(A Note From Tony: As I read this, I made a couple of comments to clarify things Diane said. The words in red are mine, not hers.)
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Corrie Ten Boom
Who would have ever thought a word that has always frightened me would bring so much comfort on a Wednesday at 5:31 PM?
One week and one day since I last spoke to Chris. The phone rang. The caller ID displayed “Unknown”. I started shaking. I knew. I answered and got a recording that this was a pre-paid call from a federal prison. Hang up to deny the call or press 5 to accept the call.
I pressed 5.
His voice. I immediately started crying. Eight days is a very long time to not talk to your husband when you used to talk on the phone multiple times a day. There are no words to describe the relief I felt all through my body when I heard his voice say, “Hi Baby, why are you crying?” It was him, really him, not a shell of him, not a void, hollow voice of a broken man. It was him and he was ok. In his words he was “good”. I called him a liar (jokingly) and he said “No, really I am good. I am ok”.
I think at this point I was crying so much I could hardly talk, I had to compose myself.
All the prayers I had said, all the talking to God I did in the last 8 days came flooding back as prayers answered. He was ok, he wasn’t broken. He has been reading his Bible and found comfort there. He said he had written about some some ‘amazing stuff’ he had read in the letters he has written me but wouldn’t tell me about it. I have to read it for myself he said.
He has been praying a lot. His faith is strong. Praise God. Thank you Jesus for holding him tight, not letting him go and not letting him stray from you.
He sounded good. Chris is by nature an optimistic, happy, positive person. For that reason it is almost impossible for him to hide when he is down and depressed. His voice tells his feelings no matter how hard he tries to hide them, especially to me. To hear him sound so good was like a 1000 lb. weight being lifted from my shoulders. I know there will be many days on this journey that he will not sound good and he will be down, but I am beyond thankful that the first phone call from “unknown” wasn’t that way.
We talked for 13 minutes and 2 seconds. They were the most wonderful 13 minutes and 2 seconds of the last 8 days for me. I was relieved and it felt like I could breathe just a little more than before.
His time in the S.H.U. obviously wasn’t great, but he said it wasn’t that bad. Oddly, another man that self-surrendered on the same day Chris did was from Memphis, TN also and was in the cell with him in the SHU, so he had someone in there with him for those 8 days that he had could have conversations with about common-ground things. Memphis has no lack of drama so I am sure they filled the days just fine talking about what a mess the city they left is. He received all the letters I have been sending and wrote me every day even though he couldn’t mail anything because he didn’t have stamps. I can’t wait to get those letters to see how he was feeling during those 8 days.
One of my biggest concerns was about him eating and he said the food isn’t bad. Of course it’s not my home-made fried chicken, but he is eating and has plenty. There are people in THIS country that can’t say that on a daily basis so I am grateful. If you think about it, prison life in this country is a better life than millions of people around the world have on a daily basis. There is shelter, food, clean clothes, and it’s a reasonably safe environment (at least where he is). However, that’s a topic for another time and probably not on this blog. (That is a perfect topic for this blog, Diane. Feel free to bring it up anytime.)
By the time he called I believe he had been in the “Vernon” housing unit for an hour or two. He had already met his cell mates, I think they call them “cellies” but I am unsure. (True.) He is in a unit that are 6 man cells. For the first few days I had been praying for him to be put in Allen Unit (That is where I was, and that was my suggestion), but then my prayer changed and I just prayed that God would put him in the best place for him to carry out God’s will and plan (Of course, that was a much better plan.). Chris said all of the men he had met except one were very “cool” with him. He thinks the one that wasn’t was just upset because he would be bunking above him and he doesn’t really like people to bunk above him. As I understand it, at least one of them in his cell is an ‘SO’ also and from what I hear they stick together a bit. I don’t know, I could be wrong. They had already been showing him the ropes, whatever ropes those may be in prison.
I am just thankful he found some people who were kind and not mean. Actually, he said he hadn’t encountered anyone mean. He could just be telling me that so I don’t worry, but it’s likely true. (It most likely is. It had become a friendlier place by the time I left.) It’s very hard for anyone to be mean to Chris, he is just a very likable, nice guy. I worry that will be a detriment to him while in prison and make him an easy target for people to try to take advantage of him. Time will tell, it will remain on my prayer list for a while.
Believe it or not, you can actually cover a lot of ground in 13 minutes and 2 seconds. He called me as he was about to go out to the rec yard to watch an inmate softball game. I thought it was odd that they have softball games there, but it’s cool at the same time. I can only imagine how having interaction with other humans and being able to go out in the sun after 8 days felt for him. I’m sure he enjoyed every minute of it. Another point of worry for me is that in order for him to go to the rec yard he had to have tennis shoes and he only has the boots he was issued. He hasn’t been able to go to the commissary yet so I was confused. He said that one of the guys in his cell let him borrow a pair of shoes. The red flags and sirens that went off in my head were deafening. We have been told SO many times by SO many people that you don’t take help from other inmates. The quickest way to get in a mess in jail is by owing people, and nothing is ever free. People don’t do nice things just to do nice things. I reminded him of this, but really that is all I can do. I can’t control it, I can’t change it and worrying about it isn’t going to do me a bit of good. I just hope he made a good judgement call on that. I will pray about that too for a few days. (While this is true in many instances, once you have been ‘assigned’ to a particular ‘group’, people within that group will provide you with items like shoes to help you get started. It is generally those outside your group who present a problem. There are actually quite a few who simply know the things you are feeling when first entering and reach out to make you feel more comfortable.)
It was about time to wrap up the conversation, I kept telling that I loved him so much at random times because I know that the phones cut off when you reach your 15 minutes without warning and I wanted to make sure I told him and we didn’t get cut off before I could. THAT was important to me, for him to hear me say that I loved him. There was times before going to prison in which he had a lot of doubts as to whether I would still love him after he went in or if it would be too hard. I needed him to know that it isnt’ going to be too hard for me. I needed him to hear me say that I loved him more yesterday than the day I dropped him off. Every day it’s more because every day Jesus is working on my heart and my marriage even though we are apart.
We said our good-byes and I love you’s and he hung up. I cried through the entire phone call, it’s good that he is stronger than me because his voice only cracked once or twice, and then at the very end. I cried for a good 10 minutes after the phone call. A good cry, a thankful cry. I just kept thanking Jesus for everything. Thanking him that he was ok, that he was eating, that he wasn’t broken, that he sounded so good, that he has been shown some kindness, that he has found comfort in his Bible….I just kept saying thank you.
He called me this morning, twice, for 3 minutes each. He was also able to call his mom today. I get the feeling he is a bit bored today because most everyone is at their assigned jobs and he hasn’t been assigned one. He doesn’t have to be so careful in spreading out his 300 minutes this month because he gets new minutes on the 7th of each month and it’s already the 14th. So he can call a bit more this first month which will be good for everyone while we all transition. At least I think it will be good. It could be bad in the end when next month has to be different.
Our journey will not be easy but it will without a doubt not be as hard as some prison wives’ journeys have been and my heart breaks for them. I will be able to visit my husband fairly regularly (every 4-6 weeks) and we will be able to afford phone calls more than once or twice a week. At least at this present time those things will be able to happen. I am grateful for that, very grateful for that indeed.
I have much greater sense of peace and calm today. I also have a very real feeling of exhaustion, the kind that when you stand up your legs almost collapse under you. After a long stretch of high anxiety and stress like my last week has been, sometimes once you get a break it seems like your whole being just needs to take a deep breath, if that makes any sense.
So today I have a great peace in my heart and I am beyond thankful, but so very worn.
I do believe the word that used to frighten me will probably become my most favorite word to see on the caller ID in the next 8 years.
I’m learning every day that ‘unknown’ isn’t so scary after all, especially since I know that God is already there and nothing is ‘unknown’ to him.
I love the song “You’re Already There” by Casting Crowns, the lyrics are so comforting:
When I’m lost in the mystery, to You my future is a memory cause You’re already there; You’re already there standing at the end of my life, waiting on the other side; You’re already there, You’re already there. Amen!
Another Annoying Note From Tony: I have put together a little map to help everyone visualize the ‘compound’ a little better. Hope it helps. 🙂