I was guilty of the highest degree of spiritual arson. I burned up a chance at redemption. In a time of decision, I had been given a thin sheet of hope I chose to ignore. I was at cross-roads. The words on the paper were directions to a better life. Instead of reading it and inhaling power into my soul, I filled my lungs with hope’s burnt remains.
I’d been arrested numerous times, but never had to be locked-up. My parents always posted my bond immediately and worked something with the State Attorneys Office to keep me out of jail. Eventually, my luck and parents influence dried up and I was finally sentenced to six-months in the county jail. I was one more felony charge away from being eligible for prison. I knew I had to make changes in the my life. Then I met Bubba.
“I’ve got to have a cigarette.”
Possessing tobacco was illegal in jail, but I really wanted to smoke.
“Tell you what, dawg. I got some rip. It‘ll cost though.”
Big Bubba had spent most of his life in detention facilities. He could get anything.
“Rip?” I asked.
‘Five dollars and that’s a deal, jit, ‘cause I like you.”
“I don‘t have any money in here.”
“Five dollars worth of canteen,” Bubba explained.
“”For how much tobacco?”
“Enough for one square. And before you ask, that‘s one smoke.”
“You’re right, dawg, that’s too cheap. Six then.”
“No, that’s okay.”
I dug into my property box and pulled out four sodas and a big bag of chips. I handed them to Bubba.
“I said six, dawg.” Bubba wasn’t smiling.
I handed him another soda and he gave me a little baggie with some loose tobacco in it.
“I don’t have any rolling papers.”
“You are a jitterbug, aren’t you?”
Bubba picked up a Bible off his bunk and tore a page out.
“No charge, jit.”
“It’s just a sheet of paper with words on it, dawg.”
I went to my bunk and rolled the cigarette. I had to give somebody else two candy bars to use a lighter before I could smoke it.
I stepped into the shower and lit up. The tobacco tasted harsh and I started to cough.
“Everybody on your bunks!”
The officer’s command gave me chills. I tried to put the cigarette out with my flip-flops. The shower curtain flew open.
“You always shower with your clothes on?”
The officer led me from the felony-pod with the remains of my seven dollar cigarette. He locked me in a one-man disciplinary cell. He said he’d be back when he decided what to do.
I sat in the seven-by-seven foot cell for over an hour. Suddenly, the steel door opened and the officer stood holding the unrolled portion of singed scripture I was smoking.
“You burned a Bible page? I was going to just lock you up for a couple of hours. But, this is outrageous. I’m going to charge you with possession of contraband. That’s a third degree felony, inmate.”
He slammed the door. I cried.
My parents couldn’t get me out of that charge. The judge was holding the burnt verses when he sentenced me to three years in the State Department of Corrections.
It was six months before I was shipped to my permanent prison camp. Most inmates there kept a Bible on their bunks. I just had one page with Romans 8:1-9 highlighted; the words I should have read.
The passages haunted me my first weeks in prison. I feared I missed my chance with God until I went to chapel one Sunday morning.
The same verses I used for rolling papers were the first words that came out of the preacher’s mouth.
“There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…For what the law could not do in what was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son…”
I was set free.
I memorized those scriptures plus many others. Reading wasn’t a hobby for me; it was a life sustaining act as important as breathing. I spent the rest of my prison time sharing the hazards of spiritual smoking to anyone who would listen, including my parents. I also wrote the county correctional officer a thank you note. I never would have read those verses if he had not charged me. He sent me a Bible with a note.
Read, don’t burn.
Jit or Jitterbug refers to a new, young or rookie inmate.
Dawg, is modern slang for friend or acquaintance.
Tobacco is considered contraband in most jails.
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