“Stories Of A Prisoner’s Wife”

Entry Eight


“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:34

The mind is a very interesting and conflicted part of a human being. I’m convinced the only thing more interesting and conflicted would be the heart. In my experience my heart and my mind don’t always work together very well. My heart often feels things that my mind over-thinks into oblivion.

I am a worrier by nature.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to inherit something like that, but if it is possible I am convinced I did. When my little brother was about 5 he gave my dad an oblong shaped flat pebble type rock that was about an inch wide and a couple of inches long. My dad called it his “worry rock”. When my dad passed about 5 years later I found that rock in the contents of his pants pocket and he had rubbed his worries on that rock so often that he had rubbed an indention with his thumb.

I wish I still had that rock, it would come in handy these days for me.

In my case, silence leaves the door wide open for worries, heartache and over thinking. I write letters to my husband every day. Those letters contain a lot of the things I am feeling about this entire situation. It’s kind of like talking to a wall right now; there aren’t any responses. He said he has written me every day but because he didn’t get out of the S.H.U. until last Wednesday and wasn’t able to buy stamps until Thursday I haven’t received a letter from him yet. He calls, daily so far, but we can’t get into a very deep discussion about feelings in the short time he has on the phone. Plus, deep discussions about feelings make me cry and it’s pointless to cry during the few minutes of voice time we have each day.

So I worry.

Do you know what worry does? It takes away joy and peace. It doesn’t stop any of the bad stuff from happening; it just stops you from enjoying the good stuff today. It’s like rocking in a rocking chair: You are always moving but never going anywhere.

I worry about how he is feeling. I worry about our future together. I worry if he has decided it would be easier to not have anyone on the outside to worry about…or if he even worries about me at all.

Does he think about me all day like I do him? Does he miss me? And I worry why he doesn’t miss me if he doesn’t (In reality I know he does, but I get lost in those dumb worries sometimes). I worry he will forget about me (Again, I know that isn’t going to happen). His life seems to be moving on with a new normal (not one he would have chosen) and it’s not a life I am involved in. I worry that one day I may become nothing more than just the person who puts money on his commissary account.

Will his new life become so busy (if prison life can be that busy) that the phone calls and letters will stop? I worry about everything, even stuff I seem to make up (like the things above that in reality I know would never happen). I worry about scenarios that “might” happen or could happen.

It is maddening.

I know he loves me, or he did when he entered the facility 13 days ago. How does he feel now? The same? Different?

I worry. I worry all the time and if I am not worrying I feel guilty that I am not, so I find something to worry about.

I know that isn’t the definition of crazy but it should be.

Now, much of what is written above isn’t at all fair to my husband. It makes him sound bad and like he hasn’t done what he should to make sure his wife knows she is loved. That’s not true, he has. I can’t imagine how hard it is to love someone like me who worries the way I do, it has to be a challenge.  Everything I mentioned above is just my mind over thinking and excessively worrying about things that actually don’t even exist. I know he loves me fiercely. I also know that it will kill him to read what I wrote above and know I am thinking things like that in the dark parts of my mind. One of the best things about “us”, is that I am the worrier and he can talk me down. He is very good at it. And I miss that.

That’s why my worries are having a field day right now, because he isn’t here to talk me down from them.

So why the doubts and the questions?

Satan, that’s why and I know that. My mind is no good for me. The devil can plant himself in there with all that worry and doubt and make me a basket case in a quick minute. He can have me doubting the most absolute things I know to be true about God and my husband quickly. Worry is one of my biggest problems that I need to overcome. It is a wedge between me and Jesus.

I know this but I struggle.

Eventually we will find a good routine for communication and it will quell the worries that run rampant right now. I will start getting letters from him and I will feel more connected being able to see his feelings and know more about his daily life. There will be visits where I can see him face to face and see his feelings and emotions. It will get easier, I know that.

But goodness, I never anticipated the struggle of the transition.

It’s never easy to pour your heart out to someone with no response and it feels like that’s what I have been doing for 13 days now. I know the response will come, but I am not patient and in the meantime my mind loves to worry.

I’m trying to learn to put the worry to rest, it’s a very long learning process for me. I fail more often than I succeed, so I just keep trying and repeating my life-verse over and over when the worries are overwhelming:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”        Philippians 4:6-7


“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!



‘My’ bus finally rolled into the station and those holding tickets were all standing in line, waiting to board. I was not the only one who had been anticipating an earlier departure. The bus seemed larger from the outside than I had remembered, but once on board I became aware that what I was seeing was an optical illusion. While the exterior graphics package was a newer, updated version from the one I remembered, the interior actually seemed smaller than I recalled from times past. This, too, may have been an illusion, but the feeling of closeness on a full ‘Grey Dog’ indicates otherwise, and this ‘Dog’ was full of ‘fleas’!

None of that mattered however, as the predominant thought in my mind was that we were finally underway and I was going to be moving farther and farther from Oakdale with each passing minute. The entire undertaking was accompanied by a numbness of my senses that would prove to be a prelude to the numbness my rear-end would experience as the hours wore on. Still, as the ‘Grey Dog’ began its run towards Mobile, Alabama, I was acutely aware that the future had begun.

My traveling ‘companion’ for the first 8 hours or so was a short woman of Hispanic origin who was probably around 50. She did not speak English but required some assistance with her carryon luggage at each stop where we were required to leave the bus for 30 – 60 minutes. Those stops included Baton Rouge and New Orleans, with her final destination being Mobile. She was quiet, but pleasant, and offered me money for helping her. I declined, so she wrote her name and phone # on a piece of paper instead. As I had no phone, I had no number to give her, but I thanked her and did my best to explain. I made sure she got her bags from beneath the bus when she needed to do so and helped her get to a place where she could await those who were coming to pick her up in Mobile.

By the time we left Mobile, it was dark, and I was fortunate enough to be one of the first to board. I managed to get a window seat near the front of the bus. My next ‘companion’ was an attractive young woman named Mila (rhymes with vanilla). Most of the people who ride ‘The Dog’ look like people who ride ‘The Dog’.

Mila did not look like someone who rode ‘The Dog’. Before anyone asks, I cannot tell you what people who ride ‘The Dog’ should look like. You’d recognize them if you saw them.  I can only say that, as a rule, they don’t look like Mila.

There was also a young black couple on board who turned out to be a brother and sister who were traveling up into Georgia, and were changing buses in Atlanta. They had been on the bus since I first boarded it and were very well dressed, well mannered, and well spoken, and were traveling from one parent in the Houston area to visit the other parent in Columbia, Georgia. We exchanged pleasantries at each stop. Like Mila, they didn’t look like people who rode ‘The Dog’ regularly either. As it turned out, none of them had ever ridden a bus before, so if I am guilty of stereotyping, I guess I can at least say that I was good at it (hahaha).

Mila proved to be a very interesting young woman who was willing to spend time talking with an old man on a bus. When I asked where she was headed, she indicated she was traveling first to North Carolina to attend a wedding, then she was headed to Portland, Maine where she was going to intern for a state Senator. I told her about my connection to Maine (I was born there and had family there), and further discussion revealed that she had recently graduated from a Christian College in Pensacola. The course of the conversation ultimately revealed that she had been born in Romania and had been raised in Malaysia as a Muslim. She had converted to Christianity at 14, so I asked her about the difficulty that I assumed accompanied being a Christian in a predominately Muslim part of the world. Mila was very intelligent, open, and willing to talk about God, and was the perfect traveling companion (No offense to Olga, my little Hispanic friend).

I admit here that I mislead her about where I was headed and why. I was reluctant to tell her that I had just been released from prison. I did tell her I was headed to Washington, D.C. to live in a Mission, but I sort of led her to believe that I was going there to work, as opposed to going there to live until I could reassemble my much disassembled life. I did show her my copy of my book, “TODAY IS….A Gift From God” and I think she might have examined the back cover where I mentioned being incarcerated, but if she noticed, she didn’t say anything. More than likely it was simple politeness on her part.

Before I boarded my next bus, I saw her standing off to the side smoking a cigarette. I wrote down the address to these “Chronicles” and called her over. I gave it to her and asked her to check it out.

Perhaps she will even read these words. If she does, I hope she accepts my apology for any deception on my part. I was not intentionally trying to deceive for nefarious purposes, or out of any embarrassment or reluctance to discuss my experience and the reasons for the incarceration in the first place. In fact, had we had privacy, I probably would have told her as much as she wanted to hear, but the “Grey Dog” is not conducive to private conversations as we discovered by the interruptions into our conversation several times by a very colorful individual on his way to Washington as well. The conversation with Mila made the extreme tedium of the journey disappear. It was so nice to have pleasant, meaningful conversation with someone outside of the prison environment and I was glad to see I could still participate in such a ‘normal’ conversation.

As the night wore on, we both drifted off to sleep for a while. When we parted in the wee hours of the morning, I was sorry to see her go. We wished each other well, and I knew she would be difficult to ‘replace’ as a traveling partner. I was quickly proven right as my next ‘seatmate’ was a young man who chose headphones over conversation, which was fine, but it was also temporary as he was only next to me for a couple of stops. The crowd thinned out, and he would prove to be my last seatmate. As the morning dawned, I had a little more room to stretch out, and as we rolled into Charlotte, North Carolina the scenery had improved dramatically over Louisiana, Mississippi, and the southern part of Alabama that I could see before darkness had consumed the scenery.

Charlotte was home to my first really scrumptious ‘free world’ food. A black man who, by his girth looked like he really enjoyed food, recommended the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on Texas toast prepared in the little grill located in a corner of the bus station. Fresh, hot, and made to order, it was truly a thing of wonder. I love a good breakfast sandwich and this one was exceptional.

There still remained about 8-10 hours till we arrived in Richmond, Virginia, but the countryside was beautiful, the weather was gorgeous, and freedom was in the air!

I saw some lovely towns and cities throughout North Carolina and into Virginia. Since the bus was not an express, we sort of took the long way around, but in the end it was worth it.

The entire trip was about 32 hours, and by the time we rolled into Richmond at 7 PM the day after my release from Oakdale, the entirety of my derriere felt like it had been injected with Novocain. Those reading this may find that amusing, but I kid you not: My rear-end was numb, and it was a numbness that did not completely wear off for 3 days!

Seeing my sister in the bus depot in Richmond was one of the most welcome sights I have ever experienced. We hugged and left the station to the comfort of her Volvo crossover. We chatted for a few minutes as we left the city and headed north towards Lorton, where she lives, and then I used her cell phone to call Anthony, my son. To not have the call introduced by a mechanical voice saying, “This call is from Tony Casson, an inmate at a federal prison” was something I had anticipated for a long time. To not be reminded twice during the call that “This call is from a federal prison” was something I had also anticipated. And to not have the call terminated at the end of 15 minutes was priceless! We hung up when we were done talking and it was over 30 minutes before that occurred.

I missed my friends already, but I was thoroughly enjoying the stimulation of my senses by all of the different sights, sounds, and smells that accompany freedom.

There are not enough pages, nor am I in possession of enough talent, to ever adequately describe to you all that I thought about, saw, and felt during my first 36 hours of freedom. I can tell you this much, however: Whether or not that was my last run as a ‘flea’ on the “Grey Dog” or not, there will never be another bus ride which will mean as much to me as that one.

That ride carried me from the place God trained me to be for a little over four years, and delivered me to where He wanted me to be for the next phase of my life of service to Him. The unpleasantness of the physical discomfort of the trip itself is nothing when compared to the opportunities to serve God and glorify His name that I was being directed to.

Those left behind may think they are forgotten, but they are not. They are in my thoughts, my prayers and are a part of many discussions I have. God leads me and guides my steps as I work to help people around me now, but the men I left behind are an indelible part of who I am, how I think, and they will remain a part of my life.

I have written in the past in these “Chronicles” about the ability of our faith in God to allow us to be free no matter where we are, and those words still stand. For me, it was the “perfect prison experience”, and I had never been as free in my mind and my spirit as I was in Oakdale.

I carry that freedom with me into ‘the free world’ and I will use it to help me to fully appreciate the physical freedom of being on this side of the razor-wire. I will ask God on a daily basis to help me remember what Paul had to say about freedom in the Book of Galatians in the Holy Bible: “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)

This responsibility Paul speaks about, “to serve one another in love”, is something that can prevent most of the things which cause men and women to go to prison in the first place, from ever happening.

Think about that.

For now, I am ‘dog’ tired. God bless you all and may He keep you and your families safe. I will be writing more on my experiences as time goes on, but I need to get these articles done and posted.


Leaving prison should have represented something akin to one of the best days of my life, and while there certainly was a growing sense of anticipation, that anticipation was cloaked in something which more closely resembled sadness as the time drew closer.

My last meal at Oakdale Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), on Monday, May 19, was chili with cheese and onions which I used to smother a humongous, perfectly-baked potato. The term ‘baked potato’ itself is a misnomer most of the time as the potatoes falling into that category are most often just boiled with the skin on. Since this potato was actually baked, this was a definite treat. Before being executed, this would not have qualified as a particularly spectacular last meal, but it was more than adequate as a meal I attended for the primary reason of seeing individuals from other housing units I might not otherwise get a chance to see before leaving. In other words, my last supper was more of a social event than a stop for sustenance.

Walking back to my housing unit, I lagged behind my dinner companions to say goodbye to a man named Frank. In his 50’s and of Filipino descent, Frank has a year or two left on his sentence. Frank and I both have a child living in Seattle: he, a daughter, and I, a son. We shook hands, embraced, and left each other with as much encouragement as we could muster. After leaving Frank, I heard my name and turned around to see a young man named Cameron, who was walking with Bernie Ebbers. Bernie is seven years into a 25 year sentence for ‘cooking the books’ in the incident responsible for the collapse of WorldCom. I have often pondered the necessity for locking him and others like him away for so long and causing so much devastation behind them when there are most likely better options that could be employed in our collective search for justice, fairness, and punishment that is meaningful and achieves a purpose beyond causing intelligent, successful, and enterprising individuals to simply waste away in prison. This is a complicated issue, and I digress from the main story, although that is nothing new. It is an issue that will need to be dealt with in greater detail later. For now, suffice it to say that I pray for Bernie and for his family.

Cameron is in his late 20’s and had taken pictures of his girlfriend while in a relationship. The pictures were of a personal, sexual nature. His intent was not to post them on the internet, but the relationship deteriorated, and somehow the young woman’s mother ‘discovered’ the pictures, and turned them over to the police. You see, the young lady was 17 and Cameron was 24 when the photos were taken and Cameron was charged with ‘production of child pornography’. He struck a deal which netted him ‘only’ 9 years instead of the mandatory minimum of 15. I think back to something my good friend Richard Roy told me about his grandparents. Richard’s grandfather was 28 and his grandmother was 14 when they were married. The relationship ‘only’ lasted 50 years.

The times have changed.

Cameron and I embraced and wished each other well. I was not close to Bernie, but we did say goodbye. He was a regular fixture walking the track, and in chapel services on Sunday. He addressed a business class I had taken and I was saddened by the story he told, but I was saddened many times over the previous 4 years of my incarceration by the stories I was told. They headed off in the direction of their housing unit, and I headed back to mine. I walked about 20 feet before looking around. It was a rare moment when there was no one close to me, either in front or behind me and I was thankful for I had to suppress an almost overwhelming urge to break down and cry.

The enormity of the human tragedies represented by the men I had come to know, to care for, to pray about, and to respect slammed into me like a freight train and for a brief moment, I simply wanted to fall down and weep.

I have written quite often over the last four years about my own acceptance of responsibility for the irresponsibility of my actions, and the enormity of the situation surrounding incarceration in general and the draconian, pointlessly long sentences handed out for internet crimes in particular as it all pertains to my friends, their families, and this country as a whole so the scope of it all came as no real surprise or revelation. I guess I just had a moment where I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. Like the occasional urge I still get to inhale cigarette smoke, it lasted only a brief moment, and then I was back to worrying about my friends. I was deeply saddened to be leaving them behind. Did I want to go? Of course, I did, but I wanted to take them all with me.

What I was preparing to leave behind was just a tiny snapshot of the total picture of what we are allowing to happen to this country because of our preference for pursuit, prosecution, and incarceration over prevention, as well as our growing need to sexualize everything in our lives until there is nothing left to sexualize but our children. We are pathetic, really, as a nation, and as individuals. There will be those who will point and loudly proclaim that it is me, and those like me, who are responsible for that condition, but that accusation would not even begin to adequately assign the blame and the responsibility.

I have accepted the blame for my part in all of this, but I can not, and will not, accept the blame for the misguided government officials who have allowed this to happen, not just to me, but to thousands, and potentially hundreds of thousands, of American citizens, to say nothing of their families.

As I reentered the place which had been my residence for the previous 4 years, I made a conscious effort to taste the sweetness of the successful completion of my sentence, but the bitterness of those misguided sentences received by some of those I was leaving behind rose like bile in the back of my throat. Stanley, 25 year sentence; David, 20 year sentence; Joseph, 17 1/2; Ken, 17 1/2; Pete, 15; Phillip, 12 1/2; and on, and on, and on. And for each one who leaves, there are more to fill in the spaces left.

Do not misunderstand me. I am angry at, and disappointed in, each man who willingly, knowingly, participated in his crimes. That said, I believe there are better ways to deal with the problem, as I have stated so many, many times before over the last 4 years. Ways that would also provide greater security for our children and protect other innocent victims from the scourge of internet pornography.

As I went around talking with different people, there were several awkward goodbyes as men who are not accustomed to displaying emotion in public fought back the urge to do so.

As I continued to say my goodbyes, I reflected on the fact that many of them expressed confident hope in me. The hope was that I would continue the things I began in prison and I will not disappoint them. Adjusting to breathing the ‘free air’ that Steve Marshall wrote to my dear friend Diane about will take some time, but I get ahead of myself.

In order to continue to do the things I have maintained must be done, I must first get to Washington, D.C. to begin my new life at the Central Union Mission (missiondc.org). I must get situated, centered, and build relationships with those who will hold sway over my new freedom, as well as those I will be working with, and for, in the mission itself, and as I prepare to reenter the workforce.

Exciting times lie ahead, filled with God’s promise of a future and a hope, but first I have to get there, and to do that, I have to get to Lafayette in the morning so I can get on the Grey Dog.

To be continued…………

“GRADUATION DAY” by Tony Casson

I am a firm believer in the need for more than ‘rehabilitation’ if individuals are to actually accomplish anything resembling noticeable, and meaningful, changes in lifestyle, behavior, and actions. We all have heard “If you keep doing the same things, don’t be surprised if you keep getting the same results”. Prison provides an excellent platform from which to launch changes within our lives IF we are dedicated to the fundamental belief that something in our life NEEDS changing. It should come as no surprise if I tell you many individuals do not seem to want to change much of anything, except perhaps the fact they are incarcerated.

For those who realize that their lives need to be lived differently, it is not enough to simply try to adopt new practices, hobbies, or job skills. True change can only be accomplished through a complete, intensive spiritual transformation. Look at it this way: In an old house, black mold is apparent by looking at the walls and ceilings. An investment is made in paint and the time is taken to do the painting. The end result looks pretty darn good.

For a while.

The effects of the cover-up may even last QUITE a while, but sooner or later the problem is going to rise to the surface. Why? Because the ROOT of the problem was not fixed. The problem was not eradicated and replaced with something new, strong, and resilient to the mold itself. Unless all of the affected areas are cut out and replaced with new material, nothing much changes, and before too long, what temporarily gave the impression of being new looks exactly the same as it did before, perhaps even worse. Perhaps more dangerous. Perhaps more deadly.

There ARE men in prison who recognize the need for change. No, that’s not totally accurate. There ARE men in prison who recognize the need for a complete spiritual TRANSFORMATION. There are men in prison who sincerely and completely want to walk out of prison different on the inside than they were when they walked in. Some might use the negativity of the environment as an excuse for not successfully completing that transformation. Some may point to the plethora of temptation that permeates the environment. Some may point to a lack of dedicated staff, programs, or opportunities, and find their escape from the work required by blaming others. The simple fact of the matter is that GOD gives each of us the power to transform our hearts, which gives us the ability to transform our lives. We can accomplish this without ANY cooperation or participation of others, without ANY program, without ANY involvement of anyone besides ourselves, and many (certainly not anywhere near enough) men DO allow God to help them undergo just that type of complete and total spiritual transformation which can change the course of a human life.

There will be skeptics and cynics who will view the following claim with something less than acceptance, belief, or any other positive response: I have worked very diligently, with purpose and determination, to allow God to guide my own spiritual transformation. I have sought the companionship and counsel of like-minded individuals, and I have endeavored to benefit those around me with encouragement that all is not lost; that life is just beginning, if we choose to allow God to be the focus OF that life; that He can make us new people, and He will, but WE must welcome the transformation and be ready to ACCEPT it.

Most of my personal work was done in the relative privacy of my cell, but I had the opportunity to attend a 10 week class through the prison chapel this past October. It was a small-group study called “The Miracle Of Life Change”, and there were 15 of us in the group. The program was produced by Chip Ingram, and included workbooks and a DVD series. We were also given homework after each session which consisted of some very probing questions. Signing up for the class, I was excited, as were the others I spoke with. It was a positive offering in a truly negative environment. The class began with total immersion on the part of all involved, but it wasn’t long before we began to experience difficulties, most of them centered on the fact it took 7 months to complete that 10 week class due to frequent cancellations and rescheduling. Something which began on an extremely positive, upbeat note, became something cumbersome and intrusive. Enthusiasm waned and those participating just wanted it to be over. We finally completed the class and a ‘graduation’ ceremony was scheduled. I was asked to give a short speech. Despite the fact the class had become a long, drawn-out affair lacking in continuity, as I set about the task of writing the speech, I discovered that it held more relevance to what I had been doing for the past 4 years than I was initially ready to give it credit for. I realized the importance of the material, the message, and my own motives, and put into place the LAST lesson I was to extract from the class: Nothing in life is perfect. It is only by working through the imperfections and not letting them derail our original purpose that we truly learn how to live in the free world, how to cope, how to become different people than the ones who walked into this place.

I set about the task of writing a speech I felt reflected the positive benefits of the class, the experience of taking the class, the things that were shared and discussed between the men in the class, and I looked forward to the day I would give the speech. That day dawned and at lunch, an hour or so before the ‘ceremony’, I was told there was a sign on the door of the chapel stating, simply: “GRADUATION CANCELLED”. Not postponed. Not delayed. Cancelled.

This announcement was met with nothing other than resigned acceptance. It had become, after all, the ‘nature of the beast’. I was going to simply file away a copy of the speech and cancel my original plans to turn the speech into an article for posting in these Chronicles. Lessons are everywhere. God leaves crumbs for us to pick up in every situation we encounter and it is only when we allow our hearts and our minds to be opened that our eyes can finally recognize this fact.

The speech I wrote follows, but this statement, which was not a part of the original speech, SHOULD have been. Rather than insert it into the speech itself, I offer it as an afterthought since a few individuals have read the original speech, and some of them may read this article. That statement is this:

People, places, and other outside influences do NOT determine our ability to transform who we are. The ability for a definitive, complete, worthwhile transformation comes from inside of ourselves, and it is put there by God. If we are determined to purge ourselves of the habits, thoughts, actions, modes of speech, activities, practices and lifestyles which contributed to our incarceration, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent that from happening. The power of God trumps all the negativity, rescheduled classes and cancelled ceremonies that can be thrown at us, and when we let the negativity of our surroundings take our focus off of our purpose, we are only demonstrating we have taken our focus off of God.

Some time back I introduced an acronym I had created, and I will re-introduce it here:








I – and only I – am personally responsible for the Miracle of my OWN life change, and I accept that responsibility. I have been incarcerated and I have not liked it, but I gladly have accepted PRISON.

Here, then, is my “Graduation Speech”. I hope you enjoy it.

First of all, I would like to thank each member of this class for the time we spent together. There were deeply personal and revealing moments shared, some of which were painful to discuss, all of which contributed to the personal growth of those sharing, as well as of those with whom they were shared. I would also like to thank Ms. Johnson for making the class possible. For such an opportunity to be presented in an environment like this demonstrates a level of concern not often witnessed, and while nothing in life is perfect; while there is always room for improvement in everything we do; Ms. Johnson’s dedication to the purpose of the class cannot be denied or diminished, and should be held within the minds and hearts of all who participated as a very bright spot in a place capable of incredible darkness.

For some of us, Chip Ingram’s “Miracle Of Life Change” course of study is very aptly named in that the ability to change our lives IS a miracle in and of itself. Miracle – or simply the result of very focused, hard work – if we are to leave this place different people than the ones who arrived here, the need for a transformation of our hearts and thought processes was indicated by how we had all lived our lives previously and what we did individually to arrive at this particular destination.

The reasons we all had for feeling that a spiritual transformation was required, varies from person to person, but I would like to read something from my book, “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, that I believe represents where we all began in our search for that transformation within ourselves. It is the message for August 14th, and it is titled “Today is the perfect day to take back what was stolen from us”.

It goes like this:

Every single one of us has had something stolen from us by Satan. No one has escaped except for Christ. We have all given in to temptation and we have all sinned and every time we have sinned we have allowed Satan to take something else from us. We have been his willing victims.

He has stolen dignity from some of us. From others, he has stolen decency. He has stolen our faithfulness to our spouses and our faith in God. He has stolen our truthfulness, and he has stolen our integrity. We have let him slip away in the darkness with our morality, and we have let him get away unnoticed with our kindness. He has pocketed our happiness, and smashed the windows to our souls and left the space empty. He has cheated us out of our love for ourselves, leaving us unable to love anyone else. He has conned us out of our certainty, leaving us with our doubts.

When we weren’t looking, he walked away with our compassion and left disdain in its place. While he distracted us with self-indulgence, he swiped our desire to help others and replaced it with selfishness. He has stolen our tolerance while trying to convince us that hostility and impatience were better suited to our personalities.

He has stolen our sight, making it impossible to see the pain of others and he has taught us to lie, cheat, and steal while we have hungrily pursued the education.

More than likely, what Satan has stolen from you is somewhere on this list. If not, it needs to be added, because everyone has lost something. Some of us have lost more than one thing, and perhaps more than a few of us have lost it all. He will try to prevent you from calculating your exact losses. He will try to cloud your judgment, distract you, or take something else from you. He pretends to be the best friend you have ever had, but he is – in reality – the biggest danger you have ever faced. He will suck everything good out of you until there is nothing left but your last breath and then he will take that as well.

But the Good News is that today is not going to be like yesterday. Today we are going to take it all back. God has been waiting for today for a very long time, and He is glad that it is here. We must reach out and ask God to take our hand and tell Him we want everything Satan has stolen from us. Today is the perfect day to take it all back, and God is the Perfect One to help us all get it.

God is the Perfect One, indeed!

Proverbs 21:31, in the New Living Translation tells us that, “The horse is prepared for battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord!”

WE are those horses, and Chip Ingram’s “Miracle Of Life Change” helps us to prepare for the battles ahead. Now that this class has ended we must be acutely aware that the end of this class is NOT a signal to allow ourselves to think that an irreversible change has come over us and what each of us had allowed to be stolen from us, and has hopefully been returned, will remain permanently safe – that those things can never be stolen again. The end of this class is NOT an occasion to pat each other on the back in congratulations simply to move on to the next item on our list of “Things I want to do in prison that will look good to my PO.” The end of this class is not an indication that we can let down our guard and live life in a carefree manner with no regard for what we have learned, or the progress we have made.

The end of this class is merely an indication that the rest of our life has BEGUN and we have been provided with valuable tools with which to help us live those lives differently. The end of this class is the BEGINNING of our opportunity to prove to others change is possible. The end of this class is the START of new responsibilities to ourselves, our families, our friends, and to God. The end of this class marks the INITIATION of our need for vigilance, to prevent Satan from slipping in the back doors of our lives to begin his work again.

We should be careful broadcasting the words, “I am a changed man”. Ecclesiastes 5:7, in the New Living Translation begins, “Talk is cheap”, and we all know this to be true. Nor does a certificate of completion, a diploma, or a notation in our file offer definitive proof that we have learned even one thing or taken anything more than the first step in transforming our lives. It is only through our actions, the manner in which we live our lives, and the way we treat other people that we can provide testimony to the fact that something is different; that we have allowed God to enter into our hearts and purge us of who we were; that we have allowed Him to make us new; that we have learned and that we LIVE the lessons of this class, and the lessons we receive reading God’s Word each and every day. Only by SHOWING others who we have become can the true miracle of our individual life changes be verified.

Completing Chip Ingram’s course is a step in the direction of new lives, and now that we have taken that step, we are better prepared to take each successive step, never getting ahead of ourselves, but never falling behind either. We must stay focused on Christ, keep following His example, and we must keep putting to use the things we learned as we explored our old behaviors and replaced them with new ones. The course materials we were given should remain with us as reminders of the work we have done, and as sources of valuable assistance to continue that work.

The Miracle Of Life Change is an ongoing process, and I will pray for God to provide each one of us with the strength, courage, wisdom and desire to continue what we have started.  Thank you.


I received something from an organization the other day which reminded me that many times family members wish to help their incarcerated loved ones, but are at a loss as to what, if anything, they may do. Particularly those whose loved ones are incarcerated as ‘sex offenders’, or “SO’s”. I thought I would pass along some information and resources to those who have recently started reading these pages and anyone else who might be unaware of the existence of these fine groups. Contacting them directly and inquiring as to how you may help your loved one is something that may be found to help you deal with the absence of your husband, father, brother, uncle, or other family member, friend, or loved one.

The something I received was a template for a letter to be addressed to each recipient’s U.S. Senator regarding a proposed bill for ‘earned time’ credits with which federal inmates can reduce their time of incarceration. The bill, as proposed, EXCLUDES many inmates for a variety of different reasons, those convicted of crimes of violence, career criminals, and terrorists among them. Also included in that group are those convicted of “all sex offenses.” The letter, which was very well written, addresses the fact that this is unfair to “SO’s” for a variety of reasons; chief among them the fact that sex offender recidivism rates are the lowest of ANY CLASS OF CRIME IN THE COUNTRY. Sex offenders are currently excluded from many, many programs which can reduce the time they spend in prison, and this should be the case for those convicted of sexual assault and sexual crimes of violence, but there are many, many people in prison who deserve the same opportunities at redemption and reduction of sentences as those who are ‘merely non-violent drug dealers’. Don’t even get me started on the death and destruction this ‘overly prosecuted’ group reigns down on this country and its citizens.

The first group I will mention, which is the one from which I received the letter is CAUTIONclick.com. They are located near Buffalo, NY, and they sent me the template for a very well written letter. I encourage you all to obtain it, print it, and send it. Share the information as well. Their email address is info@cautionclick.com and you can request being added to their mailing list. Contact them and ask for a copy of their letter re: Earned time credits.

The second group, and one which I have seen remarkable growth in over the last 4 years is Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL). Their link is: http://reformsexoffenderlaws.org/ and it is possible for you to go there and sign up for a digital copy of their newsletter, as well as sign your incarcerated loved one up for their print version as well. It is full of useful news, links to publications and articles of interest, and actions being taken to combat some of the ridiculously restrictive and unfair laws targeting SO’s and their families. They have lists of individual state chapters and how to contact them to help in your own state. Some of the state chapters are extremely effective and well-run and can be sources of information on how to obtain change in your own state. The Texas chapter, “TEXAS VOICES” is one very good example, as is the Arkansas “TIME AFTER TIME” chapter. (To the rest, I intend no slight at your efforts. You are ALL fantastic!)

There is also “Women Against The Registry” (W.A.R.) and “SOSEN” (Which I am not all that familiar with, and I apologize).

Contact all of these groups and spread the word to others you know who may be interested. The problems facing those who are required to register as sex offenders after release continue to grow, but these groups are working to stem the tide and reverse the flow and have been meeting with some tremendous successes as of late. My heartfelt thanks go out to each and every one of you.

You may not be able to do much, but you can all do something. Please do what you can!

May God bless you and your families.

And to the Mother of a relatively new inhabitant of my unit by the name of Brandon: Thanks for the bookmark! I like your son and I am sorry he is in here. Like many I meet and pray for daily, Brandon could have been dealt with differently. There MUST be a better way than this to solve the problem this country faces. Supporting these hardworking people in RSOL and the rest can help to find it.

Tony Casson
91153-004 A-1
Box 5000
Federal Correctional Center
Oakdale, LA  71463

TODAY IS… A Gift From God ~ http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HKKL1RE


Dear God,

I have an important task before me and I come to you for help. Since You are the One who orchestrated the situation in the first place, asking You for help dealing with the situation as it prepares to change seems appropriate. Although I am learning to come to You first in ALL things, I do so now with extremely acute sensitivity to what You will guide my heart to do.

The judge who sentenced me recommended Butner, N.C. as my destination, but You saw things differently. You placed me in Oakdale because You had important things You wanted me to learn, and special people You wanted me to meet and learn from them.

There were four men in particular who were placed into my life here to help You shape me into a human being who can hold his head up high; who can speak openly and with enthusiasm about his love for You; who can freely discuss the issues causing his incarceration with the intent of helping others; and who can state with confidence the direction the rest of his life will take. You used the five of us, broken men all, to act as mirrors for each other that we may see ourselves in a new light, and from a different angle. You helped us work on what we saw until we could clearly see YOU looking back at us, reflected in ourselves.

Three of those individuals have left Oakdale FCI already.

Alan Steen was the first to leave. His case was overturned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Alan has returned to his wife and other family members in west Texas. Alan was the first to help me understand that following You was never going to be easy, but the rewards would be great and would be well worth the effort. He was the first, besides You and I, to know there was a book inside me called “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, and he was the first to assure me that, with Your help, I would find the way to get it out. It is out, Alan, and for that, and many other reasons, I love you, my friend.

The second to leave was Rob from Virginia. I have never used his last name and there are reasons for that which do not need to be addressed here. They are his, and they all have to do with the tremendous services he performed for this country while in the Navy. Rob was the only one who lived in the same housing unit as I did, and we would meet a couple of times a week in my cell for one or two hours of the most amazing discussions about You, family, the things that brought us together, and ways of reaching beyond where we were when we came in here in order to become better men. Rob is back in Virginia finishing his sentence, but he is very close to home and he is in a Christian lifestyle program which I am certain is greatly enhanced by his presence. Robert, I love you, too, and I am happy you are close to your family now. I know you are all incredibly close and that speaks volumes about your character.

The third to leave did not go home either, but he is now in California, closer to HIS loved ones, and in an environment which seems to make him happy. This makes ME happy, because I love Steve Marshall, too, and when I leave here knowing he still has a couple of years to go, at least I will take with me the knowledge he is in a place better equipped to provide him with peace and some modicum of happiness. Steve is a man of incredible character in spite of the reasons he is incarcerated. He left here several months ago, but not before helping me to understand more about the art of writing (not that I have actually gotten better at it, but I do understand it…ha!). He also taught me about the ability of men to rise above others simply by being principled and honest. Our conversations were long and always insightful. He is an articulate, eloquent, deeply sensitive man with a lot to offer this world. He added a touch of dignity and class to our Toastmaster’s club and his presence and contributions are sorely missed. I consider Steve to be a lifelong friend, regardless of the fact we will likely never meet again.

This brings us to the fourth, and final individual and the important task I referenced when I began this letter to You, Lord. Richard Roy left Oakdale yesterday, and I ask You now to help me find the right words to convey exactly how important this man has been in my life. Richard is unique to our little ‘group’ in that he was the only one who was always close to home. As he was from Baton Rouge it was possible for him to have regular visits with his wife, daughters, mother, father, and other family members. I met Alan first, but Richard was in Alan’s housing unit and it was actually through Alan I met him.

Lord, I know in my heart this entire experience has been orchestrated by You from the beginning. Some of those reading these words may find my next statement quite odd, but by placing me in the middle of nowhere; by surrounding me with the men You did; and by paying attention to the tiniest of details, You have made this an unbelievably perfect prison experience. Add Diane Woodall to this Band of Broken Brothers and the result is simply astounding. There will be those who will be certain I have gone stark raving mad, but I stand by those words. We are all better people for the relationships YOU engineered. We all took FROM one another, and we all gave TO one another. This entire event could only have happened at Your direction and those who would laugh the entire thing off as coincidence simply do NOT know YOU!

I thank you, Lord, for the gift of each of these men. In particular, I humbly thank you for the gift of Richard Roy. Not too long ago, I wrote about how you had blessed me when you placed Diane Woodall in my life. I wrote that she had become the best friend I have ever had. I meant that with all of my heart, but she is going to have to share that distinction with Richard, and I doubt she will mind. The relationship with these two people is a miniscule example of the mind-boggling power You possess. It is proof of Your ability to love us in spite of ourselves, and give us exactly what we need, provided we have the sense to ask You to do that for us.

I listed a variety of functions Diane performed as the ‘cost’ of being a friend of mine. Richard’s list is long as well, and includes pushing me, prodding me, encouraging me, advising me, editing me, and critiquing me (I didn’t always handle that well, did I, my friend?). Richard talked to me about You, and he listened to me as I tested the waters of becoming bolder in the way I spoke about You. We shared tears of joy and tears of sorrow. We laughed and dreamed, and we shared fears, hopes, and deeply personal thoughts.

Contrary to what society as a whole may think, be told, or be led to believe, there are some great men residing in this nation’s prisons. While I certainly do not place myself in that category, I am humbly grateful to You, Lord, for enabling me to meet, and learn, from four of them. This country will probably shy away from the stain this experience will leave on their lives, but you and I know that is a tragedy in itself, because each and every one of them has tremendous value to offer. Rising above them all is Richard Roy. His voice should be heard for many reasons after he leaves here, and I pray You will use him to reach out and help others. There will be those who will scoff at the notion that people who have spent time in prison, particularly for ‘our’ crimes, can ever be viewed as ‘great’ men or used to achieve any purpose beneficial to society as a whole. To those who would consider themselves in that category, I will offer some startling examples of how You have done exactly that in the past.

Moses was a murderer, yet he led the Israelites out of Egypt. Why did You use him? Because You are God and You saw what others could not see.

King David coveted another’s wife and orchestrated the death of her husband so he could claim her as his own, yet You used him to become the greatest king the Israelites ever knew. He also taught the world how to rely upon You and praise You through the many Psalms he authored, and Jesus Christ was born of a woman married to a man who was a direct descendant of his. Why did You use this once greatly flawed man? Because You are God and You saw what others could not see.

You did the same thing with Jacob, who was a deceiver; Rahab, who was a prostitute; Paul, who persecuted Christians; and Matthew, who was a corrupt tax collector. These flawed individuals, and many more throughout history, have been used by You for great purposes because You are God and You saw what others could not see.

The world is missing out if it discounts Your ability to help once-broken men and women rise above their brokenness and emerge prepared to offer great things to the world. Richard Roy is a superb example of the work You can do in a person’s heart. His family and friends are not getting back someone they should be ashamed of. He is being returned to them as a man who has been greatly blessed by You; as a man who has found favor with You; a man You intend to use in other ways now that he has done all he can do for me. Richard, I love you. Thank you for giving of yourself so generously. I know I can be quite difficult. You gave me your friendship and it is a great gift! WE DID NOT WASTE OUR MISTAKES!

We may be the Disbanded Broken Brothers, but as Your children, Lord, we are brothers all. I have seen Your power at work in the human spirit and it is awesome. I thank You, Lord, for Alan, Rob, Steve, and Richard. I am thankful BEYOND words that You have returned Richard to his family!

I requested your help and you provided it, as You always do. Thank you for the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who died so that men like us can find new hope, new life, and an eternity in Your presence.


“TIME TO MOVE ON” by Richard Roy

“My father taught me, ‘Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live.'” Proverbs 4:4

Purpose – n. Idea or aim kept before the mind as the end of effort; an end desired; a useful function; a definite intention.

Quite often we hear people say they are looking for their purpose in life. Perhaps you have sought purpose or meaning in your life. Native cultures around the world are rife with examples of rites of passage, walkabouts or “finding oneself.”

Much of our lives are consumed with self-absorbed behavior as we seek this mysterious purpose. The dead ends, frustrations and hamster wheel meaninglessness leading to unrealized potential, procrastination, psychosis, addictions or, in best case scenarios, self-righteousness and pride. In seeking our purpose we attempt to build ourselves up only to experience despair at the utter lack of meaning and then we die.

Tony Casson observed one day, during one of our innumerable laps around the asymmetrical rec yard track, “God created us because he wants to hang out with us.” Profound in its simplicity, Tony completely described our purpose: we were created to glorify God. It is in trying to assign our own meaning to existence that we go astray.

Isaiah 49:5 says, “We were formed in our mother’s womb to be submitted to God.” II Thessalonians 3:11-12 “…that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you….”

For me it took the humbling experience of prison to come to the realization of the difference between purpose and use: God will use us where we are once we fulfill our purpose.

This long-winded introduction is an expression of gratitude to God. I thank him for being present in the bloody shower stall of a cheap Florida motel. There he forgave the sins of a man who finally discovered his purpose. It was not ever God’s intent for Tony to end his life. But in that act of final desperation, He got Tony’s attention, pulled him back from the grave, and is using him in mighty ways. Most of which we may never know.

Soon I leave FCI Oakdale, this is my last submission to The Oakdale Chronicles (TOC) as a prisoner and I take this opportunity to thank God for the gift of Tony Casson. Through his friendship I step out of these prison walls confident that God uses, and will continue to use, me too.

Christian singer Kerrie Roberts, in the song “In Your Sight,” sings, “I wish I could have the wisdom of a broken heart without all the pain.” These lyrics sum up a familiar sentiment for me. Through my own painful experience God has crushed my prideful spirit and made me a man. I will forever carry the stigma of the sinner I was. Like Paul’s thorn and Jacob’s limp, it will serve as a reminder of how far God has brought me. I am wiser now, painfully so, and eternally grateful for the opportunity to return to a supportive family. To these wonderful people I am a better husband, father, brother and son. To my friends, I thank you for the phone calls, cards and letters. You have taught me powerful lessons in forgiveness.

To the readers of TOC, thank you for your support of possibly the closest friend (outside of my wife!) I’ve ever had. I encourage you to visit TOC often, make comments to what you read (Tony beams when people leave comments to articles), and offer contributions of your own. Tony welcomes those with stories to share. No whiners allowed.

To Tony, God Bless You. You’ve tolerated my sarcasm, contrary viewpoints, ups and downs. We’ve celebrated and cried together and once I made you so mad that … well, it’s behind us now. You are a fantastic man deserving of many blessings. I pray for your success with C.A.N. and the Significant Seven (I leave the explanations to Tony). Godspeed my friend. Thank you for allowing yourself to be used of God.

“WHO KNEW?” by Diane Woodall

“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 NIV

“When God closes one door, He opens another”

God knew!

When I was in tears because a significant part of my life as I had known it for ten years was being taken away from me I had no idea what God had in mind, but He did.

As I tried and tried to get that part of my life back with no success I felt lost and had no idea what I would do next, but God did.

Then the new journey began. A friend shared that her brother, Tony, was going to prison. I offered to send a card. A simple gesture that I figured I would do every now and then. Little did I know what God had in mind, but He did.

I received an unexpected letter back from Tony and from there began our “snail mail” relationship.

As time went on Tony and his son, Anthony, created the blog “The Oakdale Chronicles”. Eventually I started typing and posting some of Tony’s writings to the blog. I also helped with research as necessary, which became easier once Tony was able to use email.

Then came the “big project”. The Lord started using Tony to write a devotional “Today Is… A Gift From God.” Between him writing and sending me his written papers and me editing and typing them… I am happy to say “Today Is…” was published on Amazon for Kindle. Soon it should be available as a printed copy.

So that’s my journey so far with a man I have yet to meet who has become a brother in Christ as God used both of us for His Glory.

So again I ask “Who Knew?”

God knew!

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.