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.


BIGGER THAN ME by Richard Roy

Prison is an incredibly negative environment that perpetuates hatred, segregation and all manner of evil.  It is a personal goal of mine to engage this mindset in combat at every opportunity.  Only time and others can judge my success.

I gave this speech for my benefit in completing another goal as a Toastmaster while using it to recruit others to my case.  I hope it inspires you as well.

Bigger than me

By Richard Roy


A grandfather and grandchild were walking the beach at low tide.  Stranded starfish lay along the shore, dying in the morning sun as far as the eye could see.  The little girl ran from one to another, stopping just long enough to stoop, pick it up and fling the starfish into the surf.  The grandfather asked, “Child, what are you doing?”  “I’m saving the pretty starfish gramps.”  “You can’t possibly save them all,” he pointed out.  Stooping to pick up another, she pitched it to the sea before replying, “No, but I made a difference to that one.”

Today is the day for an uprising, a revolt, the day to buck the system, today we change the very fabric of the culture of FCI Oakdale.  From this day forward, those who wish to espouse a doctrine of hate are no longer acceptable.  Today we make a difference.

Man is not inherently good.

This statement is contrary to what we want to believe.  We are told by media, ministers, motivational speakers and mama that deep inside each of us we want to the right thing.  This concept is so ingrained into our society that we assume it is common knowledge.  So why are our prisons full and growing daily?  If humans are inherently good, why we are so surprised, inspired even, by such a basic idea as Oprah Winfrey’s “random acts of kindness?”

I submit as evidence of man’s base instinct – the man sitting next to you.  That man, when left to his own devices, took the low road.  When he was unsupervised his mind wandered.  When darkness fell, he used it to his advantage.  When technology advanced, he perverted it.  When others craved to feed an addiction, he filled it.

But, you may say, these are learned behaviors.  Really?  Who taught the toddler to say, “I dunno,” when mom asks, “who broke the vase?”  How does the youngest of our offspring know to assign blame to anyone other than himself when confronted with overwhelming evidence to the contrary?  Why is bullying rampant in our schools?

Think Bigger Than Yourself

With all this self-centeredness built into our nature, we must work at thinking bigger than ourselves.  Most parents are able to encompass their children in their circle of caring without too much effort.  Beyond that, though, requires work.

Deep thinkers have recognized the need for “looking out” for thousands of years.  But the concept often makes us uncomfortable.  Take, for instance, the “Golden Rule:” Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  In the seventies we saw the bumper sticker:  Do unto others, then split.  Another cynical aspect is:  He who has the Gold, Rules.

The following, philosophies embrace the golden rule.

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul the apostle wrote, “And do not forget to do good and share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Sacrifice?  Doing good is so hard for humans that the most prolific writer in the New Testament calls it a sacrifice?  And don’t forget?  We have to tie a string around our finger just to remember to do something good for someone else?

In Buddhism, the Law of Karma states, “If you do good, good will return to you.”

The prophet Mohammad taught, “What I want for myself is what I want for my brother.”

The Roman statesman Seneca said, “This is the law of benefits between men; the one ought to forget at once what he has given, and the other ought never to forget what he has received.

These great thinkers believe it a basic necessity of life to think bigger than ourselves.  To do any less, mankind threatens to hate itself out of existence.

The second law of thermodynamics states that order slides into disorder.  The human equivalent is a teenager’s bedroom.  The parent picks things up, washes clothes, organizes the closet and makes the bed.  Within moments of the teen entering this ordered space, chaos descends.  It is only with the application of energy – parent, teen, maid – that order is reestablished.

In our personal lives, the application of energy is required to restore harmony between people.

Accept responsibility for your own life

In the book Good to Great the author interviews the owner of a highly successful manufacturing company.  The author wants to know what sets this operation apart from the competition.  The owner points to the wall overlooking the manufacturing floor.

“See that glass in the wall?  When things are good:  Profits up, expenses down, quality exceptional, that glass is a window.  The credit belongs to the people doing the work.  I never forget they are the reason for our success.”

“But when a glitch occurs, that glass becomes a mirror.  The problems belong to me.  But guess where the solution lies – out there.  The solution to the problem is in the hands of those who know the process best.  It becomes my responsibility to draw the answer out; encourage input and provide resources to effect change.”

You are the CEO of your life.  You own the outcome of your actions.  Give credit for your successes to those who deserve it.  You know how to read?  Thank a teacher.  You’ve written a stellar business plan?  Thank Mr. Edwards.  But when life happens and you find yourself in prison – look in the mirror, then give yourself the resources to change.  Your best resource is your attitude.

I don’t have the courage

We all fear rejection.  Humans are social animals.  As such, we desire the company and approval of fellow humans.  Many of my decisions in life were rooted in the desire to please others:  Spouse, children, bosses, co-workers, subordinates and even total strangers.

The perception of peer pressure is a powerful force.  Humans will fall in line, often against our will, because we perceive compliance is what our peers demand.  But what if those around you are simply waiting for you to take the first step.

The reality of our situation is we are in a physical prison.  Our bodies are incarcerated in an extremely negative environment.  Many around us feel the need to enforce compliance to their negative world view.  I’m going to let you in on a secret:  They’re scared.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Hatred is often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of fear.  The more he fears, the more he will hate.  And hatred is also a great anodyne for shame.”

Now is the time to start a revolution!  A revolution against hate and fear.  A revolution of courage against peer pressure.

I started attending Miracle Place Church after I was arrested.  Like many of you, I sought answers to why I made the decisions I did.  At one week night service I arrived early to pray.  Alone, in my corner at the back, I silently pleaded for a sign that my prayers were heard.

“God you know I don’t take hints very well.  So please don’t ‘suggest’ my family and I will be okay; Let me know for certain that you have heard my prayers.”

A frail 84 year old woman named Ms. Dorothy knelt at my feet as I sat in my chair at the end of the service.  She put her hands on either side of my head, pulling me forward until our foreheads were touching.  In a firm voice she said, “I don’t know what this means but God says he heard you the first time.

Courage to break the norm.  Courage to take the first step.  Courage to approach a stranger to deliver a message of encouragement.  Do you have the courage of an 80 year old woman?  Need more encouragement?  Let’s look at the health benefits of social contact.

The Donner party is a group of men, women and children, some married, some single, some family, some strangers just along for the ride.  In the early 1840’s they became stuck in the Mountains due to early snow storms and bad advice.  By the time members of the party managed to reach help, more than half the party had died.  The survivors had resorted to cannibalism.

Critical analysis of this tragedy reveals the following from the book “The Indifferent Stars Above.”

“Male or female, those who traveled with a large family group had a better chance of survival than those who were on their own.  This is in keeping with other studies correlating survival with the size of social networks.  Scientists are not sure why this effect takes place.  Theories point to better sharing of critical information and scarce resources, better mutual aid in emergencies, better emotional support, and the possibility that the immune system is physically stimulated by close proximity to loved ones.”

Imagine that, being surrounded by people who like you increases your own chance of surviving hardships.  If you are too timid to reach out to another person for their benefit then do it for yourself.  Build your base of friends, your social network, to improve the quality of your own life and advance your own longevity.

Want more health benefits?

Doctor Caroline Leaf states in her book “The gift in you:”

“There is a massive ‘unlearning’ of negative toxic thoughts when we operate in love.  The brain releases a chemical called oxytocin, which literally melts away the negative toxic thought clusters.  So that rewiring of new non-toxic circuits can happen.  This chemical also flows when we trust and bond and reach out to others.  Love literally wipes out fear.”

“Dopamine works with oxytocin.  It flows as we expect and anticipate something.  It gives us a thrilling surge of energy and excitement and confidence and motivation to carry on.  Then when we experience what we anticipate, endorphins and serotonin are released that make us feel great.”

Dare to be different

Whom do you admire?  Michael Jordan of sports?  Jack Welch of business?  Steve Jobs of technology?  Warren Buffet of investors?  Dr. King of civil rights?  Gandhi of social change?  Why?  Because they dare to be different.

Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you are trying to create.”  You must dare to be different.

It is not enough for us to talk about the ignorance of prison mentality.  To change prison thinking we must live the change.  Each of the leaders I mentioned weren’t elected to their role.  They dared to be different in their respective fields.  They saw a better way and made the change.  They led the way out of the trap of “group think.”

I once had a battalion commander shut the door to my office and plop down in front of my desk. “Roy,” he started, “when you look at 2nd Battalion, they are always at the top; physical fitness, marksmanship, unit readiness reports, always number one.  Others are always shooting at them, trying to tear them down off the pedestal.  On the other hand, if you are always at the bottom then people look down at you and wonder why you’re so messed up.  I think it’s important that we aim for the middle.  Not the top, not the bottom, but in the middle where we don’t draw any attention.  Understand?  I’m glad we could have this talk.”

He walked out of my office leaving me to meditate on the mysteries of mediocrity.  I got his message.  I had pushed my soldiers hard to be the best.  I wasn’t satisfied with sloppy seconds.  I wanted to be first.  His philosophy was to aim for mediocrity.  Once you fight your way to the top its hard work to stay there.  He did not have the will to be different.

There is a fable of a weary traveler that wandered into a village one evening.  There in the center of the village was a pit filled with warm sewage.  Thirty or forty people were in the pit with the filth up to their chins.

Unable to believe his eyes, the traveler got too close to the edge and fell in.  Immediately he clawed at the sides of the pit doing everything he could to get out.  The nearest villager shouted, “Calm down, you’re making waves.”

Is that where you are today?  Happy in your warm pit of filth as long as nobody makes waves.  Or do you have the large pair of solid brass orbs necessary to be different.

Don’t wait for the wizard

In the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” each member of the traveling party had something they desired:  The cowardly lion – courage, the Tin man – a heart, the Scarecrow – a brain.  Dorothy just wanted to go home.

In the end, each member of the Oz party discovered they already possessed the desires of their heart.  All they needed to do was exercise it.  The Lion didn’t need the wizard for his courage.  It was in him the whole time.  Likewise, each of you possesses the ability to influence the life of another person on this compound.  Don’t wait for the Wizard; make a difference today.

Like Dorothy, we all desire to go home.  The men in this room have already taken positive steps to make that transition a success.  When I leave these meetings I feel good about our futures.  I know I’ll take a lot of lessons learned with me, as will you.

However, what we take with us is not nearly as important as what we leave behind.  Will this compound be a better place for you having been here?  Or will you have made no difference at all.  Like a canoe slipping across a still pond in the early grey fog before sunrise:  minutes after you’re gone there is no memory of your presence.

So set goals to make a difference.  Like the little girl and the starfish, maybe you can’t make a difference in everyone’s life, you can make a difference to one.

When you walk into a restaurant you don’t say, “bring me some food.”  Instead, you are very specific – you pick exactly what you want from the menu.

Right now I want you to set a goal to do one act of kindness before you get back to the unit.  Introduce yourself to someone and make a concerted effort to remember their name.  Then call them by name when you see them around the compound.  Hold the door open for someone and let them go ahead of you. Give a legitimate complement to someone you don’t ordinarily speak to.  Now set a goal for everyday this week.  Every day, make the effort to be a difference maker in someone’s life.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of California – Riverside recently completed a study called “Kindness counts.”  One of the things the study showed was that participants experienced significantly increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction after one month of documenting three acts of kindness per week.

But when compared to a control group, who documented three pleasant places they visited per week, those who performed and documented their acts of kindness were liked and accepted to a greater degree by their peers.  On average, they gained 1.5 friends during the four week period.

Dale Carnegie is quoted as saying, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Need Help?  Try one of these

–          Write a friend to say that a song or movie reminded you of them.

–          Shut up and listen

–          Help carry the trash out

–          Give someone a book that had meaning to you

–          Tell someone about the qualities you admire in them

–          Introduce someone to another of your friends

–          Hold the door open

–          Write a letter to someone you admire telling them how they touched your life

–          Let someone go ahead of you in line

–          Clean out your locker, give unused stuff to someone else

–          Smile, make conversation


I noticed a relatively new guy to our unit had not quite integrated after a couple weeks.  He sat by himself, rarely conversing with those around him.  I was even witness to a tense exchange of words between him and the medical staff.

I used the incident as an opportunity to start a conversation with him.  We walked to dinner together, ate together, and walked back together.  At my cell we parted ways.  I observed him make it about halfway through the unit, turnaround and walk back to where I was standing.

He stuck out a hand the size of a Virginia ham.  As I attempted to shake it he said, “Thank you for having dinner with me.”

I looked into his eyes well over a foot above my head and could see a difference had been made in the life of one starfish.

Make today the turning point; the riot of 2013.  The day the BOP will come to recognize inmates instituted positive as the norm, rejecting negativity as acceptable.

I finish with a quote from Dr. Seuss:

You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own and know what you know

And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.


“A TOAST TO FREEDOM” by Tony Casson

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Is THAT freedom used well?

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

Perhaps THIS is freedom used well.

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

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

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

Are THOSE the freedoms they all died for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is THAT using our freedom well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thank you.


“A Toastmasters Update”

I have mentioned Toastmasters before, and we recently held our first speech contest in the chapel in front of about 100 fellow inmates and staff. I have stated before that I am a reluctant public speaker and the angst I felt prior to this event honoring Martin Luther King Jr was of unreasonable and mammoth proportions. Fortunately, God stood with me and saw me through it. I won 2nd place. The man who won 1st place is a very gifted and talented young man named Derek Weatherspoon and I am glad that he won. For myself, I won simply by proving I could do it, and I won by moving many individuals to comment to me afterwards. I am humbly grateful to all of them for their kindness, and ETERNALLY grateful to God for his unwavering guidance, support, and strength. Here, then, is the text of that speech:


“With this faith we will be able to hew out of the Mountain of Despair a Stone of Hope”. Those words, spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963 became the theme for the four acre memorial honoring him in Washington, DC.

The figure of Dr. King is sculpted to appear as if he is stepping out of a 30 foot tall block of granite, which represents the Stone Of Hope. The expression carved into his face has been variously described as ‘determined’, ‘resolute’, ‘stern’, and by some, ‘angry’.

In preparing this speech, I looked to the words of Dr. King himself and I tried to imagine his voice as he spoke about his hopes and his dreams, not just for the black man, but for all of mankind; and not just for America, but for the world.

After carefully considering all that I had read, and after looking around at the condition of the world today, I came to the conclusion that the expression on the face of the man emerging from the Stone Of hope was one of disappointment.

Even though we are preparing to inaugurate an African-American as President of the United States for a second term, I believe Dr. King would be disappointed that it has taken so long, and that we still find it necessary, and appropriate, to refer to him as an AFRICAN- American, rather than simply as an American.

I believe that Dr. King would be disappointed that words he spoke during a lecture at the University of Oslo in 1964 are, sadly, just as true today as they were the day he spoke them. He said, “There is a sort of poverty of spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have grown materially, the poorer we have grown morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

While it is true that the law prevents us from posting signs over doorways, drinking fountains, and places of business that state ‘white only’ or ‘colored only’, INVISIBLE signs that separate people are still in existence today.

Within the confines of this institution, one doesn’t have to strain to hear reference to the ‘white side’ of the dining hall, or to the ‘black side’; to the ‘white entrance’ or to the black entrance’. And in the housing units themselves, official signs may contain words that are within the law and are politically correct, but it is the INVISIBLE signs that tell us we have ‘white TVs’ and ‘black TVs’.

In his Nobel Peace prize acceptance speech, Dr. King said, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies; education and culture for their minds; and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits”.

I believe Dr. King would be disappointed because poverty in the United States of America, and around the world, is at the same levels, or higher, than when he had the AUDACITY to believe that it could be otherwise.

Dr. King’s efforts opened up opportunities for education that previously had not existed for many people, but I believe Dr. King would be disappointed to know that cases of school segregation still languish in Federal courts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama; cases that were begun BEFORE he was assassinated in 1968.

And he would be further disappointed that those opportunities are willingly rejected today by so many young people who choose, instead, faster, far more dangerous and deadly ways of traveling on the road to what they perceive is success. A road that leads many of them only to death, or to incarceration in institutions such as this one.

And on the issue of dignity for the human spirit, I believe Dr. King would be PROFOUNDLY disappointed that the most undignified, vilest, most derogatory term that a white man can use in reference to a black man is used with disturbing casualness and frequency BY black men in reference to other black men.

I believe Dr. King would be the FIRST to stand before us all and tell us that word has no business crossing the lips of ANY man, black or white, at any time, for any reason.

I believe that Dr. King would be disappointed that many of those he left behind have chosen to honor him with symbols, but have somehow forgotten his substance. I believe Dr. King would rather see safe, healthy, educated, and well-fed children playing on the streets of progress, rather than see his name on signs marking the streets of his forgotten hopes and dreams.

But we have an opportunity today, to resolve to pick up the hopes and dreams of Dr. King and carry them into the promised land that he glimpsed before he was murdered.

We have an opportunity today, to resolve to become a small part of the solution so we can never be accused of being a BIG part of the problem.

In 1963, in Detroit, Michigan, Dr. King challenged the world when he said, “If a man hasn’t discovered something he is willing to die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

We have an opportunity today to prove to the world that not only was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. VERY fit to live, but that what he died for was worth the price that he paid.

That what he DIED for was worth the price that his wife paid.

And that what he DIED for was worth the price that his 4 little children paid.

We have an opportunity TODAY to resolve to work to change the expression on the face of the man emerging from the Stone Of Hope from one of disappointment, to one of SATISFACTION for a job well done.

And I pray to God we do not fail to take advantage of it.

I thank you.
Note: May be reprinted without permission of the author.

Choosing New Beginnings – Toastmasters

“Choose a good reputation over great riches, for being held in high esteem is better than having silver or gold.”  Proverbs 22:1 NLT

 “We live by making choices.”   David Fink

      Toastmasters has been mentioned in these pages a couple of times. Have I also mentioned how much I hate public speaking? Yes? Well – I hate public speaking. So it was for exactly that reason that I asked for another opportunity to do it. I know it is beneficial, and I know that I need it, so I gave my second speech recently. I probably should have given more by now, but I really hate public speaking. Have I mentioned that?

      Well…I am still alive. I didn’t even need to use the barf bag that I brought for emergencies.

      The subject matter of the speech was such that I thought it was something worth sharing, so I decided to insert the speech here (I had it written out anyway, so what the heck). I hope everyone who reads it is able to get something useful from it. The speech was titled “New Meanings”, and it went like this:

      Good evening fellow Toastmasters, distinguished guests, and staff.

      David Fink said, “We live by making choices”, and when we all chose to name our Toastmaster’s club “New Beginnings”, I believe we chose well. Just saying “New Beginnings” evokes images of a new day being introduced with the sun peeking over the horizon. I believe each new day to be a gift from God and is, by nature, full of hope and opportunity.

      One of the most important things we need to do to take advantage of the “New Beginning” we have each chosen for our lives, is to be open to change and to be willing to look at old things in new ways. We must – each one of us – endeavor to discern new meaning among those things that are most familiar to us. Doing this will enable each of us to make the most out of each new day.

      Opportunities abound in which we can find ways to attach new meanings to our “New Beginning”. Everything that is familiar to us can be molded, shaped, and reinvented into something fresh, meaningful, and positive:  the way we dress; the way we walk; the way we talk; the way we see ourselves; and the way we in which we look at other people.

      Even the way we think about familiar words can bring about new meaning to them. For instance, let’s take the word “pride’. Most of us think of pride as taking satisfaction in our accomplishments. Too much pride can lead to arrogance or conceit, and most are also aware that the Bible warns us against that very thing. As we begin to grow, we become more confident and more sure of ourselves. We naturally take pride in who we are becoming and the direction our life is taking. Unfortunately, this self-assurance we develop can turn to cockiness , and that arrogance I mentioned, turning what should be a positive into a negative.

      In prison especially, pride can get in the way of what we are attempting to accomplish. It can stop us before we ever get started. Pride can impede our “New Beginning” before we take the first step.  However, by attaching a whole new meaning to the word, we can open up an entirely new pattern of behavior that is EXACTLY what is needed to make dramatic progress in our pursuit of change.

      Some 35 years ago,  I worked for a Los Angeles-based drugstore chain called “Thrifty”. With about 10 other people, I traveled the west coast taking inventory and in each store’s break room there was a sign that gave the “Thrifty” definition of pride. It was:   






      PRIDE. It means that I take RESPONSIBILITY for everything that I do each day. It means that each task that I undertake – no matter how seemingly insignificant that task may appear – will come with a personal commitment on my part to perform that task to the best of my ability. It is an understanding that no task is too menial, too unimportant, or beneath me. It means that I will take responsibility for ME.

      Personal Responsibility In Daily Effort.

      Such a seemingly simple concept, but far too often many of us think that we are better than the jobs we are given or even better than the other people doing the same job. The truth is, we are all the same, especially in prison, and there is no such thing as an unimportant task. Unfortunately, we sometimes let the sameness prevent us from performing to a level that makes us stand out. No matter how negatively we may view a job or task, and no matter how negative the environment around us may seem to be at times, we cannot become the people we all wish to become unless and until we take ourselves seriously and hold ourselves personally accountable for every job we perform, every action we take, and every word that comes out of our mouths.

      If we are wiping tables in the dining hall, or mopping the floor; cleaning the common area in a housing unit, or scrubbing the shower; if we are painting a railing, or picking up trash, our focus should be on the task at hand and we should endeavor to do whatever it may be that we are doing to the absolute best of our ability. I worked in the butcher shop for 15 months and earned the nickname “Tony The Butcher”, which is really quite funny since they rarely let us touch knives. However, “Tony The Butcher DOES sound better than “Tony The Guy Who Takes Chicken Out Of Boxes And Puts It On Pans”. Regardless, I took that job seriously and performed it to the best of my ability even if the conditions or the circumstances were not ideal….even outright negative at times. When we take personal responsibility for everything we do each day, we are making a statement to everyone around us that “There is a right way and a wrong way to do every job no matter how seemingly unimportant it may be, and I CHOOSE to do it the right way because I take Personal Responsibility In Daily Effort! I take responsibility for ME, my actions, and the words that I speak.”

      Once we have learned to do that, we can then attach new meaning to another word we are all very familiar with: PRISON. We can change it from a negative PLACE, to a positive ATTITUDE when we apply the following new meaning:








      I thank you.


      OK, so that’s how it was intended to go. The whole speech, were I to simply read it, would have taken less than three minutes but I went from memory (and mine’s not that good, but we strive to do our speeches with no notes), and I wound up wandering along, borderline hyperventilating, for about 6 minutes. There is a tendency to digress and embellish as we speak, but apparently it was all good because the 30 – 35 people in attendance were extremely supportive and gave me lots of positive feedback. I guess it sounded worse from where I was standing than from where they were sitting. Once my heart rate returned to normal, I put away my barf bag backup and basked in the afterglow. Trust me – for some of us, getting up there is no easy thing.

      I can only say that Toastmasters is a very beneficial program. We are not quite at 30 paid members yet, but we are getting close. Unfortunately, there are over 1700 men here in need of something positive. The money is a drawback for many, but we still seem to attract more each month. It will be nice when it gets to the point that we need to start a second club on the compound. What needs to happen is that the same attitude needs to be injected into every aspect of prison life and I will address these types of issues in my upcoming series “America’s Culture Of Incarceration”.

      In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed my little glimpse into a Toastmaster’s meeting, and I thank YOU for your time.

“A Toast to Toastmasters – Speaking Out for Speaking Up”

“Those who stammer will speak out plainly.”  Isaiah  32:4b  NLT

“Then there was a maiden speech, so inaudible, that it was doubted whether, after all, the young orator really did lose his virginity.”  Benjamin Disraeli

      Back on November 13, 2011 an article was posted in ‘The Chronicles’ that was written by Richard Roy regarding a very positive decision made by the administrative staff here at Oakdale FCI. That decision was to allow inmates to start a prison chapter of ‘Toastmasters’. All who were involved in making that decision should be applauded for supporting a program that has proved to have a positive effect on the lives and the character of those individuals who participate in the program and embrace its mission.

      For those not familiar with ‘Toastmasters International’, it is a worldwide organization of locally chartered ‘clubs’ formed for the purpose of providing an environment in which its members may develop oral communication and leadership skills. In a friendly, supportive atmosphere, members deliver prepared speeches to fellow members of various duration and with different objectives in mind. The speaker is then evaluated in a constructive, positive manner. Members gain confidence developing speaking skills while developing our ability to become better listeners as well.

      Many famous individuals have been Toastmasters through the years including several astronauts – James Lovell, John Young, and Walter Schirra; Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’; Former U.S. Senator John Tunney; Debbie Fields Rose, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies; and Peter Coors, chairman of Coors Brewing Company. For those who are interested, there is a wealth of information about the organization to be found on their website at Toastmasters.org.

      Even though we have met twice a month since Richard’s article, we actually just had our official chartering ceremony on August 1, in the chapel. Members, friends of members and many members of staff, including all three of our Associate Wardens, were present. The Honorable Robert D. Downing, a retired judge who was the driving force behind Toastmasters becoming welcome in the state and federal prison system here in Louisiana, was our guest speaker.

      Richard Roy and Steve Marshall (also a contributor to ‘The Chronicles’) played major roles in the program that was put on to demonstrate what takes place at a typical meeting. Both were excellent, as were the members who had roles as speakers and evaluators, as well as those with minor roles. Our mentors from the ‘street’ were proudly present to help us celebrate becoming officially chartered as the ‘New Beginnings’ Toastmasters club (our official name). Three of them come in regularly, on their own time, to assist, support, and encourage us. Two members of staff that Richard mentioned in the first article, Ms. Papillion and Ms. Smith, were also present at the ceremony. They have been with us week after week where they have seen what the rest of us have seen: Men helping each other become better, helping each other grow, and helping each other reach beyond themselves and overcome their inhibitions and fears.

      Not that it has helped me. I still have major anxiety when I have to get up before the group, even if it is for a small portion of the proceedings. I would have definitely made a better Chief of Staff than President of the United States. But I am working on it, and I couldn’t ask for a more supportive group.

      What amazes me are some of the stories told as men get up and give their first speech to the group, which is called an ‘Icebreaker’. The purpose of this first speech is to get to know the person a little better and to help the individual ease into speaking before the group by talking about a familiar topic – themselves.

      None of us here really has an excuse for the behavior that got us here, but some of these men certainly have REASONS that are far more compelling than any that I could offer. I led a sheltered, privileged existence compared to many of those around me. To think that I squandered more opportunities than many of them have ever had causes me a little embarrassment, but is inspiring as well. I ask God to use my embarrassment to help me be determined to move forward from here and never look back.

      I am proud to be a member of this fine organization, and this very special group of men. Through their courage and determination, I will overcome my fear and I will become a confident public speaker and an individual who is determined to do what I can to help others avoid what we are all going through.

      All of it except Toastmasters, of course.

      I thank all of the people who have supported us and have pledged continued and increased support in the future for this worthwhile program.