On the 5th Year of Freedom

Today marks the 5th anniversary of my release from the Federal Correctional Facility in Oakdale, LA.

I can still vividly recall the strong feelings of excitement and eagerness to face what awaited me, as well as the profound sadness I felt about leaving those men behind that I had grown so close to over the previous 4 years, 2 months and 20 days.

The memories of being ‘processed out’ and Mr. Rogers, one of the CO’s (guards), shaking my hand (no one had done that who was not an inmate since I entered the prison) and wishing me luck are still quite clear in my mind.

The ride through the Louisiana countryside to Lafayette in the Prison truck driven by an inmate from the ‘camp’ and being left at the bus station, a free man, still an incredible feeling to reflect on.

I was going to devote today’s space to a recap of the past 5 years, but so much has happened and God has placed so many incredible people in my path and blessed me with so many opportunities to serve Him and to glorify His name, that it would take me too long to be fair and celebrate each and every person and each and every blessing.

Instead, I found an article I wrote on the first anniversary of my release and I think it is worthy of posting again. The article recounts the prison years and without those years I could not possibly have had the 5 years that have followed.

Some of you will recall the post upon reading it. Others will read it for the first time. Regardless of which camp you are in, I hope you all enjoy it, and recognize the significance of taking

‘Perfect Prison Steps’

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” 

2 Corinthians 3:17 NIV

In talking with someone recently, I referred to my time at Oakdale FCI as ‘the perfect prison experience’. There was a brief look of surprised confusion that preceded the request to, “Explain that please.”

There is a somewhat cynical, yet broad public perception that ‘everyone’ in prison ‘finds God’. There are those, of course, who try to pose as having undergone a spiritual enlightenment, feeling that it will look good in their file. While in Oakdale, I didn’t try to determine whose faith was real and whose was posturing. That was revealed soon enough through their words and by their actions. Even when it was obvious there was a lack of genuine faith, it was still not my place to judge or comment. But even though there were a few who would fall into that group, most inmates didn’t bother to ‘fake faith’. The majority of people in prison are simply ‘doing time’.

There were those, of course, who actually had been brought to their knees by the lifestyle that caused them to be in prison in the first place. Those were the individuals who realized that prison afforded them the opportunity to focus on a relationship with Christ, and those who had actually waved their own “White Flag“ and surrendered to Him, made an important discovery: That there was freedom inside the confines of the fences surrounding the prison, and that freedom was what contributed to making my experience ‘perfect’.

Those who were posturing obviously didn’t really have faith, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

The reward for me was the experience I had while I was in prison that I would come to call ‘perfect’. The reward for taking those steps necessary to seek God was having my eyes opened wide and finally learning to see outside of myself and the selfish, self-centered, self-destructive lifestyle and behavior that kept me a prisoner to sin. While my body may have been free for 56 years, my spirit was enslaved by my willingness to cover up the humiliation and pain of my youth letting satan guide my steps rather than taking refuge in God and letting Him be my guide.

As the years in prison wore on, the track in the prison recreation yard became a place of worship and praise. God was present with me and all those I walked with. He was a part of most conversations that took place as men who had exhibited an egregious disregard for decency struggled to take steps to a life that would offer them renewal and restoration, things which can come only from God.

We took the steps necessary to claim the promise that, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) If anyone wanted – indeed, needed – to be ‘new’, it was those of us who had betrayed decency, and taking the steps illuminated by God brought us closer to being those new men some of us sought to be.

In addition to the positive influence of the time spent walking on the ‘track’, I had the relative peace and solitude of my cell in Allen Unit. It was there, sitting at my desk while my ‘cellie’ was at work, that some of the biggest ‘steps’ were taken. It was there that I began writing “The Oakdale Chronicles”, and “TOC” was where I took my first tentative steps towards publicly proclaiming my faith.

That is not an easy thing to do for someone who started out as far away from God as I did when I began my journey, but slowly I became more comfortable and more confident. The time I spent sitting outside that cell in the mornings praying and reading the Bible contributed to that comfort and confidence. In addition, asking God to help me understand how I could drift so far from Him and allow myself to be used for my own destruction eventually gave me “TODAY IS….A Gift From God” as an answer.

The book itself was never written with any expectations of being a national bestseller (although there certainly would be nothing wrong with that.) Instead, it is a vivid demonstration of how we can build a relationship with God and how He will help us to use the Bible to guide our lives here on earth if we will only give Him the opportunity!

The book gives glory to our great God and holds up His amazing power to do wonderful things within us when we allow Him free reign and, in doing so, deny it to satan, who has had it for so long and who used that free reign so effectively against us. His power, put to work within us, gives us the ability to take each and every step that is required to follow the path to eternal freedom.

I would never want to live my life in a manner which could cause me to go back to Oakdale FCI, or a place like it. At the same time, it is almost impossible for me to adequately describe the perfect prison experience that my steps there provided me with. Of course, if you find that you are in a prison of sin, you don’t have to go to a physical prison like Oakdale FCI or any other correctional facility.

You can simply follow those steps I have outlined and allow God to reward you with freedom from that prison, and you can take your own “Perfect Prison Steps.”

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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