“Stories Of A Prisoner’s Wife”

by Diane S.

Entry Twelve

Drowning.

“No amount of guilt can change the past. No amount of worry can change the future” – Unknown

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  1 Peter 5:8

I’m really not sure how to sum up the last 6 days.

I have felt like I was drowning and I did a real terrible job of grabbing onto the hand of God that keeps me from going under. However, I have managed grab onto His hand and to come up for air today. I may even be able to get out of the water if I try hard enough today.

This week I should be writing details about my first visit with Chris last weekend. I probably should have already written about it but I haven’t been able to do it yet. So far it’s indescribable and I haven’t found the words.  I have experienced more emotions in the last 6 days than I care to admit. That wooden roller coaster has been very rickety this week.

The actual 3 days I visited were good. Of course the first day was difficult and emotional, but good overall. The other two days were also good.  It was good to see my husband. It was good to be with him. It was good to see that he is okay.

However, the emotional and mental crash after the last day of visiting and having to come back home has had me questioning if I ever want to visit again. I’ve asked myself why I am doing this to myself. Why have I chosen this path? Why would I ever want do something again that breaks me down so totally?

And why have I resigned to do it for the next 8 years?

Drowning in the doubts of the enemy is the only thing that can describe the last 3 days.

Prayer has been difficult for me this week; I just haven’t known what to say. A lot of prayers this week have just been asking God to strengthen me in Him and asking Jesus to just listen to my heart because I didn’t know what it was saying other than hurt. I have not been in a place this week where I can thank God for this situation or even for waking up every day. I know I should be thankful for each day, but the last 3 have convinced me that being in Heaven with Jesus and not here going through this would be a much better option for me.

I know that isn’t true, but you know the saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? That is a good way to describe the feeling. I have been so focused on the doubts, fears and worries this week I have not seen anything else.

It’s a difficult place to be, drowning that is. I haven’t wanted to write anything this week, not letters to my husband, nothing for this site. Basically, I have done exceptionally well listening to the “woe is me” bidding this week and I crawled into a hole of worry and doubt.

It’s a very bad, very dark place with the only company being the enemy.

It’s always funny to me how people don’t think Christians should struggle like this; Christ followers don’t get depressed. They seem to think because I have a relationship with Jesus and some days they can see faith and trust in me that I don’t or shouldn’t have struggles. That’s not true at all.

Not even close.

I’m still human and now probably more than ever the enemy is working hard to get me to fall. Does the enemy know your weaknesses? I think he probably does & since he does it’s an open invitation for him to use those against you. It’s probably in the Bible somewhere but I can’t recall a particular verse about it. I think I will do some more research on that.

I didn’t work yesterday because I allowed this all to make me physically ill. I have worried about everything from travel, to finances, to bills, to the overall picture of the next 8 years. I know that when I think about the next 8 years overall it’s more than I can stand, but when I just focus on today I’m usually okay. I’m learning to just focus my eyes on today and what Jesus has for me this day. Worrying about how I am going to pay all my bills, afford visits and not let anyone down is so very pointless because even though I can’t see a way, I am not planning the way. God will provide, I know this yet I still drown in worry and doubt.

Today is a new day. I am not out of the water yet, but I am at least floating on top of it for now. That’s even better than just treading water, right?   I have a lot of guilt today because the last two days of phone calls with my husband have been a complete mess. I am resolved in my decision to be on this journey until the very end, I will not waver. (And I will visit again, as often as I can…see above where I said I was questioning that).

Even on my darkest days deep down in my heart and soul where it really matters I am steadfast in my decision and never questioning. You would think that would be enough to tame the doubt. However, on the drowning days it isn’t. Sometimes on those days, like the last two, I voice my doubts to Chris that rise to the surface about how we will ever survive this and of course it makes him question if there is any way I will actually stay resolved to stay on this journey. It hurts me to my very core that I know that after that 10-15 minute phone call I have let my doubts become torment for him until we talk again in 24 hours. My saving grace today (5/28) is that it is my birthday (the first one of nine without him, only 8 more to go) so he called early this morning for a couple of minutes to tell me “Happy Birthday” and I was able to tell him that I am back on semi-solid ground today and not drowning. Hopefully it eased his mind and calmed his heart. I wish he could know the difference between my mind and my heart; they stay on different pages a lot. Does it make sense that I have doubt in my mind but never in my heart and soul?

I don’t know if that does make sense but it’s the only way I can even attempt to explain it.

“Stories Of A Prisoner’s Wife”

by Diane S.

Entry Nine

5.19.15

Okay…maybe even good.

I know our journey is just beginning and I am in no kind of way an expert about any of this. All I know thus far is the experience I have had. I’m sure this journey is different for everyone. None are the same, I wouldn’t think. I know there are people who have been through it who DO understand but I would also guess that no two people ever process this sort of thing the same way. In one way or another there are differences, even though they may be very small ones. I talked to one person that said it took a long while before they found themselves laughing again. I laughed yesterday.

So like I said although the journey is similar, it’s so very different for each and every one affected by incarceration.

Today has been an okay day. It may actually be a good day. It’s not over yet so I am not sure how it will end up, but for now it looks alright. What I do know is that it’s after 2 pm in the afternoon and I haven’t cried all day. That hasn’t happened in the last 18 days, maybe longer, but I know for sure the last 18.

I may still have eyeliner on by the end of the work day, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

I talked to my husband last night and I didn’t cry (another first). His day yesterday was filled with rain. He didn’t even go to lunch because he didn’t want to get wet. So he just hung around all day in his unit and snacked on the SEVEN large bags of chips he accidentally got from the commissary last week. He didn’t realize he was getting large bags, he thought they were small so now he has a good supply of chips. I found that a bit funny.

They (it’s always they when he talks about what he did that day, never I or me) were watching a St. Louis Cardinals game and it was good game, he had to tear himself away to call me. Gee thanks, ha! At least I know his love for the Cards is still flourishing and as a rule no one interrupts game time so I feel special. He always says his day was “good”. I don’t know if it actually was good or if he just doesn’t want to say anything else and make me worry. In any case, he always seems to sound good when I talk to him so I think his days are at least okay…maybe even ‘good.’

I don’t know why one day, well one hour usually, can be so vastly different than the one before or after it. I haven’t talked to my husband yet today. I haven’t had any news that would make this day better than yesterday (which was a very up and down day). Nothing to speak of has made today any better than the last 18, so there isn’t a clear reason as to why my eyeliner is still intact. I guess sometimes it just happens that way? The more probable reason is that I may be doing a little better with trusting God today and that has made this day okay.

It could also be because I found a ‘bread crumb’ today and didn’t overlook it. I think I have been over looking them lately. But today I noticed. God gave me his grace today when I got a text from a person who has caused quite a bit of heartache through this process. Unsupportive family is a very hard thing for me to deal with but I don’t fault them for it. I understand not everyone can accept this situation and be supportive. It’s still hard for me but as long as they aren’t out-right mean about it I tend to be able to deal reasonably well. Another thing entirely is to be mean-spirited and unsupportive. I will be the first to admit I have not been gracious at all when it comes to dealing with those types of encounters.

I’ve prayed a lot about it.

Today God gave me His grace and I was able to have a pleasant text exchange with a person I haven’t spoken pleasantly with in over 18 months. In fact, some of the exchanges in the last 18 months were out-right awful, and I take the weight of that. No matter what the other person was saying, I should have handled the situation with grace and a Christ like attitude and I did not. I should have prayed about the relationship but I didn’t, until recently. Today I, well we (God & I), did much better with this encounter. I was able to let the past go and I was able to give needed information when asked. I was able to put things aside because I know that my husband needed this relationship to at least be one that could co-exist in my world. I suspect when my husband receives a letter or call from this person it will lift his spirits immensely, and I think that is why I was able to let God guide me during that encounter today.

I’m finding it’s getting easier to let go of things that I have held on to: past hurts, past anger, past grudges. They just don’t seem to have a place anymore. God is working on my heart already and it’s just 14 days into this journey. I feel it and I know it. I wish He hadn’t chosen this exact path to get my attention so clearly and make me give it all to Him, but I am thankful none the less.

It’s not my ideal journey but His plan is better. I trust that. I can’t wait to see what He will do with me in the next 8 years since I am already seeing so much in just 14 days. Every day my eyes and my heart seem to notice a little more.  There will be good from this, and today I feel like I have seen a few glimpses of it. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

So for right now, today is okay…maybe even good.

Oh and by the way, in a previous post I said it didn’t look it was God’s plan for me to be able to go see my husband this coming up weekend (Memorial Day Weekend). I should know by now not to assume I know what God’s plan is….I will be visiting this week. I’m blessed and things have falling into place this week.

All I can say is…BUT GOD!

“Stories Of A Prisoner’s Wife”

Entry Six

by Diane S.

Same.

I’m sure you have all heard the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same” at least once in your life, probably many times. I don’t think I really understood the full magnitude of the meaning until recently.

Everything is the same, but everything is different. Except God. He is the one constant. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

I still get up every day. I let my 2 dogs out. I get ready for work. I drive to the same office and do the same job. I come home. Take care of my 2 dogs. Do whatever other little small things come along that particular day. I go to bed every night. Things are the same, except they aren’t at all.

I do it all alone.

I don’t wake up in the same bed as my husband. I can’t ask him to let the 4 dogs out for me. I don’t get to talk to him on my way to work. I don’t get to talk to him during the day or meet him for lunch occasionally. I don’t go home to cook him dinner. I can’t ask him to feed the 4 dogs for me. I don’t make him a night snack of stove top popcorn. I go to bed alone with 2 dogs instead of 4.

I hear the same songs on the radio, some of his favorites. They are the same and I still like them like I always have but I don’t sing along anymore. They aren’t as enjoyable to hear anymore without him there dancing silly or singing along. I don’t turn on our favorite songs in the car and turn it up loud and roll the windows down. I haven’t listened to a Christian rap song in 2 weeks, those are our favorites and for now I can’t take that change. Whenever I do get to the point that I want to listen to them again the songs themselves will be the same but everything else will be different.

It’s only been 10 days and my life has changed drastically, yet so many things are the same in a lot of ways. I pray, but my prayers are very different. I eat, but not often or much. I sleep, but not well or restful. I work, but I am unfocused.

Thankfully I do get to talk to him on the phone now. This morning he called on my way to work, it felt the same as in the past except it’s not. The phone call is preceded by a recording reminding me this call is from an inmate at a Federal Prison (just in case I may forget I, suppose). It reminds me at least 1-2 more times during the call depending on how long we talk. The phone call is brief, not 30-45 minutes like they used to be.   A quick call to say I love you and have a good day, he has to be mindful of the minutes he uses. I am thankful to hear his voice, no matter how brief. He dials the same number he always has but everything else has changed.

It’s all changed but it’s all so much the same.

The one thing that is the same, that hasn’t changed and that will never change is God. There are no words to describe how grateful I am to have a God wh0 doesn’t change. It’s comforting to know that no matter what else happens in my life, especially the next 8 years, God is in control. He doesn’t make mistakes. He is sovereign, His love is unconditional. One of the most comforting things that I know to be true about my God is that He loves Chris even more than I love Chris. I cling to that truth and remind myself of it daily. It is hard to imagine He loves him more because I know how much I love him. It gives me great comfort to know that He loves him more and no matter what that will always be the same and never change.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  James 1:17

“Stories Of A Prisoner’s Wife”

Entry Five

5.13.15

Stuff

It’s odd to me how much I have lost interest in material “stuff” in the last 17 months. It really doesn’t matter much now. I don’t have to have the latest and greatest of anything anymore. I don’t keep up with the latest release of the newest smart phone as I once did. I don’t drive down the street wishing I had a different newer car like I used to. As far as “stuff” goes, things have become much simpler for me. It just doesn’t seem to matter; there are far more important things than “stuff”.

However, I do still have A LOT of stuff.

I don’t know what to do with most of it so it sits in a storage unit until I come up with a plan. I have moved 3 times in the last 5 months. I went from a fully furnished 3 bedroom house full of stuff to living in one bedroom of my mother-in-law’s home and now living in one room at my parents’ home. Maybe that’s why stuff has become less important to me, because I am tired of moving it!!! I’m blessed to have been able to go back home for a while. In this process I had to find new homes for two of our fur-babies. Thankfully I was able to keep two with me. There have been a lot of good-byes in my life in the last couple of weeks. I am blessed because Chris and I don’t have any children together. I prayed for one for a long time and now I am so thankful for unanswered prayers. I have a 12 yr. old step son who lives with his mother, but no children living in our home who have been up-rooted from their daily lives in the midst of all the mess. I am not downplaying the effect this is having on my stepson because it is enormous. I am simply saying that his daily, weekly, and school routine haven’t been affected and for that I am thankful. Everything else in his world has been turned upside down, so I am thankful for things that are still intact in his life. He is still able to come visit and spend weekends with me at this time. I am beyond blessed and thankful for his mother and step-father who have been very compassionate and wonderful.

Anyway, back to the stuff….

I packed up and moved to my parents 3 days after dropping Chris off at his new living quarters for the next 8 years. This means that I had to pack and unpack all my stuff again….and all his stuff. That is NOT easy to do when dealing with a situation like I am going through. What does one do with all his “stuff”? He obviously won’t need it for a good long while and when he does need his stuff again the clothes he had won’t fit and who knows if he will like any of his current stuff in 8.5 years. I have heard of and know of people that have lost loved ones who leave their “stuff” in the exact same spot they left it the last time they used it because it either brought comfort to them or they couldn’t bear the pain of doing anything with because that brings some reality with it. That might have been nice for me to be able to do for a week or two anyway, but I didn’t have that option. Not that I am comparing him going away to prison to death, but I have found there are some similarities. Things had to be moved in my case; his things.

And it was painful.

It was hard knowing that he won’t wear his favorite hat anymore and he doesn’t need cologne. Really silly things in big picture, but I seem to have found that the silly little things are the ones that cause the most epic melt downs for me. Do I keep his stuff for 8.5 years? Do I give it away to friends or family? Donate it? I had not even thought about that part until I got back to TN after dropping him off down in Louisiana and had to start packing. It seemed weird to give it away when he is alive and well.

So I didn’t.

I packed it in boxes for now. Some of it I took with me to my mom’s, like his favorite hat and the necklace he wore every day. They hang beside my bed. I have all his jewelry, some I wear myself every day now, the rest is just in my jewelry box. No particular reason for it to be there, I simply don’t know what else I should do with it. I took two of his favorite colognes because the smell reminds me of him; every few nights or so I spray some on the shirt of his that I sleep with. I took a few of his favorite t-shirts with me also and my mom is going to make pillows out of them for Chris’ mother, his son, and for me. He loved (See what I did there? It should be loves, he isn’t deceased!) to dress in a nice shirt and tie for church on Sunday mornings. I kept his ties with me, they are in a small box in the top of my closet. I figure eventually I will give away the boxes of his clothes I took to storage to the mission here in town, but ties will always fit and ties don’t go out of style. Or do they???

Now, if you had read only the last half of the section above you’d be sure you were reading something written by a young widow who lost her husband to a death of some sort. It’s odd how similar the process seems to be. There is grieving to be sure, but it’s a different kind. There is closure with death. There is no closure with a husband in prison; life goes on with someone missing that one day will return. You have to move on and build a new normal but you have to find ways to include your spouse because you want them to be involved and informed as best they can be in the situation.

I find myself taking pictures so I can send them to him to show him things, like how I hung a picture in my room. It’s still all very weird. I have in no way, shape or form begun to figure out how I will come to a ‘new normal’ in which I can find some joy and make sure my husband is a part of everyday things that go on in my life and his son’s.

So I have decided I’m not going to worry too much about figuring it out. I’m going to let God handle all that and let Him show me how HE will build a new normal that includes my husband as much as possible and still allows me to thrive in Christ and carry out his will while waiting for my husband to return home. The only thing I have figured out at this point is I know this isn’t going to be easy but I know God will always be with us.

He already has our future written and I still don’t know what to do with all this stuff!!

“Stories Of A Prisoner’s Wife”

(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.)

Entry Four

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”   Corrie Ten Boom

Unknown.

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. 🙂

Chris

“Stories Of A Prisoner’s Wife”

Entry Three

by Diane S.

Words 5.12.15

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”  Ephesians 4:29

“In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.” – Brennan Manning

I like to write words.

It tends to serve me better than speaking them most of the time. People who know me know they are better off texting or emailing me instead of calling me. I also find it easier to speak kinder when I write, because I can think about what I am saying. I’m sure if you added up how many times my mother told me to “think before you speak” when I was growing up it would easily be well over 10,000. I guess I am lucky technology has come such a long way that I can do most of my communicating by writing words. I am trying to get better with speaking and answering phone calls of concerned friends.

I am a work in progress.

Words are funny little things. If you put the right ones together you can lift someone up but if you put the wrong ones together you break someone’s spirit. You can also leave people not knowing how to take the comments you just made. I find that is often the case in my current journey. People don’t know what to say, so they just say anything. I know most are well meaning, but I often have to take a deep breath and make a conscious effort to not be offended.

It is becoming clear to me that the path I will be taking on this journey is not what most people assume the path of a prison wife would be. It seems the general theory is that I will be married yet single for 8 years and it should be great. I will be able to do whatever I want and he will not know, I will not have to answer to him for anything I do or how I spend money. Yes, many people have said that to me. The first few times I was offended, but I’m not anymore. I just remember I am a Christ follower and I am called to be something different.

So I just tell them that isn’t my path, that isn’t something I am interested in. I am not planning this journey and the One who is isn’t interested in how much I can do without having to answer to my husband about it and I am more than ok with that.  It’s odd to me that SO many people think like this. The other fairly common response is “when is the divorce final” or “has he been served papers yet”. They don’t even ask if that is going to be my path they just assume that I am getting divorced because who would stay with a sex offender who is going to spend 8 and 1/2 years in prison?

The really bold ones say things like, “God wouldn’t want or expect you to stay in this marriage.” I find that one more offensive than the others and it always take me a second to calculate my response so my words don’t meet theirs with the same level of toxicity theirs had on me. It’s a challenging encounter and I don’t always do great. I try, but I am human. I am a Christian but I am not perfect. Sometimes those words feel like a knife cutting straight into the center of my heart and it’s just human nature to strike back. I’m getting better. If I could just make everyone talk to me through writing I’m pretty sure I’d have a 100% record at always succeeding at responding eloquently.

I’ve already learned a great deal and this is just the beginning of this chapter of my life. If there is one thing above all others that I have learned thus far it is that the words you use impact people. You have the choice to make that a positive or negative impact. It is hard to make sure your words are always giving life and not draining it. Even when someone speaks draining words to you, it’s your responsibility to speak life back to them. You may be the only breath of life, the only glimpse of the Jesus’ love they get on that particular day so choose your words carefully.

Some days I want to look at people and yell at them “DO YOU KNOW WHAT I AM GOING THROUGH RIGHT NOW?!?” after they speak negative, draining words to me. I haven’t done that yet and I pray I never do, because anyone I would say that too could look right back at me and say the exact same thing. Everyone is going through something and just because theirs may not seem as catastrophic as my husband being in prison for 8 and 1/2 years, to them whatever it is seems every bit as horrible as what I am dealing with. I try to be sympathetic to that and use empathy when I speak and often times that helps me to speak life.

There really is merit to what my mom always told me, “think before you speak.” This holds true for everyone you encounter, but especially for someone you KNOW is going through a difficult struggle. If you don’t know what to say to someone like me, then just say “I’m so sorry you are going through this” or “I will pray for you and your husband.” That is enough. Nothing more is needed and either of those is much more appropriate than a comment about how it’s great that I can be married and single at the same time.

Words from Tony: Unfortunately, the situation that Diane finds herself in repeats itself on a daily basis all over this country. While I was in prison, it seemed that the number of spouses willing to walk this journey with their husbands was greater than I would have expected, although there were plenty who, unlike Diane, actually did back out of the driveway.

I have no condemnation for those who left. I have no negative feelings toward them either. I am filled with sadness for all parties concerned because all have come out of their relationships with less than when they went into them. I could go on and on, but I will not use up Diane’s ‘time’ for that.

That people would think the way Diane indicated they do, and that they would say the things she wrote about kind of stunned me. Perhaps they all should take Diane’s mom’s advice.

The rush of emotions when individuals go through something like what Diane is going through is pretty intense, especially in the beginning. I have several articles from Diane ready to post, so I will be putting them online in relatively quick succession.

She has a lot to say, and I think she says it well.

I pray we will all listen, and learn, from her, and that we offer her our prayers and support.

 

“Stories Of A Prisoner’s Wife”

Entry Two

by Diane S.

The Day

This journey is going to be a long one, we are just beginning.

May 5, 2015 was the hardest day of my life to date, but the 6 days since haven’t been easy. They have been filled with prayer, constant prayer. Prayer for my husband, my step-son, myself, my marriage, my mother-in-law. We had a good bit of information about what was going to happen on this day. We “knew” what to expect but quickly found out that even if you expect it you surely aren’t prepared for it. Nothing can prepare you to say goodbye to your husband for eight and a half years and drive away from a federal prison facility leaving him there.

Nothing.

God was with us, there is no doubt, but the heartache and pain are no joke. That is real raw emotion that I’m not sure anyone could ever be prepared for. We stopped a few blocks from the prison on the side of the road and prayed together and I truly believe that is how we all made it through the next hour.

There isn’t an instruction manual on how one goes about self-surrendering. There are no signs pointing you to the correct door once you arrive, you just kind of guess. We guessed right and were in the right place. My husband, myself, his mother and her sister walked into the institution and were greeted with a friendly, “May I help you?” The gentleman at the desk was nice to us. He told us to have a seat and someone would be out to get him shortly.

True to his word, it wasn’t long and a correctional officer appeared to take him back. He asked about the things we were told he could keep. We thought he could keep a cheap digital watch, but that wasn’t the case so he took it off and handed it to me. He was able to take his Bible, his glasses, his wedding ring, a bookmark, and a piece of paper with 3 phone numbers on it. The officer told us to say our goodbyes. I was first and he took my hand and told me he wanted me last, so I stepped aside to let him say goodbye to his mom and aunt.

Then it was my turn.

I don’t really remember what was said other than “I love you”, over and over. There are no words to describe the pain you feel when you know you are hugging your husband in freedom for the last time for 8 and a half years.

It was time.

They took him away through a metal detector, out a door and down a sidewalk. I watched him all the way until he stepped through the door of what I assume was the intake part of the facility.

And he was gone.

I could see his face right before he stepped through the door and I don’t think he was crying. I sure was, but he looked composed. The officer informed us that if we would wait a little bit he would bring out his clothes and shoes.

Here is the good stuff.

This is when God gave me some desperately needed ‘bread crumbs’ on that day. We sat in the chairs in the lobby waiting, observing. It was a clean place, it looked well kept and it seemed organized. It’s not what I pictured the lobby of a jail to look like. There were windows and much more light than I expected. As we were sitting, there was gentleman standing over to one side of the room. I don’t know who he was or what he was doing there, but I do know that God put him there at that time. He asked us how long he would be there and we said 10 years to which he replied he will do about 8 and a half years (we did know that). He told us he will be fine, just tell him to get busy with church things and education things and the time will pass. Then for no reason I can think of other than it had been a topic of prayer for all of us there that day, this man told us at least we didn’t have to worry about him eating because the food there was pretty good, much better than other prisons.

Now that may seem like a very insignificant thing but it wasn’t for us. We were (still am) concerned about what he will eat, I have never met a more picky eater than my husband so it’s a legitimate concern of mine, probably a silly one all things considered, but still. A few minutes after our conversation ended with that man we were asked to step outside for a few minutes while they did something, maybe a prisoner transfer? Not quite sure.   While we were standing outside a nice lady walked up to the door and it was locked. She asked us what we were waiting on and we told her my husband clothes. She asked his name & we obliged. She said, “Oh, I should have him in a few hours and for a couple of days, don’t you worry about him. He is going to be ok.”

Again, there is only one reason for something like that to happen. God was showing us he was there. It wasn’t long and the officer that took my husband back came out with his clothes in a clear plastic bag. He was getting off work so we all happened to walk to the parking lot and he said to us, “Don’t worry, he is going to be ok. We had a talk, he is going to be ok, I can just tell he’s going to do fine. You don’t have to worry.”   He may say that to everyone he returns belongings to, I really don’t know. However, on that day, it was another ‘bread crumb’.

You probably think that the ride home was unbearable, but it wasn’t.

God gave us a peace in that car for that 2.5 hour ride home. Not one of the three us cried until we were exactly 13 miles from his aunt’s house and ‘God Gave Me You’ came on the radio. That song has always made me think about my husband and it made me cry, but when I looked out the window of the car a random rainbow in the sky made me smile. It was like God put it right there just for me. I’m not saying there weren’t many tears shed later into the night, but that ride home was peaceful. The kind of peace that only comes from Jesus.

A Note From Tony: Amen! I am so encouraged by this woman’s reliance on, and trust in, God. Curiosity got the best of me, so I looked for that song. In case anyone else is curious, I have provided a version of it here. Enjoy.

I have exchanged emails with our guest author and asked her what names I should use. She never even considered that there were no names used. It was not an intentional omission. She simply didn’t think about it until I mentioned it and she has given permission to use first names for now. Her name is Diane. Her husband is Chris.

Women named Diane seem to figure prominently in my life, but this one is not to be confused with the one who has done so much for me through my incarceration, and continuing to this day. I am inclined to think that this ‘new’ Diane will ultimately figure prominently as well as she helps us all to try and understand America’s Culture Of Incarceration from the perspective of the victims of the punishment of the crime, rather than of the crime itself.

This is not to diminish the pain, loss, and suffering of the victims of those crimes, whatever those crimes may be. I have never, ever done that in all the years of “TOC” and I never will. It should, however, be important to society as a whole to examine the effects of this country’s policies and practices on everyone involved and weigh all of those factors when determining our national approach to a solution.

At present, what we have is not a solution. It is an overblown, overgrown industrial enterprise of behemoth proportions which helps no one (except those involved financially) and solves nothing. It doesn’t truly help the victims in most cases. It doesn’t help society at all, really, because the causes are never substantially or effectively addressed. It doesn’t help those who violate society’s laws (which are far too numerous in the first place).

And it most certainly does not help the families of those who have been left behind in any way, shape or form. In many, many cases entire families, and especially spouses, are treated as being equally guilty.

By all means, please leave your comments of encouragement for Diane. In today’s world, far too many women are a lot closer to ‘being’ Diane than we should all be comfortable with.

Lastly, I would like to mention that there is a woman who has followed TOC through the years whose husband was also in federal prison. Many of you may be interested in Kate Mest’s blog. Please visit and offer her encouragement.

 

“Stories Of A Prisoner’s Wife”

A note from Tony: There are many different victims of crime, whatever the crime may be. Most overlooked, I think, are the families of those who are sent to prison for their crimes, particularly the spouses of those who have failed at freedom. A couple of years ago, while still incarcerated, I started a ‘series’ titled “Giving A Voice To The Victims”. There were a few articles posted that were written by a brave young woman, but then……silence.

Until now.

A couple of weeks ago, a woman emailed me and informed me that her husband was going to be self-surrendering at Oakdale FCI on May 5. He would be beginning a 10 year sentence, and she had stumbled upon these ‘Chronicles’ looking for information on the prison. She wrote to thank me. I was humbled by her kind words and we exchanged several emails containing questions and answers about what could be expected, etc.

Then I had an idea, and I asked her if she would be interested in writing about this situation from her perspective. With that said, enough of my words. Here are hers:

Entry One

by Diane S.

Silence

You know when you aren’t speaking to someone because of some stupid reason or another and eventually you get to the point where you aren’t sure what you are even angry about anymore? Your mind starts wondering what they are thinking about you; what are their feelings about the situation, etc? Over the last week I have come to understand that those feelings can happen even if you aren’t mad at someone, but happen because you can’t communicate with them.   The constant thoughts in my head never stop. I have always been one to play the “what if” and “I wonder” game. It’s exhausting really. It has become down right debilitating this last week.

Tomorrow makes exactly one week since we pulled into the parking lot of the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale LA where I left my husband 6+ hours away from our home to serve his 10 year prison sentence.   I have not spoken to or heard from him since 3pm Tuesday, May 5 2015. It’s not unexpected; we knew he would be placed in the S.H.U. (special housing unit) for a few days. I was prepared for 2-3 days, not a week or more.   I have written him a letter every day, most days two letters, and I have no idea if he has received them. I don’t know how he is feeling. I don’t know if he has been as miserable and hurting as I have been. I don’t know if he has found comfort in his Bible as I have. I don’t know if he has felt any comfort from the many prayers being said for him on a daily basis. I don’t know if he spends his days crying or depressed. I know nothing.

And my mind wonders…

My husband is a very positive and optimistic person. Has he already lost that? Has he kept his head up and looked toward God for his strength? Has he opened his Bible? Has he become angry at God? What if this has broken the seemingly unshakable faith he had when he walked into that facility 6 days ago?

I don’t know.

What does it look like in there? Has he been eating (he is a picky eater)? Has he been shown any kindness? Has he found any ‘bread crumbs’ from God, as a dear friend of mine likes to call the small signs of God you find on a daily basis? Is he even looking for them at this point?

The questions never stop and so far there are no answers. There will be answers and I pray for them to come soon. I may go insane if it’s another week or two. I pray he gets to call me tomorrow, exactly one week after entering. I should probably insert right here that he went into prison for a sexual offense; he is a sex offender. I am the wife of a federal inmate ‘SO’.

But I am a proud wife. I am not proud of what he did to get himself there, but I am proud that God is working in our marriage & our hearts and that we still have a marriage. I am proud that we have not given up; that I have not given up. I wanted to, I thought about it, and goodness knows plenty of people have told me to. All I can say is ‘…but God.’   That’s it. He is the only reason I am still married. He is the only reason I want to be married. He is the only reason our marriage is being reconciled and restored.

We started this journey 17 months ago and it hasn’t been easy ‘….but God’. It’s a very odd thing when a wife makes the decision to stay with her husband after he has done something that will land him in a federal prison as sex offender. Details don’t matter to anyone; 90% of them think you’re crazy; 5% pretend to support you and then there is the 5% that truly does love and support you. The best way I have heard it put is from the writer of this blog when he said “I am not as guilty as I seem to be, but I am not as innocent as I’d like to be.” I can’t say it any better. My husband made mistakes. Big ones. Hurtful ones, there is no doubt about that. So that statement is exactly true for me: he is not as guilty as he seems to be but not as innocent as I’d like him to be.

It’s not an easy thing to stand beside a man in my husband’s position. I have lost friends and loved ones. But I have gained friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. It makes me wonder how many wives out there have left their husbands due to peer pressure and that stigma that comes with being a prison wife. How many really wanted to stay but couldn’t deal with the new circumstances in their life that they had no control of bringing into their life?

It’s not an easy choice or an easy road to walk however you decide. I didn’t make my choice, God made my choice. I have spent much time in the last 17 months praying. I always come back to the very same thing, and I mean always, every single time. Even the times when I had my bag packed, my car in reverse and the enemy was jumping up and down with glee thinking he had finally won in ending our marriage. I never backed out of the drive and here is my why: Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life and suffered immensely so that we could be forgiven. So that we could ALL be forgiven. My husband accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior on January 5, 2014. He is a changed person, truly changed. He asked Jesus to forgive him & it was done. How can I, a woman of flesh, not give that same forgiveness to my husband and allow God to work in our lives? If I could not forgive him then to me it seems like I would be saying I am better than Jesus because he can forgive but I won’t.

(And yes, I do know that you can forgive someone without continuing a relationship with them. I know that is okay & no one would fault me for that, however, that is not where God is leading me).

One of the things that constantly baffles me on this road is how people view sin. I have encountered countless people that think one sin is much worse than another. We are all sinners in need of a savior, period. When I stand before Jesus I will be just as much an equal sinner for the abortion I had when I was 18 as my husband will be for things he has done to put us in this current unthinkable circumstance. We will both be forgiven sinners.

God has some great plans for me, for my husband, and for our marriage. As hard as this is and as hard as it will be, there will be good from this. God doesn’t make mistakes and His plan is always better, even though I am not thrilled with this part of the plan right now and I sure would have chosen differently if I were in control.

The good news is I am not in control, He is and he knows what He is doing.

“In The Image Of God””

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

(Genesis 1:27 ESV)

The Central Union Mission, in Washington DC has been my home since my release from Oakdale FCI. It has been more than a home, really. It has been where I have attempted to put to use the relationship with God I had developed during my time in prison. Not only is it a place where I feel safe, secure, and stable on a personal level, it is also a place where I feel I can best follow the admonition of Jesus Christ when He said ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:31 ESV)

The Mission is in an incredible location about 5 blocks north of the US Capitol. It sits between Union Station a couple of blocks to the east, where there is always a beehive of activity as tourists combine with commuters in a daily flurry of activity, and DC’s version of “Chinatown” which sits a couple of blocks to the west.

In my immature and unwise efforts to escape myself throughout the course of my life, I have lived in many different parts of the country including Maine, New York, California, Texas, and Florida. Those are all popular places to visit and could have been wildly interesting places to live had I not been so wrapped up in my sinful existence of willful disobedience to God and hell-bent on self-destruction. I also ‘lived’ for a little over 4 years in Louisiana, but I really didn’t see much of the state from behind the razor wire at Oakdale FCI.

None of those places is quite like Washington, though. I have been in DC for almost a year now, and an amazing year it has been. When I first arrived here, I spent hours and hours walking around seeing the sights, and there are many, many sights to see here. After all, this is the seat of power in the most powerful country in the world, and a place steeped in historical significance. I was fascinated and wandered almost daily through the streets of the city.

But then life settled in around me, I became more involved in the Mission, and I didn’t venture far from there. I guess I became complacent about my surroundings, but that changed a little bit this morning.

“This morning” was Monday, April 20, and I spent the early part of the day catching up on my Bible reading and devotions, emailing some pictures of volunteers I had taken over the weekend, finishing and posting an article for “The After-Oakdale Chronicles”, and doing my laundry. At around 11 AM, I looked out the window of my room and noticed how beautiful it was on the other side of the glass.

While there was much I wanted to accomplish sitting in front of this computer screen, I felt a ‘nudge’ and put on some shorts and headed towards Union Station. It was there that my eyes began to see things differently. As I took in the sheer enormity of scale of the structure,

Union_Station_Washington_DC_24_Sep_2013

I realized there was something more than a simple walk in store for me.

I turned to the south and headed to the US Capitol, taking care to give God praise for the abundant beauty of the spring that was in full bloom around me. Everywhere I looked, evidence of God’s handiwork was boldly displayed. Even in the city itself, the natural beauty of the world God created was all around me.

But Washington is home to something that speaks more clearly to God’s sovereignty and His power than ‘just’ the natural beauty that abounds. The man-made beauty of the city provides ample testimony to that fact. As I approached the US Capitol,

24-capitol-building-2

I was struck by exactly how much our ability to create comes as a result of those words found in Genesis: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

We were created ‘in His own image’, and that not only means that we reflect God’s character, but we reflect His ability to achieve spectacular things. Now mind you, we can not even come close to duplicating God’s ability, but He did give us the gifts that enable the man-made things we see all around us to be possible.

As I turned west on the National Mall, the Washington Monument came into view

Washington Monument

and I was further convinced that it was only by God’s design that we are capable of the things we achieve. If we were not created in His own image, our ability to reflect the creative skills of the Father of all creation – even if only on a very small scale – would not be possible.

As I walked along, I came to the National Art Gallery Sculpture Garden and was drawn to a ‘tree’ that was set apart from the rest. While the rest were all created by the hand of God, this particular tree was made of stainless steel and was created from the mind of a man, and with the hands God gave him. I had seen it before, but it looked particularly splendid sparkling brilliantly in the now-noonday sun.

national-sculpture-garden-7-of-9

I am not an art critic by any means, even though I am often critical of art, but this work struck me as being particularly thoughtful and demonstrative of the artist’s unique talents as given him by God.

I had lunch in a busy café just beyond that shining example of God’s handiwork and then turned north to wander back towards the Mission. I passed the old Farmer’s Insurance Building

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and marveled again at the man-made evidence of God’s existence that surrounds us. Washington is full of beautiful old structures that testify to the fact that these things are possible only because God created us to be like Him. Not to BE Him, but to be LIKE Him.

While we will never be capable of everything that God is capable of, my walk through the streets of Washington found me thanking Him for making us the way we are. If only we would all realize that God is the source of our abilities. If only we would all give praise to God for the talents He gave us, and give Him thanks for creating us to be like Him.

Think about these things when you walk around your community.

“Happy Anniversary”

“Five Years: Time Flies When You’re Having Fun”

Five years ago today, at 11:55 AM CST, I ground my last cigarette under my foot in the parking lot of the Federal Correctional Institution at Oakdale, LA. With understandable trepidation, I walked through the front door saying goodbye to a life I was anxious to leave behind.

While the trepidation I felt was real, so was the hope I felt in my heart. A hope that I believe was put there by God as I embarked on a journey not of imprisonment, but freedom.

“Huh?”

Yes. I walked into prison to become truly free for the first time in my life, and the past 5 years have been the most wonderful years of my life, I have never felt freer, and, yes, I spent 4 years and 2 months of that 5 years in federal prison.

It was the most negative of circumstances that predicated my imprisonment, but building a relationship with God gave me the strength, courage, and determination to allow God to produce the most positive of outcomes. I do not want to go back, but I am eternally grateful to God that I went.

God is indescribably amazing in the things He can do in us and for us if we only see our way clear to trust Him no matter what we may be facing. For more evidence of God’s work in my life, please check out The After-Oakdale Chronicles.

I miss the men I left behind, and I pray each one of them connects with God in a truly profound way and leans heavily upon Him when it is their turn to walk through the gates of the prison. Perhaps they will get a chance to read these words of “Thanks, guys!” for those things they provided me with while I was there. Prison is not the best place to make friends, but I made the best of friends there.

Thank you, God, for giving me new life to serve you, praise you, and to glorify your Holy name.

May God bless you all and keep you and yours safe from harm.