During the preceding months before I came to prison I was staying with my mother under her care. It was a stressful atmosphere for both of us, since at this time we had been running in and out of the courtroom on many occasions.
On one such afternoon when neither of us had to work, and court was not scheduled, we decided to go on a little date just us two and try out the small new Indian restaurant down the street. I’ll never forget it. We walked in and instantly felt underdressed. We were both garbed in athletic type attire, which we realized right away how out of place we were.
There were only tables for two, and the lighting inside was incredibly them. I could barely see.
To be honest, I got the sense of how awkward the whole situation was in such an intimate setting; I was with my mom!
Our spirits picked up when we found out that on certain days they had a special buffet laid out. To our surprise, and good luck we happened to come on the right day. On the far back wall was a long line of foods I’ve never even heard of, steaming, calling my name. With so many different choices, I didn’t even know where to begin. Flatbread. Fruit bread. Funky types of chips. The oddest green salsa. A plethora of meets: lamb, duck, beef – all sautéed with exotic vegetation. An endless array of curry sauces: white curry, yellow curry, green curry, and red curry. At that moment I was actually grateful to be wearing running shorts that had a stretchy elastic band. It was time to get fat!
Okay, well I realize that this really has NOTHING to do with the blog post. But over a year of eating only state food, I am going stir crazy and can rarely think of much else. Forgive me.
Anyway, as we were sitting down, after my 6th or 7th plate, my mom was done and I continued on. She then sparked up a conversation that caught me by surprise, and so I slowed my eating pace down, but not by much.
“So I was on the Internet the other day, and stumbled upon an online forum, one of the guys on there had been in prison and gave a string of advice that I want to talk to you about.”
“Mom, I’m not going to…”
“Lindon hush, I know you don’t believe you’re going to prison, but on the slight chance you do, I don’t want you going in there unprepared.” Now that I am in prison, we have a saying for this type of thinking, “Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.”
For the next hour or so, with a couple more trips through the buffet line, we discussed in depth everything we knew about prison and what to expect, while also integrating this guy’s forum advice for first-timers.
For both my mother and I, all we have ever known about prison is what we’ve seen on the TV screen and in movies. We have never known anyone or even known of anyone that has been in prison. I bet pulling our information together, we knew more about life on Mars than we did about life locked up.
Obviously my Mom’s worrying to prepare for the worst was partly her maternal sense because I am after all, in fact, in prison… Therefore, I will never forget the conversation we had that day (and the food).
The advice that guy gave in that forum is sound. After having been here long enough, his advice is exactly what I’d give someone going to prison for the first time. His advice included things like, don’t ever tell anyone what you are in here for. The first thing you should buy is a pair of shower shoes. Don’t accept anything free from anybody. Tear the address corners off your mail when you first receive it. Wash your own underwear. And the one that stood out to me the most: never, ever form habits in keeping a schedule because guys will memorize it and have control over you.
I think that last one stuck out from the others, because it just didn’t make sense to me at the time. All the others made sense for obvious reasons, but this one was a little far-fetched I thought. Who would be dumb enough and even have the time to memorize another person’s schedule? Little did I know how ignorant I was. I learned the hard way, that a prisoner is the exact right person with nothing but time on his hands to memorize every move.
My third month stationed at Brown Creek was the middle of summer last year. The yard would open up about 7:30 AM every morning, and I got into the regular training scheduled to go running. This is when everyone started calling me Obe Run Kenobi, because I ran every morning, all morning (except on the Sabbath).
The generic white New Balance tennis shoes aren’t my ideal running shoe and have very poor sole support. When I first came to prison, an older gent that has been down a long while, gave me the advice to request insoles from Medical because they are free. The words of my very good friend from the YSA ward I was in rang in my ears; he is a nurse and told me that prison inmates have the very best health insurance, because any time they see a doctor or need medical attention, it only cost five dollars – no matter what the reason is.
It took me a good month on the waiting list to be seen by the medical staff, but out of my five dollars I got a nice brand-new pair of insoles, a pair of (hideous) State eyeglasses and a dental checkup. The benefits of coming to prison are few and far between, but they are there nonetheless.
I continued my training with my “cloud feet.” My spirits and gratitude were high at this point in my journey. Though, as I mentioned in the post “We Are But Dust and Shadow” this was at a time where I was hoarding every little thing I could get my hands on. Getting shoe insoles wasn’t so much for my running as it was for me to just own a pair. I ran my entire life with sore feet, why should prison be any different?
I anxiously awaited the following week for my weekly receipt indicating my past week’s account activity. I wanted to see if Medical actually took five dollars out of my account. When I got off work, the day we were to see our expense reports, I arrived dismayed to find out mine was not on my bunk, as it usually always was every week. I was a bit bummed because ever since day one in prison I have kept every single receipt and expense report. Even to this day I still do. Call it habit, whatever, I pride myself in keeping track my spending.
Everyone else here gets there expense reports, looks at them, and throws them away. I thought it no big deal though, I will just go to the canteen in the morning and see what my balance was up to currently and then subtract that from the last receipt I got the last time I bought something. Simple, right?
So the next morning, after my run, I went to the canteen to check my balance. The last time I bought something I had about $20 left in my account. I should now have about $15 because my medical visit cost five dollars (Pretty sound math).
But when I went to check my balance it was now at two dollars and some change. What the heck? Medical took way more than they should have! I thought maybe the insoles weren’t free after all. I wrote a quick request to Medical inquiring why they took so much out my account. It took a month for them to respond to my initial sick call so I only assumed it would take even longer for them to reply back to me. It did. I never heard back from them.
That next week I waited with even greater anticipation to see my weekly expense report. I came back from work the day of and again my bunk was empty. Two weeks in a row! Something had to be wrong. A friend suggested I write the account manager who prints out all the reports and ask for a copy of every expense report since I’ve been in prison. Again, no reply.
A couple days after submitting a request form Dad told me he had put $30 on my account to hold me over for a little bit. I was grateful.
The next morning I went on my usual run and planned to check the canteen afterward to see if Dad’s money went through. When I went back into the block to retrieve my wallet, I flicked the key for my secret hiding spot, unlocked my locker and instantly felt like something was wrong.
Now, you might find this funny, but everything in my locker was shipshape, nothing amiss. But the first thing I noticed was the way in which my ID card was placed into my wallet. Force of habit is my enemy and my Savior in the same scenario. I always place my ID card upside down in my wallet. I’m just OCD like that. When I opened my locker though, my ID card was upright. When I saw that, my heart fell.
But now, it all made perfectly clear sense to me!
I grabbed my wallet and ID card and ran straight to the canteen. I swiped my ID card, a receipt printed out and sure enough my account read “$0.01”
The swarm of emotions that ran over me were strong, and they were so evil. I am ashamed to admit that once it all made sense to me, not only was I in a fit of anger, but I was going to use my cunning to exact revenge! Someone was stealing from me, and I was going to make them pay!
I ran back into my block, chanting, “I’ve got him! I’ve got him!” Guys looked at me questioningly. I’m sure they were not used to seeing Obe with this evil grin on his face.
I got to the officer’s desk and asked them to call a sergeant down here. They said they couldn’t do that, but told me the sergeant was over in another housing unit and that I could go locate him to tell him the issue. I then ran to the other housing unit and spotted the three striped emblem we prisoners have all come to fear. Heaving for breath I asked him what the procedure is in reporting a theft, and explained the situation.
He gave me the, “Well son, there’s not much we can do” answer.
“Can’t you rewind the tapes inside the dorm? Isn’t that why the cameras are in there?”
“We.., yeah, but…”
“It was between the times of 7:30 AM and 8:15 AM. My locker is all the way in the back corner. It should be easy to spot who did it. Since I’m the only person to go back there.”
“Well, send a request in and I’ll see what I can do.”
He then walked off. Drats!
I knew all too well what a “request” would do: NOTHING!
I was so angry! I wanted to catch this thief and bring the axe of justice down upon his slippery hands. This tantrum mixed with my appalling disgust at the true character of the prison system did not turn out well. The whole rest of the day I devised plans on how to catch the perpetrator myself.
Pride was in complete control, and any reasonable truth on the whole situation inside the dorm was not going to be had? I was wronged, and therefore, blind to any wrongdoing on my part. I ignored the fact that had I been more cautious, none of this would’ve happened.
No, whoever this thief was, was a monster! They knew I went running every morning at such and such a time. They knew I didn’t like running with the weight of my wallet or my keys. They knew where I hid my keys when I went running. Therefore, whoever the vile creature was, it has to be someone in this very block!! Ugh! That truth just fed my burning fire of anger.
I jotted down everyone’s name that was currently in my block and started knocking off names that I knew it couldn’t be. The first shift kitchen workers in our block were at work in the morning so it couldn’t have been any of them. That alleviated more than half of the list. Then I crossed out those guys that I just knew would never steal from me or anyone. Then crossed out the guys that were outside while I was running. I finally got the list down to two guys. One was an old snake who I wouldn’t even trust with my fingernail clippings. The other was a druggie.
I asked around though, and they all told me the same story, that the “the Snake” as I call him, was meeting with his case manager all morning so it couldn’t have been him. Bingo! Bye, bye druggie, Brett!
I think this might be a good time to interject and tell you all that I have never lost a game of “Clue” either.
My last suspect made complete sense, though. His job was our blocks janitor. He was supposed to sweep and mop multiple times a day, giving him the perfect alibi to be back in my corner where my locker opens up. No one would suspect any funny business if they saw him back there.
He waited till he was well into my work out, grabbed my key, opened my locker, took my ID card, went out to the canteen, emptied it out (as best he could, I still had one cent left remember?), And went back into the blocks, putting everything back the way it was, all before I got done running. Pretty darn tricky there. Brett. But don’t you worry, you’ve got one coming you sick dog. Evils route screwed tightly around my heart and they were giving way until I had returned what was taken from me. It wasn’t even that though, if you’re going to steal from me, then all K. But if you’re going to steal from my family, all, game over for you bro!
It was on!
Back to the drawing board to hash out a plan to catch this crook. The whole while planning, Brett was sitting no less than 5 feet away from me. My eyes burned vengeful holes in the back of his skull. About 20 minutes into my evil designs, an officer poked his head into our block, and called out my bunk number, “15!”
“Report to the warehouse!” He handed me a pink slip; my hall pass for the afternoon.
No sooner did I accept the pink slip then I looked at Brett. Wide-eyed and death stricken, we both knew what this was about: They were calling me up to rewind the tapes. Finally, some cooperation!
When I arrived at the warehouse I was disappointed to find out that I wasn’t up there to view the tapes from this morning, but was up there to get a couple of books that Mom sent me. Brett didn’t know that though. How could I use this to my advantage?!
My whole walk back to the block was spent in contemplating my next move. Before I entered the block I paused at the window just outside. It had a perfect view of Brett. I could see him, but he could not see me. I have not seen a guiltier person in my entire life. I know he was high on drugs like he always was, Siboxin or something like that. It didn’t help his appearance any: constantly looking around, always picking at his chin and neck hairs. The guy was an absolute mess and I can only imagine what was going on in his head. He thought he was done for.
Because I knew he heard me chanting that morning, “I’ve got him! I’ve got him!” while I ran around everywhere. He thought what I thought – that I was called to the warehouse to view the tapes. He truly looked sick. It was in this moment, peering at this brother of mine, that I felt an overwhelming sense of pity. As soon as the feeling washed over me, a Scripture came into my mind, clear as day.
The reason this was so profound is because I honestly believe I have the memory of a goldfish. I can’t memorize Scriptures to save my life.
There was no mistaking the words of the verse played over and over in my head. I later had to check the Book of Mormon to see if it was actually a Scripture verse and not just words in my head, that’s how crazy it was that these verses popped into my head:
13 O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.
14 Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
15 For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all. (Alma 41:13-15)
There is so much powerful doctrine here about the law of restoration. Like all other laws of God, it is designed to be so plain and simple. In a modernized version of Alma’s words to his son, “what you give, you get.”
What I do to Brett is going to be done to me. Yet, wasn’t I just a few short months ago in the courtroom crying for mercy? “How could you be so blind Lindon?”
I began to think of Christ’s parable about the king who forgave his servant 1000 talents. But then that same servant went to a servant of his that owed him a small fraction of what he owed his king and CAST HIM INTO PRISON. He then was cast into prison himself. (Matthew 18:23-35)
Then the Saviors sermon on the Mount, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt 5:39), and Matt 6:15 and finally Matt 18:21-22. I was being chastised not a few stripes.
Jesus Christ’s teachings are replete with this same thing: forgive, and if you forgive, you will be forgiven. It is the only way to allow the Atonement to operate in our lives. And oh, do I need the Atonement!
In the course of a matter of seconds, I was made into a new creature. It was almost an out of body experience as I watch myself do something I would never have the courage to do otherwise. I walked into the dorm and went straight for my spare key. I held it in my now sweaty palm and walked straight into where Brett was sitting. My heart was beating faster than hummingbird’s wings. When I stood right next to him he looked up at me, then down at my outstretched hand. “Here.” I said.
“What’s this?” He looked so confused.
“My spare key.”
“Uh… Okay? What about it?” I held the key up even closer to him.
“I want you to have it. In case you ever need anything I want you to know you will always be welcome to go into my locker.” This is where his look of confusion turned into downright defense mode.
“This has something to do with what happened this morning, doesn’t it? You know what, I’ve been hearing that you’ve been telling people I did it. You better watch yourself or might get a better mind to get some of my homeboys to take care of this. Get out of my face!” Well, that escalated quickly.
“Look, this has nothing to do with that. I really want you to have this. I want you to know I’m here for you. Seriously, if you need anything, let me know. Please take it.”
“Man, I get 40 clicks every week and have a hundred stamps I owe someone tomorrow you think I need your help? I’m a teach you a little thing about prison since I know you’re new here. Don’t be talking about stuff you don’t know nothing about. Or you might find yourself backed in a corner.” He was standing up now at this point. I did the only thing I could think of, “This really has nothing to do with what happened this morning. This is just me, “lookin’ out.” I’m going to leave this key right here, it’s yours. You do with it what you want. I didn’t mean to offend you, bro.”
I left the key on the table next to his seat and walked off – straight to my locker, or as I like to call it “my corner pocket” where I can go to pray in somewhat solitude.
I felt the tears coming. I was never good at confrontation and what I thought would be so very merciful and charitable thing to do blew up in my face. I did not want these guys to see how vulnerable I was. No sooner had I opened my locker to kneel down to pray that I hear my name called “Hey, Claridge.” I looked up, it was Brett. Oh no, I stand up quickly and look out from my corner pocket to the rest of the block.
We were the only two people in this sleeping area. He has me cornered, just like he said. I got an awkward stance ready to expect a brawl. I’ve never been in one before, but I suspect I could hold my own. He just looked at me. Finally he opened his mouth, “I don’t need this.” And threw my key on my bunk, “But thanks, my people take care of me.” Then he walked away.
I just leaned back against the wall, letting the biggest sigh of relief out. He just said thank you to me. Did I hear that right?!
Christ’s ways are tried and true. They are difficult, maybe even the most difficult but the fruit reaped is perfection itself. I’m out $50, which is like $500 in prison, of my parent’s money. Because of my own slack, my life was threatened. The outcome of this whole situation was worth one million of those hardships. There was a mighty change in both mine and Brett’s heart.
The past couple days after this little escapade I could just sense the guilt building up inside of Brett. I feel that I was somehow introduced to his thoughts, just by the way he acted, and the expression on his face. “How can I lose this much control to drugs, where I have to steal from a guy like that. I took $50 from him and his family and he was still willing to give me the shirt off his back. What have I done?!”
Mercy was a greater punishment than any amount of justice. But because of mercy, both parties progressed, instead of both being damaged.
This is probably the most intense lesson of mercy I have witnessed. I wasn’t merciful in hopes of obtaining mercy for myself. No, I was merciful because I now see how I can turn my situation into a win-win-win. It is interesting, after this experience, it put a lot of things into perspective. I’ve never taken a liking to bragging, but I will say this: to be offended is a choice. To be wronged is a choice. To not forgive is a choice.
Because of these truths I now know in choosing to give out the same thing I hope to gain. I now have a certain immunity to taking offense. I am literally seeking for opportunities to do the hard thing and give mercy when I am completely justified to do otherwise.
Have you ever wanted to play God for a day? Well, show mercy to the next person that does not deserve it and see the amazing masterpiece that is created in the rubble of all the so-called shattered pieces. I dare say it again and repeat myself: it is the only way to access the Atonement.
The changes in myself were the more striking surprises. I had no idea the outcome would be so grand. The experience was almost like a crucible into manhood. This was a very defining moment because the Atonement literally entered in and everything it touched became instantly healed. All the pain and anger was swept away. In its place came tolerance and patience, charity and love.
To my own astonishment, because of this event I no longer had a desire to hoard or gather as much of this world as I could. My own mercy changed me. It was my own to take more care of the more important things in my possession, like my ID card that had access to money that mostly wasn’t mine. In effect, though, the rest of my nonsensical belongings were either discarded due to the loss of desire to hold onto them any longer, and I opened my locker to the public – I no longer even lock my locker. What?! Yeah, I know, crazy! The only things I now keep are letters, books, Scriptures and copies of the Ensign. I have let everyone know that if they need any of that stuff, my locker is always open. Gratefully, I have already caught a number of guys perusing my locker library.
A complete change of heart! I love it! I’ve simplified to a level that I now only rely on the Lord for my happiness. There is no room for contention, rejection, being offended, or being judgmental. My life is now a complete open book. I am Christ’s, and that is all that matters.
The cost it takes to learn all this was worth it. As every day passes by I am gaining an abundance of love for my PrisonTemple. I want to extend to you all what it is I say on a daily basis to my brothers in here, “I don’t have much, but what I do have. I will gladly give it to you. Whatever it is you need.”
Charity, I am learning is more than just substance, though. Make the decision now to be charitable to all men by becoming the unoffendable; the person to conquer passion and seek for truth rather than conquer truth and seek for passion. Let the Atonement restore you to who you were created for. I pray that you all will be merciful in your PrisonTemple. For then, and only then, you shall obtain mercy in your PrisonTemple (Matt. 5:7). You need it, we all do.
I just realized that I have a bad habit of leaving stories go unfinished. I very much do apologize for that. There are a couple of reasons why. One, my stories get so dang long as it is, and the last thing I want to do is bore a reader. Though I guess I came this far, might as well finish it, right? Also, too, most of these stories haven’t even finished yet. They are ongoing, and I am even now, still dealing with them, and learning from them. And three, personally I’d rather talk about the gospel than my life. They really are one in the same, but I admittedly get too lazy to finish a story. After all, I’ve got to have a reason for you to come back and read my future posts!
I will try to do better, that is my promise to you all.
Thus. I will try to tie up loose ends for you about Brett. Funny story, actually. He did have what I call a recalled major change of heart. He never admitted he stole from me, though he stopped doing drugs cold turkey. For no reason he says. Hmmm?
Also, he’s the only person at the camp that calls me by my last name whenever I see him. How he found that out, I don’t know (It’s on my ID card, though. Another hmmmm?). He worked in the kitchen with me, but on New Year’s Eve he got caught trying to steal a huge trash bag full of jelly, out to the block. It was quite hysterical. At first I was completely confused as to what a person would do with that much jelly. I asked a friend and he just looked at me like I was stupid. He told me probably that he wanted it to make “hoochie.” I then asked him what “hoochie” was. Again, the same look, “It’s prison booze, dude!”
“Ah, makes sense. It being New Year’s Eve and all.”
I tell you, I learn something new every day. Brett got fired and is no longer in my dorm. I don’t see him much, but when I do, I still hear that same weird southern twang, “Claridge!” in passing.
Also a friend wrote me recently and asked me what ever happened to the bullies that envied my white shoes in the post “We Are But Dust and Shadow.” I actually take a little pride in the solution to that issue. It rained that night, so when I went running that next morning I purposely ran through every puddle and muddy spot, out in the yard. I never heard a word about it since. 🙂
Lindon wrote me an aside that I feel I should share with you:
“This was a difficult post for me to entirely grasp its spiritual aspects. I didn’t really know how to to word my thoughts. It was such a powerful experience that changed me in numerous ways. It’s like trying to describe how the Atonement works. I don’t know, I just know I’m a happier person. Anyway, I tried my best. I don’t speak the gospel as well as I’d like, I just know how to feel it.”
I don’t know about you, but I believe he humbly and powerfully taught us about mercy and charity in this post.