Letters to Heaven: The Last Prison Letter, Mom

(Author’s Note: This article was originally posted in The Oakdale Chronicles on April 25, 2014 while I was still incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale, Louisiana)

Dear Mom,

It has been some time since I last wrote you. For this I apologize, but letters to you are not simple things. Bringing you to the forefront of my thoughts like this always carries with it a certain amount of personal discomfort that must be dealt with. Even though I do think of you often, the more focused effort of putting pen to paper always causes me to reflect in greater detail on your life, and it is impossible for me to do that without also considering the pain and suffering I contributed TO that life.

I am certain you are overjoyed to see the person God has shown me I am capable of being begin to emerge. My knowledge of the depth of love you had for your children and your capacity for kindness to every single person you ever met easily overcomes any misguided fear I might have that you would harbor any ill-will or resentment toward me for the way I lived my life or for the sleepless nights, heartache, and tears I caused you to suffer. Still, I am uncomfortable writing letters to you on a small metal desk in a cold, unfriendly cell, located in a prison where I was placed for a crime that should never have occurred in the first place.

Had I thought about you in the past as much as I do now, and in the same manner, I would never have allowed myself to stop caring about the condition of my soul to the degree I did. Had I thought of you more, I would have seen that your ability to love and to smile came from your relationship with God. I would have been able to reason that your unselfish, kind and compassionate attitude also came from Him, and perhaps I would have looked to God long ago and avoided that final turn onto the road which almost led me to self-destruction.

Be that as it may, I know these things now, Mom, and I just want to say, “Thank you.” You see, I have also come to understand that God did exactly as you had prayed for Him to do for so many years, although perhaps not in the time-frame you might have preferred. His reasons for waiting until I was almost drained of life before He opened my eyes and allowed me to see what I needed to do in order to receive His help are very clear to me now. God wanted me to arrive at the point where I completely and totally hated the evil I had allowed to control my life. He waited for me to become that which I needed to learn to despise. When I struck out at myself in rage, He allowed me to come very close to achieving my objective of killing the one person who was causing me so much pain before He let me see those precious words that brought Him to my rescue: “God, please forgive me.” In His infinite wisdom, He knew I needed to see for myself how quickly He comes to those who call Him in order that I would know it was HE who saved me. Once I gave up on myself and put my Hope in Him, He knew I would then change the course of my life and decide to live to show others that THEIR Hope lies in Him as well.

So again, I say, “Thank you. Thank you for your prayers on my behalf, and for never giving up Hope.”

The One who gave you the ability to give ME my life, stood by and suffered great pain watching me struggle with myself. How it must have hurt Him as He watched me try desperately to kill the evil within myself. I believe you stood with Him at that lowest point in my life here on earth, tearfully crying to Him, “Father, save my son! Please, save my son!”

In spite of His own great personal pain, He would have placed His arms around you and quietly said, “Be patient, my child, his suffering is almost over.” Despite that reassurance from God Himself, I can only imagine the panic you must have felt as you watched me slipping closer and closer to death. You knew we would never see each other again unless I gave up and finally opened my mouth to ask God for His help. You knew that unless I asked for His forgiveness, I would be lost for all of eternity to the evil I had allowed to consume me, and which I was trying to eliminate by killing myself.

They say the pain of childbirth is indescribably, excruciatingly, blindingly intense, but how much more so the pain must be to watch a child who is about to pass through the gates of Hell. I cannot help but think of Ryan Loskarn’s parents and the pain they must live with on a daily basis following his suicide.* Those of us who attempt it or who succeed at ending our lives are not selfish, contrary to what many people think and despite the fact we are definitely not thinking of others at that moment. Those who would disagree fail to grasp the obvious: We are not thinking of ourselves either. We are simply trying to kill the pain that we have allowed to consume us by not turning to God for the comfort and strength we need to overcome that pain.

Having been fortunate enough to have been saved from myself by God, Ryan’s death brought home to me the truth of the devastating blow that would have been dealt to those I would have left behind. Even though we can grow to hate something we have allowed to grow within us, there are those who love us in spite of those things who deserve the opportunity to help us: Our Mothers and Fathers; our children; our siblings and our friends. Foremost among those who love us and wants to help us is God. I shudder to think of how my own story almost ended. I am so very, very grateful to God for saving me, and I pray that He provides some form of comfort to those who witnessed the tragic ending to Ryan’s story and will live the rest of their lives with those things they loved about him absent from their lives.

Are children worth all the trouble they cause, Mom?  Are we really worth the tears, the pain, the frustration, and the worry? Can we ever make up for the sleepless nights we have caused? For the anger our actions give rise to? Can we possibly make up for the things we have said and done in the thoughtlessness of our youth? Are we worth the pain we inflict on those around us when we act in self-destructive ways, foolishly thinking our lives are the only ones affected by our actions?

God thinks so, and I know you always did too, Mom. You would never even consider giving up on one of your children; not for a moment would you withdraw what you could always give to each one in equal measure: Your love, and your prayers. And that love and those prayers paid off, don’t you think? After all, hasn’t our great God done some pretty amazing work within the heart and mind of THIS child? For four years**, He has patiently directed, guided, corrected, counseled, consoled, taught, loved, and inspired me. For four years, He has helped me to find self-forgiveness for allowing myself to become someone I did not know and could not love. For four years He has shown me I can help myself by reaching out to others to try to help THEM. For four years He has pointed me in the direction He has wanted me to go, and for four years He has said to me, “THIS is who I want you to be!”

And now, after those four years, I am prepared to leave this place. After those four years, I am eager to show the world what God will lovingly do for us when we give Him our lives: He gives them back to us. He makes us NEW.

God HAS given me my life back, Mom. In gratefully accepting it from Him, I have looked to Him and said, “I want to live it for you, but I need you to show me how.” In response, He has shown me He has a plan for me. It is a plan for a future full of Hope. It is a plan of service to Him by doing something I was never capable of doing before: Looking out for other people. I am eager to leave this place and continue to work for the future God has planned for me. I say ‘continue’ to work on the plan, because I have been working on God’s plan for the future since the day I walked through the doors that locked behind me 4 years ago.

Soon I will be rejoining the society I was removed from as a result of my actions. Soon I will walk among ‘decent’ people, many of whom will shy away from me when they learn of my past. While trying to move forward, there will always be those who will want to point behind me and ask, “How could you?”

How could I? A fair question, indeed.

Recently, I was asked that question by someone you know, Mom, and since there are others who seek to make sense of the senseless, I have decided to respond to that request here.

There are two parts to the answer. The first is quite complex and is one I addressed in an article posted in these pages on April 18, 2013. That article was titled ‘unspoken‘, and it contained a ‘speech’ that I would give to young people of high school age, if I were allowed to do so. In that ‘speech’, I did my best to retrace the footsteps which brought me to this prison. The first of those footsteps was taken when I was quite young. After reading the rest of this article, I urge those who have not done so to go back and take the time to read ‘unspoken’.

I will offer the second part of my answer knowing ahead of time that there will be many who will not be satisfied with the answer’s simplicity. I will pray people will consider what I say not only in the context of the possession of child pornography charge which brought me to this place I am about to leave, but in the much larger context of the problems which exist in all of our lives, and in the world as a whole.

I have learned, Mom, that we become capable of behavior that is beneath us as children of God when we fail to follow the lessons taught by Jesus Christ. These lessons are quite simple and can be found in the Holy Bible, of course. Granted, the Bible itself appears to be a very complex book. Indeed, there is a tremendous amount of complexity available to keep thousands upon thousands of theologians and biblical scholars busy, but for the rest of us, the Bible can be viewed in a very simple manner: It is a journey taking us from the perfect beginning of the world, to the perfection of its end. Along the way, we are made privy to those places where mankind has failed. We are shown how we have failed God; how we have failed each other; and we are shown how God offered us salvation by sending His only begotten Son to die on the cross for us and wash away our sins with His blood. The death of Jesus gave us all Hope for a perfect ending to our lives here on earth, but it was Christ’s LIFE that demonstrated how we are to act while we are alive.

The Pharisees were one of two major religious groups during the time of Christ. While they did believe in the resurrection of the body and eternal life, they disregarded God’s message of grace and mercy while believing that salvation came through observance to the law and NOT through the forgiveness of sin. The message Christ brought with Him contradicted the Pharisees, so they set out to discredit Him in any way they could because they did not believe – or did not WANT to believe – He was the long-awaited Messiah.  Obedience to God IS important, as Jesus teaches us time and time again. One such time was when the Pharisees tried to trap Him by asking what the most important commandment was in the Law of Moses. Christ’s answer to the Pharisees forms the basis for my answer to the question, “How could you?”

“Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all of the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT)

So here is the answer:

When we love God in the manner described by Jesus Christ, we discover the ability to love ourselves, thereby allowing us to love those around us. When we love God, ourselves, and those around us, we are too busy thinking about others in positive ways to ever consider hurting them, or ourselves, in any of the many ways we do when that love is absent.

See, Mom? I told you it was simple.

But how many will actually allow themselves to see the truth residing in that simplicity? Obviously, there is more to the stories of our lives than that, but the reason those stories develop in the complex manner they do begins when God is absent from our lives in the first place. Those who need the whole complicated, detailed story can read the article I mentioned earlier. Actually, I wish everyone WOULD read it, because it demonstrates what happens when we fail to do what Jesus instructed us to do.

The short version is this: I failed to love God, and accept HIS love. Instead, I worshiped the gods of alcohol, drugs, sex, and pornography. Certainly millions of others do the same thing daily, but I offer that fact merely as a very sad commentary on the condition of the world in which we live today. I do not use the behavior of others to make excuses for mine. My own particular failure went an unfortunate and despicable final step beyond what is ‘normal’ and for that I am profoundly sorry. However, had I not taken that FIRST step, I never would have taken the LAST one, and the first step was taken because I didn’t heed the simple instructions of the One who died a horrible death hanging on a cross so I could have free access to God: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind.”

All I can say, Mom, is that something has gone seriously wrong in a society where bad behavior, inappropriateness, immaturity, immorality, self-indulgence and selfishness are proudly displayed in public while the belief in, and love of, God has become something most seem only willing to acknowledge on Sunday, and more out of obligation than any real love FOR God. The one thing we should all hold up for others as the only way to live our lives seems to have become a source of embarrassment for many. We ‘kinda sorta’ want to be seen as believing in God, but not really. We don’t actually want to LIVE the way God wants us to live. Doing that requires too much of a commitment and life today offers too many choices we would NOT be able to make if we made such a commitment to God.

Our government doesn’t help because God is constantly being shoved to the back of the bus in a new twist on segregation in America today. Additionally, the American public seems quite adept at criticizing this nation’s leaders for everything they do except when they provide us with more ways, and more rights, with which to live immoral and indecent lives; lives where our own instant gratification is the goal and easing the pain of those around us is something we are only motivated to do when we can conveniently text a donation after a devastating natural disaster. Indeed, our government actually has become one of the biggest enemies Jesus Christ has ever faced, which is odd for a country founded with religious freedom as one of its cornerstones. For those who are opening their mouths to object, kid yourselves not: the religious freedoms guaranteed in this nation’s Constitution were based more on the way we expressed our belief in Jesus Christ than in our freedom to believe in other gods or nothing at all. This being America, we are all free to believe in what we want to believe, of course, but following the words of Jesus Christ can certainly NOT cause anyone any harm and CAN heal, protect, and propel us to heights of care and concern for others which help to prevent the stories of peoples’ lives from ending in disaster.

It really is just that simple. I’m not sure why we have difficulty accepting simplicity unless it is in the plot lines of the latest reality show. One of the books I read during my time here was written by a professor from Baylor University named Byron Johnson and was titled “More God, Less Crime”. Duh. How much simpler do you want it?

Well, Mom, I think I am about finished here. I have answered the question “How could you?” to the best of my ability. If what has been offered isn’t sufficient, there is little I can do. I have accepted the forgiveness of God, and I have forgiven myself. Additionally, I have paid the price imposed by the justice system of this country. From this point forward, all I can do is try to heed the words of Jesus Christ when he told the woman who had been caught committing adultery, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11 NLT)

Jesus refused to condemn her, and He refuses to condemn me as well. If others choose to condemn me, well, they can explain themselves to God later on. For myself, all I know is God has given me a NEW life, and He shows me daily what to do with it and how to live it. I am proceeding with my eyes on Jesus Christ, and I am very, very grateful.

I love you and I apologize again for not writing sooner. I have some packing to do so I can be ready to leave***. I’ll catch you on the other side, Mom!

No, silly, not in Heaven (at least, not just yet); I meant, on the other side of the prison fence!

May God bless all who have put up with me for these 4 years. The years have meant a lot to me, and I can honestly say I tried to do something positive with them. My prayer is that they meant something to all of you as well. This is NOT the end of these “Chronicles”, by the way. You can’t get rid of me that easily!

*******

(* Ryan Loskarn’s story can be found in earlier articles titled “The Something I Didn’t Do“, and “An Open Letter To The Parents Of Ryan Loskarn“)

(**I self-surrendered on April 1, 2010)

(***I was released on May 20, 2014)

Please check out the print version of my book, “TODAY IS… A Gift From God” at (https://www.createspace.com/4718409 ). The writing of it helped me, and I pray the reading of it can do the same for you. If you have a loved one in prison, please send them a copy. It just might make a difference.

About Tony Casson

" For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)
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