At the Intersection of Freedom & Hope

(also posted on The After-Oakdale Chronicles)


“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”
Galatians 5:13 NLT

When we have found the path to true freedom, we have discovered the joy found in service to others. By exercising our individual freedom serving others, we become beacons of light for others to follow.

“Serve one another in love.”

In those five words can be found the steps we need to take to follow Jesus. In those five words is the key to understanding the true nature of Christ. Those simple words contain the road map to the complexities of living on this earth that will lead us to eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

Following the admonition of the Apostle Paul, we discover a way to use the talents and gifts God gave us in a manner that serves Him and glorifies His name. God never said we couldn’t own things. God never said we could not be successful. In fact, God gave us the ability to design, develop, and build the images of our dreams into the reality of successful businesses, but He also gave us the ability to do it in a way that gives Him glory and serves our brothers and sisters with love.

In a post from August 24, 2013, I wrote about the freedom that comes with allowing God to open the ‘eyes’ of our hearts:

“God has opened wide the eyes of my heart, and He can open YOURS as well. With our eyes wide open we can see many things we could not see before: We can see hope; we can see peace, happiness, joy, love, and forgiveness; we can see the goodness that lives and breathes all around us.

And with our eyes wide open we can also see the hunger, the pain, the suffering, and the desperation of other people. But these are not bad things to see, because once our eyes are open, we can also see our place in God’s plan to HELP those who are afflicted. Seeing our place will allow us to take the action necessary to improve the condition of our brothers and sisters who are all God’s children.

And THIS, my friends, is freedom.”


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Imagine a place where leather goods, pottery, jewelry and other quality hand-crafted items are produced and sold; a place where a variety of unique restaurants are clustered; a place where tasteful Christian-themed apparel is printed and embroidered, then offered for sale in an attractive shop containing other Christian books, gifts, and music; a place where fine herbs and a colorful variety of gourmet tomatoes and other select produce items are hot-house grown and sold the day they are picked; a place where beautifully re-upholstered sofas and chairs and professionally refinished and refurbished dressers, tables and other furniture can be found; a place where you can take your car to get an oil change or perhaps even a custom paint job; a place where vehicles laden with workers and tools leave daily to go out and assist those in need while helping to make the community a more beautiful place; a place where you can drop off a load of canned goods to be distributed to area food banks and then park your car and peruse some locally produced Christian-themed paintings and sculptures; a place where adults can go to learn how to read and then enroll in a group to read about God; a place where Christian musicians are offered training, the opportunity to join with others to create music and then afforded the opportunity to record that music while others learn the art of doing the recording; a place where anything that can be produced by the hands of man is produced and sold in an environment of restoration and renewal of the human spirit; a place where anything is possible if it can be imagined; a place where no one is refused the services or the opportunities offered, regardless of their faith, but where everything is done in an attitude of Christian service and love.

Such a place will be built by people who believe that there is, indeed, hope and a future for those who are ‘hopeless’ and cannot see the future. Such a place will be called “HOPE CITY”.

Imagine that you are a part of it.

Imagine yourself standing at the intersection of Freedom and Hope.

Helping Muffins Speak.

Can something as small and seemingly insignificant as a muffin really have a significant impact on a person’s life?

For the last several months I have immersed myself in an idea called “The Mission Muffin Co.” with exactly that premise in mind. Having benefitted from being taken in by, and made to feel welcome (and safe) in, this place called Central Union Mission upon my release from prison in May of 2014, God finally provided me with the courage to ask David Treadwell, the Mission’s executive director, a question that has since changed my life and will – with the help of many people – ultimately change the course of other men’s lives as well.

The question?

“Have I ever told you about my idea to make ‘Mission Muffins’?”

I hadn’t, to that point, but I did, and here we are.

This is an exciting time, and it is truly an exciting idea. Not because it’s mine, and not because it is particularly original in the grand scheme of things, perhaps, but because it is something new for Central Union Mission’s 130+ years of service to Washington, DC’s neediest residents, and it is something that possesses tremendous potential to impact men’s lives in remarkable ways.

The world is in such a terrible state that it is often easy to throw up our hands in despair and declare that nothing can be done. I know that from the perspective of people living in homelessness, it is difficult sometimes to avoid the feelings of hopelessness that can creep in. So many things can contribute to an individual’s sense of loss and lack of purpose: lack of adequate education; growing up and living in poverty; addictions to drugs or alcohol; errors in judgment that leave us with criminal records hindering or impeding any forward progress.

I believe that hope is never lost, and that something as tiny as a muffin can provide the spark that will make it burn brightly in a person. I believe that a muffin can speak to a man’s soul and inspire him to want to move forward, to learn, and to build a future. Many who have lived ‘normal’ lives and have grown up in ‘normal’ circumstances may look at the men the Mission serves and see a collection of ragtag individuals who are ‘not salvageable’, ‘unmanageable’, ‘beyond redemption’, ‘irredeemable’.

Muffins with a mission can change a man’s life. And you can help.

Check out The Mission Muffin Co. website and find out how.

“Stories Of A Prisoner’s Wife”

Entry 22

By Diane S.

It will end…

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever.  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”   2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Eventually this season of my life will be over and Chris will be out of jail.  It will not last forever, there isn’t anything on this earth that is forever.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”   Isaiah 40:8

I tell myself this a lot…it’s not forever, it’s just 8 years.  Some days that is a good encouragement, other days thinking about 8 years cripples me.

I spent 4th of July weekend visiting my husband. It was my 3rd visit. A couple of people told me how terrible and sad it was that I was spending my 4th of July weekend at a prison instead of doing fun things like cooking out or swimming. I can see their point, but my mind doesn’t think like that. I was thankful I was spending my 4th at a prison talking, sitting and holding hands with my husband instead of going to put flowers on a grave. I couldn’t help but think of all the wives of fallen soldiers who would spend that day visiting graves and wishing their husbands were still with them while I was sitting in prison visiting with my husband because their husbands fought for the freedom for me to be able to do that. I’m not sure if my mind should work that way, but I’m okay with it because if I keep in that perspective I can deal with everything much better.  My nightmare will end, but those women visiting graves have no end until they leave this earthly life for a better eternity.

Like I said, I don’t know if that is the right way to think about this but it gets me through.

The 3rd visit was the best to date. I enjoyed the visit. Saturday I visited by myself, just my husband and I for 6 hours….well just us and the 100 other people in the visiting room. It is strange how everyone else in a big room like that can just disappear and it really does feel like it’s just the two of us. The first time I visited I wondered if I would ever be able to feel that way in the visiting room, I am happy to report that two months in and it has already become easier. The end of the visit on both days did not end in tears. The drive home wasn’t filled with tears. The following days were not filled with depression and darkness.

It was easier and at this point I guess that is all I can really ask for.

My husband is doing well. He has tested for his GED and I’m sure he passed that test. He has made “friends”, if you ever really do make friends in jail. He has found that he likes ramen noodles. He likes instant coffee. He uses mackerels to “buy” things from other inmates, like if he runs out of Dr. Pepper before his next commissary day, he “buys” one for a mackerel from someone who has some. I am never surprised by things he tells me. The saying that necessity is the mother of invention probably originated from a prisoner; it is quite interesting the things that can be made and figured out when you have limited resources. Things like using the top of a Comet can for a cheese grater or using the razor blade from a shaving razor and a magnet for a knife. I am never bored by his stories. He doesn’t enjoy his life but he doesn’t hate it from what I can tell. He hides it well if he does but I truly don’t think he is miserable. I am not miserable either, most days. I am getting better at finding joy, even if it is in very small doses some days. Chris seems to be settling in for the most part. He calls often, we write often but not as much as the first month which worries me a little. We are only two months in and we already write every other day or so instead of every day. I guess it’s all part of finding a ‘new normal’ but it worries me. What if it keeps falling off and eventually we stop all together?

I pray that we don’t become distant; I pray that we become closer. Closer to each other, and closer to God.

We are still so new to this journey, we haven’t seen any real difficulty yet, I imagine.  I know there are much harder things in my future, but I also know that one day this chapter will in fact end.  It won’t last forever.

One of my favorite ‘truths’ is something Tim Tebow said after a football game a few years ago:

“I don’t know what my future holds but I do know WHO holds my future.”

And really, that’s enough for me.

LETTERS TO HEAVEN: In Memory Of Peter Becker

In Loving Memory Of Peter Becker

Dear God,

It has been a long, long time since I have had the opportunity – indeed, the ability – to sit down in front of a keyboard and write to you. That ability has now been granted, and I cannot thank you enough for Your part in making this possible. Your presence in my life is evident on a daily basis and I am truly humbled by the blessings I have received. As the creative cobwebs clear and my fingers begin to loosen up, I pray that the words which ultimately find their way to these pages will be deemed worthy of being read by those who take the time to do so.

For those reading this who are not familiar with certain aspects of my story, I will provide a little background: My access to a computer had been denied me since my release from prison on May 20, 2014 due to the restrictions imposed upon me by the federal court I was sentenced in before I began my incarceration at Oakdale FCI in 2010. Although my supervision was transferred to Washington, D.C. upon my release, the jurisdiction for the case itself remained in south Florida, where I was sentenced. That jurisdiction has been recently transferred to Washington, D.C. and along with the transfer came a modification allowing me the ability to use a computer and access the internet which will allow me to pursue writing once again as a way of reaching out to others. Although the anticipation of sitting down to write has been high, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that feelings of deep, deep sadness would be mixed in with the joy of having access to a computer again.

The sadness is attributable to news I received recently about the death of my friend Peter Becker. “Pete” died in late February from an apparent heart attack. He was my ‘cellie’ for most of my incarceration at Oakdale, and the news of his death struck me an almost palpable blow. Lord, I was extremely fortunate that I had learned to turn to you first when confronted with trials, tribulations, tragedy, or – as in this case – extreme and profound sadness.

Help me find words now, Father, which adequately paint an accurate picture of the relationships that can evolve in prison. Without Your help, how can I ever effectively describe the dependence that often develops between 2 people who share a 7’ x 11’ living space separated from family and friends? Between men who are required to face the societal consequences for what are usually, first and foremost, sins against You? Between individuals who are compelled to posture themselves as tough and impenetrable, but in reality are frequently vulnerable individuals who are prone to introspection which can often lead to feelings of inadequacy, failure and hopelessness?

There is an intimacy of thought and action which ultimately envelops those who occupy a space of that size which is capable of rivaling that of the closest of married couples. For example, in the case of Pete and myself, we shared much about our respective families; our children, ex-spouses, grandchildren. I grew to know Pete’s family and came to consider myself a part of it in a way I cannot explain. For over 3 ½ years, I saw pictures of his children displayed on the inside of his locker door. I was ‘there’ for the birth of his two grandchildren and ‘watched’ them grow along with Pete till the day I walked out the door. And on a daily basis, I listened in as Pete talked to, and fawned over, the 2 little ones. Sometimes it was funny to hear the way he spoke to them as if they could hear him. More often than not, sadness tugged at my heart as I detected the longing in his voice for the sound of their laughter and the warmth of their hugs.

Pete’s daughter, her husband, and the 2 children came to visit Pete once before I was released and there was unmistakable joy radiating from his face upon his return to our cell. He described holding them and told me about their loving reactions to meeting him for the first time. To the best of my knowledge, that was, sadly, the last time he would hold his grandchildren, hug his daughter, or see his son-in-law face to face. It was as if You knew he would be coming home to You, Lord, and that visit was arranged so that Pete’s daughter would always have a reference point when talking with the children about their Grandfather. During that visit, several pictures were taken. Undoubtedly, those photos will become cherished items to Pete’s daughter and to her children as they grow older. For what would prove to be the brief remainder of his life, they would also serve to remind Pete what his two little grandchildren sounded like, what they smelled like, and what it felt like to hold them in his arms. Pete had a son as well, and his picture was also included in the gallery of love on Pete’s locker door.

Watching all of this was wonderfully awkward, and painfully joyful, and if there seems to be contradiction in those words, it is because prison is full of contradictions.

When I left Peter, he was a big man. As many men who are incarcerated are prone to do, Pete gained considerable weight after beginning to serve his own sentence, but this big man was a teddy bear, and he had a big heart. Perhaps the additional weight put a strain on his heart that ultimately proved to be too much, but while his heart beat, it was a heart full of love for many people even if articulating that love for others outside the circle of his family was difficult for him. It is that way for many people in prison, Lord, as you know. Living in an atmosphere full of ‘A’ personalities and overflowing with testosterone, exhibiting sentiments and emotions like love, softness, kindness, caring and compassion are likely to be misconstrued as a sign of weakness, and many are reluctant to appear weak in prison for reasons that should be obvious.

Pete had already been at Oakdale for some months when I first arrived. His sentence was 15 years, but 10 of those years were added on as an ‘enhancement’ due to a previous offense. However, as we learned a couple of years ago, the enhancement clearly was applied inappropriately and should never have been added to his 5 year sentence for the current offense. I will never defend the actions of myself or any other person who commits crimes against society or sins against You, Lord, but the rules of our judicial system should be applied fairly and in this instance an error was obviously made and should have been corrected. Unfortunately, the objection was apparently not raised in a timely manner and while Pete had high expectations his argument for a sentence reduction would prevail, I learned he found out late last year that his appeal had been denied and there was no further recourse. His sentence would stand and that meant his grandchildren would not see their Grandfather in freedom for another 6 or 7 years.

Only You know, Lord, what conversations Peter had with You after his pleas for fairness were denied. Perhaps he was tired, sad, or experiencing feelings of hopelessness. I had also heard he had lost his job in the prison laundry, which had been the center of his prison life, and now his hopes for justice and the freedom that would have enabled him to see his grandchildren grow up had been dashed. Maybe he lost his will to live and prayed to be brought home to You, Lord. Only You know.

I am certain the suddenness of Peter’s death stunned everyone at Oakdale, particularly those who were close to him. I can only pray, Father, that those who mourned his passing turned to You for comfort in their time of need. The bonds created between men who have squandered their freedom can be as strong as any experienced while living outside the razor wire. People learn to rely upon each other, to lean on each other, to trust and, yes, love one another. The harsh reality that death can claim us before having the opportunity to regain the freedom we once failed to use properly and make efforts to redeem ourselves in the eyes of society is something that is visited upon incarcerated individuals at one time or another during the course of each person’s sentence. People do die everywhere there are people, of course, and prisons are no exception, but how death affects the average person is different in prison. Each of us who has been in that situation is suddenly faced with the realization that we, too, might meet the same fate as those we have known who have died while serving their sentences. There is something cold and decidedly impersonal about dying there. Most people don’t really understand what, exactly, goes on behind the walls and razor wire of institutions they may pass by, but it is not complicated really: Life goes on and, where there is life, there is also death.

The news of her father’s sudden death must have rocked Pete’s daughter back on her heels. I have no certain knowledge of how news of that sort is delivered to the family of the inmate, but I suspect it is done with a phone call. I pray that was not the case, Lord, but I cannot imagine it being any different. After all, an inmate dying while incarcerated simply means a bed has opened up. Dealing with the details of death is not the primary concern. Death is simply an inconvenience that must be dealt with: Notifying the next of kin; gathering up the belongings; designating another individual to occupy the space once filled with someone’s father, someone’s grandfather, and someone’s friend.

Pete did not talk as much about his son as he did his daughter, but I know he loved him and I am certain that he, too, was as shocked as his sister to learn about his father’s death. I pray they both turned immediately to You, Lord, and I would ask anyone reading these words to pray for them. I would also ask that You give comfort to all who knew Peter and loved him. While I am fortunate to have been released from prison myself, I do wish I could hug those who I spent time with in Oakdale and who I know will be reeling from Pete’s death for some time to come. Perhaps you can reach in and squeeze their hearts for me, Father, and let them know they are all loved.

As for Peter, I give thanks that he is with You, Lord, and that his anguish over his separation from his family is over.

And for all of those in the ‘free world’ who may read these words, I pray that each and every one of you uses your freedom well, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13 NLT)

When we use our freedom to satisfy our sinful nature, we run the risk of finding ourselves deprived of our freedom, our families, and our friends. When we fail to recognize the importance of using our freedom the way You intended us to, Lord, we also run the risk of leaving this life before regaining an opportunity to get it right.

And prison is a terrible place to die.

Peter Becker, you will be missed, my friend. It was an honor to know you and to share cell #208 at Oakdale FCI with you. Thank you for allowing me to witness the expression of the love you had for your family.

Until we meet in heaven, I love you Pete.

“WRATH v. LOVE” by George

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

I woke up the other morning with that snippet of a song from the musical Hair looping in my mind. Funny what one’s mind captures, stores, and then releases from Past’s vault. I put my Walkman’s ear buds in and searched the airwaves for something new. Even with that, I couldn’t shake it, or replace it with something catchier. Were my synapse just misfiring long neglected memories, or was my soul trying to tell me something?

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Standing against the wall of my housing unit’s day room, I tuned into the morning TV news hoping it would keep the Hair from running through my mind.

The host’s meaningless banter segued between regurgitated sound bites of social media trends: concert video of Kanye West demanding his audience stand before he continued with the next song – to the point of unknowingly shaming someone in a wheelchair who “wouldn’t” stand up; a four year old girl denying she had used her mother’s lipstick even though her mouth was widely ringed in ruby red gloss; a Miss America contestant giving her opinion of the domestic violence scandal swirling around pro football player Ray Rice, his then fiancée now wife, and the NFL at large.

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

I watched as the blonde beauty queen touted her domestic violence platform’s platitudes ending with “he should not be given a second chance,” her bright smile glinting.

Hmm, no second chances?

As a rousing hand of affirmation and cheers surged from the audience, I couldn’t help envisioning her as a form-fitting evening dress-clad barbarian brandishing a pike with Ray Rice’s bloody head skewered on its point, demanding more than a pound of flesh. She gave the Atlantic City plebeians what they craved – no mercy!

My heart sank. I took out my ear buds and walked back to my room, disappointed.

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness… in deed.

Domestic violence is a serious issue. It is an outward display of deep inward hurt wrongly expressed toward a supposed beloved. Often it demonstrates a behavior learned throughout childhood development. When a child’s emotions build to the point beyond an ability to process, he often does one of two things – cries or strikes out. For a boy, society’s norms dictate that crying is weak; striking out is therefore by default the re-enforced response.

Many state laws allow spanking as an acceptable form of child discipline – society condones it.

If raised in a household where discipline, often administered in anger, was delivered physically, it is not hard to conclude that the child’s naturally learned response to displaying anger would be to violently strike out. Repeat those experiences and examples day after day, month after month, year after year, until it becomes second nature for a boy to become a man who only knows one way to act when angered. Now add a successful career, built over that same time period, whose core attributes of dominance and aggressiveness are celebrated and rewarded, is it any wonder that domestic violence can be an issue?

Society is hypocritical. We seem to be saying, “Spank a beloved child, okay; spank a beloved adult, head on pike.”

I would be just as appalled and disappointed had the now infamous elevator security camera footage showed his then fiancée now wife knocking him out, or him striking a man. The “shock” of the video should not be gender based. Violence is violence and should not be condoned. Period. However, I am of the Christian mindset that he should not be crucified for his actions, nor should she be condemned for forgiving him if her heart led her to that decision.

I do believe in second chances.


“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Psalm 34:14 (KJV)


Recently an Arkansas newspaper printed a “sound bite” blurb of a paragraph about Alabama Federal Justice Mark Fuller, who also had a domestic violence encounter with his wife in an Atlanta hotel elevator, caught on security camera footage too. However, unlike Rice, there is no national outrage about Judge Fuller’s wrongful actions.

Presidentially appointed to a lifetime position of deciding judgments justly, Fuller’s daily task meaningfully affect the lives of the accused – discerning between the innocent and the guilty. Rice’s daily task as a pro ball player is to assist his team in winning games – generating millions of dollars in profits. Though I am a football fan, Fuller’s career seems in the balance, one of much greater importance to the common good. Yet, a federal judge does not bear society’s burden of the badge “HERO” like a sports figure does.

Regretfully, this causes disparage between their punishments for the same act of violence. Fuller, only charged with a misdemeanor, faces no loss of salary or job, and must undergo domestic violence counseling. His punishment is redemptive in nature and tone. Though tarnished, his reputation and garnered respect still have room for repair. His “life” has been spared, allowing him to focus on healing without having to also struggle with complete financial demise. His punishment, “sentence,” seems fair.

Rice, due to the sentence demanded by the court of public opinion, has been fired from the team, permanently suspended from his career, and has lost all sponsorship. Though he and his wife have been attending counseling for months after the elevator incident in February to overcome the obstacles and heal toward improved decision making, people like Miss Beauty Queen – and maybe you – level their crowd-pleasing vilification of “no second chance.” But without that opportunity for repair, for redemption, how can we expect him to learn a better way?

Heroes are mere men – sinners – not gods. We all stumble in error. No person is without sin. None.


“You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord abides forever.’ That Word is the Good News which was preached to you. So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.” 1 Peter 1:23-2:1 (RSV)


As I sit in prison, a convicted sex offender sentenced by a federal judge, you might expect me to believe that Fuller, a federal judge, should be punished more for his crime. Not so. I believe Rice is paying too big a price. Both need and deserve healing and forgiveness.

I think a lot about judgment, redemptive punishment versus destructive punishment, and forgiveness. Looking back, as a child I often wondered about the same things, though obviously from a much simpler point of view and understanding. The subtle shades of fairness, equity, and balance, have always struck deep chords with me, especially when I saw their virtues absently displayed in the striking hues of unfairness, inequity, and misjudgment.

In second grade, Billy sat across the aisle from me in the next row. He was fun – a fidgety kid who always pushed the boundaries. Even at this young age, his mouth was often too eager to express his quick wit; something teachers hate, especially when trying to maintain control of the classroom.

One day I smarted off to our teacher, which erupted the class into hysterics. She scolded me and the class before proceeding with the lesson at hand. The next day Billy, with his keen sense of timing, smarted off to her much the same way that I had the previous day. But instead of being scolded, Billy was sent to the principal’s office. When Billy returned to class with his eyes puffy and red from crying (he had received a paddling), it struck me as unfair punishment.

His “crime” had been no different from mine. In fact, mine had gotten a much bigger reaction, so it was much more of a distraction. But I was a “good” student with excellent grades; Billy was not. His home life was much tougher than mine too. He often suffered discipline at the hand or switch or belt of his father. His welts bore witness.

For all of his rough edges, Billy did have a kind heart and an eager mind. But as we grew older, his past seemed to hang and build upon him in a way that did not encourage his heart. Instead, it built walls of toughness around it, and that toughness always garnered him more pain.

Today I can’t help but compare Billy to Ray Rice and myself to Judge Fuller. Much like me and Billy back in class, Fuller was only scolded while Rice was paddled. How much more room, freedom, is there for healing for Fuller by not having to recover from utter destruction at the same time? How much more beneficial would it be to Rice if he could seek healing in an uplifting, redemptive, and freeing atmosphere?

We can correct with wrath or we can correct with love. Man demands wrath; God demands love.


“If, because of one man’s trespass death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:17 (RSV)


My prayers for the Fullers and the Rices, plus all those struggling with domestic violence, is that they will learn and heal from their ordeals with redemptive support, and not from sheer desolation. Also, I hope that Judge Fuller, from his seat of judgment, remembers his failures and the merciful opportunity he received, as he continues to consider the failures of the accused that stand awaiting his verdict. I hope he is wiser than that beauty contestant, and believes in second changes. He is in a position to provide those.

I pray also that we, the court of public opinion, would cease to sentence those of us who fall short, who slip down a slippery slope, who lose our way along the path of “you should have known better,” who fail, to a fate of personal annihilation. If we could remember our pleading desire for forgiveness when we have sinned and could apply that empathy to those who desire forgiveness from us, wouldn’t we all be more blessed?

How much I desire for us to think with our hearts before we raise our voices or hands in anger, and that caused us to extend a helping hand and a comfortable word to assist each other back onto the path of happiness.


“Behold, we call those happy who are steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5:11 (RSV)


Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…


Man Imprisoned, Man Freed.

We are steadily approaching what will hopefully be my dad’s release from Oakdale, and many days I consider the journey. I admit, I smile.

Many years ago there was a man who did what he could. He had a house, some work, a son and a growing relationship with a long-lost daughter. He had dreams of creating. He had many things that, when stacked against the idea of imprisonment, were considered highly favorable. But because of delusions, these conditions were contaminated.

Several years ago there was the same man. Still with a son, and a rocky but existent relationship with his daughter. He barely had a home, and he had recently lost his parents. He fixed and cleaned filthy objects and was once attacked by someone while working, but he had a job. He lived in a sunny environment, albeit amidst financial poverty. He had dreams of improvement and then of creating. And still, when stacked against the idea of longterm imprisonment, he had some favorable conditions. But because of delusions, these conditions were contaminated.

A few years ago there was the same man. But imprisoned. Cut in many ways from the world outside an institution built for punishment; a place that, when stacked against the outer world, had terrible conditions. But because of a release from delusions, these conditions were purified.

For those of you wonderful readers who have followed this story over the weeks, months, years, you see it too. For those of you new ones, you will see it soon. You will feel, “Which of the men were imprisoned, and which of the men were freed?”

When I consider my father, I am not disturbed by his situation as others may think I am — have thought I am. Ordinary appearance reveals a human being who had freedom and was then locked away; ordinary appearance reveals ugliness and sadness. And yet there is neither ugliness nor sadness.

There remains only beauty and joy and hope and inspiration. And internal freedom for a very worthy individual.

“A TOAST TO FREEDOM” by Tony Casson

It seems appropriate to think about freedom as we approach the day on which we commemorate our independence.

I have written before about the “Toastmasters” group here at Oakdale, and I have posted speeches that I have given at some of those meetings. The following is a 5 minute speech I gave at a recent meeting. I thought I would share it with all of you.

I hope you find something in it that speaks to you.


“USE WELL THY FREEDOM”. Those four words adorn a low wall located in an older section of the Penn State University campus.

“USE WELL THEY FREEDOM”. A seemingly simple admonition to put to good use the freedom paid for in blood by so many American men and women since the founding of this great nation.

But is it something we do? Indeed, is something we even think about?

In the state of Florida, a well known professional football player and his equally well known super-model wife spent a reported $25 MILLION dollars on a 50 THOUSAND square foot home for them and their 2 children, while in the state of Louisiana ALONE, at the beginning of the last school year, there were 22 THOUSAND children who had no home at ALL.

Is THAT freedom used well?

In another part of the country, a man brags about the birth of his new child. Nothing unusual there, except that this is that man’s TENTH child, brought to life by SIX different women, none of whom he has been married to, a couple of whom were pregnant at the same time, and none of whom receive any emotional, spiritual, or financial support in the parenting and educating of those children.

Perhaps THIS is freedom used well.

In still another part of the country, a woman and her children are asleep in their beds late at night. In another room of the house, the husband and father reflects the glow of the computer screen he sits in front of as he engages in inappropriate sexually oriented “conversations” with people he doesn’t even know. Maybe he spends hours looking at ‘adult’ pornography. Perhaps he has even crossed the line and is looking at images of child sexual abuse referred to as child pornography.

Maybe THAT is an example of freedom that is being used well.

Since the founding of the United States of America, almost 2 MILLION men and women have sacrificed their lives to establish, preserve, and protect our freedom.

Are THOSE the freedoms they all died for?

In a recent Wall St. Journal report on how the average American uses the time in his or her day, it was stated that 2 hours and 50 minutes were spent watching television. Another 2 hours and 32 minutes were spent on sports and other leisure activities. Combined, the numbers equal 5 hours and 22 minutes of ‘me’ time each day.

Compare that to the 31 minutes that we spend caring for household members, and 11 minutes spent caring for non-household members, for a total of 42 minutes taking care of people other than ourselves.

We DO spend a whopping 30 minutes each day engaged in educational activities, although for many I think that is quite high, and when it comes to being involved in civic organizations or religious activities, we manage to spare an astonishing NINETEEN minutes each day.

Again, I believe that to be quite high in many cases.

If I have done my math correctly, the average American spends 91 minutes per day engaged in learning, taking care of other people, and taking part in civic organizations and religious activities. while we spend FIVE HOURS AND 22 MINUTES engaged in self-centered, self-serving, self-indulgent, and self-gratifying activities.

Which leads me to this question: Did all of those sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and husbands and wives make the supreme sacrifice of their LIVES so that we can each think only of OURSELVES?

Is THAT using our freedom well?

As inmates in a correctional facility, we probably think that freedom is what we lost when we entered this place. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth, because it was our FREEDOM that got us here. It was FREEDOM that was NOT USED WELL that closed the door behind us. It was the FREEDOM that we mistakenly believed gave us the right to think about OURSELVES to the exclusion of everyone else around us that keeps us behind fences and razor wire. We have convinced ourselves that FREEDOM is what makes the things WE want to do more important and more justified than what anyone else wants to do.

It stands to reason, then, that because we do not understand what freedom IS, it is impossible to understand how to use it WELL, and because we do not understand what true freedom is, we have all made ourselves SLAVES to those self-centered, self-serving, self-indulgent, and self-gratifying activities I spoke about.

Alright then….If freedom is NOT the “ME-dom” that we have made it, then what IS it?

The apostle Paul wrote, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”

I understand that people have different beliefs – or NO beliefs – when it comes to God and when it comes to the Holy Bible, but I challenge ANY person to find fault with that statement.

Imagine for a moment that YOU have a son or a daughter wearing the uniform of the military of this country. None of us would want our child to die at all, but if he or she must, I for one would pray to God that the life he or she gave would be sacrificed for a nation of people who cared about one another and NOT for a nation of people whose concept of freedom has made them slaves to selfishness.

You see, my friends, freedom is NOT about the rights that YOU have to do what you want to do.

Freedom is NOT about the rights that I have to do what I want to do.

This is because freedom isn’t a RIGHT at all. Freedom is a RESPONSIBILITY.

Freedom is the responsibility each one of us has to look out for one ANOTHER.

It is only when we truly understand what freedom IS that we can then begin to understand how to use it well.

Until we have learned to escape the slavery of our own selfishness, we will never be able to make our freedom even BEGIN to come close to being worth the cost of the life of someone’s child, parent, or spouse. Until such a time as that, ANY life lost will have been lost for nothing, and life is NOT worthless.

We only make it so when we insist on not using our freedom well.

I thank you.