“Belated Happy Birthday, “TOC”!

On April 21, 2o1o the first article I wrote was posted on these pages for me by my Son, Anthony. “I Surrender!” proclaimed the headline, and my entry into the world of blogging began with 344 words. Happy belated 5th birthday!

While the first articles were very short (more along the lines of what blogging really is about), of the 235 articles posted since that day, that was probably the shortest. At the opposite end of the spectrum, almost 3 years to the day later, on April 18, 2013, I would post “unspoken”, which contained 10,077 words! Perhaps someday I will add them all up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the total word count comes in around 500,000!

According to Wikipedia, a novel is 50 to 100,000 words. Maybe out of those 235 articles I can extract enough to form the nucleus of a book about my experience.

Long or short; 100,00 words, or one million; each and every article that has contributed to this body of work has been important to me, and as I sit in my room at Central Union Mission in Washington, DC at 2:35 AM, I find my eyes filling with tears as my mind flashes back through the years and I recall  just how important this blog was during my incarceration. Over time, it became important to some of those around me as well. There is a story here. Or, rather, “TOC” (as it has become known) is a collection of stories that are very personal, and contributed mightily toward turning what could have been a completely negative experience into one of the most positive influences in my life.

“TOC” is where I, Tony Casson, finally became a man. With the editorial assistance of my beloved Son, Anthony, who started this project for me; my best friend and brother-in-law, Larry Peters, who picked up the ball and ran with it for a while; and my own personal Angel and dear friend, Diane Woodall, who was sent by God to ‘bring it home’, “The Oakdale Chronicles” helped to shape a life that was formless, and to define a faith that lacked foundation and clarity. Indeed, a faith that didn’t exist at all.

When I first arrived in Washington as a ‘free man’, I moved into a dorm with 23 other men in a building that housed around 170 each night. I now live in a separate room with one other man who is hardly ever here, and it is his absence that allows me to sit and bang away on this keyboard at this early hour in the morning. When I wrote the first 344 words for these pages, if I found myself awake and restless at this time of night, all I could do was sit up and look forlornly out the narrow, barred window next to my top bunk and gaze across the well-lit lawn at the tall fence topped with razor-wire that sparkled under the lights. I would have to wait till 5 AM for someone to unlock the cell door, allowing a little more ‘freedom’.

Now, I look out the window that has no bars and I can see the Walmart sign on the other side of the Government Printing Office parking lot. I can put on my shoes and walk a couple of blocks to Union Station and get a cup of coffee at Au Bon Pain, which is open 24 hours.

Or I can go back to bed.

Thank you, Anthony, for not giving up on your old man.

Thank you, brother Larry, for being a rock for me.

Thank you, my dear friend Diane, who still is there when I need her.

Thank you, dear “TOC” reader, for spending some time here. We are approaching 30,000 ‘views’, and while this is no “Huffington Post”, it is something.

And thank you, God, for being so loving, so forgiving, and so full of mercy and grace.

Happy birthday, “TOC”. Here’s to the next 5 years!

 

“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.

LETTERS TO HEAVEN: In Memory Of Peter Becker

LETTERS TO HEAVEN:
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.

WHEN FIRST I DISCOVERED THE REASON ~ Repost from December 2012 & 2013 By Tony Casson

I lived for a long time not seeing,
Like many at this time of year;
I discovered the Truth and it shocked me,
As it filled my whole body with fear.

Embarrassment first and then numbness,
As the gravity of it took hold;
My blood chilled, my mind reeled, my heart raced,
When I first felt what I’d always been told.

“Sounds strange”, you say, so I’ll explain it,
For I’m quite sure that It’s not just me
Who has looked at a thing for a lifetime,
Seeing just what I wanted to see.

I saw lights and I saw all the presents,
And I relished the peace of the season;
Enjoying the sparkle and glitter,
I gave not one thought to the reason.

I knew what I’d heard about Jesus,
The One who was born long ago;
Part of me believed it, I’m certain,
But still I ignored all the things I now know.

I know now that the gift God gave us that day,
Cannot be described with a pen;
The gift that he gave was a Son who would die
So we all could be born once again.

The importance of Christmas was lost in my life,
With eyes open that just would not see;
It became so much less than the Son who was born
To die for both you and for me.

So many years lost that will never return,
And I feel somehow guilty of treason;
But Jesus was born to die for my sins,
I’m forgiven, and I know now the reason.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

The Gift ~ Repost from December 2011 By Tony Casson

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

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

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

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

But then – I am not God.

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

Merry Christmas

An Incarcerated Christmas Story ~ Repost from December 2010 By Tony Casson

My mother loved the holiday Season.  Her normally bright smiling face was a little brighter, her smile a little bigger during the holidays.

She suffered from macular degeneration among many other things, and was legally for several of the last years of her life.

I had the unique experience of spending 2-1/2 years of time on the world in Florida with her and my stepdad – Pop – who had a stroke at the end of 2004.

My duties included yard and house maintenance, cooking, shopping, shuttling them to their myriad of doctor appointments, and among other things, putting up the Christmas decorations when that time of year rolled along.

Mom was an incredible woman, and dealt with her physical limitations with as much strength and determination as any person could expect to – more than many would.  She went to the “Lighthouse for the Blind” in Ft Lauderdale to learn how to deal with her disability and she learned her lessons well.

In fact, with her ability to maneuver around her home including the kitchen and with the relaxed look on her face as she looked directly at you when she spoke with you, it was often easy to forget she really couldn’t see much at all.

I recall setting up their artificial Christmas tree, which had to be 15 years old – Pop always got his money’s worth out of something.  It had been shortened a little through the years, and some of the color-coded tags had fallen off, and the whole process of just setting up the tree itself and getting it all fluffed up was a task in and of itself.

The first Christmas I was there my stepsister, Adrienne – ‘yo Adrienne’ to me – set it up, in fact so she can offer first hand testimony to the challenge.

The lights would come next, and there were a lot of them, in fact 1,000 for a 6’ tree, and they had to be wrapped on each branch, from tip to trunk.

Pop would put most of the ornaments on, and when it was done it was a pretty sight.  A lot of depth to the lights, what with them placed all the way to the trunk and all. And bright. Possibly bright enough to be seen from space if placed in the front lawn.

But what exactly, could Mother see?  As she sat with her signature smile across her kind face, I asked, “What do you think?”  “It’s beautiful” she would say, rocking back and forth and hands clasped in front of her not unlike a child.

I would laugh and tease her “what the heck are talking about, you can’t even see!”

She would feign ignorance and say “Just stop it! That’s not true!”

“Ok, then – tell me, exactly what do you see, really?”

“Well”, she would say hesitantly. “I can see a bright light, like a halo, along the outline of the tree”, and she would draw the outline with her hands out in front of her.  She continued, “The inside of that outline is black”.  She sat back and looked up at me.

“That’s it?” I asked.  “That’s all you see?  No ornaments or anything?”

“Pretty much”, she said.

“Then, why do we go through all of this?” I asked tactlessly.

“Because I remember”, she said, looking at her past with a smile on her face, as she sat in her favorite chair.

I love my mother immensely, as do my children, my siblings, their children, and just about anyone else who ever met her.

She was the gentlest, kindest, most loving person I have ever known and any capacity I have for love I got from her.  I miss her tremendously, as we all do.

I am also thankful, in a way, that she is with God and not alive today for as much as I love her, I don’t think I could have faced myself in the mirror knowing how she would have been during these holidays that just past.

As it is, I am confident she is with all of us all, watching from Heaven, with the perfect vision  the Lord has given her back, and that she is reassured by him that this too shall pass and we will all get through this my children, my brothers and sisters and their families, my friends, and myself.

She helped me to see all the lights and decorations on the tree that wasn’t there this year.

Was this a horrible holiday, this Incarcerated Christmas?  Not at all.

And I’ll tell you all about it next time. . .

~~~~~~~

There was no stocking hung by the chimney, with or without care.  There were no chestnuts roasting by an open fire. (Actually, an open fire would probably be good for another year or two.)   I didn’t set out any cookies or milk for Santa, either because someone would have eaten the cookies and drank the milk and it would have been the fat man. It might have been A fat man, but not THE fat man.

There was a Christmas decoration contest within the individual Housing Units, although I’m not sure how that went because the memo never made it to our bulletin board and I didn’t become aware of the said contest until Friday the 17th.  The judging was to be on Monday the 20th.  No one seemed to care, which is okay. I received quite a few cards (for which I am grateful) and taped them around the inside frame in my cell.  (Something that wasn’t allowed, but no one saw it – they are gone now but not forgotten).  I don’t know who did win, or what they got, but I try not to let what anyone else does affect me, and if someone did put forth an effort and received acknowledgment of some sort, then God bless them!

There were some decorations in the “courtyard” between the administration building and the dining hall. There is a raised hexagon planter about 15’ across in the center of the “courtyard” which does pass going to the dining hall, the library or laundry, as well as the building that houses all of the people who make the prison run.

There were some icicle lights draped over the edge of the planter all the way around, a decorated tree on the side that could be viewed by people in the Admin Building, as well as the classic Santa Claus scene, consisting of a Santa standing by a flat bottomed boar being pulled by 2 grinning alligators, all cut out of plywood brightly painted and trimmed with lights.

There were also some decorated tables and railings in the dining hall next to the security line, and window decorations in the chapel.

South Central Louisiana is located far enough north for the grass to turn brown in the winter and far enough south for the trees to stay green – most of them anyway.

The temperature swings wildly from the 30s one day to the 60s the next. But more often or not, the days are reasonably comfortable, although not quite a Christmas climate, but then again, I lived 5 years in South Florida and 12 years in Dallas prior to that so weather wise it is pretty much what I am used to.

The razor wire and the boys in khaki added a new twist to the season, however.

But it was what is was, and while it was far from ideal, it was my Christmas and I was determined it was going to be thankful, and thankful it was, and thankful I am, and thankful I remain.

Christmas, for most of the inmates perspective centered around 2 thinks:  the holiday meal and the “holiday bag”.  Oh yes, what a stir the “holiday bag” creates.

Some – no, many – of the fellow khaki clad convicts will complain about anything. The sense of entitlement and the classification of everything is “a right” is strong.  Strong, sometimes to the point of being an insult to the intelligence of any rational member of the human race.

The “holiday bag” is a sealed plastic bag full of carious chips and cookies, munchies and crunchies, TGI Friday was there with Potato Skins, and Burger King made an appearance with “onion rings”.  There were pecan shortbread cookies, Hot n’ Spicy Cheese Its, and awesome big bar of milk chocolate (my personal favorite) and assorted other goodies like “lemonheads” and some really unpleasant sweet n’ sour twisted thingies.

A vertical plethora of goodness that was criticized for more for what is wasn’t in it than for what was.

There seemed to be a disagreement over whether it was a bigger than last year or not, and since I wasn’t here last year I had no such opinion.  The bag was a nice gesture, I thought.  Probably set the taxpayer back several million dollars to provide them for the whole B.O.P.

My problem lies not with the bag itself, for it’s not the gift that matters, correct?  It’s supposed to be the thought that counts and it was the manner in which the gifts were distributed that out a damper on what could have been a symbol of kindness, humanity, and the spirit of the season.

Wednesday, December 22nd the day “the bags” were to be distributed.  The day dawned with clear skies and temps projected to be in the 60s, after the noon meal which was the time established for the event.

Unit by unit, beginning with the one I live in, we were released and headed out, single file, to receive our goodies.  From the unit we could see that most, if not all, of the prison staff had turned out for the event.

We walked through ‘the key’ which is the control point separating the housing portion of the compound from all of the other facilities.

At the key, we were instructed to go down the sidewall to the left and enter the dining hall through the west side. Of course, not too many people call it the west side – to most, it is the Black side, which of course meant we would be exiting on the East, or – anyone?, anyone? – that’s right, the white side!

As it happened, I was pretty close to the front of the line, and as we walked closer I could see a group of people outside the door and I turned to my friend Rob and said “oh look, the Warden is there and they all must be lined up to wish us a Merry Christmas”.

Not a person in the group of 8 or so individuals (all highly ranked officials) even so much as looked at us, let alone wish us a happy anything.

We opened up the door and were met with the one of the bands that used the music room, playing Christmas tunes. I like Christmas music, I mean who doesn’t? So that was a nice touch.  They had cleaned some tables out of the way and they were off to our right facing the serving line where a group of inmates was placing freshly baked cookies in little white bags for us to pick up as we moved closer to “the prize”.

There were more officers and staff lining the route we were traveling, more gazes averted, more uncomfortable shuffling in place. One person did look up and catch my eye and I said “Merry Christmas” with a big smile.  He seemed slightly unsure and hesitated for just a moment before saying “Merry Christmas” back.

Maybe they all felt comfortable thinking any of us had anything to be happy about. Maybe they didn’t think us deserving of the gifts we were about to receive.  I don’t know and probably never will, but I kept a smile on my face, joy in my heart, and an eye out for someone willing to share my good cheer as I continued through the line.

Of course, the inmates bagging the cookies all responded when I wished them a Merry Christmas.

After picking up the cookies, we were handed a rather large and extremely tasking Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. And then we headed for the last stop, the big prize, the piece of resistance, the crowning glory of this precious moment – “the bag”.

“The bag” was located just outside the “white side door”, and the remaining office staff in attendance were out there with the same uncomfortable looks and stances as most of the others.

We were handed our bag full of goodies and turned right to head back to our unit where everyone ate their cookies, drank our hot chocolate, and opened their ‘presents’.  There would be much trading and ‘buying & selling” of whole bags or individual items over the next couple of days.

Personally, I missed sneaking down the stairs, peering around the corner, and seeing the treasures left by the mysterious old fellow known as “Santa”, seeing the trains, bicycles, wagons and dollhouses that were somehow assembled by Santa as he munched the cookies and drank the milk that we left by the chimney.

Christmas sure has changed – but certainly not all in bad ways.

I’ll tell you about that Day of Peace, Joy and Love, from an inmate’s perspective, next time.

~~~~~~~

The Bible says “so if we have enough food and clothing, let there be content” Timothy 6:8 NLT

The clothing is not very stylish, but our bodies are covered.  The food – well, we are fed 3 meals a day and we won’t starve.  Sometimes it’s better than others, and trust me, I would love to have a 2” thick grilled Porterhouse, a little char on the outside, a little pink on the inside, and a lot juice everywherebut – that will have to wait (excuse me while I wipe the drool from my chin).My prayers for Christmas morning focused on family and friends, and being thankful for both. Of course I miss my family very much, but I gave thanks to god for watching over them and blessing them. I prayed that my incarceration would not detract too much from their happiness on that day.

I also prayed for all the men who share life inside the fences and walls that they may find some solace of peace, comfort and joy on this the most difficult day of the year I would think, to be away from family.

I work in the dining hall, and since I normally work in Saturday, I would be working on Christmas Day throughout breakfast and then the noon meal, which was eagerly awaited by all.

The menu for this meal sounded impressive, and the executing of it was very, very good.  The meal consisted of: A plump, juicy Cornish Hen for each inmate, accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravy, dirty rice (this is Louisiana), green beans, corn and a dessert box that contained two small, round pecan pies and 1/6 slice of custard pie.

As I have said before, we take better care of our prisoners than we do the poor & elderly.

My ‘normal job’ in the dining hall is to mop in front of the 20’ of beverage and ice dispensing equipment and anyplace else a liquid spill may occur (I only do liquid spills – solid waste spills is another department).

Christmas Day lunch I was pulled off my mop (which I am very good at, thank you!) and placed on “utensil deployment”.  This means I hand each person their rolled-up napkin containing a “spork” and salt & pepper.  As I had previously mentioned there are two entrances to the facility, and both walk towards each other in front of the line of servers who fill the trays and hand them to the inmates just before they meet in the center.

Today, because most of the amount of food and dessert, there was a 6’ table set up perpendicular to the serving line in the center, with a co-worker of mine on each side handing a dessert box to each inmate as they picked up their trays.  Then they passed by yours truly who was standing at the end of the table handing out “utensil packets” as they passed by either side of me.

I was determined to try to be cheerful and upbeat and I proceeded to say “Merry Christmas” to each of the 1200 or so inmates who passed by over the next hour or so (may 1½ hours).

That’s a LOT of Merry Christmases!! Of course, I had no idea who was Jewish, Muslim, Navajo, Wiccan or What (editor note: Wiccan is a Neopagan religion and a form of modern witchcraft, not uncommon in the southern reaches of the bayou), but it was Christmas Day no matter how you looked at it and political correctness has never been my strong suit, so I said it to all.

And the strangest thing happened.  The overwhelming majority said the same thing back! Even some who on any other day would probably be upset that I was even talking to them.  Many seemed surprised. Many seemed – I don’t know – kind of thankful. It was strange, but it was nice.  I enjoyed it and felt good that I had done it.

I know this may seem like a big deal to most of you.  But you have to live here to get it, maybe.  If that’s the case, I hope no who’s reading this ever gets it.

But I suspect someone will understand.

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  I will have a more opportunities to volunteer to pass out spoons before I am able to be with my family during this most wonderful time of the year.  I’ll do my best to make the most of a bad situation in the meantime.

Until next time. . .

Christmas by Faith – Repost from December 2010 By Tony Casson

This time of year can be difficult for people in the BEST of circumstances. For those who have loved ones who are incarcerated, and for those who ARE incarcerated, it can be more so.

BELIEVING in the reason FOR Christmas can help – a lot. I know this, BECAUSE I believe. BY FAITH, I am content in all circumstances. BY FAITH, I am convinced that this, too, shall pass for ALL of us. BY FAITH, I am grateful for my very life in this world today as it was the Lord’s WILL that I not leave it at MY choosing. BY FAITH, I am thankful for every breath I take, and I am thankful to God for the greatest gift of all – the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, whom he allowed to be born unto us so humbly in order that He may one day DIE to save us all! BY FAITH, I believe that his birth resulted in his death, and his death gave me the grace that I may live today to celebrate that birth. BY FAITH, I am able to do that with peace, love, and joy in my heart.

May God grant each and every one of you that same peace, joy, and love today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your time in this world.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; It gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

A Holiday Recipe from the Big House ~ Repost from December 2010 By Tony Casson

(Note from Anthony: I don’t know what my dad does better than design recipes for good ol’ backyard cookin’. We chatted about a prison food series, and this looks like a start.)

A Holiday Recipe From The Big House To Your House

Tony’s “A Little Bit Of Fire From Inside The Wire” Special Sauce

Like the Mothers of my wonderful children – “Sweet, yet hot tempered”

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup Louisiana Hot Sauce

1/4 cup juice from jar of pickled jalapenos

1/4 cup minced pickled jalapenos

1/4 cup coarse ground red pepper (I used cayenne peppers I ‘found’ in the prison garden, dried and crumbled)

1/4 cup Lawry’s seasoned salt

1/8 cup Garlic powder

2 packets Sazon Goya Seasoning Con Azafran (1 packet = 1 tsp)

2 packets Splenda

Combine all ingredients in an empty 12 oz. jar and shake it, baby, shake it!

Best to let flavors cavort for 24 hrs before use.

Especially good mixed with prepared Ramen noodles and diced chicken!

TODAY IS… an awesome day to thank God for the greatest gift of all. By Tony Casson

Time for another excerpt from the book, “Today Is….A Gift From God.”

http://www.amazon.com/TODAY-IS-Gift-From-God/dp/1497365244

 

December 25

TODAY IS…

an awesome day to
thank God for the greatest gift of all.

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:11 NIV

As the title of this book reminds us, each day is A Gift From God. The days of our lives are precious, each and every one. They hold out promise and hope. The days of our lives are among the most valuable of all gifts that God gives us, and there are many, as the devotionals in this book have attempted to demonstrate.

But the most precious gift ever given by the One who gave us this world in which to live, and our very lives with which to enjoy it, was the gift of His Son Jesus Christ, the One whose birth would change the world forever.

Zechariah used these beautiful words to describe the gift that the world would soon be given: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:79 NLT). The morning has broken, and it is surely a beautiful day!

Jesus came to occupy our hearts, but it is not a forced occupation. We must want Him there, and we must seek the light that He will shine upon those dark areas of our souls that we would like to say good-bye to. We must desire the life that will come when we learn the savior’s lessons that will teach us to die to ourselves. We must volunteer to serve and be willing to sacrifice all that we are and all that we have in order to receive all that He came to give.

Hopefully we are all aware that we must thank God each and every day for all of His grace, all of His love, and all of His mercy. But on this day that has been set aside to mark the arrival of the most valuable gift ever given, we must all be sure to give special thanks to God.

With this gift in our possession, we can feed those who are hungry, clothe those who are naked, house those who are homeless, and heal those who are sick. With this gift we can refuse to fall prey to the temptations of Satan and those he has corrupted on this earth. With this gift we can live in a significant manner and we can understand the concept of humble service to our brothers and sisters.

By accepting this remarkable, priceless gift of love, we can be better spouses, better parents, better friends, and better neighbors.

Let us all humbly, gratefully, joyfully, and tearfully accept this gift and say “Thank You” to Almighty God.

TODAY IS… a superb day to pray for peace. By Tony Casson

Time for another excerpt from the book, “Today Is….A Gift From God.

http://www.amazon.com/TODAY-IS-Gift-From-God/dp/1497365244

 

December 24

TODAY IS…

a superb day to pray for peace.

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”  Matthew 5:9 NLT

All of the chaotic preparations of the season begin to wind down. Last minute shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking, traveling; all of these things begin to end and we are ready to enjoy our families, our friends, our neighbors. Businesses begin to close early – those that are actually still trying to get things done – and a quiet begins to descend on our communities.

All that we have done to celebrate this time of year is acceptable to God. He loves to hear our laughter, and the sound of excited children. He loves our music and He wants families and friends to draw closer, be nicer, and love each other.

But God also wants each one of us to reach out and pray for peace throughout the world. Some people laugh or become cynical at the mere thought or mention of world peace, but this is something that would truly please God because we cannot have peace throughout the world without people loving each other, respecting each other’s differences and being concerned for each other’s health and welfare.

World peace is not something that is just for beauty pageant contestants to hope for. It is certainly not something to laugh about or refuse to think about because we see so many obstacles to it.

World peace should be in our prayers every day, but especially on this day. We should gather our families and thank God for our good fortune and for the love we share with one another, and we should use that time as an opportunity to collectively ask God to use His power to help make us all kinder, gentler, and more compassionate. We should take this little bit of time to teach our children the importance of giving thanks and giving the gift of prayer for peace throughout this world that God created for us to share with one another.

Those who feel that world peace is impossible are the very people that Jesus Christ was talking about when He said, “You don’t have enough faith,’ Jesus told them. ’I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.’” (Matthew 17:20 NLT).

Use the gift of prayer and your faith to move the mountains of hate, war, persecution and oppression. Pray to God for peace throughout the world.

*******