My Most Noble Service

Death is not often uttered among prisoners. When a person is sent to prison there are two days that mean the most: The day you start and the day you get out. No one wants to get out by death. Most people I have met want to prove their reform, or at least, be able to look at the sky with free eyes.  

In 2015, I began my most noble service. I accepted an invitation to join the two-week training course for hospice. At the time my mom had been battling some mysterious health issues, and my son was shot nine times two days into my training.  

My family was receiving the very help I was giving to others. It made my experience in hospice that much better. Thankfully my son pulled through; my mom didn’t. It was good to hear of the warmth and compassion that she received from aides working in her hospice care. Now I could give to others what I couldn’t give to my very own family. 

We are trained to provide comfort and support in the patient’s last days. We help to read and write their mail, feed and groom them, pray with and for them or to simply be an ear. Sometimes there’s confessions or conversations about regrets and dreams that will go unfilled. In our training we learned to be nonjudgmental. I learned early that it is far from easy to “just see a man” when you learn of their deepest and darkest secrets-some which they were convicted and others you wish you never knew about. Ultimately, you grow pure eyes, and you are left with a friend suffering, as death wrings the very life from their defenseless and feeble body. You learn quickly that death is nothing to fear. You must respect it and have reverence for the fragility of life.

Besides being gentle and compassionate, you must have a mental fortitude worthy of being tested often and early. Sometimes you’ll have to take care of prisoners that are angry because of their situation; fearful of death; racist; or just simply agitated from their pain. You’ll find that even on death’s doorstep, men work hard to maintain a sense of independence. To simply open their own can of tuna is worth fighting their aide for. We let them as the thin veil of independence is all they have left. 

There are no exercises that can build the strength to do this work, you just got to go through it. When the person you have worked with crosses over, it hurts. Hospice brings a perspective I wish everyone could experience. A patient once told me he wished he could see the sky. I told him to look out the window, it was right there. He gave me a disappointed exhale. I knew he was talking about freedom. At that moment I was reminded that I had been taking my life for granted.

When you usher a man to death’s doorstep, it will make you appreciate life and help you realize that what matters most isn’t your start or end date, but what you’ve done in between.

We Have To Do Better

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

John 13:34

Dr. Phil

I, like most people my age I assume, have “shows” that I look forward to watching. For me, Dr. Phil is one of them. I like his no nonsense way of dealing with the issues people have and I also like that he offers them, and his viewers solutions. Recently however, I was disappointed in his show and his general comments about women who marry men in prison. He did an entire show on a woman who had dated a man in prison. Admittedly this woman had issues that manifested themselves in her choice to seek out and date a man behind bars, so at first I was like, “ok, Dr. Phil, I get it, this woman has some work to do on herself.” As the show continued however I kept waiting for Dr. Phil to present the “other side.” One of the commercial breaks promised an interview with a woman who was married to a man in Prison, and the hook was something about the “conjugal visits” that this woman got to have with her husband, like that is the most important indicator of a marriage. I understand that sex sells and that was the “hook” to keep viewers tuned in, but I couldn’t take anymore. I turned it off.

About a month later I was once again tuning in and Dr. Phil had this woman on the show who was in a dysfunctional relationship and he once again used women who marry men in prison as an example of some mental defect that we all may have. I’d had enough. I emailed him and explained the damage he was doing to the thousands of women who live and support spouses behind prison walls and are in loving and real relationships AND the children who’s parents work diligently on their behalf to raise children who will not make the same mistakes the incarcerated parent has. They exist. And they need to be heard too. One sentence from Dr. Phil can erase thousands of hours of work to break down the stigma of being the wife or child of an individual who is incarcerated! We have to demand better.

Love Like No Other

If you have read the previous blog posts you know that I was not planning on a relationship, let alone a prison relationship when Thomas came into my life. Nevertheless however, it has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. Despite prison walls, we share a bond that I have not shared with any other man in my life. Our life is not perfect and we have the same issues any other marriage does. We also share tender moments and a connection that permeate my very soul. Everyday is a new challenge but also a new victory and I love every part of it.

I am asked frequently if I fear that Thomas will revert to his former self when he comes home. The answer is unequivocally no. I know with absolutely no doubt that he is transformed and he is not the man he once was. It is not prison that has transformed him, it is our God and the work he has put in himself to become a better man. He doesn’t need a prison to keep him the man he is- prison in fact, has the opposite influence on those who reside there. It seeks to swallow up the soul and breeds hopelessness. Many who live in the cages we put them in live up to the implications of their habitat. In fact, to rise above and still make a difference in those circumstances, is the closing argument on the character of a man who is truly transformed. Furthermore, most of us would believe that true transformation is an anomaly because that seems to be the only time corrections or parole make headlines. It’s not though, statistically those who serve 10 or more years in prison are significantly less likely to recidivate than those serving lesser sentences for lesser crimes. Add age to that equation and the data is even stronger for transformation and redemption.

Stigma

I get it, we both get it actually. In the words of one of my sons, “it’s weird.” Yes, in general terms my marriage is weird. But why? The irony is we are everywhere. Wives. Children. Mothers. Sisters. Brothers. Friends. In some geographic areas more than others I suppose, depending on which part of the “red line” you live. Why is one story any more weird than another? Why isn’t it weird that we, taxpayers, continually throw millions of dollars a year at a system that is clearly broken? And why aren’t our policy makers questioning that? Why isn’t it weird that there are people who proclaim to be the embodiment of Jesus by claiming they are Christians, but those same people miss the mark everyday when they choose to buy into the “law and order” rhetoric of politicians and media that perpetuate this “lock’em up” mentality? Or who point the finger at people who have not yet arrived in their transformation but can’t see their very own shortcomings. I know…an age old query!

Do Better

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:40

The reality is we do have to do better. We have to serve one another, even when we don’t feel like serving. We have to have compassion for one another, even when we don’t feel like having compassion. We have to forgive each other, even if we don’t feel like forgiving. We have to get out from behind our political affiliations, our devices and television shows and meet one another, speak to one another, understand one another. Even those who are in prison. Even those who seem hopeless. And yes even those who choose to love and support those who are in prison.

Men Are From Mars

There are three things that are too wonderful for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship in the sea, and the way of a man with a woman. Proverbs 30:18-19

Men and women are literally different. Science confirms this, the world enforces this, and the Bible says that we are made for one another (male and female) because of our differences. These differences have been more evident to me lately in my own marriage. With some self evaluation and deep reflection, I’ve found that my thinking or mindset, when compared to my wife, could quite possibly make me a Martian…So, where are women from?

Houston We Have a Problem

I believe my wife and I were made for each other. Have you ever met someone that is just perfect? I mean, you can finish each other’s sentences? Or anticipate each other’s desires, or what each of you are trying to accomplish? Well that is Kerry and I. You could say that we have a “marriage made in heaven.” According to James Rogers, this statement can be defined as, “a seemingly predestined marriage, one that has been particularly successful.” This is us. William Painter’s ancient proverb taken from The Palace of Pleasure (1576) says, “true it is, that marriages be done in heaven and performed on earth.” These statements fit my wife and I to a tee. However, among the perfection, there are times that only science (biology) can explain our differences of opinion and perspective. This concept came to light recently during a disagreement we had. The exact topic fails my memory at the moment, but because the argument got a little heated, I felt convicted and compelled to apologize to my wife.

Solomon, the wisest man to walk the earth, even admitted that there were things he didn’t understand or fully grasp… one of them was women and how to relate to them (Proverbs 30 18-19)!

Now back to my apology- setting my pride aside in this situation honestly occurred to me because I’d realized that I failed to apply my “burnt toast” principle. When my wife and I have a heated discussion, especially when there is nothing detrimental to our family at stake, I always apply the “burnt toast” methodology and then move on (I explain the burnt toast principle in a prior post, but basically my father-in-law taught me that if it’s not something major, let her have it). Well in this heated discussion I had missed the mark badly, and things went downhill fast, then the call had to end. So we said our goodbyes and the phone hung up with the familiar computer generated voice on the other end saying, “thank you for using securus.” Then click and dead silence. After that call, I went back to my cell to ponder a grand apology for our next call. Later that night I was able to get back on the phone (which is a blessing in this environment to get a second call in a day) and set my master apology in motion since I was more concerned with her being happy, than my pride- which I will tell you was screaming at me that I had nothing wrong. She answered, and I began by expressing How wonderful she is, and in my most debonair voice, I continued telling her that she was right and how arguing isn’t good for either of us…and that I was sorry… then, BAM! The difference between a man and woman manifested… I was reminded by my wife in her polite, yet stern tone, that I, “don’t hear her at times,” and, “how listening and hearing are two different things.” The inflection in her voice said that she was not happy. I was left shocked and somewhat dismayed! My brain strained to figure out why I wasn’t being commended for the contrition and willingness to reconcile our opinions in the disagreement! Remember, I hadn’t thought I had done anything wrong in the first place! Needless to say, this conversation did not go as I had planned. There was another moment when things went awry. Our interactions, and phone calls, hadn’t been as smooth as they normally were. If you read Kerry’s last post you know that things had been hectic to say the least and we have been through a lot this last summer. So, an argument or heated discussion during that time wasn’t going to bode very well. So not too long ago, as “things” in our lives were starting to calm down, she told me that she’d been searching on the internet for books that could help bring us closer together. We have a practice of reading books to help keep us connected. So she went on to say that she google searched “Christian marriage help,” and “fighting for your marriage.” I abruptly asked if she was trying to tell me something? In my mind those search terms indicated that she was in some way insinuating that we were headed towards the big D word… Divorce. Well, she emphatically told me that, “that was not even in her thoughts!” She was taken aback at how I could ever conceive such a thing. In my mind, it was self-explanatory, she used words like, “fight for” and “help,”and so on. These were just her google search terms, (I have a lot to learn about google lol) but I interpreted the words as “major issues” or worse divorce! For a couple who can finish each other’s thoughts normally, these differences must be biological (science) I tell you…

Blazing Saddles

Not only do I have empirical evidence of the differences that exist between men and women, but my peers feel the same way. Talking with a friend, he gave me his example. While on a break at our assigned work detail, Blaze (his nickname) seemed flustered and agitated. He sat close to me in the break room, so I knew he needed to talk. I opened with, “what’s going on?” He sighed and then flowed with, “my wife is mad at me.” Since I have been reflecting on my own latest failed apology with my wife, I was curious to hear about his malcontent. I set out to be totally objective in evaluating his story, so I approached his shared information as free as I could without bias. I wanted to be able to give him sound advice or a stern reproach if needed. He explained that his wife was torn between coming in for a FRP visit (family reunion visit/trailer) or attending her estranged grandfather’s funeral in North Carolina. At first, I felt there was no argument to be made between the two, obviously she should go to the funeral. In his case, like mine, biology was to blame.

He explained that his wife often talked about how bad that side of the family was. She had told him that she never even met the now deceased grandfather, and she didn’t get along with the remaining family members. So, figuring he could help her with her internal conflict, he told her that if they spent time together on the FRP visit, he could console her and keep her mind clear and she’d be away from everybody else. He clearly felt that he had no selfish intent in his advice, but she felt differently. He said she accused him of being selfish and hurled obscenities at him! From my unbiased position, I saw that in her indecision she wanted him to support her in going to the funeral even though she held much disdain and negative feelings toward that side of her family. In support of him, I told him “I understood.” Using his logic, he was trying to get her to a happy place, and offer a solution that would make her feel better about not going. As he kept talking, he admitted that even if he suggested that she go to the funeral, she would have accused him of not wanting to be with her during a time that she needed him most. Once again it’s science- what is a man to do?!

Science Confirms This

In biology, I learned that we are all born with a X chromosome. During conception the father will provide another chromosome; either another X or a Y. If you received a X-chromosome you will be a female. However, if he gave you a Y then you are a male. In science it’s the X and Y chromosomes that decide the difference. The physical differences are somewhat obvious but the real differences take place in the brain. Yeah, let’s go there!

Our Brain’s are Different

Now for a little science lesson LOL. When we are conceived, males and females are basically the same. Sometimes during the gestation period of the fetus, if a Y chromosome is present, magic takes place and men become damned to mars. In biological layman terms the Y chromosome splashes the chemical testosterone and when it reaches the brain of the male, fibers connecting the right and left hemisphere are disintegrated. Since that splash of testosterone doesn’t occur in the female fetus, her brain stays connected. This means the male uses one side of his brain at a time while the female uses both. Maybe that’s why women are better multitaskers? For proof, I’ll reference my wife, she does it effortlessly and sometimes it aggravates me! But she, like so many other women are able to do it naturally. As a result, men are more logical in their thinking. For man it’s 1+2=3…always…simple… There’s no sulking or simmering in the equation. Women tend to be more concerned with how they feel going from 1 to 2 and then to 3. (Of course I am generalizing here.)

The left side of the brain tends to be more verbal, logical, analytical, and rational. Whereas the right side of the brain is more non-verbal, spatial, intuitive, and creative. The point I’m trying to make is that men and women are different literally. We are different physically and biologically. We are different down to our simplest genetic structures. It shouldn’t be hard to hypothesize that we will see life, problems, and solutions differently. We will arrive at times with different conclusions.

Will and Jada Divorce

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett recently said on her redbook podcast that they, “get it”- the differences. Jada revealed that she made a complaint during an argument and Will thought she was hinting at divorce (sound familiar from earlier in this post?) But clearly, in her opinion, she wasn’t. Thankfully, she quickly corrected her husband, the left brain thinker, and explained that the misinterpretation had become a reference point for them. Now they communicate better and articulate their feelings more specifically. While communicating the “sender” (person talking) “expresses freely” and the receiver (person listening) is “free from judgment” while interpreting. Hearing their conversation was a sigh of relief: I am not the only Martian!

Although we are very different, we need the influence of the other to attain balance and stability. In the process of becoming “one flesh” our worlds have merged together. To the men, as you travel this journey, have a little “burnt toast.” While you eat you’ll see that men are definitely from Mars and women are from wherever they want to be. No need for an argument about Venus… 😉

So Much has Changed

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,”says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

As I looked at this memory that popped up on my newsfeed this morning I thought, “wow, I look really happy there.” Then, as I began to reflect, I thought, “wow, so much has changed in a year.” Then a deep sadness welled up in me. It is a sadness I am familiar with, as I have to keep it at bay everyday I get out of bed. As I’m sure everyone knows, it’s easy to experience joy when things are going well! Thomas and I have experienced a stretch of “hilltop” years, 3 to be exact, but this summer that all changed.

July 28, 2018

I woke up to my phone ringing. It was 3:16 am. I did not recognize the number, but at that hour of the morning I knew it could not be good. My heart was racing as I said, “hello.” The male voice on the other end said, “hello, your son Jordan asked me to call you, he’s been in an accident.” My heart stopped. My stomach immediately went sour. He continued, “he is laying here and he says his neck and back hurt, but he’s moving his legs, I’ve called an ambulance, you should meet him at the hospital.” I was gasping for air. I replied, “ok, where are you located?” He said, “the corner of Salmon Creek and Colby, where are you, if you’re close you can come here?” Still in a fog, I said, “I’m right around the corner, I’ll be right there.” And then this man did something I am still grateful for, “you need to know that your son is covered in blood, and he looks really bad, but he walked down here to me, so I think he will be ok.” Although it may not seem like much, he prepared me for what I was going to see and I was able to approach Jordan calmly at the scene.

It was a horrific accident. Jordan and his friend Travis were driving down the winding road and hit some stones on the shoulder and spun out of control, hitting a tree and landing in a ravine. God was with them both that night, but that night has changed both of our families forever. We will forever be tied to Travis’s beautiful family. I would ask you to please add Travis and his family to your prayers. As for Jordan, he continues to heal and after the last hospital stay, is finally making steady progress.

August 20, 2018

My phone was ringing. It was around 5:45 am. I picked up my phone and saw that it was my sister in law Nicole calling. I knew why she was calling. Her voice was shaky on the other end as she told me that my mother in law had passed. My heart sank. I had the privilege of getting to know this beautiful, strong woman, who gave life to my husband. Through her, I have witnessed unconditional love in its purest state. And, the sheer unbreakable bond of a mother and her son. I don’t think she knew it, but with every interaction I had with her, she taught me a little more about motherhood and love. She made me promise one thing every time she would get really sick- she would say to me, “you will take care of Jason (Thomas) when I’m gone, right?” I would always reply, “I promise, for the rest of his life.” She would say back, “I know you will.” My heart would ache every time we had that exchange, because I knew the place that question was coming from- her undying love for him. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she was given 3-6 months to live. She lived a full year after that diagnosis and everyone is in agreement that was because she was waiting on Thomas to come home. Brenda Gant was grace, love, patience, and strength all bottled up in one amazing woman. I miss her.

August 29, 2018

I just returned home from the funeral in Alabama. I noticed that Sadie was breathing hard and asked Jordan if everything was ok with her while I was gone. He told me that she had an episode while I was gone that really scared him. I called the vet and brought her in. They wanted to do a chest X-ray so I would have to drop her off the next morning. The vet called after the X-rays and started the conversation with, “it’s not good…” again, my heart sank. She was trying to tell me there was nothing they could do, without telling me there was nothing they could do. Her chest was full of fluid, her heart and spleen was enlarged… I stopped her. I said, “it’s ok, just tell me when I should come. I don’t want her to suffer anymore.” She said, “come now.” My body was numb. My heart was hollow. It ached. It still does, even as I write these words. My Sadie Mae was my refuge. She was with me through so many dark times. I held her as her body fell limp into my arms. It was horrible, it still is.

Ten Rounds

This summer has left me reeling. I have had difficulty keeping my joy. Outwardly I keep a smile, and remain positive. After all, I am inherently a glass half full kind of girl- but still it is hard. After Sadie, I called my dad (I was crying hysterically) and exclaimed I just don’t know how much more I can take! And I really meant that. I have felt like I have gone 10 rounds in a ring and have been KO’d. I’m exhausted.

Taking it out on Thomas

When I told Thomas about the 10 round thing, he said, “well they usually last 12.” In fairness to him, I didn’t add the KO’d part- but I assumed he’d know what I meant. Instead he thought I meant I still had 2 rounds in me. We laughed at this misunderstanding, but inside I felt he had no idea what I was going through, and I felt alone in my struggle. This interaction would exemplify almost every interaction we would have throughout September. Communication has always been our strength- but I dropped that ball this past month. How could I complain about my struggles when he just lost his mom? I felt petty telling him about the ins and outs of Jordan’s recovery, or the hole I had in my heart from the loss of Sadie. Even more, I felt ungrateful for feeling so overwhelmed while God had blessed us so much. I have to be everything to everybody- there is no time for a pity-party in my life. Work is still there, bills have to get paid, the grandkids have to be taken care of, Jordan is in and out of the hospital, Jessica, (we’ll leave that one right there), and I’m Thomas’s lifeline to “out here,” and his support. So I retreated inward, bottling up my feelings, just going through the motions day in and day out. All the while feeling empty, drained, overwhelmed and alone. Toward him my feelings came out as resentment and anger, I had kept it in so long and pushed through so much that I didn’t even have the words to tell him what was wrong. This was and is brand new territory for us- we have nary ever had even a harsh word between the two of us!

Not Everything Has Changed

Although many things have changed, and we are going through a valley right now, there are some things that remain constant:

God is good- all the time. I have to be conscious of Him- but God is all around me, and I see Him working. He has been speaking to me through my daily time with Him. He keeps showing me Proverbs 31 and how not to fall under condemnation.

My husband is an amazing man and he loves me very much. He is compassionate and patient and seeks to understand. He told me when we married that next to God, nobody would love me more than him. I know this to be true. And I love him just as much.

This too shall pass… I have been through a lot in my life and I know that this too shall pass. There is light at the end of the tunnel. It is my prayer that the tunnel is getting shorter.

A Dedication to my Mother

My mother’s passing on August 20, 2018, was hard. I think back to when my son was shot, it was like a strong uppercut to the stomach; it knocked the wind out of me. The loss of my mother however, left me with an inarticulate sorrow. It was far harder than any punch I have ever sustained. How do you get over all of the now missed opportunities and dreams? Well, you don’t, and probably never will. And that’s alright with me.

My Mom had stage four lung cancer, so I have been preparing myself over a year for her transition. I have served as a part-time hospice aide for the last three years, so I have learned to be ready for the inevitable. As an aide in that field we become “everything” for the patient. We read, write letters, feed, bathe, and provide companionship for them. We have to have a different perspective on their life, and the death, that is approaching them. One lesson that we were taught is to think of death as a “transaction.” Despite how uncomfortable and gut wrenching it is to sit by and watch a human being shrivel into nothing, losing all vitality with each passing moment, we endure. Whether it is performing a task, sharing a laugh or being an ear, we seek moments to provide comfort to our patients. Most times we are rendered helpless; we are forced to sit by and watch our peers become a shell of themselves. As much as we want to help we can’t. It’s like trying to hold onto sand in our hands. Still, being a part of hospice care is gratifying. I couldn’t be there for my mother, so helping someone else battle the same obstacles she did, provides some comfort for me.

That Day

I had just returned from a weekly meeting with my peers about prison stuff. We were drawing up proposals and solutions to present to facility administration in the way we usually do on Mondays. However, this Monday was a little different. We finished the meeting on time and there were little, if any, heated discussions. Since we had time, I even talked to the executive team about my replacement as President of the Liaison Committee. I informed them I wasn’t running for re-election. We were escorted back to the cell-blocks at 11 AM for the facility count. Count begins every day around 11:15 AM. I got back to the company I am housed in with no interruptions (fights or disturbances) and then the company officer yelled, “Gant. Visit.” My heart skipped a beat. Not because I felt something was wrong, but because there were only five minutes left before the facility count was going to take place. During the count, there is no movement among the inmate population. Everyone is locked in their cells or confined to the area where they are at and there are no exceptions. Because of the time, I put a rush on it, and made my way to the visiting room.

On my way to the visit, my mind scampered all over the place. After almost 21 years of incarceration, surprise visits are not good for me. For one, I become a nervous wreck. Secondly, because of the responsibilities I have, I am almost never ready in time. With the responsibilities I have, back up plans and replacements are important. It can be a disaster when some 800 people are depending on you to fulfill your duties and then you don’t. For us, it’s the equivalent of an air traffic controller taking a shift off at the busiest time of the day; there’s bound to be a catastrophic screw-up. Still, I walked briskly to the visiting room hoping to beat the count.

When I arrived at the visiting room area, I go through the normal security check. Clothing and shoes log in, pat frisk, metal wanding, and boss chair. “Face, feet, have a seat,” the officer instructed me as I approach the king sized gray chair. The cold, immovable, plastic chair that sits at the far end of the visiting frisk area corridor is unrelenting when I sit on it. I place my face on the adjacent face tray, complying with the order. Then I swipe my feet on the black rubber-matted box off to the left bottom of the chair. This chair is used by security to make sure that no metal objects are on an inmate’s body or cavity. The pat frisk and metal wanding are overkill, but at least visitors and staff will not be subject to any metal prison weapons. After fixing my clothes, I walk through the visiting room door. I see Kerry. She’s sitting in the far distance one row away from the windows. Her countenance is down and instantly I know it’s Mom.

Hurt, sadness, anger and an assortment of other emotions flew through me at that moment. My heart rate rose and chest burned. My throat felt like I had a tennis ball in it. With labored breathing I walk slowly toward the table. I noticed every step I took; I made myself breathe. I wanted so much to hold my Mom before she left. I had so many plans to take care of my mother when I was released. In one of our conversations I told her I was going to move her in with me until I could build her a home. She giggled. More importantly, I wanted her to see the man I had become on the other side. Years ago she told me her “boy had become a man.” Early in my bid, that was one of my proudest days. I wanted to show her that my maturation was real. On that Monday I felt robbed of two things: my mother, and the dreams I had with her in them. As I moved closer to Kerry and her outstretched arms, my eyes welled up with tears. I didn’t let them drop, my wife did that for me. As I disappeared into Kerry’s embrace, I closed my eyes and held her… I saw my mother’s warm smile. It was a vision of her from long ago. Although in my imagination mom didn’t speak, she told me to be strong.

My Mom Is Strong (Excerpt from my Mom’s funeral that Kerry read to my family and loved ones on August 27th, 2018.)

My husband could not be here today so he wanted to honor his Mom with these words: First a word from Proverbs 31: She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

My mother was strong

My mother was strong- I have witnessed her strength since a child. No matter the obstacles she faced, no matter how uncomfortable she was, she kept herself upbeat. She endured so much and not only was she strong, she made me be strong too.

She encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do, to be whatever I wanted to be. I didn’t always listen, but through the heartaches I caused her, she stood strong, often telling me things I did and did not want to hear.

My mother was strong- she celebrated me for the things I accomplished, and she loved me through the bad decisions that I made.

In her eyes I could do no wrong, and even when I was wrong, she held her head high and supported me.

My mother was strong- when she began to wade deeper in her sickness, we would pray, she would tell me to be strong.

As she declined further her strength and resilience was still on display. She would pull it together to talk to me- all the while, I knew she was hurting.

Even as her spells grew and became more frequent before she was diagnosed she didn’t want to let me see that she was sick.

Then when they told her she had only a few of months to live, she took a year.

My mother was strong. She showed me strength, even in the face of a monster, and she did it all the way to the end.

The strongest part of my mother was her love. I learned a lot from my mother. She taught me the need for God. She expressed the importance of loyalty and she made me value family.

She exemplified her strength. I know she tried her hardest to stay here to see me on this side.

As we honor my mother, I would like everyone take a little time to honor themselves at this moment.

I am reminded of how fragile and fleeting life is. It is too short not to find joy in every day that we are blessed with.

Lastly,
Don’t be sad for my mother, even though we will all miss her, God had other plans for her.

I didn’t get a chance to show my mother on the outside the man that I have become. However, somewhere among the stars, I have comfort knowing that she will still know and be proud. She will also know I am being strong like she told me to be. I will honor her in everything I do.

So please whenever you find yourself down or you feel that you cannot go any further,

Be like my Mom and be strong.

The Bible says that God gives the “Peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I have received many warm wishes, condolences and prayers. It all helped. The pain is still fresh and I’m learning to navigate through it all while in prison. It hasn’t been easy, but is it really supposed to be? Sill, I have experienced that peace. On the days I feel like I am in a fog floating around, it’s the kind word or action that helps. Just the other day I shared with my wife that during my individual prayer time that I often do at night, it was hard when I got to my Mom. It hurt so much at first that I would just stop. She suggested that I just thank God that she isn’t suffering anymore. Just like that, something clicked within me. I had taken a step forward in healing. I realized that it was OK to have a moment of weakness. Now I know it is OK to be vulnerable. Had I not been willing to show that vulnerability, I may not have received that piece of valuable advice. I guess in some way that is being strong… just like my Mom told me to be.

See you in the next leg of transition Mom. I love you.

Marry Someone Smarter Than You

The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It’s a choice you make – not just on your wedding day, but over and over again – and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife. – Barbara De Angelis

Prison is a hard place to nurture a relationship, especially a marriage. Of course, I’m stating the obvious, but just think: how would you feel if the very one you love, and are completed by, was miles away? And, as much as you wanted to comfort, console or even touch them, you couldn’t? What if they needed you and no matter what you wanted to do, you could do nothing? Let’s not even talk about how hard communication alone can be! No sympathy please. I ask because even with the seemingly immovable obstacles of prison, my wife and I still make it work. I implore everyone reading to appreciate the other person they are in relationship with and make it work. If we can do it from here, I know it has to be easier from the other side.

Ok… So How’s Sadie Doing?

I have the most wonderful, kind, affectionate, sweet and wonderful wife. She’s beautiful. She has a heart full of gold. She has helped me to learn so many things that I otherwise wouldn’t have. She has shown me that she’s wonderfully, fearfully and uniquely made. Most beautiful wives are. The love that we share is in a category all of its own, so are the obstacles that we face. She has shown me when those obstacles mount up, they are like snowflakes. When you get many of them together, you can expect a cold winter with back breaking shoveling. LOL

My Kerry Ann is thoughtful, a good listener and she gives great attention to details in conversations and our interactions. She knows when my days are good and she senses when they aren’t. She always has a good word that resonates spiritually when I need reminding in my faith. She’s been my place of solace when I need escape. My wife is great when I am solving a problem or giving direction to our family; she helps me to see the whole picture. She lets me be the husband I am destined to be, even though we are apart for the majority of our marriage. She embodies meekness. My wife is smart.

I was once told to, “marry a woman that’s smarter than you,” by a seasoned gentleman named Michael Buress. Mike has done close to 40 years of incarceration. After his 10th board appearance he was finally released. I have been fortunate to have come in contact with a lot of great men during my incarceration. The same men have given me tons of advice and so-called words of wisdom. Some of the quips have been very useful, while others were just slick, vain, empty words. Mike always had a way of making his words of wisdom fit the situation he was trying to prove. For example, even if it was a simple gentleman’s bet, he’d say, “don’t gamble if you can’t cover the cost,” even though there were never any monetary exchanges involved. Or he’d say something like, “never let them see you sweat,” pointing his finger intently, and then wiping his forehead even though there was no sweat in sight. Although we knew he just meant for us not to let others know how mad they made us. He was most memorable because of his exaggerated body movements that evoked chuckles. Sarcastically I’d often snap back, “thanks Mike, everyone knows that.” Instead of entertaining my sarcasm he would just continue talking as if I hadn’t said a word. Secretly, I tucked a few of his quips into the back pocket of my mind.

With all of Kerry’s qualities and characteristics, all of which are highly commendable, we still have times where we have to exercise our best communication skills. Prison, all by itself, presents a number of tangible and intangible problems. Some of which have no blueprint or manual on how to solve them. So we are forced to communicate our way through. I’ll remind you, both of us know how to communicate well. Kerry as an educator and my ability to articulate my feelings and ideas has placed me in some of the rarest air throughout my incarceration, still at times, it can be hard. We have yet to have what I’d call a traditional argument, but when the heat turns up, a simple question puts things back in perspective. “Ok, so how is Sadie doing?” Asking this question about the family pet worked… For a while anyway. She has called me out on it recently. You see Sadie, a tan, female pitbull and boxer mix, is my wife’s heart, and her soft spot. My wife loves this dog. Sadie, I’ve learned isn’t only a part of the family, she has her own personality. Over the phone I’ve learned that rain and thunder scare Sadie, almost crippling her. She’s good with kids but domineering with other dogs, as evidenced by Ghost, our sons puppy. Through pictures I know that Sadie has those beautiful puppy dog eyes. In the picture as if she knew to strike a pose, her head tilted to the side, left ear half cocked, she flashed a look that would melt any heart. I’ve fallen in love with her already. So whenever things get heated or a there’s a lull in the conversation, I’d inject the question, “how’s Sadie doing?” whenever I would pose this question, we’d stop, collect ourselves, take a breath and proceed affectionately with one another.

My wife is smarter than me. She knows how to read me and when to be quiet. When to offer advice and when to listen. When Mike offered his advice, I admit that I wanted to argue at first. I thought it would be better to have both people be smart in the relationship. Secondly, I had a problem with admitting that I lacked in an area that is crucial to my own self-esteem. To me it was like being vulnerable. Now I get it. In fact, that vulnerability made me better and even smarter for recognizing it. Being able to see the greatness in my wife has made me a better man and husband. Plus, all I have to do is allow my wife’s light to shine and embellish the beauty she already has. In a marriage it’s not about who’s right or wrong or who wins and loses, it’s about who is lovingly committed to the union that was agreed to. To me that’s smart. Oh, and Sadie is doing well.

So, How’s Sadie Doing? 

“Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are – chaff and grain together – certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.” —Dinah Craik

In every relationship there will be ups and downs. It just seems to be a principle as universal as the rainbow that is expected with a bright sunny day rain. A prison relationship certainly is no exception. In fact, the barriers that prison itself causes can be the cause of the “downs” or even amplify them. Even though Thomas and I have enjoyed over three years of marriage bliss, we have not been immune to the occasional disagreement, heated discussion, or misunderstanding. The difference in our marriage is that we have a limited time to work them out. We get to talk everyday on the phone for 30 minutes and then visit for about 5 hours on the weekend, so that of course, limits the amount of time we have to discuss some of the heavier topics that arise naturally throughout a relationship. Fortunately, one of our best attributes as a couple is the way we communicate, so we have a natural advantage going in to any “argument,” but there is always room for growth. I put that word in quotes because I don’t think we have ever had an actual argument…we have discussions… that sometimes end in silence on my part, which then will prompt Thomas to ask, “so, how’s Sadie?”

Sadie is our dog, she is a beautiful tan boxer/pit-bull mix. She is 9 years old and some days are better than others for her as her age is starting to show. She now has a partner in crime named Ghost who is Jordan’s puppy and he seems to have spurred some “pep in her step.” They enjoy play fighting and chasing one another around the yard. She teaches him the parameters of personal space and is quick to remind him that all the balls in the house are hers! In turn, he keeps her young by forcing her to play, even if she’d clearly be left alone!

I have learned many years ago that words can be sharper than knives and cut deeper, so I try to choose them carefully. I am not perfect, and just the other day made a sarcastic quip in the middle of a discussion, which ended up being counter productive to getting to a solution. For that reason I try to catch myself before I say things I’ll regret and just be quiet. It also signals to Thomas that I need time to cool down. He knows me and takes the time to tune in to my cues. Thus the question: So how’s Sadie doing? It has become our safe phrase and our cue to take a breath and divert the conversation elsewhere for a few minutes, or go to our respective corners of the ring if you will, to collect our thoughts and come back to the topic ready for a solution rather than round 2.

We have had to employ this strategy quite often recently as we have been dealing with many, as my husband would say, “opportunities to praise God.” He does not believe in bad news or stressful situations, he says they are, “only opportunities to praise God.” He is correct, they all are ultimately. The reality however, is that life does become stressful at times, and when your partner is behind bars it can be even more difficult to deal with. This is when open and honest communication is key. We have also learned that at times we just have to take a break from all of the “stuff” that is going on in our lives and just have “date night” phone calls, where we force ourselves to forget about whatever problems we are facing and just talk about what we love about one another.

I am thankful that God gives us the grace to maintain a loving and fully functional marital relationship.

My First Time 

Married couples learn how to please each other; singles learn how to please the Lord. If you are married, a major part of pleasing the Lord is in your ministry to your spouse.”

Jentezen Franklin

A Long Time Coming 

Kerry and I have been married for close to two years. Our ceremony took place on a Friday, the 17th day of April in 2015. On that special day we kissed, hugged and then returned to our visiting table, and just like the majority of our visits, it was crowded. We wouldn’t truly be alone until March 13, 2017. We named it, “our honeymoon.” Normally a recently married couple in prison could have their alone time – or honeymoon – within a year of their marriage, for us it would take a little longer. 

The Family Reunion Program 

The Family Reunion Program, commonly referred to as FRP’s, trailers, housing units or “trucks,” require a six month waiting period before an application can be filed. Then there is a six month wait for a date. Because of a “snag” that was found in the departmental computer records dating back to 2004 (my previous participation) I had to go through a tedious appeal process. At first I cursed the bureaucrats in Albany, well not literally, but my stomach did flip. I knew it was going to be some time before I was to be with my wife. My peers were experiencing all the benefits of FRP’s while I was left to wrestle with being positive. On the outside I looked carefree, but on the inside I ran through a gambit of emotions. Anxious to angry; sad to excited, and everything in between. I talked to every staff person. I am almost certain I annoyed them with the plethora of questions, inquiries, and cries for help. I found a lot of support, but Albany, and all of its Ivory Tower inhabitants, refused to budge. At that time, the infamy of the Clinton escape was still fresh in the air, which made me believe that any issue that was questionable or that required a little thought was being denied. It was hard to be objective from where I stood, so I waded in a few angry days. However, I reminded myself that I had waited all my life for Kerry, so I was going to endure whatever I had to, and do it with a smile. While we waited, we used the time to get closer. We ministered to one another through our letters, phone calls and visits. At the end of visits I would hold her tightly hoping that the embrace would somehow remain with her in my absence. I held onto the smiles she would flash before walking out of the visiting room. All four seasons past and then out of the blue, I got the call.

The Call 

It was a Thursday and I was having a great day. I was already charged up emotionally because my father-in-law had come to visit me with Kerry earlier that day. The visit was wonderful. He taught us a little about the stock market and we shared laughs about life and family. We ended the visit early so I could make my sign language class. While being escorted from the visit I silently thanked God for my family and their support.

When I returned to the block, I was informed that the FRP coordinator wanted to talk to me in my work area. Since she oversees several different duties that I work or volunteer in, her having information on my FRP appeal did not come to my mind. When I walked in her office, she told me to sit down and she handed me the decision from Albany. My heart raced. I began to sweat a little, as I sat I scanned the single page of paper but couldn’t focus on it. I was able to make out the title “Family Reunion Program Inmate Application Decision Notification.” Immediately, I went down to the end of the two sentence paragraph that was in bold lettering. My brain had only captured two phrases: “approved” and “favorable decision.” I glanced up at the coordinator, she smiled. This was the call! After a two-year wait, I was going to be with my wife! For once, we were going to have some time and space to ourselves free from the eyes that had to look up on us, and the eyes that stole unsolicited looks. I wanted to give her the type of hug you would give someone after they had given you a million dollars. I am the touchy-feely type of guy, so that would be the best way for me to express my joy and appreciation. Unfortunately, that is highly inappropriate for this environment, especially in today’s climate. So I thanked her endlessly. My smile had grown so wide it felt awkward. I wasn’t able to tell Kerry the good news until our usual 4 o’clock phone call so I rushed down the hall to the sign language resource room. I entered the room carrying that same smile that seemed to have grown into awkward luggage. I was too excited to sign the information so I just talked. They too shared in my joy and excitement. Then the conversations began, “how was it going to be?” One said, “you excited?” Another yelled, “he’s glowing!” They were all right, I was all of those things and more.

The Count Down 

I called my wife at our normal time to share the news. I delayed my announcement and asked how the rest of her day went and then I thanked her for the visit. Then I told her I had received the decision, and she was silent. Trying to stay cool and contain my excitement, I told her that, “it wasn’t right for us to have had to wait so long, especially since we did nothing wrong.” In 2004 my niece brought her toys in with her on a FRP visit. Inside a suitcase carrying the 3 year old’s clothes happened to be her most prized possession- her jewelry box. Full of faux pearls and costume jewelry, the pink and gray box, complete with musical spinning ballerina, came also with a plastic skeleton key. While my niece was so excited to share her toys with her uncle, this key would cause a problem, and years later become the “snag” that would delay our FRP visits. This key in no way resembled a handcuff key, the plastic, flimsy, grey key only fit into the slot on the box but the overzealous corrections officer at Attica thought different. New York State troopers were called and my sister was arrested. Calling him overzealous paled in comparison to what my mother and sister referred to him as. Less than an hour later the traumatic situation was resolved. The troopers found no crime, my sister was released, and I was given the next available date for FRP. I would then go on participating in the FRP program for the next six years. For some reason, when the Ivory Tower dwellers in Albany received my FRP application this time, they pointed to that very same incident as a reason for denial. Apparently, coordinators, along with facility staff at Attica failed to rectify the incident amongst the departmental records. That failure would be the “snag” that ultimately cost my wife and I an extra two years of waiting for an approval.

 I was expecting to hear Kerry screaming after I gave her the news, instead she cried. Overjoyed with the fact that we would be together, her emotions had gotten the best of her. I thought it was cute because I felt the same way. We regained our bearings and thanked God together. So many thoughts ran through my mind, and just as many emotions. After the call, we both set an agenda to help us get ready for our time together. For me, the plans all started and ended with working out. I thought about what to eat and the activities we would share in. Finally we would be together, literally. I came up with a workout plan. The countdown began. 

The Get-Ups 

Kerry came up with a countdown system to make us aware of the time we had left until our FRP day. My plan was not to focus on the time to make it go faster. She would remind me every night before our call ended, “14 more get ups,” she’d say. Now, by my account we had 16 days, but since her counting put us two days closer, I went with it! “Burnt toast moment,” I would say to myself with a chuckle every time she announced a number. I’m no expert in mathematics so I didn’t argue. The funny thing is the days flew by, the counting system had a psychological effect. I barely got any sleep the night before. My uneasiness, in part, was because of sheer excitement, the other part was the urine test. I wanted to be ready for the officer whenever he came to collect my sample. As protocol dictates, there are three samples collected. The second test occurred the morning of the visit. The other samples are collected two days prior and the day you leave the FRP visit. I have never gotten comfortable giving them, even after close to two decades in prison. In prison there is no real privacy, especially with the watchful eye during the sample collecting process. The whole process  infringes upon the basic rights humans are supposed to have that accompany intimacy. All of that goes out the window, but you endure because of the joy that lies at the end. When the officer showed up to the cell after the 7 o’clock count, I was more than ready. Two hours and 15 minutes later, I was in the squared trailer home.

Knives, Spoons, Forks 

Upon entering the trailer, escorted by the officer, I surveyed the area. At quick glance, everything seemed neat and clean. I noticed the two brown leather couches first, they were the reason for the leather smell that clung to the air. The officer followed me in and I presented to him the articles of clothing and personal property I brought for the visit. I had two white T-shirts, two white boxers, two white socks, and burgundy sweatpants. “You’re traveling really light, huh?” The officer said to me as he kneaded my sweatpants making sure they were free of any contraband. I told him I didn’t plan on using any clothing anyway. He wasn’t amused. Through the  awkward silence, he peered over to me, head bent, looking over his circle framed glasses, “don’t go outside,” he said rather nonchalantly, “if you don’t want to get shot.” I searched his face or a comedic response – I found none. Thankfully that wasn’t true. He wasn’t a regular officer for FRP so I chalked it up to his unfamiliarity with the program. After he left I walked through the trailer praying and thanking God in every room. I wanted every aspect of the experience to be great for my wife. The place we were going to make our abode for the next 48 hours was going to be cleaned physically and spiritually. When I finished sweeping, mopping, wiping and praying everything down, I ran and dove onto the bed in the master bedroom. Landing on my back, I stared up at the ceiling. The mattress was soft, it hugged me. I laid there and waited for the things I had cleaned to dry, and exhaled deeply. After a few minutes passed, I got up and did another survey of the home, and things felt more cozy. I turned the TV on and plopped down on the brown couch straightahead from the flat screen TV fastened to the wall. Time seemed to move slow while I waited for my Kerry Ann. While I was waiting, I went to the kitchen to finish washing the silverware. I washed the butchers knife first that was fastened to the sink by a security wire. Then I rinsed the soapy suds from the forks and spoons, they felt funny. For so many years I had only eaten with plastic spoons or sporks, so they were uncomfortable to hold. I held a fork in my hand with proper form, but it felt ungainly and as if I lacked dexterity. I told myself I’d better get used to using real silverware since I wouldn’t want to look weird out on a dinner date with the Mrs. when I’m released. Just as I finished, I heard metal clanking sounds, I looked through the front window and I saw Kerry and two other women about to pass through the first of two metal gates. She passed through the second gate and then the gate to the compound. I watched her intently, when she was through, I rushed to the door to meet her.

Mr. And Mrs. Gant 

When Kerry stepped through the door we embraced and kissed. This was our usual way to greet one another, but this time it felt different. At last there were no other eyes to impinge upon our privacy. We hugged a little longer and our kiss had more passion. Emotion flooded my whole being. We released our embrace and I gave her a tour around the unit, walking hand-in-hand I led her around the walkable places. I hoped it felt more like a home than a unit or trailer to her- At least for the next 45 hours. We then put the groceries up together and I examined each item one by one, scanning the items she brought. Then I saw my favorite – Digiorno’s Supreme Pizza! That made me happy! Then we folded our clothes and put them into the drawers, and we made the bed together. While we were doing these things, I snuck little peeps and glances at her while we situated and settled ourselves. I looked at her in positions I hadn’t seen before and I was in awe. On our regular visits, I only saw her sitting to the side of me, at the vending machines and then of course leaving. Now, I was able to examine every inch of her and excitement grew in me. I dreamt of this day for close to two years and I had planned all of these things to say and do, but when the moment finally arrived, they all flew out of the window-we  interacted organically. It was as if we had left the place we were in, and we were in a hot air balloon floating and drifting off somewhere, we laughed and giggled. I swore that the hours clicked away like seconds. Only when the phone rang for the facility count were we interrupted and were reminded that we were still in prison- and then the time stood still. Still, I wanted to soak up the whole experience so I barely slept. I watched her as she slept, somewhere between the stares, I dozed off. I went to sleep next to my wife and then I would wake up next to her. Each time I woke up I planted soft kisses on her. I silently thanked God. We were now officially Mr. and Mrs. Gant.

I am convinced that love is unfathomable. It cannot be measured in units or put in a box. As soon as I think I have a definition, I see Kerry and then I add more to it. My first time with my wife is proof of that. The love I’m referring to makes strong men weak, but that very same love makes the weak strong. It is echo theory – yell love and it comes back to you 10 times stronger. I yelled to the universe and I found Kerry. 

Time and Love 

I came across this story and wanted to share it with our readers:

Once upon a time there was an island. On this island lived all of the feelings: Happiness, Sadness, Knowledge and every other aspect of life including Love. One day it was announced to all of these feelings that the island was going to sink. Everyone prepared their boats and left. Love was the only one that stayed. Love wanted to persevere until the last possible moment. Just as the island was about to sink, Love decided to ask for help. Richness was passing by in an affectedly grand and pompous boat. Love yelled, “can you take me with you Richness?” Richness answered, “no, I can’t. There is a lot of gold and silver in my boat. There’s no place here for you.” Love sighed. Love then asked Vanity who happened to be passing by in a beautiful vessel. “Vanity, please help me!” Love yelled nervously. “I can’t help you Love. You are all wet and might damage my boat,” Vanity answered while speeding away. Sadness was close by, so love asked for help, “Sadness let me go with you?” “Oh love, I am so sad that I need to be by myself.” Happiness followed Sadness and passed right by Love. Love yelled out, but Happiness was so happy, that she didn’t hear Love cry out to her. Many more feelings and aspects passed love as well. 

Suddenly, there was a voice, “come Love, I will take you.” It was an elder with a lot of experience. Love was so overjoyed that Love forgot to ask the experienced elder his name. The elder carried Love to dry land. When they arrived, the elder went his own way. Love, realizing how much she owed the experienced elder, asked another elder, knowledge, a question, “who was it that helped me?” “It was time,” Knowledge answered. “Time?” Asked love, “Why did time help me?” Knowledge smiled and then looked at wisdom, and then back at Love, “because only Time is capable of understanding how great Love is!”

The author of the story is unknown, but thank you for your Time!

My Beloved 

My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies….I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me (Song of Songs 2:16, 7:10) 

I have grown to understand that the most beautiful relationship on earth is the marriage relationship. So important even,  that all throughout the Bible it is metaphorically used to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the church. My marriage to Thomas is not my first, but it is the first in which I truly understand the true value of the institution. In the past I approached it as a strictly legal entity; a “piece of paper” that could be produced for such things as tax purposes, joint health care, and that legally changed my name. Now that I have grown both in maturity and spirituality,  I not only realize the depth and breadth of this institution, I also appreciate my role as wife in it. I have also grown to understand what qualities a good husband should have, and how a man should treat a woman in the marriage relationship. In our previous posts we have outlined both of our requirements for a suitable mate, so I won’t rehash them here, but I will restate that I am blessed to have found a Godly man who understands his role as husband in our marriage. Because of this, it is easy to be his wife…even with the barriers that incarceration causes. 

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her” Luke 1:45 

I prayed for a husband. Someone who was worthy of my love. In Isaiah we read that God will, “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.” (Isaiah 61:3,7) Thomas is my beauty for ashes, my double portion, and my everlasting joy. Even though I fall short of His glory everyday, My Father sent me a gift from above- my husband. 

We have been married for almost two years now. Every day is better than the last when it comes to our relationship. We have learned so much about one another in a relatively short amount of time, and have experienced a level of intimacy unprecedented in any of my previous relationships. Even without ever being physically intimate with one another. That is, until recently. 

Patience is a Virtue 

Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness…(Romans 25-26)

In prison, in NYS at least, (and only at certain facilities within the state I should add) the only way one can be alone with their family is to be approved for the Family Reunion Program (FRP). The application process itself is not difficult. Once you meet the required criteria (married- for at least 6 months or nuclear blood relative, at least 3 visits (for each potential FRP visitor). On his end, he has to have been at the facility at least 6 months, no tickets, all required programs, and no other disqualifying factors (there is a directive that outlines those other “disqualifying factors”). For Thomas and I it took just short of two years to be approved for the program. Within that time we used our regular Saturday visits to what I lovingly call, “be husband and wife,” that is, develop our marital relationship, share thoughts and opinions, and catch up on each other’s everyday life. I am proud to say that we use those visits, and our daily phone calls very well to grow as husband and wife, and even experience a very high level of intimacy. But, we were never alone. We have had to conduct our marriage in a very public environment. Whether it is a soft kiss during a visit, or a heated discussion about an issue we are dealing with, we are not alone in the visiting room- or even on the phone for that matter, as all phone calls are recorded. As you can imagine the non-private nature of our environment has limited the physical contact we have had, and the conversations we have.  There are people who do not let the public nature of a visiting room inhibit them. Some couples “push the envelope” of the visiting room regulations by “copping a feel” here and there, or even worse. We are not that couple, and I thank God for that. It is not the way either one of us walk through life. That’s not to say that it was not difficult however. When you love someone as much we love one another it is natural to want the other person physically, especially when that person is your spouse. There are times I longed to feel the skin of my husband on mine, but we persevered, and God answered our prayers. 

Our Honeymoon 

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth- for your love is more delightful than wine. (Song of Songs 1:2) 

Although our honeymoon wasn’t spent on a beach or on some exotic island in the Caribbean, it was the most beautiful time of my life. The day had come, after counting down “get ups” for 18 days for the day I was to spend time alone with my husband. I arrived at the facility promptly at 10:30. I waited in my car for about five minutes before I made the track to the main gate with my clothes and enough food for 3 days in tow. The process is much like being processed for a regular visit. You have to clear the metal detector and place all of the items you are bringing in to the facility in bins. After I was processed, an officer came out to bring me to my husband. I got out of the state van that brought us around the back of the prison. There was a huge metal gate attached to a gun tower. The officer who was escorting us waved up to the tower and the gate unlocked. We walked through and it closed behind us. The sound of metal clinking closed, and the reality of being locked inside the prison for 45 hours was a distant thought to the sight that lie ahead of me: My husband. I could see him standing at the front door of the “trailer” (it looks more like a duplex, than a trailer) through the last set of fencing that we had to go through. I could hardly contain my excitement! I felt my heart beat faster with every step I made closer to him. The officer unlocked the padlock on the fence gate and let us (there was another wife and mother with me, going to the other side of the duplex) through. I walked through the door, and there we were- alone- finally! One cannot imagine what a gift privacy is, until it is denied. We had prayed for this moment for two years and here it was. It was beautiful. I thank God for His love, for the institution of marriage, for intimacy, and every single day, for my beloved.