This morning the words rang in my head, like every other morning. "Wake up and be different." Today was one of those days I just wanted to pull my snuggly red fleece blanket up over my head, hide from the light in my face, and go back to sleep. I don't want to wake up to oatmeal with a side of peanut butter. I don't want to put on my stripes. I don't want to stand in line waiting for the mandatory cup and spork exchange. I don't want to be in jail. Period. I'm ready to go home. Still, there are things to endure, work to do, and conversations to be had.
When we read scriptures as a family we try to relate the verses to what it means to us and make it personal. So for my studying this morning, I looked up the word 'Prison' in the index and topical guide. It sounded personal enough. I knew stories of people from the scriptures that were imprisoned, but reading it in here brought on new meaning and I found myself getting teary, relating myself to them in a direct, personal way.
I read about Joseph in the Old Testament. He was falsely accused of making advances toward Potiphar's wife and imprisoned because of it. Falsely accused. She had a piece of his coat as 'evidence,' which likely would have stood up in court. But I know all to well that so-called 'evidence' does not prove guilt. My heart went out to Joseph as he sat in a prison cell, maybe much like mine (minus the running water and indoor plumbing). I felt if he could endure it, then I could too.
I read about Alma and Almulek in the Book of Mormon who were falsely imprisoned and the walls around them fell and made them free. I took a look around at how impossible that seems, and then at what a miracle it would be if the prison walls really did fall down. I connected with these two men and could feel myself get excited for them for this miracle to happen to them, to set them free.
I read about Daniel from the Old Testament and how he stood his ground and continued to pray, even though others had made a law against it. He was thrown into a den of lions as a consequence. Seriously. A den of lions! He trusted God and was saved from the animals. Although I'm not being fed to literal lions, there are times when the language gets too crude, the walls seem to tall, and the doors seem to heavy. I'm left with the same tactics as Daniel - prayer to my Heavenly Father. I also have felt God's watchful hand in my situation and have connected to that same protection Daniel felt.
I finished my scripture reading feeling fulfilled and overwhelmed with gratitude. One of the last verses I looked up said, "And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good."
The last phrase resonated with me, "all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." I wanted to break down and cry. I know that I am a stronger person than I was before Bryer. I know my faith has been tested and has grown stronger. I know that my relationship with God and with Christ has a stronger foundation. Has it been hard? Absolutely! Has it been worth it? I wouldn't change it for anything. So as I sit here in jail in stripes, journaling with a flimsy plastic pen with my testimony unwavering of the love God has for me - yes, all these things 'shall be for thy good.'
As we were cleaning the pod today I had the courage to ask if I could listen to my Hilary Weeks CD. I never want to step on any toes. These girls are here for a lot longer than I am, so I don't want to take any of their TV time away, but I also would love to hear my own music and share it with them. I had 4 different girls ask about what we were listening to - not in a bad way, but in wondering what was different from the VH1 top 20 they were used to. I left my CD cover out on one of the tables and Kris came to sit down and read the words to Beautiful Heartbreak as Hilary Weeks's voice echoed against the cinderblock walls and concrete floor.
As I also listened intently to the words for the 500th time, I was touched again. I remembered my life before Bryer and wondered how one little 35 pound angel could change things so drastically. There are times that I miss being the story time lady at the library for the kids, or helping so often in my kids' classrooms. I miss 'normal' craziness with 4 kids without therapy and doctors appointments and research until the wee hours of the morning. And then I think about all I have gained, wrapped into a special little girl with a contagious smile. And that is a Beautiful Heartbreak that I would never want to live without.
By the end of the song I was in tears - not convenient emotions to have in jail - and so was Kris. She asked if she could borrow my CD cover to copy down the words. When she was finished, she came out of her cell into the common area with her eyes dripping even worse when she went in to copy the words. I felt bad, but I also hoped there was some healing in those tears. I hoped she could feel her purpose and her potential. Most of all, I hoped she could feel her Savior's love through those tears.
There was a confrontation today and Rachel was involved. I don't know the whole story, but one of the guards had to come in to settle things. Rachel told me later that the guard on duty told the other girl that was involved, "We have not had a single problem with [Rachel] since she's been here and I don't expect it to start now." The girl was being warned not to start stirring the pot. The way Rachel told me, I could feel her confidence grow. She now officially has the respect of the officers on duty. She has something to stand for and defend her integrity. The girls in here have so little. Aside from their store commissary that disappears when they eat it, or the crocheting needles and yarn to keep them busy, there is very little that is their very own. I am seeing a new Rachel as she is growing and changing. They are small changes, but changes nonetheless. "Wake up and be different." It does my heart good to watch it happen in action in here. She is learning to take back herself, to build her own integrity, and to take a stand for something and has gained respect.
At the close of 5 days away from my family and only calling home twice, my heart is breaking to not know every detail of the week. During break today I saw geese fly overhead and they started honking, just like Bryer has learned to do. I smiled up at them, feeling silly that a bunch of honking geese could make my eyes leak. A kid drove by in the passenger seat of a pickup. As he passed, he stretched his neck out the window to catch a view of the inmates a little longer. I didn't recognize the boy, but he very easily could have been in one of my kids' classes at school, or he could have attended one of my story times at the library, or a family reading event. It makes me miss my kids. Half of me wants to know what they are doing every minute of the day, and the other half of me doesn't because it's too painful to not be a part of it. This is not a safe place for healing and emotions. I have to be tough. Blink back my tears. Ride it out for another couple days.
Maybe to some it's strange that Jason doesn't come visit me in jail. Or even write. And maybe it's even stranger that I'm okay with that. There are some things a marriage just should not have to endure. Spending time in jail being falsely accused ranks high on that list for me. We read all the time about giving your all in your marriage, being there for your spouse, being supportive. As much as I would love a letter from Jason in the mail while I'm in here, I'm perfectly fine protecting him from that aspect of this trial. It's okay that I don't ask his heart to break as he writes out my name attached to a jail address. It's okay that he doesn't sit on the other side of the glass and talk through a telephone for a recorded conversation. It's a piece of him that I don't want in here. It's easier to draw the line between the harsh reality of this place and the peaceful comfort of home if I can separate people from it. Our wonderful friends and Jason's brother and his wife have been my lifesavers, offering a break from my cell and common area for a peek through the window at support in full color.
When the mail came yesterday, I received another letter from a lady I don't know named Patty. Today I received a book in the mail - with the author being this lady. The book is titled, "The Man Who Killed My Daughter." I read through half of the book this afternoon and am touched by this woman's story of forgiveness of the man who put an end to her daughter's life. She even made visits to the jail to meet him and help him through this trial of his, putting her own grief and frustrations behind her. I am touched that she would single me out to share her story with me.
|I left the original book for another inmate to read when I left, so I'm using the Amazon stock picture.|
All I have to do is sit down at one of the tables and someone will come sit down and talk. It's a trick I need to use with my kids - just sit down and make myself available. Today it was one of the new ones, a Hispanic girl with long dark hair. From the time she sat down I could tell she was discouraged, carrying a lot of guilt with her. It didn't take long for her to open up and share stories about her kids. Her brother came from Texas to get them while she's in jail. She had such sincere remorse about the times she sat in front of Facebook instead of listening to her kids or helping them with their homework. She said she only made it to one of her son's basketball games at the Boys and Girls Club - not because she was working, but because the screen on her cell phone was more important, or she just didn't want to get ready and leave the house. She admitted that she was lazy and slept a lot, expecting her 12 year old to take care of the 4 younger siblings. By now she was bawling, hardly getting her words out. She worries that she is a disgrace to her family, as no one has ever been to jail before. She told me of one of the last mornings she had with her kids. One of the younger ones tripped and fell on the way to the bus. When she came back to the house, crying to her mom, this girl yelled at her that she was going to miss the bus and that she better hurry up, not taking any interest in her torn pants or hurt knee. She sobbed uncontrollably with remorse and I was in tears by now too.
While I think that tears play an important part of healing, it's not a healthy frame of mind to hang out in. I also have learned that when you let go of something, it must be replaced. As I sat crying with this girl, I searched my mind for anything that would help her move on and replace these guilty feelings she was releasing. The thought came to me to ask her to play Yahtzee. Silly. Who wants to go from bawling to playing a dice game? But the thought wouldn't leave. When there was a lull in conversation and she had wiped her tears away, I asked if she wanted to play Yahtzee. She started crying again and said, "That's one of the games my kids always wanted me to play with them, but I never let them teach me." As if the words just came out of my mouth without me intending them to, I said, "Good. Then I can teach you and you'll be all ready to play with them when you get out." She wiped her eyes again and a smile broke across her face, the first I had seen since she sat down at the table a 1/2 hour before.
We sat and played 3 games of Yahtzee. I suggested she send her score card home to her kids with a note of her good intentions to get out and play with them. She was excited at the idea, but is so new that she doesn't have any commissary items. I shared an envelope and stamp, knowing that what would go into the mail would be more important than anything I could send.
It wasn't long until Tuck came to sit down and proceeded to spill her heart also. She talked of her childhood, her family, regrets, and her son. She spoke about her addictions and how it is just easier to numb herself from it all. She explained her awkwardness in her son's life - how he has been raised by her mom, so when she gets out she feels out of place. She feels stuck in here and can't progress, but she's not really sure what to do once she gets out either. She's too old to be at home, but not ready to be on her own and take on her child. She has missed so much of what a mom is supposed to do and feels guilty, overwhelmed, and inadequate. The scriptures talk about having a 'broken heart and a contrite spirit,' which is what I felt so strongly from Tuck as she sat crying next to me. Again, I felt that if she was letting go of so much, it must be replaced by something worthwhile. We have read scriptures together pretty regularly, and even though it wasn't our normal time before lights out, I suggested we read together.
We found a corner area against the cinderblock wall where we could read even though the TV was loud, the girls were active, and there were lots of distractions. I wish I could remember where we started, but we skipped around following the footnotes. There was a light with us as we read and I could see Tuck's face change through emotions of sadness to interest to happiness. All those distractions didn't seem to bother us. I felt a deep dark hole being filled with goodness. It wasn't necessarily the words that we read together as I explained them, but the feeling of Christ sitting there with us. We ended by talking about The Plan of Salvation and where Tuck fits into this plan.
As I have researched and prayed and thought about all the steps in The Plan of Salvation, my understanding has been built further on each step.
We came from the Pre-existence where we lived as spirits with God.
We chose to come to this earth and follow Christ's plan. We received a physical body through birth.
We are here to be tested and to learn about Christ. It's a commandment to be baptized as part of that.
When our time on earth is done, we pass away. Our physical body is buried in the ground, while our spirit separates from it.
The next step I have found so profound that I can hardly explain it within my paper and jail issued flex-pen. It's what I know to be true of what happens when we leave this life and have connected so intimately to this concept.
Our body and spirit are separated. While our body is buried, our spirit goes to a place called the Spirit World. There are two parts to the Spirit World: Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison. As I have grown and learned, I felt this all to be true, but studying it in here - in a prison - has brought confirming feelings so strong that can't be denied. I have to explain the basics before I explain why I feel so strongly about it.
Those that go to Spirit Paradise are those that have received the gospel of Jesus Christ and have been baptized. Those that go to Spirit Prison are those that either have not accepted the gospel or have not had the opportunity to learn about it. This is huge to me. Like a big, huge ah-ha moment. If it's a commandment to be baptized in this life, then it would not be fair to those that live in a time or area that don't have an opportunity to learn about the gospel, right?!
Those that have passed on and are in Spirit Paradise can go to Spirit Prison to teach those people about the gospel! Huge blessings! What's more - It's not too late for those that are in Spirit Prison to learn, repent, and accept the gospel. But there's still that 'minor detail' in the commandment to be baptized. How can they be baptized when they have 'lost' their body to the grave?
That's where our temples come in. In the temple, we are baptized for those who have already passed on, by proxy. We give them an opportunity to receive all those blessings of baptism that they missed out on while they were on earth. From Spirit Prison, they have the full right and privilege to accept or deny that baptism. Nothing is ever forced. Everything is considered opportunity. God will never take away our free agency. He wants us to be with Him because we want to be with Him - not because He has forced us.
A few scriptures that explain it:
Psalms 142:7 - Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me
Luke 23:42-43 - When Christ was hung on the cross he hung between two thieves. In verse 42 one of the thieves says, "And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." Then in verse 43, Jesus replies, "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
1 Peter 3:18-19 - "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;"
Alma 40:11-14 - "Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil. Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection."
I feel so invested in this piece of the plan, because that has been my mission here. To share and teach those that don't have the gospel, or those who have lost it. With every ounce of my being, I feel that this is a preview of what it may be like - that those with the gospel who have passed on have the privilege to teach those spirits who live on without it.
With complete confidence in the plan, I have cried with them. I have mourned with them. I have felt a small piece of their struggle. I hear over and over of their frustration that they cannot progress in here. They can't move forward. They are stunted. They can't be reunited with their families, without a piece of glass between them.
Everything about this place teaches me that Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison are real. It's ongoing right now while people pass away as I write. There is hope for those who have passed on without the gospel. God is a just, fair God. He desperately wants us to return to Him. He's provides a 'second chance' for repentant hearts that need Him. For that, I am grateful. Like Him, I want to see these girls break through these walls, find their potential, and attain it. Overcoming what holds them back. Reunited with their families. Living with God again someday.