“And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.”
Matthew 14:28-29 ESV
Getting out of that boat was a very significant step for Peter. The steps you and I take may never seem to reach that level of significance, but the steps we take are important nonetheless.
At Oakdale FCI, there was a fellow inmate named Jack Wilson who was from Shreveport. Jack was quite short, but then, so were many people from Louisiana. At least it seemed that way. He worked in the dining hall in various capacities for most of the 5+ years he was there, and developed a habit that earned him the nickname “Walkin’ Jack’.
Our prison ‘rec’ yard had a concrete track which was roughly 1/3 mile long. When Jack was not in the dining hall or sleeping, he was walking around the track. I mean he was always walking around the track. People would join him for 5 laps; maybe even 10. For 30 minutes; some, even an hour. One thing was certain, though: Jack would outlast them all. If you wanted to find Jack, he was out on the track, walking.
Hence the nickname. But you already guessed that, right?
Jack not only walked, and walked, and walked, he kept track of his mileage, and by the time he was released, several months before I was, he had logged over 20,000 miles!
That was a lot of miles, and it took a lot of steps to reach that plateau. According to “The Walking Site”, it takes about 2,000 steps to walk one mile. Using that number, ‘Walkin’ Jack’ took over 40 million steps just while walking the track to kill time before his release.
I did not walk 20,000 miles while I was at Oakdale, but I did spend a good amount of time walking that track. On occasion I even walked with Jack.
I never came close to being able to go the distance with him, but I did take a number of significant steps after arriving at Oakdale to self-surrender and begin my term on April 1, 2010. The first steps I took were from the freedom of the parking lot into the controlled and confined interior of the prison itself.
Taking that final step through the unassuming front door (shown above and marked #1 on the map below), I entered the place in which my little steps of faith would grow by leaps and bounds. After a rather somber goodbye to my brother, Jim, I got my first glimpse of the men who would control much of my life for the next 4+ years.
After a few preliminaries I was brought to Receiving & Discharge (R&D) where I was processed in and then delivered to the Special Holding Unit (SHU – #2 on the map) where I would spend the first five days of my incarceration under medical segregation. All individuals surrendering from ‘the street’ were administered TB tests and held in the SHU.
On Tuesday, April 6, I was released from the SHU to become a part of the general population and I began the walk to Allen Unit (#3 on the map). Those steps were among the most difficult I have ever taken in my life, as I walked towards uncertainty with my mind working overtime trying to stay focused on God. But it was early in my relationship with Him and it was difficult to suppress the apprehension that filled me.
The full story of that walk, and my introduction into my new ‘home’ can be found by clicking on the above link to the original “Oakdale Chronicles”, going to April 2010 in the archives, and reading the first several very short posts.
It was late in the afternoon when I was released from the SHU, and I would not meet anyone with whom I would feel safe until the next day. It was the next day as well, that I would move into the cell where I would remain for the duration of my stay. Cell #208,-U, the ‘U’ designating the upper bunk in a two man cell. As it turned out, Wednesday would also be my commissary day, so I was able to obtain some of the things that helped to make prison life more comfortable.
Among the items purchased were shorts and athletic shoes. These would prove to be well-used items over time, as I also discovered the track in the recreation area (#4 on the map), which was known as the ‘rec’ yard.
In “The Crumbs On The Path”, an article I posted here on April 7, I wrote about the importance of the discovery I made, while walking on that track, of my own personal “Golgotha”, a group of three old wooden power poles that stood together and resembled the three crosses where Christ was crucified along with the two robbers. The actual spot where those ‘crosses’ stood, outside the fence, is shown as #5 on the map. If you look closely at the first inset photo (double-clicking on the photo will enlarge it), you can see shadows cast by the poles and it then becomes easy to see where the inspiration for the drawing comes from.
What a blessing it was to be provided on an almost daily basis with such a powerful reminder of the freedom that is ours if we are only willing to take the steps necessary to attain it!
One of the most significant steps we take on the path to that freedom is taken when we pray, read the Holy Bible, and meditate on what we have read. In our lives here on earth, it is necessary to draw our strength to cope with the daily struggles and challenges of that life by taking those steps on a daily basis.
In prison, it is even more important, but it is also easier since we have the time, if we choose to use it to develop a relationship with God and if we will only take advantage of His ability to direct our steps.
I took advantage of that ability.
Those individuals who are fortunate enough to be allowed to walk up to the front door of a prison and self-surrender are allowed to enter with a Bible. I did not know this, so the Bible my sister bought for me remained at her house with all of my other belongings. Immediately after moving into Allen Unit, I had my brother-in-law, Larry, send me a new Bible (hardcover books had to come directly from the publisher). Below is a picture of my “Life Application” study Bible, my “One Year” Bible, and “Streams In The Desert”, a very old and well-known daily devotional book by L.B. Cowman which my sister recommended to me, and which would become the inspiration for my own daily devotional book, “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”.
Also shown are a copy of “Our Daily Bread” which I obtained quarterly from the prison chapel, and another devotional called “The Word For You Today”, which was sent in by my friend Diane. She actually sent several copies which were distributed to my closest friends.
Those items became as important to me on a daily basis as breathing was. Almost without fail, I began each day thanking God for the gift of another new day, and asking Him for wisdom and understanding in what I was about to read. Using the “One Year” Bible format, I was able to read the Bible completely just over four times while incarcerated. With the “Life Application” study Bible, I was able to learn how to apply what I was reading to my daily life. And with the daily devotions I read, I was exposed to different perspectives, thoughts, and things to meditate on.
Each book provided me with significant daily steps on my path to freedom, and as you can see from the picture below, those books were well-used.
Whether we find ourselves living in penal institutions due to lives lived in willful disobedience to God, or whether we wake up each morning in our homes, it is important that our steps include reading the Word of God and meditating on its meaning.
There is a blog I follow titled “Messy Jesus Business”, and this ‘messy Jesus business’ can be quite confusing to those of us whose steps are like those of a small child beginning to walk. Those steps are tentative and unsure, unsteady and wobbly. But whether we take them in prison, or in our homes, we must take them daily.
They are important steps. They are joyful steps. They are reassuring steps.
And they are among the most significant steps we will ever take.