The Gift ~ Repost from December 2011 By Tony Casson

As you all exchange gifts this year with those you love, take time to remember the greatest gift that was ever given. The gift that God gave to all of those He loved – the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In a booklet I read recently from RBC Ministries entitled “The Amazing Names of the Messiah”, I discovered the following: “We often have a low view of the miraculous, and therefore a limited sense of wonder.”

I look back on when my son was just an infant. The memory of him lying on top of me, barely filling the space between my chin and my waist; the scent of his hair; the movement of his perfect, tiny fingers; the beating of his little heart – all of these things come flooding back to my consciousness today and fill me with a sense of wonder, and an appreciation of the miracle of life itself.

Could I give you that miracle as an expression of my love? No – I think I’ll keep him for myself.

But then – I am not God.

I am, however, profoundly and humbly thankful and appreciative for the gift given to us all, so long ago. In the chaos and confusion as you race to the malls for those last minute gifts for those YOU love, take just a few seconds to look up and say, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you very much.”

Merry Christmas




Dear Mom,

It has been some time since I last wrote you. For this I apologize, but letters to you are not simple things. Bringing you to the forefront of my thoughts like this always carries with it a certain amount of personal discomfort that must be dealt with. Even though I do think of you often, the more focused effort of putting pen to paper always causes me to reflect in greater detail on your life, and it is impossible for me to do that without also considering the pain and suffering I contributed TO that life.

I am certain you are overjoyed to see the person God has shown me I am capable of being begin to emerge. My knowledge of the depth of love you had for your children and your capacity for kindness to every single person you ever met easily overcomes any misguided fear I might have that you would harbor any ill-will or resentment toward me for the way I lived my life or for the sleepless nights, heartache, and tears I caused you to suffer. Still, I am uncomfortable writing letters to you on a small metal desk in a cold, unfriendly cell, located in a prison where I was placed for a crime that should never have occurred in the first place.

Had I thought about you in the past as much as I do now, and in the same manner, I would never have allowed myself to stop caring about the condition of my soul to the degree I did. Had I thought of you more, I would have seen that your ability to love and to smile came from your relationship with God. I would have been able to reason that your unselfish, kind and compassionate attitude also came from Him, and perhaps I would have looked to God long ago and avoided that final turn onto the road which almost led me to self-destruction.

Be that as it may, I know these things now, Mom, and I just want to say, “Thank you.” You see, I have also come to understand that God did exactly as you had prayed for Him to do for so many years, although perhaps not in the time-frame you might have preferred. His reasons for waiting until I was almost drained of life before He opened my eyes and allowed me to see what I needed to do in order to receive His help are very clear to me now. God wanted me to arrive at the point where I completely and totally hated the evil I had allowed to control my life. He waited for me to become that which I needed to learn to despise. When I struck out at myself in rage, He allowed me to come very close to achieving my objective of killing the one person who was causing me so much pain before He let me see those precious words that brought Him to my rescue: “God, please forgive me.” In His infinite wisdom, He knew I needed to see for myself how quickly He comes to those who call Him in order that I would know it was HE who saved me. Once I gave up on myself and put my Hope in Him, He knew I would then change the course of my life and decide to live to show others that THEIR Hope lies in Him as well.

So again, I say, “Thank you. Thank you for your prayers on my behalf, and for never giving up Hope.”

The One who gave you the ability to give ME my life, stood by and suffered great pain watching me struggle with myself. How it must have hurt Him as He watched me try desperately to kill the evil within myself. I believe you stood with Him at that lowest point in my life here on earth, tearfully crying to Him, “Father, save my son! Please, save my son!”

In spite of His own great personal pain, He would have placed His arms around you and quietly said, “Be patient, my child, his suffering is almost over.” Despite that reassurance from God Himself, I can only imagine the panic you must have felt as you watched me slipping closer and closer to death. You knew we would never see each other again unless I gave up and finally opened my mouth to ask God for His help. You knew that unless I asked for His forgiveness, I would be lost for all of eternity to the evil I had allowed to consume me, and which I was trying to eliminate by killing myself.

They say the pain of childbirth is indescribably, excruciatingly, blindingly intense, but how much more so the pain must be to watch a child who is about to pass through the gates of Hell. I cannot help but think of Ryan Loskarn’s parents and the pain they must live with on a daily basis following his suicide.* Those of us who attempt it or who succeed at ending our lives are not selfish, contrary to what many people think and despite the fact we are definitely not thinking of others at that moment. Those who would disagree fail to grasp the obvious: We are not thinking of ourselves either. We are simply trying to kill the pain that we have allowed to consume us by not turning to God for the comfort and strength we need to overcome that pain.

Having been fortunate enough to have been saved from myself by God, Ryan’s death brought home to me the truth of the devastating blow that would have been dealt to those I would have left behind. Even though we can grow to hate something we have allowed to grow within us, there are those who love us in spite of those things who deserve the opportunity to help us: Our Mothers and Fathers; our children; our siblings and our friends. Foremost among those who love us and wants to help us is God. I shudder to think of how my own story almost ended. I am so very, very grateful to God for saving me, and I pray that He provides some form of comfort to those who witnessed the tragic ending to Ryan’s story and will live the rest of their lives with those things they loved about him absent from their lives.

Are children worth all the trouble they cause, Mom?  Are we really worth the tears, the pain, the frustration, and the worry? Can we ever make up for the sleepless nights we have caused? For the anger our actions give rise to? Can we possibly make up for the things we have said and done in the thoughtlessness of our youth? Are we worth the pain we inflict on those around us when we act in self-destructive ways, foolishly thinking our lives are the only ones affected by our actions?

God thinks so, and I know you always did too, Mom. You would never even consider giving up on one of your children; not for a moment would you withdraw what you could always give to each one in equal measure: Your love, and your prayers. And that love and those prayers paid off, don’t you think? After all, hasn’t our great God done some pretty amazing work within the heart and mind of THIS child? For four years**, He has patiently directed, guided, corrected, counseled, consoled, taught, loved, and inspired me. For four years, He has helped me to find self-forgiveness for allowing myself to become someone I did not know and could not love. For four years He has shown me I can help myself by reaching out to others to try to help THEM. For four years He has pointed me in the direction He has wanted me to go, and for four years He has said to me, “THIS is who I want you to be!”

And now, after those four years, I am prepared to leave this place. After those four years, I am eager to show the world what God will lovingly do for us when we give Him our lives: He gives them back to us. He makes us NEW.

God HAS given me my life back, Mom. In gratefully accepting it from Him, I have looked to Him and said, “I want to live it for you, but I need you to show me how.” In response, He has shown me He has a plan for me. It is a plan for a future full of Hope. It is a plan of service to Him by doing something I was never capable of doing before: Looking out for other people. I am eager to leave this place and continue to work for the future God has planned for me. I say ‘continue’ to work on the plan, because I have been working on God’s plan for the future since the day I walked through the doors that locked behind me 4 years ago.

Soon I will be rejoining the society I was removed from as a result of my actions. Soon I will walk amongst ‘decent’ people, many of whom will shy away from me when they learn of my past. While trying to move forward, there will always be those who will want to point behind me and ask, “How could you?”

How could I? A fair question, indeed.

Recently, I was asked that question by someone you know, Mom, and since there are others who seek to make sense of the senseless, I have decided to respond to that request here.

There are two parts to the answer. The first is quite complex and is one I addressed in an article posted in these pages on April 18, 2013. That article was titled ‘unspoken‘, and it contained a ‘speech’ that I would give to young people of high school age, if I were allowed to do so. In that ‘speech’, I did my best to retrace the footsteps which brought me to this prison. The first of those footsteps was taken when I was quite young. After reading the rest of this article, I urge those who have not done so to go back and take the time to read ‘unspoken’.

I will offer the second part of my answer knowing ahead of time that there will be many who will not be satisfied with the answer’s simplicity. I will pray people will consider what I say not only in the context of the possession of child pornography charge which brought me to this place I am about to leave, but in the much larger context of the problems which exist in all of our lives, and in the world as a whole.

I have learned, Mom, that we become capable of behavior that is beneath us as children of God when we fail to follow the lessons taught by Jesus Christ. These lessons are quite simple and can be found in the Holy Bible, of course. Granted, the Bible itself appears to be a very complex book. Indeed, there is a tremendous amount of complexity available to keep thousands upon thousands of theologians and biblical scholars busy, but for the rest of us, the Bible can be viewed in a very simple manner: It is a journey taking us from the perfect beginning of the world, to the perfection of its end. Along the way, we are made privy to those places where mankind has failed. We are shown how we have failed God; how we have failed each other; and we are shown how God offered us salvation by sending His only begotten Son to die on the cross for us and wash away our sins with His blood. The death of Jesus gave us all Hope for a perfect ending to our lives here on earth, but it was Christ’s LIFE that demonstrated how we are to act while we are alive.

The Pharisees were one of two major religious groups during the time of Christ. While they did believe in the resurrection of the body and eternal life, they disregarded God’s message of grace and mercy while believing that salvation came through observance to the law and NOT through the forgiveness of sin. The message Christ brought with Him contradicted the Pharisees, so they set out to discredit Him in any way they could because they did not believe – or did not WANT to believe – He was the long-awaited Messiah.  Obedience to God IS important, as Jesus teaches us time and time again. One such time was when the Pharisees tried to trap Him by asking what the most important commandment was in the Law of Moses. Christ’s answer to the Pharisees forms the basis for my answer to the question, “How could you?”

“Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all of the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.'” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT)

So here is the answer:

When we love God in the manner described by Jesus Christ, we discover the ability to love ourselves, thereby allowing us to love those around us. When we love God, ourselves, and those around us, we are too busy thinking about others in positive ways to ever consider hurting them, or ourselves, in any of the many ways we do when that love is absent.

See, Mom? I told you it was simple.

But how many will actually allow themselves to see the truth residing in that simplicity? Obviously, there is more to the stories of our lives than that, but the reason those stories develop in the complex manner they do begins when God is absent from our lives in the first place. Those who need the whole complicated, detailed story can read the article I mentioned earlier. Actually, I wish everyone WOULD read it, because it demonstrates what happens when we fail to do what Jesus instructed us to do.

The short version is this: I failed to love God, and accept HIS love. Instead, I worshipped the gods of alcohol, drugs, sex, and pornography. Certainly millions of others do the same thing daily, but I offer that fact merely as a very sad commentary on the condition of the world in which we live today. I do not use the behavior of others to make excuses for mine. My own particular failure went an unfortunate and despicable final step beyond what is ‘normal’ and for that I am profoundly sorry. However, had I not taken that FIRST step, I never would have taken the LAST one, and the first step was taken because I didn’t heed the simple instructions of the One who died a horrible death hanging on a cross so I could have free access to God: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind.”

All I can say, Mom, is that something has gone seriously wrong in a society where bad behavior, inappropriateness, immaturity, immorality, self-indulgence and selfishness are proudly displayed in public while the belief in, and love of, God has become something most seem only willing to acknowledge on Sunday, and more out of obligation than any real love FOR God. The one thing we should all hold up for others as the only way to live our lives seems to have become a source of embarrassment for many. We ‘kinda sorta’ want to be seen as believing in God, but not really. We don’t actually want to LIVE the way God wants us to live. Doing that requires too much of a commitment and life today offers too many choices we would NOT be able to make if we made such a commitment to God.

Our government doesn’t help because God is constantly being shoved to the back of the bus in a new twist on segregation in America today. Additionally, the American public seems quite adept at criticizing this nation’s leaders for everything they do except when they provide us with more ways, and more rights, with which to live immoral and indecent lives; lives where our own instant gratification is the goal and easing the pain of those around us is something we are only motivated to do when we can conveniently text a donation after a devastating natural disaster. Indeed, our government actually has become one of the biggest enemies Jesus Christ has ever faced, which is odd for a country founded with religious freedom as one of its cornerstones. For those who are opening their mouths to object, kid yourselves not: the religious freedoms guaranteed in this nation’s Constitution were based more on the way we expressed our belief in Jesus Christ than in our freedom to believe in other gods or nothing at all. This being America, we are all free to believe in what we want to believe, of course, but following the words of Jesus Christ can certainly NOT cause anyone any harm and CAN heal, protect, and propel us to heights of care and concern for others which help to prevent the stories of peoples’ lives from ending in disaster.

It really is just that simple. I’m not sure why we have difficulty accepting simplicity unless it is in the plot lines of the latest reality show. One of the books I read during my time here was written by a professor from Baylor University named Byron Johnson and was titled “More God, Less Crime”. Duh. How much simpler do you want it?

Well, Mom, I think I am about finished here. I have answered the question “How could you?” to the best of my ability. If what has been offered isn’t sufficient, there is little I can do. I have accepted the forgiveness of God, and I have forgiven myself. Additionally, I have paid the price imposed by the justice system of this country. From this point forward, all I can do is try to heed the words of Jesus Christ when he told the woman who had been caught committing adultery, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11 NLT)

Jesus refused to condemn her, and He refuses to condemn me as well. If others choose to condemn me, well, they can explain themselves to God later on. For myself, all I know is God has given me a NEW life, and He shows me daily what to do with it and how to live it. I am proceeding with my eyes on Jesus Christ, and I am very, very grateful.

I love you and I apologize again for not writing sooner. I have some packing to do so I can be ready to leave***. I’ll catch you on the other side, Mom!

No, silly, not in Heaven (at least, not just yet); I meant, on the other side of the prison fence!

May God bless all who have put up with me for these 4 years. The years have meant a lot to me, and I can honestly say I tried to do something positive with them. My prayer is that they meant something to all of you as well. This is NOT the end of these “Chronicles”, by the way. You can’t get rid of me that easily!


(* Ryan Loskarn’s story can be found in earlier articles titled “The Something I Didn’t Do“, and “An Open Letter To The Parents Of Ryan Loskarn“)

(**I self-surrendered on April 1, 2010)

(***I will be released on May 20, 2014)

Please check out the print version of my book, “TODAY IS… A Gift From God” at ( ). The writing of it helped me, and I pray the reading of it can do the same for you. If you have a loved one in prison, please send them a copy. It just might make a difference.


“God blesses those who mourn,
For they will be comforted.”
  Matthew 5:4 NLT

“I dreamt the past was never past redeeming
But whether this was fact or honest dreaming
I beg death’s pardon now. And mourn the dead.”
Richard Wilbur – “THE PARDON”

To all who knew, loved, and will miss Ryan Loskarn;

Most of the world will quickly forget about Ryan Loskarn and move on to other things. You, his family and friends, will not. He will always be with you, and you will always remember him. It is my heartfelt prayer that each one of you remembers what it was about Ryan that touched those soft spots in your hearts. Remember him when he was helping someone; remember him when he was kind, caring, considerate, and compassionate; remember Ryan as a good person because I believe he was, indeed, a good person.

Since I have never met Ryan, how can I possibly know he was a good person? Through prayer, and God’s love.

I have prayed for Ryan, and for all of you, since I first learned of his arrest. While the volume of my tears upon hearing of Ryan’s death, and the intensity with which they were cried, can in no way compare with the tears of all of you, particularly Ryan’s parents, the tears did flow. They still flow when I think about the words he wrote in the letter he left before he pronounced a death sentence upon himself. It was a death sentence I understand all too well, as I pronounced one upon myself when the FBI came to arrest me for similar reasons. Through the grace of God, I survived that brutal assault upon myself, sparing my children and other family members and friends what you are all going through now.

In the words Ryan left behind lie the ability for anyone who has a heart filled with God’s love to see the goodness that was Ryan Loskarn. It should be easy for anyone to discern from those words that they were written by a kind, loving, sensitive individual. It should be as equally easy to picture a man who was ashamed, embarrassed, lost, and confused; not some monster trying to escape the penalty society was about to impose upon him. I believe Ryan was trying to escape himself. He couldn’t have liked that part of him which evil had seduced. He didn’t love himself, so he was unable to see the love others had for him. He couldn’t see the love God had for him. The evil which had seduced him blinded him to the fact that those who truly loved him would have continued to do so. It also blinded him to the fact that his life was not over; it was going to change drastically, but it was not over. The evil that seduced him blinded him to all of that, plus the knowledge that God loved him and could have saved him.

Ryan could only see that his immediate future was in the arena where those who committed the sins he committed are regularly thrown to the lions with little or no regard to who they really are as people, or how they had become so completely and utterly lost. There is no thought given to fixing a problem which drags this nation farther and farther into the sewer on a daily basis, wreaking havoc and scorching the earth behind it. There is nothing resembling intelligent dialogue to address a problem which destroys lives; the lives of those seduced by the evils society allows to enter into our homes unimpeded, as well as the lives of those whose only ‘crime’ was to love them. I am not forgetting those children Ryan so powerfully and emotionally apologized to in his letter. But for the moment, this is not their story because their lives are not the only ones affected in all of this. They deserve better than they are getting from those who claim to be ‘protecting’ them, but more on that later.

Irony sometimes delivers tragic consequences, as evidenced by the fact Ryan’s political savvy likely played a role in his decision to end his life. He knew only too well that the political stages used by many of those seeking public office are built upon a foundation consisting of lives destroyed unnecessarily and with increasing frequency resulting from our policy of pursuit and prosecution rather than prevention. In far too many cases this policy creates the opportunity for evil to seduce those they will later destroy and use as part of the stage upon which they will stand and boldly state “I am protecting America’s children!” Hard to vote against someone who is doing that. But in his heart, Ryan MUST have known all of that was nothing more than political grandstanding; his knowledge of politics and those who played that brutal game assured his awareness of the fact it was all pompous, political puffery designed to garner votes; he suddenly found himself face to face with the fact he had inadvertently contributed to the out-of-control machine which would now label him as a monster. But Ryan Loskarn was a good person, and he knew it. He KNEW the problem was NOT that he was a monster. In his heart, Ryan knew that these same individuals who were clamoring for photo-ops on the backs of tragically destroyed individuals and their families were the ones who allowed the REAL monster into our homes in the first place.

Ryan’s death was preventable and this is what cause MY tears to flow the hardest. If our elected public servants (how many of them actually realize they are there to serve us?) had been serving the needs of America and acting in a truly responsible manner in the PAST, Ryan Loskarn would still have a FUTURE. If the peer-to-peer programs which Ryan mentioned, which deliver so much filth into our nation’s homes, were held responsible for their content or removed from the internet altogether; if Congress was more concerned with saving the lives of this nation’s citizens rather than incarcerating them under the ridiculously and irresponsibly offensive and vulgar banner they fly of “Protecting Our Children”; if America’s citizens would demand that its representatives do their jobs rather than simply do what will get them re-elected, Ryan Loskarn and many, many others would still be alive.

Would Ryan still have problems dues to the abuse he suffered as a child? Of course, but if we can all try to understand that the issues plaguing Ryan were not unique to him; if we can bring ourselves to realize we live in an environment where our government and judicial system regularly stand UP for the rights of those who wish to flood our senses with filth and stand ON the rights of those who wish to promote decency, morality, and -are you ready?- GOD; if we can look at things with solutions in mind and God’s love in our hearts, perhaps we can prevent more families from suffering the loss of someone else’s ‘Ryan’ in such a heartbreakingly tragic and totally unnecessary manner.

God often provides us with opportunities wrapped up in tragedy, sadness, and loss. I know all of you loved Ryan for who he WAS, and could have, and would have, helped him make it through what he DID. Perhaps the tragedy of his death, the loss of his smile in your lives and the sadness of the utter senselessness of the whole situation regarding the events leading up to a young man finding it necessary to take his own life can provide us all with an opportunity to demand an explanation from those who offer nothing but the destruction of American families as a solution to a problem that reaches into more homes in this country than any of them would ever dare to admit. And THAT sad situation exists because Congress will not do what it CAN do to prevent it.

Nothing can bring Ryan back, and I know this. I pray for all of you who loved him and I ask God to help light the way to find the opportunities Ryan’s death can provide which might prevent other parents, friends, and family members from experiencing the pain you are all feeling now.

Ryan Loskarn, may God welcome you home and use you as a beacon of hope for all those similarly afflicted and feeling similar pain. May He show us all more mercy than we deserve, and help this country’s leaders understand the complete and utter futility of doing only that which is politically  expedient as opposed to that which can actually help those they are elected to serve.


“A Few days later this young son packed all his belongings and moved to a
distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.”
Luke  15:13  NLT

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop

The January 30 edition of the Wall Street Journal featured a story displaying the headline, “Lifestyles Of The Rich And Stranded.”

Earlier in that month, unprecedented arctic weather caused thousands of flight cancellations, resulting in the stranding of millions of travelers. Millions of people with plans which needed to be altered or cancelled altogether; visits to loved ones that were delayed; business trips requiring rescheduling, and so on. Life is sometimes inconvenient and most of us understand and accept it.

Not so for the rich. The paper’s story highlighted the ‘plight’ of one Debbie Grazioso and her husband. They were trying to take a JetBlue flight from Florida to New York on January 6 when their flight was cancelled due to inclement weather conditions. They were informed they would have to wait four days for a flight to their destination.

According to the story, twin daughters awaited Ms. Grazioso’s arrival, who was flying there to celebrate their 25th birthday and attend a scheduled party. Missing the flight would mean missing the party, and that was unacceptable to the mother who was able to ‘hitch a ride’ with another family on a seven seat private jet for $9,000. Mom was quoted as saying, “It was well worth it. You can never get a birthday back.”

True, Ms. Grazioso, you can never get them back. Not even the ones where an opportunity to impart a beautiful lesson and example to one’s children is missed. What a beautiful birthday could have been had if the mother had taken a lesson from Madison Roy of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

You remember her: The young lady who quietly went about planning a special birthday while Justin Bieber went about demonstrating his immaturity and disregard for others; the young lady who displayed a generous and humble spirit when she “gave up” her birthday gifts to collect much needed items for the Bishop Ott Center For Women And Children in Baton Rouge; the same young lady who showed the spoiled little rich pr…er….person (I have to stop doing that) who the REAL superstar is; the same young lady who seem genuinely surprised and confused that people would be so touched by her selflessness they would still give her a birthday gift, in addition to the items they brought to donate to the Center.

If only Ms. Grazioso had heard about Madison’s birthday. What a beautiful gift she could have bestowed upon her daughters, herself, Madison, and women and children in need, if she had called her daughters and said, “I can get a flight on a private jet for $9000 and make it to your party……But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I am sending the money to Madison Roy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to buy much needed items for the Bishop Ott Center For Women And Children, and I am giving it in your names. We’ll “Skype” for free during the party and I’ll give you a hug in person as soon as JetBlue gets us a flight.”

Now THAT would have been a birthday WORTH remembering!

While the super-rich and the super spoiled get all of the media coverage for doing nothing more than exhibiting selfishness and bad judgment, Madison Roy shows us all that she is truly a Silent Superstar!

Thanks again, Madison, for teaching us all how to be better children of God.


“And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need.
These are the sacrifices that please God.”
  Hebrews 13:16 NLT

“I expect to pass through this world but once; Any good thing therefore
that I can do, or kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me
do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Proverbial Saying

Last week, as the world was besieged with hours of television news broadcasting devoted to the ‘mesmerizing’ arrest of a spoiled, arrogant, pompous, narcissistic, overblown, self-centered, self-indulgent, pretentious, puffed-up little person named Justin Bieber, who was arrested in Miami for drag racing his Lamborghini and doing it while intoxicated, a young girl in Baton Rouge quietly went about the business of planning her 12th birthday party. My friend Richard’s daughter, Madison, was preparing to have her party at a place called “The Quarters”, which is sort of like a grown-up Chuck-E-Cheese. They have more games and activities for the entire family to enjoy together, including ‘laser tag’.

Let me tell you what makes this particular birthday party deserving of far more air-time than the out-of-control super-rich preschooler. Richard told me that the invitations Madison sent out to her 10 or so invitees contained the following message: “In lieu of gifts for me, please bring something to donate to the ‘Bishop Ott Women And Children’s Shelter’.”

Richard’s wife told Richard she thought she was being “overly optimistic” when she brought 3 large laundry baskets to put the donated items in, but as it turns out they were not close to being enough. There were piles of blankets and one piece outfits for toddlers and babies, baby bottles and diapers and other items.

Are you crying yet? I was, as was Richard as he related the story to me. But wait…there is more: The restaurant staff, upon learning what was happening, quickly banded together to create a special, personalized card for Madison, and when the manager brought it out, he asked who the mother was. After Richard’s wife identified herself, the manager asked, “What planet is your daughter from?” He then presented the card to Madison, and Madison found that her generous, unselfish heart had earned her a month’s worth of unlimited laser tag from the restaurant.

In addition (What, you thought I was done?), some of the invitees not only brought items to donate, they also brought a gift for Madison as well. When Madison related the story to Richard, she complained, saying, “Daddy, they didn’t LISTEN!”

No Madison… they listened. I only wish the rest of the world could hear about your selflessness as well. You are an inspiration to us all. God bless you, young lady, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!


By Tony Casson

“…uphold the rights of the oppressed and destitute.” Psalm 82:3b NLT

“We did not dare to breathe a prayer
Or to give our anguish scope!
Something was dead in each of us
And what was dead was hope.”
Oscar Wilde “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”

            For the typical individual facing freedom after years behind bars, the prospects – while not hopeless – are limited; the challenges are many and intimidating; the obstacles are numerous; and the odds of success seem to be stacked against them. Society looks down on those bad boys and girls who keep the wheels of “justice” turning and have appeared in its newspapers and on its television sets. The public is both titillated and repulsed by the tattooed tough guys and gals who create havoc on shows like “Cops.” They are inclined to think that this is just how some people are and have allowed themselves to be convinced that people who are broken cannot be fixed.

Perhaps to a degree, and for some, that is a true statement. But there is nothing that will guarantee failure as surely as doing nothing. To say that the criminal justice system as it exists today is focused on trying to rehabilitate, educate, restore and reintegrate those who have gone to prison is simply not true. Failing many of our children early in life; creating an industry in human misery where the profits are enormous; feeding that industry through the abject failure of half-hearted or non-existent rehabilitation and education programs; and dealing with those who have been newly re-introduced to society in a heavy-handed, oppressive way all contribute to the failure that is called “criminal justice” in America today.

With so much money at state, it is easy to hide behind the cynical stance of “they don’t want to change.” However, if the American public was aware of how many men and women desperately want to change, they might alter that stance. Unfortunately, these men and women are expected to change but do not have, nor are they given, the education, job skills, life skills, confidence, support and encouragement that are required to bring about those changes. When all that is done is to extend a hand to someone while standing on their chest, we can hardly be surprised at the negative result.

When I was young, we would occasionally engage in a cruel activity (hey, I was young!) called “piling on.” In the course of playing, one person would wind up on the ground and someone would yell “PILE ON!”, whereby all the rest would bury the unfortunate soul at the bottom of a pile of unyielding bodies. I have been that body at the bottom. I have known the suffocating, frightening sensation of being trapped. I have known what it was like to want to get out. But I have also known the helpless feeling of having absolutely no idea how to accomplish that. I struggled, but to no avail. I tried to get out from under the pile but I was dependent on the very people who had me trapped. How, then, was I to regain my freedom?

Now let’s pile on some more: In addition to all of the difficulties and obstacles facing felons that I have laid out for you, a convicted sex offender – regardless of the nature of the offense – has several oppressive, invasive and restrictive conditions that will make any effort at reintegration back into society so extremely difficult as to be almost impossible. For many, these conditions and restrictions create what is tantamount to a life sentence of suspicion and condemnation that very well should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. At the very least, the current methods used to monitor and control registered sex offenders are nothing more than tactics which bully and belittle American citizens and should be a clear violation of the civil rights of these individuals.

There is no denying that when a child is abused and/or killed by a predatory monster, it is a very natural response for all parents to share the pain of those who have lost a part of themselves that can never be replaced. But as I have tried to point out on these pages, the ones least likely to harm any child are the ones who draw the most attention. People are understandably angry, scared, ad confused; publicity-seeking politicians and a sensationalist media make certain of that.

But those who have had no contact with children and have served the time to which they were sentenced are angry, scared and confused as well; a length of time in prison deemed by many professionals as being excessive, reactionary counterintuitive. When these individuals are released, a whole array of separate, suffocating, demeaning and isolating rules and regulations await them. These are in addition to those that face other felons released from prison.

The single most daunting item facing sex offenders newly released from prison is the sex offender registry, on which they are required to be listed in all of our states. The astonishing number of repressive items, including polygraph testing, GPS ankle-bracelet monitoring, living restrictions and a host of other horrors is overwhelming. The subject of the registry is so dense and complex that it cannot be undertaken here and I will address it in a separate article at a later date.

The battles and debates over many of these “protective” rules and regulations rages in courtrooms across the country. But as they continue, those who fall under their purview have to deal with the consequences created by them.

Finding a place to live in increasingly more difficult – almost impossible in some cities. Some people are not allowed to live with their families. Some actually “live” in tents and “visit” their families during the day.

Some states issue driver’s licenses with “sex offender” stamped on them in red; an updated version of the scarlet letter. How does this protect children and what does it accomplish beyond embarrassing and humiliating the one required to produce it?

Sex therapy group sessions required on a weekly basis for years involve standing up at each session and reintroducing yourself as a sex offender, re-stating your offense and then proceeding to re-live your experiences and remain in the past for 60 minutes a week as a constant reminder of what you did, no matter what you have done to redefine who you are and making moving forward difficult at best.

The average person can simply not fathom how permanent and black is the mark on your life when you misplace your morals, your decency, your maturity and your common sense.

When a sex offender applies for a job and discloses his or her offense, that person is looked at by some with open disdain and distaste. An individual’s ability to earn a living and care for him or herself and those they are responsible for is severely hampered by that mistake that cannot be undone no matter how much they want to or how hard they try.

If you can find a place to live and you are unfortunate enough to have children, they will be subjected to uncomfortable stares and barely disguised whispers after your neighbors discover who you are by running to the computer. Once the “flag” pops up, the circumstances and your remorse will not matter. More innocent victims will be created beyond those who have already suffered as this hate directed toward you spills over onto your children unfairly and unkindly.

These statements can be taken as warnings to those who think child pornography and Internet fantasies are a game. A moment in the “privacy” of your home can cost you your freedom and net a lifetime in the public’s disapproving eye. It can, in fact, cost you more than you thought possible and surely more than anyone should be expected to pay. These statements are also a plea for reform and the upholding of the Constitution of the United States.

Will the situation be impossible for those leaving prison? Or course not; at least not for everyone. But for many, the American nightmare will continue long after the closing of prison gates behind them. The real horror and the real shame will only just be starting. For many, the rejection, isolation and harassment they experienced in prison will pale in comparison to life as a “free” citizen of this country.

If two wrongs can never make a right, then the tens of thousands of wrongs being perpetrated against citizens of this country can never be expected to make right what is so very wrong in America today.

The national embarrassment that constitutes post-prison “treatment” and monitoring of sex offenders – particularly those guilty of non-contact Internet crimes – is the most inexcusable abrogation of the basic rights afforded to Americans by our Constitution that we have ever allowed to occur.

More prejudicial, discriminatory and demeaning than the treatment of African Americans under the idiotic banner of “separate but equal”; as judgmental and blatantly anti-American as the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II; and more inflammatory and irresponsible than McCarthyism. In each and every case of those dark events in our nation’s history, America was wrong – and American is wrong now.

As the world watches, we move forward each day, branding those who have already paid the price. These exorbitant prices are demanded by a legislative body driven by political and financial self-interests. They are endorsed by an appellate court system, right on up to the Supreme Court itself, which should know better. They all lack the courage to stand up and say, “As much as we need to protect the children of this country, we must also protect the rights of those who have served the prison sentences demanded by law. We can never allow ourselves to put the seal of approval on the right to exact punishment for crimes that have not yet been committed or that we imagine they might have gotten away with.”

If this is not fixed by Congress or stopped by the Supreme Court, then the unlikelihood of books and films like “1984” and “Minority Report” is upon us – and shame on all of them.

God help this country.

I thank you for your time and attention to this series: AMERICA’S CULTURE OF INCARCERATION.


By Tony Casson 

“My future is in your hands.”  Psalm 31:14 NLT

“The hardest job kids have today is learning good manners without seeing any.”  Fred Astaire

Our children are the future of this country and that future has two faces: the bright, sunny faces of hope and the dark, cloudy faces of despair.

The faces of hope will yield our doctors, teachers, scientists, nurses, technicians, mechanics, farmers, spiritual leaders, inventors, factory workers, butchers, bakers and perhaps even a candle-maker or two. The faces of hope will also yield our lawyers, businessmen, civic leaders, legislators, police officers, judges, military personnel and those few who will rise to the presidency of the United States.

But America’s future will also yield those who will wear the faces of despair. Wearing that face will be the children who grow up to be drug addicts, alcoholics, rapists, murderers, liars, cheats, thieves and those who abuse and prey on the young, the weak and the elderly in all sorts of despicable ways.

Debates rage over the proper way to raise children to protect them from themselves, from bad influences and to help them grow up to be one of those who wear the face of hope. Regardless of the opinions offered, it is generally agreed upon that a two-parent home in which a child is shown love, receives a good education and proper nutrition and is given positive feedback, correction where necessary and opportunities to succeed would be considered a good place to start. In my opinion, adding a love of God and a basic understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ and instilling a desire to serve humanity would also add to the potential to wear the face of hope.

No matter the nature of the “correct” environment, there are no guarantees. Sometimes human beings are simply wired wrong or are more susceptible to addictions or bad influences than others. We can never have all the answers, but we can be sure of this: children who are neglected, beaten, abused or live in poverty – those who receive inadequate nutrition and experience very little in the way of positive examples to follow have a decidedly poor chance of wearing anything but the face of despair. And these are the children of America who are being prepared – with no small measure of forethought by some who lead our country – to spend some portions of their lives in a prison or jail. Those born already wearing the face of despair stand a good chance of becoming fodder for the monster with the insatiable appetite created by “America’s Culture of Incarceration”.

In this, the richest, smartest, strongest and most advanced nation on earth, the only faces of despair should be the exceptional, unforeseeable ones and not those created by poverty, lack of education, neglect and abuse. Every child born in America should wear the face of hope. To allow conditions to exist which deny that face to any child is to say, “We are preparing this child for prison”. The notion that children are knowingly being prepared for prison may sound ludicrous to some, but there is an undeniable link between children born into conditions such as the ones I have stated and a life of criminal behavior that leads to incarceration. I propose that, for many, the American Dream is so far out of their reach at birth that they immediately begin experiencing the American Nightmare.

In a country where the richest 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined, 25,000 school-aged children should not be homeless… in one state. And yet that is the number of homeless children for whom radio station KAJN in Alexandria, Louisiana was trying to help obtain back-to-school backpacks recently. According to the U.S. Education Department, for the first time, the number of homeless students in America topped one million by the end of the 2010-2011 school year. To top it off this count doesn’t include homeless infants, children not enrolled in school and homeless students that schools simply failed to identify. Basically 1 in every 45 children are homeless! I don’t know how you feel, but I know that this is a horrific statistic for this great country and somehow we need to make these numbers go down to zero!

Children with no proper home, without adequate nutrition and without guidance are forced into a system that is designed to help them fail. If anyone disputes this, I will point out what should be obvious: any system that is not designed for complete success may as well be designed specifically for failure. Hundreds of thousands of kids in this country wake up each day convinced that the only things that loom in their future are prison or death. Does it make more sense to incarcerate them later because we failed them now? Does it make more sense to pay for their care behind bars when they are adults than it does to feed, clothe, house and educate them when they are young? Of course not. But the sad truth appears to be that, while it may not make more sense, it definitely makes more dollars later on for this monster that has been created, nurtured and groomed specifically to turn those we have failed as children into profit centers as adults.

According to data from the following is true in America today:

  • 22% of all children live in poverty.
  • 33% have parents who lack secure employment.
  • 68% of all 4th graders are not proficient in reading.
  • 34% live in single parent families.
  • 11% live in high poverty areas.
  • 24% of high school students fail to graduate on time.
  • And just so you know how many children we are talking about, in the 2008-2009 school year there were almost 49 million children enrolled in public schools.

It should be apparent that child welfare and education in this country take a backseat to many other issues. The United States is far from first in providing its children with a quality education and for this, there is no excuse. Claims of inadequate funds are laughable in light of the fact that we always have enough money to inject ourselves into the affairs of other nations; we always have enough money to fight other people’s battles; and we always have enough money to go in and rebuild what we have destroyed doing those two things. And we always have enough money to incarcerate the adults we didn’t have enough money for as children. We cannot find the funds to give every child the face of hope, but we can find the money to deal with them after they put on the face of despair that was avoidably thrust upon many of them. While we cannot find the money to feed, clothe and house at-risk children – and while we are constantly reading about cutbacks in education budgets – lawmakers continue to advocate harsher and more draconian prison sentences in the nation that has the longest prison sentences in the world along with the most people serving them.

In every instance where more money has been spent on education, the results have been positive: higher graduation levels; higher percentage go on to college. In Washington, D.C., KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Charter Schools differentiate themselves from public schools in many ways:

In Washington, only 43% of students graduate high school and only 9% go on to get a college degree. KIPP claims a graduation rate of 93% and also claim that 80% go on to college.

What are the differences? Here are a few:

  • KIPP claims expenditures of $1,000 over public funding, raised through donations.
  • More time in the classroom: school until 5PM; school starts in July; Saturday classes 2-3 times per month.

This is just a rough idea of what can be done, but education must be a priority, along with addressing poverty and living conditions. These are real issues that our politicians avoid by focusing on things that sound good but do absolutely nothing but make a bad policy worse (such as Lamar Smith’s Child Protection Act That Doesn’t of 2012).

I earlier gave some disturbing numbers regarding children. Here are some equally alarming statistics regarding adults in one of the nation’s most infamous state prisons, The Louisiana State Prison at Angola:

  • There are 5,309 inmates.
  • 75%, or 3,982, are serving life sentences without parole.
  • The remaining 25% are serving an average of 93 years.
  • The average age at conviction is 35.
  • The average age now is 42.
  • 91% are in for committing violent crimes.
  • 55%, or 2,920, are in for homicide.
  • The most recent budget is $115 million.
  • The cost per inmate per year is $21,661.32.
  • There are almost 40,000 inmates in state prisons throughout Louisiana – the highest per capita prison population in the country, which makes it the highest in the world.

America’s lawmakers need to address this disturbing problem. It is easy to write bills that talk about protection from this group or from that threat. But when the only solution is to lock more people up for longer periods of time, then those lawmakers are actually the first part of the problem that must be solved.

The American people need leaders who are going to take a socio-economic approach to our problems on the front end and figure out what must be done to eliminate preventable faces of despair. We must stop preparing the children of this country for lives wasted as part of a shameful prison culture that is robbing the nation of human resources as well as financial ones.

We must also examine ways of reducing this nation’s prison population by 75% and using billions of dollars saved (about $58 billion) for educational programs, housing, clothing and other needs of the poor, including the use of child protective services. We have to identify parents who are not equipped to be positive influences on their children. Those parents should be required to participate in educational and training programs to help them become contributors to eliminating the despair from the faces of their children.

We reward our legislators – both state and federal – with handsome compensation and benefit packages. It is time they rolled up their sleeves and worked to solve problems and not just sponsor bills to help themselves get re-elected.

All it takes is a presidential election cycle to see where America’s problems lie. America’s problems do not lie with the individuals who break the laws. They lie with those who make the laws. American’s problems do not lie with those locked away behind bars. They lie with those whose political livelihoods rely upon the expansion of this nation’s prison system. America’s problems lie with allegedly mature, educated men and women who view themselves as Republican or Democrat as opposed to American. America’s problems are not solved by pointing fingers or dodging responsibility.

While America’s politicians wave banners like Texas Congressman Lamar Smith’s “Child Protection Act of 2012”, (see previous post titled The Child Protection Act That Doesn’t), more and more of America’s children wake up and see only a face of despair when they look in the mirror.

According to the World Almanac, in 2008 there were roughly 70 million Americans under the age of 18. How many of them wear the face of despair? How many of them are being prepared for a life in prison?

More tomorrow…