February 1, 2003
COLUMBIA SPACE SHUTTLE
I was listening to the news on my radio this morning when the
first reports began to come in concerning a possible crash of the Columbia spacecraft. Now, hours later, these reports have
I said several prayers for the families of those astronauts,
one of who was from Israel.
Earlier this morning I had been reading the New Testament letter
of First Peter. One particular Scripture I had been focusing on was 1 Peter 1:24. "For all flesh is as grass, and all the
glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away."
How true! All of mankind's accomplishments, no matter how humanly
good and noble, will eventually come to nothing.
Looking at things with the perspective of eternity in mind,
only what the Lord does will last.
I believe that in time much of man's space travels will amount
to nothing of eternal value. For we as Christians, once we receive our new bodies in heaven, will probably be able to travel
to the furthest galaxies.
And when God makes His new heavens and a new earth, which the
holy Bible says He will do, I am certain that we ourselves will be able to transcend all the limitations of space and time
that exist today.
It is good that man seeks to learn about the universe. It's
nice that people try to accomplish great feats and seek to make scientific progress for society. But ultimately even these
fine things will be meaningless in eternity when all human time comes to an end and each person goes to his or her eternal
Seven brilliant and heroic people lost their lives today. I
will continue to pray for their families.
February 2, 2003
On January 30 and 31 I wrote about "Joe T." and his struggles.
Then yesterday the Columbia Space Shutle exploded in a tragic accident, and I felt led to write about it. Today, however,
I want to get back to Joe.
When I left Joe on Thursday afternoon, he was in the hands
of one of the facility's mental health professionals. At the time he was depressed and was doing things to indicate that he
was going to hurt himself. He was crying and giving his things away to some of his inmate friends.
I spent much of Thursday afternoon talking with Joe. So did
the corrections officers and, finally, someone from the Mental Health Unit.
Later it was determined to leave Joe in his cell as opposed
to the more extreme measure of committing him into the prison's "satellite Unit".
The Office of Mental Health has a "Satellite Unit", also known
as an Observation Unit" ( the latter term is not officially used anymore). Calling a cell in the Observation Unit a "satellite
cell" is euphemistically more benign sounding than the word "observation".
In reality it is the same thing. Every maximum security prison
in New ork State, I believe, has an Observation/Satellite Unit on its grounds for those inmates who need to be kept on a 24
hour suicide watch.
Years ago it was called a "padded cell". It still exists, though
only the name has changed. Nowadays the inmates and staff call it a "strip cell".
However, the good news is that, earlier on Friday when I saw
Joe, he was still in his regular cell. He was smiling and joking around, and he seemed to be doing much better. His friends
had already given him back the property he tried to give away.
February 9, 2003
WIVES AND CHILDREN
It is now evening. This is a good time, as I sit in my prison
cell, to quietly reflect after having had a full and busy day of chapel services.
I find it interesting that some of the most frequently requested
prayers that my fellow Christian prisoners bring before the altar in this place, is that their spouse and/or children would
get saved. And for those who have professed faith in Christ, that they would get "on fire" for Jesus.
I find it so ironic that here are men who are in prison, yet
God reaches down and touches their hearts so much, that they fall in love with Him. they serve the Lord with such fervor.
Yet their wives or children who are outside of these walls basically remain indiffernt to their husband's or father's faith.
Today, for example, during this morning's altar call, men with
wives and/or kids jammed the alther, may of them with faces awash in tears, pleading with the Lord to be merciful to their
They pleaded for their spiritually indifferent wives and their
wayward childrem. And for those men who have wives or children who actually profess to be Christians, that all lukewarmness
would be removed from them.
These men weep because their wives seem so "worldly minded"
and disinterested in knowing Christ, or in serving Him to the fullest.
Christian prisoners yearn for their families to get touched
February 11, 2003
LOCKDOWN DAY #1
I had a restful day both physically and spiritually. Beginning
shortly after this morning's breakfast, it was announced that our prison was going into total "Lockdown" in anticipation of
a possible terrorist attack on the United States.
Several days ago the President issued a "Code Orange". This
resulted in the prison's staff going into a heightened state of alert. And this morning, for reasons I do not know, this level
of alertness has increased.
Thus all the inmates are now comfined to our cells, and we
may be here until this code Orange is over with.
I do not know if any other prisons in New York have been closed.
But I do know that all the civilian volunteers who usually come into this facility have been banned from coming onto the prison's
grounds until further notice.
These volunteers come in at various times throughout the week
to do educational tutoring. Or to teach Bible studies or to conduct other workshops and self-help programs.
Right now I feel like the apostle John who was left in isolation
on the Island of Patmos. All of our chapel services and Bible studies have also been canceled due to this lockdown.
For me this is a time to fellowship more clolsely with the
Lord and to pray more.
I am not worried about this lockdown. I've been through these
before. The last one was in October of last year. See my journal entries for October 10 and 13, 2002
February 12, 2003
LOCKDOWN, DAY #2
This is the second day of our lockdown. I awoke at about 6
o'clock this morning to find a Styrofoam food tray parked on the "feed-up" slot thats in the middle of my cell door. There
was a cup's worth of dry corn flakes in the main compartment, and a small apple and several sugar packets in the smaller compartments.
An 8 ounce Styrofoam cup of lukewarm milk sat beside the tray. My breakfast.
When a prisoner suddenly finds a styrofoam food tray placed
in the food slot of his cell door, this is a sign that his door is not going to be opening.
Thus having to face the rest of the day in this confinement,
I spent virutally all morning and afternoon reading and praying. I needed this rest anyhow.
I have also been listening to the local news station on the
radio. And this was when I heard the report that my prison was under a lockdown, not only because of this state-wide "Code
Orange" alert (as I mentioned in yesterdayt's journal entry), but also because a correction's officer found a thick law book
in the law library which had what looked like a bullet hole in it.
On the news reports, which were coming on every hour, it was
mentioned that the New York State Police's crime lab confired that the hole in the book was made by a bullet. And if there
was a bullet hole, then there had to be some kind of gun to fire the bullet.
Back in October of last year, this facility was closed for
a lockdown and search because three bullets were found inside the hollow tubing of a mop handle. A thorough search was made
for more bullets, and even for a gun. But after three days the prison was reopened and things went back to normal, until now.
February 13, 2003
LOCKDOWN, DAY #3
We all knew they were coming, as they had already begun to
conduct their intense search for contraband the very first day that our lockdown began.
Around 9 o'clock this morning they marched into my cellblock
in a long column of twos, looking like Vikings or soldiers ready for combat.
The New York State Department of Correctional Services Cell-Extraction
Team ("CERT Unit") was here. their specialties, in addition to searching for aything prison inmates are not permitted to possess,
are to quell riots and other disturbances, to end hostage situations, to disarm weapon carrying inmates, and to extract from
a prison cell by any means possible, any inmate who refuses to leave his cell.
Every guard in this state-wide CERT Unit comes with a full
compliment of protective gear: steel-toed stomper boots, hard helmet with a Plexiglass face shield, rip proof gloves that
look like big bear claws for wrestling a knife or razor out of an inmate's hand, a stab proof vest which looks exatly like
a bullet proof vest, canisters of Mace, a gas mask, handcuffs, and a long black baton.
The guards who belong to this specially trained unit are not
known for being gentle or polite.
They even came wearing knee and elbow pads like football players
use to protect their joints in case these guards have to scuffle with an unruly prisoner. For not all the prisoners are intimidated
by the battle ready appearance of the CERT Unit, and they fight back.
And here they came, moving in Army style formation, a battalion
of "Darth Vader" look-alikes, coming to let us know who was in charge. I had no doubt they were!
Then came the actual search of my cell.
The Cell-Extraction Team gathered by the dozens on the gound
floor of my cellblock, which they used as a staging area. Then the guards grouped into teams of three. and when this was done,
they fan out in front of each individual cell.
Suddenly a three guard team appeared in front of my cell. My
door, made of rows of steel bars, sprang open, and in came two of the gurds. The third officer stood blocking the narrow entryway,
his baton raised into the air. This is standard procedure.
I was immediately ordered to undress. Being "strip searched",
as it is referred to in jail house jargon, is a rite of passage for every prisoner.
I must have gone through this hundreds of times, not only during
these kinds of special searches, but also at the end of every visit.
Off come the clothes. I have never gotten used to this. It's
degrading but necessary. Inmates are known for being very clever when it comes to hiding things, and stories abound of all
the strange things that have been found in ordinarily private places.
So as I took off each clothing item, each guard would take
his turn to grab a piece of clothing and examine it. My pants pockets. The elastic lining of my undershorts. Even my socks
were, one-at-a-time, held up in the direction of my ceiling's flourescent light to be carefully scrutinized. Then each sock
was turned inside out, and the process was repeated.
Then as I stood undressed before , one of the guards scanned
my body from top to bottom, front and back, with a hand-held metal detecting wand.
I was "clean". No contraband. And every prisoner gets the same
treatment, no exceptions.
Nevertheless, I was relieved when the search of my cell was
over. It was an unpleasant adventure.
Next, however, came the clean up. Right after the search, my
cell looked like a home that was overturned by a hurricane with 150 MPH winds.
Half of my property was piled on top of my bunk. The rest was
scattered and crumpled all across my floor. Everything was moved around.
So I spent most of the remainder of the day reorganizing, and
trying to restore my things to their original places..
And all totaled, the CERT Unit spent several hours in my cellblock
as they also had to check outside of the cells. They had to search the dayroom, examining everything.
Then after all this, thankfully, they moved on to begin this
same process all over again in a neighboring cellblock. The entire prison has to be searched.
I had an odd feeling though, when the last of the Cell Extraction
Team left. When I heard the loud slams of the electronically controlled sliding steel doors closing behind them as they walked
out of the building to enter the prison's hallway, it felt as if I were invaded and violated by a foreign army.
They left behind a big mess. But at least everyone, including
myself, now know that there are no weapons in anyone's possession to hurt somebody.
February 14, 2003
LOCKDOWN, DAY #4
Sometime during the early morning hours a little before the
sun came up, one of the prison's employees left another Styrofoam food tray in the slot of my cell door along with another
cup of lukewarm milk. The lockdown and search for contraband isn't over yet.
This is the fourth day of confinement. I pretty much have my
property back in order after yesterday's thashing. No damage was done to my things, but many other men lost various items.
Not weapons, just odds and ends that the Cell Extraction Unit search teams determined on a case by case basis, what a prisoner
could keep and what should be confiscated.
Unfortunately, too, it seems that a number of the inmates go
a little stir crazy during a prolonged lockdown.
For those who do not like to read, or who miss not being able
to watch their programs on the dayroom television, the "cell time" starts getting to them. They get restless. There's energy
to burn yet no way to do it.
Some of the inmates have been standing by their cell doors
yelling to their friends, trying to carry on conversations by distances of ten to one hundred feet, depending on how far away
their friends are.
Generally prisons are noisy places with dozens of men talking
at once. During a lockdown there's nothing for many of these men to do but talk.
And if one cannot find something worthwhile to do, like studying
for his General Equivalency Diploma (GED), he is often left to piddle about in his little cell, walking in circles or cleaning
the same small area again and again.
February 15, 2003
Our lockdown ended late yesterday afternoon. The Cell Extraction
team have packed up their quipment and dispersed. Most of them had been mobilized from different prisons all across New York
All told, this was quite an ordeal. But it's over, and I think
I held up well.
During those four days I spent much of my time reading, praying,
typing letters, and even doing this journal. I was also able to rest.
This was a big change from my always busy work schedule and
all the Bible study classes in the chapel.
I was able to finally use the phone for about ten minutes.
Best of all, I was able to take a hot shower.
Now it's back to my regular schedule and routine.
February 21, 2003
I live in the general population section of the prison. However,
Monday thru Friday I am assigned from 8:30 a.m. to 3: p.m. to the Intermediate Care Program where the "special needs" inmates
live. I spend my work hours with them and try to help any man that I could.
For the most part, some of these guys manage very well, while
others have very serious issues. But all of them have some form of coping difficulty (or difficulties), or at least they have
been so labeled.
It could be that a man has very limited intellectual abililties
(mental retardation) or some other emotional problem that causes him to have poor coping skills. And because of these factors
he is more prone to "act out", express his anger and frustrations in inappropriate ways, or when under stress to regress into
a deeper level of psychosis.
Most of these inmates take psychotropic medications to help
them function and to cope woith the daily stresses of prison life.
And "Cory" (not his real name) is such a person. Normally he
is so mellow. So today I was surprised when he approached me privately and told me that he was hallucinating.
Cory said that everything seemed to be closing in on him as
well as some other things (which I cannot share) that led me to believe he was thinking of taking his life.
Several years ago Cory attempted suicide by taking an overdose
of various pills he managed to squirrel away. He went into a coma for at least several weeks as he lay in the hospital recovering.
For the past week he seemed unusually quiet and subdued. I
sensed that he was wresting with something. And now I see that my feelings were correct. He was fast becoming depressed and
February 22, 2003
Mental illness is like a demon who sneaks into its victim and
insideously poisons the mind. Most people who become menally ill and psychotic do not even know what's happening, or that
Cory was like this. As I mentioned in yesterday's journal entry,
at one point in his life he was in such extreme emotional pain, that he methodically planned his death by secretly accumulating
various medications until he had enough (or so he thought) to consume at one time and end it all.
Fortunately this did not happen. He ended up in a hospital
and in a coma. But he survived. And over time Cory was able to realize that he has a mental illness which sometimes manifests
itself even in spite of the medications he takes.
Thus for a man to recognize that he has a psychiatric problem
is very good. Most people who have a mental illness probably remain in denial all their lives. So this time Cory may have
saved his own life. For when he told me (yesterday) that he was beginning to hallucinate, he obviously felt comfortable enough
to tell me about it.
That after he and I talked for about ten minutes, I gently
asked Cory if he wanted me to tell someone about this. He told me not to tell any of the guards, but instead to find one of
the Intermediate Care Program's trained staff.
I then went to the office of the counselor who's assigned to
the program. I explained what Cory seemed to be going through and told him what Cory said.
This counselor immediately made a phone call and started the
process to have Cory admitted into the Satellite Unit.
February 23, 2003
For the past several days I have been praying for Cory. It
was on February 21 that he approached me and and told me that he thought he was becoming mentally ill, and that he was beginning
I thank God that over time I have been able to gain Cory's
trust. He knew that he could approach me at any time and share whatever was on his mind.
Now, a few days later, Cory is still in the prison's Satellite
Unit. He is no longer in an isolation cell under 24 hour observation. Instead he is in the Satellite Unit's special dormitory
area, where he's being watched with less intensity than if he stayed in that cell.
I miss Cory. He is one of the more stable men who live in the
Intermediate Care Program's cellblock. He can function at a higher level than many of his peers. And He and I would often
play basketball and other sports together.
Of course I have tried to share my faith in God with Cory.
He went to the chapel; a few times, but this was years ago. He felt "paranoid" in such a meeting, he told me.
Nevertheless, on occasion he would read the monthly Prison
Fellowship newslatters and some other popular Christian magazines.
I do not know how much longer Cory will be away from the I.C.P.
cellblock. I hope he returns soon. In the meantime I will continue to pray for him.
February 28, 2003
UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES
One may be surprised to learn just how many of the prison inmates
at my facility have sons or other relatives serving in the Armed Forces of the United States.
During the past several Sunday morning worship services, when
my chaplain asked for prayer requests, those who have loved ones in the military made their request known.
Then as the weeks went by, a few of the men personally asked
me to remember their sons. One man reminded me to pray for his eighteen year old who recently enlisted in the Marines. l Another
stopped me in the hallway to remind me to pray for a son who is now in Kuwait.
I have several friends who are in the military. One man, Thomas,
is presently in the Persian Gulf. Another, James, is presently stationed in California. Most of James' unit has already gone
to the Middle East; he expects to be shipped out very soon.
A husband and wife who are both in the Marine Corps, are serving
in the Asian Pacific. And two missionary friends of mine who are in Germany, and who primarily minister to U.S. Military personnel
and their families, told me in a recent letter, that many soldiers from the large bases in Germany have already gone to the
These are troubled times. There is tension in the air. I know
that many people who have loved ones serving our nation are worried and concerned.. But I know, to, that God answers the prayers
of his childaren.
I keep thinking of Psalm 91 (one of my favorites). God is a
shield and buckler to all who place their trust in Him