Josh’s first night was a prime example of his strategy for surviving and overcoming imprisonment. In his tiny cell, crowded with three other men, Josh spent the entire night on his knees in the corner next to the open toilet. It wasn't the best place to kneel in the cell, it was the only place.
Josh dropped to his knees in the squalid little corner, and a desperation wrestled him to the floor. Emotion trembled his arms and legs, turned the knuckles of his clenched fists white, and tossed, rib to rib, the fear and panic from his soul to his heart and back again . His words flowed out from his mouth not as liturgy, but in great gulps of desperate air. He wrestled to surrender his longings to be safe and home, and to be beyond the demons that attacked his faith. He gave it all, every doubt, every terror, and every apprehension, and when he was done and breathless, the song came.
Initially sweet and small, it tittered at first, sounding like the first morning bird, but as it grew it flooded Josh like the evening tide, filling the empty cavities of his being, so recently vacated by fleeing negative demons. It grew bolder, invading the corners of his being, bringing expression to the joy of a new and deeper inner faith. He was too overwhelmed by The Spirit’s response to his prayers to be self conscious. He let the song out as it came, first small and sweet, and then building to loud and exalted celebration. This was what he was born to do.
Prayer in the toilet corner became his exercise and habit. Among the hell of
bitter moans and groans, and screams in the night, Josh’s prayers joined in
to become to a regular part of the evening chorus, and eventually to lead it. Some nights his prayers were quiet and low. Other nights they sprang out of him louder and more
forcefully. Still other nights Josh was caught up in suffering worship so
personal, honest, and beautiful, the entire block hushed and listened to
There’s a particular demon assigned to harassing caged men in the dark. In the daylight a prisoner’s hard invincible bluff means life. At night the toughest man, alone with only his thoughts, has to face himself, his fears, and this enemy. The demon is alive in every shadow, and never respects a cowering man’s privacy or bluff. He crawls beneath blankets and whispers guilt. He reaches into consciences and taunts with regret. He asks cautious men “Did you make a mistake today? Did you let your guard down? Did someone see a weakness that may make you a target tomorrow, or tonight?” And he threatens “Will you live through this night? And who will protect you?” “Why are you in here? You are so worthless.”
Josh was fighting off the same night monsters, and many of his prayers hooked his cellmates by their shared insecurities. His aggressive worship pushed through the agony of fear and self loathing, carrying his listeners with him to a new place where someone seemed to care, and where they felt protected, a least for a time. Even a small niche of hope is an irresistible place for desperate men fighting daily for their lives, so others ventured to follow and copy Josh‘s prayers.
Not that Josh was left alone because of his religious nature. He was often hounded and harassed, tripped, bloodied and humiliated. His religiosity was mocked and tested, but his prayers were cherished. Josh's prayers became a chorus of hope for the men in his
block and no one really wanted to silence them.
Josh also developed a following of both seekers and tormentors. Some men
wanted to know how to pray like him. Others developed a jealousy that
occasionally turned to violence or personal vandalism. Josh was even summoned
to the warden's office to explain his sometimes infamous popularity.
Not that Josh sought out men to preach to. He never said a word to anyone
unless he was first addressed. Josh attended chapel but sat in the back and
quietly breathed in what the preachers shared. He had no thoughts or
ambitions about one day standing in front and addressing the men gathered in
the prison chapel.
Slowly the mood in the cell block began to change. Hellish darkness slowly
evolved to peaceful hours of prayer and rest. Men looked forward to
prayer and worship after “lights out” and sought out Josh for answers during the
day. Prison will never be home, but Josh’s block became a place of peace for
Then came Dameon.
Dameon had been a manipulator all of his life. Blessed with a strong
sense of personal power and an abundance of charisma, Dameon was never without
followers and always the man in control. His abuse of this power, however, kept him in
prison most of his life. On the street and in the cell block, when Dameon took control he would take no less than total control. Systems of order fell at his feet, even in prison, and people in his way disappeared. Wardens were wary of Dameon and transferred him away as quickly as they could. Those who didn’t act fast enough to transfer him found themselves in a difficult power struggle. Guards feared and hated Dameon’s power and avoided him as best as they could.
Dameon’s first night in Josh’s block was unlike any he had experienced
before. About 2 hours after lock up, and lights-out, men began praying and
singing. The metal cell walls hummed with the melody of the praying chorus. The phenomenon frightened Dameon.
"What the hell is that?" he asked his cell mates, who were too intimidated by Dameon to pray. When they didn’t answer he walked to the bars and yelled into the darkness.
"Hey somebody’s trying to sleep over here. Shut the hell up!"
Dameon’s shout hammered off the metal cells walls and vibrated the bars of
men’s cages. It send a knife through the hearts of the nervous, and threatened even the faithful. The praying stopped, instantly. Some men cowered and jumped back into their bunks. Others froze with their prayers and songs melting in their mouths. Everyone waited.
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I loved the imagery that your story showed about life behind bars. And I really loved the way you described Josh's beautiful, powerful, heartwarming relationship with God. There's one thing I don't understand...
the ending---it wasn't really clear to me. And it didn't seem to fit the story.