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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Reason for the Season of Christmas (12/04/08)

TITLE: On the Path to God Knows Where


I leave the warmth of my wife to check on inmate #071834. He's been a major aggravation from the day he in-processed almost three years ago. “My side hurts,” he had moaned as a guard handed him a beige jumpsuit. Everyone hurts somewhere when entering prison. His appendix ruptured seventeen hours later—just after the Board of Correction’s biannual inspection had begun. His prison number stuck with me, as did his pale blue eyes and washed-out orange hair.

Within six months, petitions from #071834 began appearing on my desk. He wanted TV and rec privileges.

I had him brought to Holding on Wing C, where I could personally set him straight on my philosophy. He came in cuffed, and in spite of his tree-trunk neck, he looked too wide-eyed for armed robbery.

I leaned back in my chair. “I get the idea you don’t like the way we do things here,” I said. “But, at Morlan’s, we believe imprisonment is punishment for crime. It’s not about entertaining you or helping you find yourself. Rehabilitation comes when you’ve paid your debt. Understand?”

“But I won’t have a shot.” He said it with a sincerity that irritated me.

“You should've thought of that earlier. And television won't help you, anyway.”

A month later he petitioned to work in the kitchen and take correspondence classes—simultaneously.

“My prison is a deterrent,” I said to him the next day as he ate chow. “Pick one—work or school.” Prisoners needed enough thumb-twiddling-time to help them remember exactly where they were. I didn’t want them coming back.

“You like keeping us down, don’t you?” he said. Grunts sounded from neighboring tables. He paid for that remark soon after, when a guard found a calculator hidden in his cell. It was part of his GED curriculum, and the mail clerk had let it slide. I threw #071834 in the hole for thirty days for possessing unauthorized materials.

I said nothing about it to my wife.

The last two years he’s been in the hole as much as he’s been in his cell. Sometimes by his doing, sometimes by mine. I imagine us on either end of a bungee cord, propelling one another along on a path to who knows where. I need to sever this tie.

And the petitions have continued as if on a conveyor belt—work, study, exercise, fresh air. They traced the path of his every interest. His latest request was to attend church services. Prison ministry got to him. Of all people. I sent him a note: It seems your punishment is more than you can bear. If you were really a Christian, it would be your sin you found unbearable.

That night he was back in solitary for puncturing a tattoo into his forearm—God Forgive Me. The lettering pitifully crooked. Now ten days later, I’m barging through his infirmary door, incensed that he’s fighting a deadly staph infection, and that I’m here, instead of with my wife, enjoying the last hours of Christmas.

But I need to make sure he doesn’t die on my watch.

And I need to know he hasn’t really become a Christian.

I can’t be connected to him in that way.

His pale eyes are open and waiting. His neck doesn’t resemble a tree trunk anymore. “Well, Warden, looks like—“

“Shut up,” I yell. “What’s wrong with you? What on earth is wrong with you?” I suddenly want to punch something or wring something. I grab the front of his hospital gown and press down on his chest.

The kid starts crying. “I don’t know, honestly—I’m sorry. I’m begging God for help.” Instantly—as if from burning coals—I release him. He turns his head into each side of the pillow to dry his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he says, again.

The hollows of his face unnerve me. “You held a 74-year-old woman at gunpoint. What makes you think you deserve anything?”

“I don’t. I know I don’t.” Those damnable tears start again. “But why are you so Old Testament? What about redemption—grace?”

“You can’t demand them. You earn them by—”

My words amplify into a roar.

Oh, Lord. Tell me I didn’t just say that. Tell me I’m not like a Pharisee.

Instead, my Savior tells me I am bound.

I am bound to Inmate #071834 through Christ Jesus, God incarnate.

Who came to redeem all sinners.

Whose birth we are celebrating this season.

There is no severing this tie.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Gregory Kane12/13/08
Not warm and fuzzy, but a highly thought-provoking, somewhat uncomfortable piece. Brings to mind strongly the parable of the prodigal son. Highlights so well the tension we live in between legalism and grace. I wasn't quite sure of the significance of the prison warder not telling his wife about this prisoner; unless she was hotter on grace? A good read.
Sharon Kane12/13/08
Whoops, that was meant to be from me. Forgot to change the login. Sorry!
Sonya Leigh12/14/08
This is a very disturbing piece...disturbing because it confronts the pharisee in us...at times we can be so far down the road of this attitude that we actually become blind to it, and then one confronting moment shocks us that it was even there, shocks us that it was so easy to succumb to its tentacles. But thanks be to God...
Joanne Sher 12/14/08
Expertly crafted and deeply engaging. A unique, and poignant, look at the topic, and a condemnation of the pharisees of this world - me included!
Jan Ackerson 12/14/08
Beautifully written and characterized--you're brilliantly creative.
Catrina Bradley 12/15/08
Nice! The Christian was led to understanding by the "thief on the cross". I could feel the hatred and contempt in the warden. A wonderful lesson on the brotherhood in Christ of ALL believers.
Verna Cole Mitchell 12/16/08
"I can't be connected to him in that way." You really showed the self-pride that creeps upon us and blinds us. This is very creative.
Karlene Jacobsen12/16/08
WOW! This is an amazing story.
It's a creative take on the topic, but a very good one in my opinion.
Lyn Churchyard12/17/08
Extremely creative. Characterization wonderful. Thought provoking yet very moving at the same time. Great work!

Leah Nichols 12/17/08
The MC makes me boiling mad, but I think that was your point. Well done! You drew us into the story and challenged our religion in one swoop. Nice. :)
Loren T. Lowery12/17/08
Powerful way to deliver the meaning of why Christ came down to earth. Very believable characters (both of them!)
Betty Castleberry12/17/08
This is a memorable piece. It gives me pause and makes me think. Very good characterization of your MC. Two thumbs up.
Kristen Hester12/17/08
Wow. This is really good. I live in a prison town and so this really hit home with me. So believable. So real. Bravo!
Marlene Austin12/17/08
Heart-wrenching. Excellent writing. :)
Pamela Kliewer12/17/08
This is really good! What a wonderfully creative take on the topic and so thought provoking. You spoke to my heart, and confirmed something the Lord spoke to me just this morning about accepting someone right where they are, just as Christ does me.
Sharlyn Guthrie12/17/08
So painful, touching, and convicting to read. Excellent writing!
Sheri Gordon12/18/08
Congratulations on your EC. This is very creative for the topic...and such an awesome illustration. Wow.
Dianne Janak12/18/08
Interesting and uncomfortable, meaningful, profound and extremely creative! Congrats on the nod from the judges.. well deserved!
Angela M. Baker-Bridge12/18/08
Congratulations! Your creativity really came through with this unique approach to the topic. Well done.
Beth LaBuff 12/18/08
This is sooo good Lisa... congrats!!
Janice Fitzpatrick12/18/08
Wow! I love this angle and your dialogue and inner thoughts were realistic.
“But why are you so Old Testament? What about redemption—grace?”
“You can’t demand them. You earn them by—” My words amplify into a roar.
Oh, Lord. Tell me I didn’t just say that. Tell me I’m not like a Pharisee.
Instead, my Savior tells me I am bound.

I am bound to Inmate #071834 through Christ Jesus, God incarnate. Who came to redeem all sinners.
Whose birth we are celebrating this season.
There is no severing this tie.
This sure slapped me up side of my head as I have probably judged others too, we have probably all been guilty of this one time or another. Lord give us your mercy and compassion and live through us. So insightful! Great job hon! :0) Congrats!!
Steve Fitschen 12/18/08
I don't know how you could have done this well with such a short title!

(Inside joke, folks.)

Seriously, this was great. Well deserved EC.
Peter Stone12/23/08
Challenging article that reminds us to remember God's grace applies to everyone, even if we 'think' they don't deserve it. (None of us deserve it!)