There are many days I feel so isolated in prison and on death row – especially amongst so many of the hostile attitudes of this place—that I forget there is an entire world beyond these walls, easily dwarfing my concerns. Fighting through a pervasive sense of hopelessness is a daily task on death row. The prayer chain relieved some of the burden and gave me strength to take on the question for our first day of Short Journey: who am I?
Not a simple question and one linked with others . . . How well do I know myself? Can I live without God in my life? The truth is there is many an hour I can’t make it through without a prayer for help, let alone an entire day and night. My need for God cannot be understated—it is only by His Grace and mercy that I survive at all.
This recognition of my personal weakness and oh so many failings, came after a thorough search of my soul. No regard for the ego or any false sense of pride. No hemming and hawing when better moments bring respite. I’ve looked long and hard at my life in and out of prison and discovered a human being who must accept he is imperfect and sinful, but desirous of a better way to live.
I know that deep in my mind is embedded every fear in existence; of never being good enough, loud enough, successful enough or satisfied if I had these things. There in the corner breathes my fear of never leaving prison alive. Hanging from the walls is the fear of losing my parents and closest friends. Stirring the ashes of past mistakes is fear that my sins are too many to forgive. Mustn’t forget the fear crouched in the bushes down the road, because surely there is another dumb decision waiting to be made, and that’s a scary prospect indeed. Despite these anxieties I somehow find myself pushing on as if it’s all I know to do.
Except that’s not entirely true. I have a choice—have always had a choice—about the way I am to live my life and to help me along are God given gifts such as intelligence, an openness to experience, perseverance and an ability to write. Writing has been my life raft in an ocean of turmoil and with it I paddle toward the certainty that this gift has divine purpose, even though I’m unsure what it is. It humbles me and helps with the fear, though this isn’t really the point.
Admitting failure and accepting help means a willingness to change wholeheartedly, to grab the robe of Christ with both hands and say “I can’t do this on my own! Please, help me!” Judas didn’t know how to accept or give love. It took Peter three betrayals before he acknowledged Jesus Christ as his Lord. Paul, however, knew what it meant to hold on with both hands after his eyes were opened to the truth. In many ways his writing eclipsed those of the apostles who were taught by Jesus and called him, “Rabbi.” Paul’s conversion story is a testament to the power God and a human being’s willingness to change.
There are many obstacles preventing a closer relationship with the peace, forgiveness and love of Jesus. Bitterness is one I share with Judas and Peter. This poison is odorless and tasteless yet it corrupts on contact, and in prison it is everywhere. So much so it’s impossible to function without prayer for guidance and strength. The love of Jesus Christ is a light to neutralize every poison and overcome any obstacle. On his shoulders rest the world—all of our sins, concerns, fears, and burdens. This I know and accept. This is a part of who I am.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).