Journey of Faith

Learning to live with nothing

One of the things you realize immediately when you go to jail or prison is that you now own nothing. They take the clothing off your back. You have two choices, throw it away or mail it home. I wasn’t going to mail it home because I knew this going in and wore something I could throw away without concern. Once you get to state prison you are issued the following: 3 pairs of pants, 2 short sleeve shirts, 2 long sleeve shirts, 3 t-shirts, 1 pair of pajamas, 3 bras, 3 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks, state shoes, a spring jacket and a winter coat. They then give you 2 sets of sheets, 2 blankets, 2 towels, 2 washcloths, and trial sized toiletries. You get 2 rolls of toilet paper. This is the only items you now technically “own”. I used that word loosely because, you still don’t really own them, even though your name is now ironed on them. Your name and inmate number ironed on every piece of state clothing you own. Also, don’t get caught wearing someone else’s clothes because then you both lose it and you could get in trouble for having someone else’s items in your possession. You were allowed to get new items once a year, or if they were too big/small or tore. Normally you just talked to your Unit Manager, and it wasn’t a big deal. You weren’t allowed to alter your clothes; they would make you go and take out the alterations. Some of girls wanted their pants to be so tight, I don’t know how they breathed. You really, didn’t get to “own” anything until you started to go to commissary to buy snacks, toiletries, paper, and whatever else they sold. You could also “own” books that were sent in by your family and friends. There were limits on the number of items you could “own”. We found ways to get around those numbers. Sometimes, it could have been by just moving a bottle of Tylenol to your roommate’s shelf. There were things you wanted to stock up on, especially during cold/flu season. They sold out quickly on commissary and who wanted to wait 2 weeks to be able to get what you needed or to find out it was out of stock. We were all good though about helping each other out if you needed something. You knew who you could ask. I keep putting the word “own” in parentheses because even though we purchased these items, they were all subject to search. At any given time, the search team could show up at your door to do a search of your cell. We knew that once we got searched, we would be good for another 3 months until they showed up again. We could also tell, because they would start searching our hallway, so we knew we’d be coming up soon. Our room never had anything to worry about. We didn’t keep contraband and didn’t do things we weren’t supposed to do. I was always lucky in that regard, that I had great roommates. How they searched things just sucked though. Especially when they would show up right after morning count at 6:30 am! You’d climb back into bed and try to go back to sleep, and they’d come and flick the lights on, “Search!”. You had to get up, put on your shoes, they would pat you down to make sure you didn’t have anything hiding on your person, then we were made to stand in the hallway while they ransacked our room. Sometimes, they would leave, and it would look like a hurricane went through. Luckily, because the rooms, I was usually in, they didn’t do this to us. They’d leave and it was a little messy but not ransacked so much. They would methodically go from area to area and look through your stuff. They would unmake your bedding, go through all of your cabinets, go through your boxes, open containers and sniff them. We weren’t allowed to keep empty boxes to organize things in, that was considered contraband because it was now not used for its intended purpose. We didn’t get in trouble; they would just dump whatever was in it out and throw the box away. So, we got smart! If the box held crackers, we would keep a sleeve of crackers in the box. We then, could put other items in the box to organize. Problem solved! It was a game. There were really no rules to this game. You could have items that you “owned” for years, been through several searches and then suddenly they decide that you shouldn’t have it anymore. You could write a dispute about it, but at the end of the day they make the rules. I often thought that this was something that should have some consistency across institutions. This shouldn’t be something that an employee who’s thinks that just because they think you shouldn’t have it, they’ll take it. I’m not talking about oddities. Anything that we “owned”, could only be acquired through certain channels. They’d look at us and ask, “where did you get this?” Let me see, “I drove down to Walmart and picked it up!” Duh! Ask a dumb question, you should get a dumb answer. All of this is very demoralizing and even the items that you have at home don’t really belong to you anymore either. You’ve entrusted them to others and can only hope they’ll be there when you return. Since, I know that my journey here was for the Lord I needed to remember what he told the Disciples when he called them to follow him. In Luke 12:22-34 it reads:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[a]26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?27 “Consider how the wildflowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Our heart needs to be centered on God and not the items we possess. Jesus was telling them what we all need to remember, we are to rely on God. He provides all of our needs. He is the bread of life, the living water, the light onto our path, our rock and fortress. We need to take our needs to the Lord and ask for his provision.

Photo by Hernan Pauccara:

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