfish in his prayer for blessings – he was bold in his request!

Second, he asks for his territory to be enlarged.  At first look it sounds like he was asking for more land property – a literal translation in our culture today but not in the times of this writing.  Jabez was asking God to increase the size of his ministry.  Jabez was also asking God to provide all that was needed in order for Jabez to achieve the new, added, work God would ask of him.  In other words, Jabez was asking God to use in him a greater capacity than what He was using Jabez at the moment of this prayer – it could be translated to say, “Give me more to do for you O God.”  Again, not selfish but bold.

Next he asks for God’s hand to be with him through it all.  In this Jabez acknowledging that he could not achieve his new objectives without God’s help.  Jabez was saying, “Work through me to the glory of you, my God.”  Jabez was telling God that he wanted to be God’s instrument of glory.  Jabez did not want to become great, Jabez wanted God to become great through Jabez.  Again, not selfish but bold.

Finally, Jabez asks that God help him to maintain a blessed life by protecting him from evil.  Jabez knew there’s evil in the world and that those working to do God’s work would come under attack by that evil.  Again Jabez was acknowledging he couldn’t do it without God’s glorious help.  As bold as Jabez was in his first three requests he was equally humble in asking for God’s help and protection.  It could be translated, “I’ll do all I can, O God, help me with the rest.”

My learning from this is that maybe God wants us to be “selfish” in our payers by asking Him to use us for His greater glory.  Maybe I’m not being selfish after all.

There are people who believe that by praying this simple prayer daily that they will, and do, see God moving in their lives more obviously every day.

I’m willing to try, are you?  Please join me.  ~jdoe

Living Consumed

My wife recently sent an email with a quote she found on the internet (she always sends me great quotes and scripture!).  The quote reads:

“What consumes your mind controls your life” – unknown

My040 Living Consumed

I’ve been on a trip of life changes and so I took time to ponder how I measure myself against this quote.

On the surface it is easy to say that the wisdom within this quote is obvious, and perhaps it is.  It was when I was honest with myself that I found I wasn’t consuming my mind with the best things.

I’d allowed myself to let anxieties and fears over the future to replace much of my time in God’s Word.  I haven’t been keeping my promise to God to read his word every day.

I chose other compensatory behaviors:  Reading western novels (Hey don’t judge me Ha! Ha! Ha!) and ‘napping’ for hours.  Both allowed me escape the relatives of my exile.  Instead, I should have been losing myself in scripture to reinforce God’s love and protection.  If you’re going to distract yourself with something, be sure it’s a healthy something, right?

I’m not saying that I shouldn’t lead a balanced a life as possible.  I still read novels (I’ve now branched out into thrillers and mysteries!) and nap (for 20 to 30 minutes) but I find that bringing God’s Word back into my daily life brings a comfort I’d forgotten.

I’ve also begun to consider daily how I measure up against that quote and I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to become consumed with life’s little things.  For me, some of life’s little things here in prison can be daunting.  Things like guys spitting on the sidewalk instead of the grass and not holding doors open for the physically challenged and talking loudly in the library and and and… Things that in reality are annoyances that I can deal with by ignoring.   Those behaviors, after-all, they don’t directly impact me.

The most surprising thing to come of living by that quote is how much more pleasant and easy life is.  Eliminating the negative and replacing it with the positive is empowering.

Be empowered!  Join me in living consumed by the Spirit.

~jdoe