I have an important task before me and I come to you for help. Since You are the One who orchestrated the situation in the first place, asking You for help dealing with the situation as it prepares to change seems appropriate. Although I am learning to come to You first in ALL things, I do so now with extremely acute sensitivity to what You will guide my heart to do.
The judge who sentenced me recommended Butner, N.C. as my destination, but You saw things differently. You placed me in Oakdale because You had important things You wanted me to learn, and special people You wanted me to meet and learn from them.
There were four men in particular who were placed into my life here to help You shape me into a human being who can hold his head up high; who can speak openly and with enthusiasm about his love for You; who can freely discuss the issues causing his incarceration with the intent of helping others; and who can state with confidence the direction the rest of his life will take. You used the five of us, broken men all, to act as mirrors for each other that we may see ourselves in a new light, and from a different angle. You helped us work on what we saw until we could clearly see YOU looking back at us, reflected in ourselves.
Three of those individuals have left Oakdale FCI already.
Alan Steen was the first to leave. His case was overturned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Alan has returned to his wife and other family members in west Texas. Alan was the first to help me understand that following You was never going to be easy, but the rewards would be great and would be well worth the effort. He was the first, besides You and I, to know there was a book inside me called “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, and he was the first to assure me that, with Your help, I would find the way to get it out. It is out, Alan, and for that, and many other reasons, I love you, my friend.
The second to leave was Rob from Virginia. I have never used his last name and there are reasons for that which do not need to be addressed here. They are his, and they all have to do with the tremendous services he performed for this country while in the Navy. Rob was the only one who lived in the same housing unit as I did, and we would meet a couple of times a week in my cell for one or two hours of the most amazing discussions about You, family, the things that brought us together, and ways of reaching beyond where we were when we came in here in order to become better men. Rob is back in Virginia finishing his sentence, but he is very close to home and he is in a Christian lifestyle program which I am certain is greatly enhanced by his presence. Robert, I love you, too, and I am happy you are close to your family now. I know you are all incredibly close and that speaks volumes about your character.
The third to leave did not go home either, but he is now in California, closer to HIS loved ones, and in an environment which seems to make him happy. This makes ME happy, because I love Steve Marshall, too, and when I leave here knowing he still has a couple of years to go, at least I will take with me the knowledge he is in a place better equipped to provide him with peace and some modicum of happiness. Steve is a man of incredible character in spite of the reasons he is incarcerated. He left here several months ago, but not before helping me to understand more about the art of writing (not that I have actually gotten better at it, but I do understand it…ha!). He also taught me about the ability of men to rise above others simply by being principled and honest. Our conversations were long and always insightful. He is an articulate, eloquent, deeply sensitive man with a lot to offer this world. He added a touch of dignity and class to our Toastmaster’s club and his presence and contributions are sorely missed. I consider Steve to be a lifelong friend, regardless of the fact we will likely never meet again.
This brings us to the fourth, and final individual and the important task I referenced when I began this letter to You, Lord. Richard Roy left Oakdale yesterday, and I ask You now to help me find the right words to convey exactly how important this man has been in my life. Richard is unique to our little ‘group’ in that he was the only one who was always close to home. As he was from Baton Rouge it was possible for him to have regular visits with his wife, daughters, mother, father, and other family members. I met Alan first, but Richard was in Alan’s housing unit and it was actually through Alan I met him.
Lord, I know in my heart this entire experience has been orchestrated by You from the beginning. Some of those reading these words may find my next statement quite odd, but by placing me in the middle of nowhere; by surrounding me with the men You did; and by paying attention to the tiniest of details, You have made this an unbelievably perfect prison experience. Add Diane Woodall to this Band of Broken Brothers and the result is simply astounding. There will be those who will be certain I have gone stark raving mad, but I stand by those words. We are all better people for the relationships YOU engineered. We all took FROM one another, and we all gave TO one another. This entire event could only have happened at Your direction and those who would laugh the entire thing off as coincidence simply do NOT know YOU!
I thank you, Lord, for the gift of each of these men. In particular, I humbly thank you for the gift of Richard Roy. Not too long ago, I wrote about how you had blessed me when you placed Diane Woodall in my life. I wrote that she had become the best friend I have ever had. I meant that with all of my heart, but she is going to have to share that distinction with Richard, and I doubt she will mind. The relationship with these two people is a miniscule example of the mind-boggling power You possess. It is proof of Your ability to love us in spite of ourselves, and give us exactly what we need, provided we have the sense to ask You to do that for us.
I listed a variety of functions Diane performed as the ‘cost’ of being a friend of mine. Richard’s list is long as well, and includes pushing me, prodding me, encouraging me, advising me, editing me, and critiquing me (I didn’t always handle that well, did I, my friend?). Richard talked to me about You, and he listened to me as I tested the waters of becoming bolder in the way I spoke about You. We shared tears of joy and tears of sorrow. We laughed and dreamed, and we shared fears, hopes, and deeply personal thoughts.
Contrary to what society as a whole may think, be told, or be led to believe, there are some great men residing in this nation’s prisons. While I certainly do not place myself in that category, I am humbly grateful to You, Lord, for enabling me to meet, and learn, from four of them. This country will probably shy away from the stain this experience will leave on their lives, but you and I know that is a tragedy in itself, because each and every one of them has tremendous value to offer. Rising above them all is Richard Roy. His voice should be heard for many reasons after he leaves here, and I pray You will use him to reach out and help others. There will be those who will scoff at the notion that people who have spent time in prison, particularly for ‘our’ crimes, can ever be viewed as ‘great’ men or used to achieve any purpose beneficial to society as a whole. To those who would consider themselves in that category, I will offer some startling examples of how You have done exactly that in the past.
Moses was a murderer, yet he led the Israelites out of Egypt. Why did You use him? Because You are God and You saw what others could not see.
King David coveted another’s wife and orchestrated the death of her husband so he could claim her as his own, yet You used him to become the greatest king the Israelites ever knew. He also taught the world how to rely upon You and praise You through the many Psalms he authored, and Jesus Christ was born of a woman married to a man who was a direct descendant of his. Why did You use this once greatly flawed man? Because You are God and You saw what others could not see.
You did the same thing with Jacob, who was a deceiver; Rahab, who was a prostitute; Paul, who persecuted Christians; and Matthew, who was a corrupt tax collector. These flawed individuals, and many more throughout history, have been used by You for great purposes because You are God and You saw what others could not see.
The world is missing out if it discounts Your ability to help once-broken men and women rise above their brokenness and emerge prepared to offer great things to the world. Richard Roy is a superb example of the work You can do in a person’s heart. His family and friends are not getting back someone they should be ashamed of. He is being returned to them as a man who has been greatly blessed by You; as a man who has found favor with You; a man You intend to use in other ways now that he has done all he can do for me. Richard, I love you. Thank you for giving of yourself so generously. I know I can be quite difficult. You gave me your friendship and it is a great gift! WE DID NOT WASTE OUR MISTAKES!
We may be the Disbanded Broken Brothers, but as Your children, Lord, we are brothers all. I have seen Your power at work in the human spirit and it is awesome. I thank You, Lord, for Alan, Rob, Steve, and Richard. I am thankful BEYOND words that You have returned Richard to his family!
I requested your help and you provided it, as You always do. Thank you for the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who died so that men like us can find new hope, new life, and an eternity in Your presence.