Monday, March 5, 2012

Feedback from Prison

While writing the book, God is at the Meeting, I truly wondered if anyone would read it.  I committed myself to the project, but needed to be pushed along the path from time to time. While the editor and proof reader encouraged me, I still wondered if I was being too full of myself.  The best encouragement I received was from the men in prison at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, Texas.  I mentioned to them that I was considering writing a book and they seemed more than interested and would ask from time to time how the effort was coming along.  Their continued interest was the motivation needed to finish the job.  I want to give you some feedback from some of them now that the book has been around for a few months.
About a month ago I ran across a fellow at a meeting in Willis, Texas.  His face was very familiar to me.  I couldn't put a name to him, but I knew we met somewhere before.  That somewhere was in the Montgomery County jail where he had attended the A.A. meetings.  When he saw me in Willis he said with big smile, "I have been looking for you for six months."  He reminded me of where and when we met more than two years ago.  He listened at the meetings and told me that, as a result of the meetings, he decided to take the program seriously and to go into a treatment program as soon as he was released from jail.  Now this is not a one and only jail sentence for this man.  He has been in countless jails in numerous states.  He honestly can't remember how many jails, the number is well above 30.  Today he is a new man.  He attends meetings regularly, reads his materials and has been clean and sober for more than two years.  This man, who used to live on the streets and called the underside of bridges home for a long time, today has a good job, has received a few raises and promotions and is supporting himself and his mother.  Yes, his mother who had bailed him out of jails from California to Florida.  She is in her eighties now and lives with him.  They are buying a home together and he is honestly looking forward to caring for her.  I wonder how many countless nights she prayed and cried over him.  Finally she has a son who can love her and care for her.  If that ain't a miracle, I don't know what to call it.
Last week at the Wynne Unit I was sitting at a meeting and two of the guys I have known for a long time came and sat with me and said that they had to talk to me before I left for home.  One of them, a young man from Pampa, Texas, I have known for quite some time.  He was in and out of the A.A. meetings for a long time and never seemed able to sit still for long. He read God is at the Meeting.  He told me it changed his life.  He said he couldn't tell me how much it helped him and that now he has answers to who he really is, why he lived the way he did and now has a new path to take in life.  His mom is an alcoholic.  He was able not only to recognize her in the book but himself as well. He might be getting out soon and I expect to see him at a meeting when he does. Today he is looking forward to the day of his release and now believes he knows and wants to do what is necessary to stay sober. This is a young man who has a lot to give. His ears are open today in a way they have never been.  He is growing closer to his God and has begun attending church for the first time in his life.  Lots of folks skip the church and God idea, but this man has chosen to embrace both. 
Just after I talked with that young man, another fellow came and sat next to me.  I have known this guy for quite some time too. He has spent more than half his life in prison and has no reasonable chance of ever getting out. We have had numerous conversations and he was one of the first guys to tell me that prison life is all he has and may be all he will ever have. He told me once, "this is my life, these folks are my family, it's all I will ever have."  He gave up any hope of living outside the walls.  I don't know his crime.  It is none of my business.  His life sentence is a pretty good indication of what he did as a young man.  He is in his 50s and has been in 26 years.  This fellow is is tough.  He told me the last time he tried to do his fourth and fifth Steps he almost had a nervous break down.  I told him that wasn't necessary and we joked about it later. 
On this night, when he sat down he looked pretty intense.  He had finished the book some time ago and he began to talk in a way he never had talked to me before. He started with "I think I made a big mistake."  I asked what he was talking about and he continued with the following.  For twenty six years he has been telling his mother, his girlfriend and his niece that he was innocent of his crime. He has manufactured lie after lie to keep his falsehood going, and now he finally told them the truth.  His tears started to flow and he went on to say how freeing the truth is. He finally has the capacity to be honest. The Twelve Steps were taking hold of his heart and he was amazed how that changed his relationship with his Higher Power.  Now this is a hardened criminal, crying openly, probably 50 other inmates around us. God is doing for him what he could never do for himself.  He has carried and been haunted not only by his crime, but by the 26-year effort to deceive the one he loved the most about his guilt. I tried to assure him he didn't make a mistake in telling the truth.  While it may hurt his loved ones for while, they will come to believe his new-found honesty is indeed the best policy
I am hesitating in writing about these men and telling their stories because I don't want anyone to think I believe I had anything to do with the changes in these guys' lives.  All I did was what I felt God asked me to do.  Write about my experience in A.A.  That is all I did.  God does the rest.
We hear at meetings all the time about how folks who do some simple work to help another sick man or woman receive the reward of continued sobriety. What was freely given to them they give to another.  They claim no credit, they simply carry the message.  Today, arrogant s.o.b. I have been most my life, have the privilege of sharing  with men who never had half the blessings I have had.  I hope to spend the rest of my "retirement" sharing the gift of A.A.

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