I never expected to actually get involved with someone in prison; never even gave it one thought in my new life as a recently saved believer. A fellow Christian friend, Ed Spencer, asked if I would take a package of eight Christmas cards (complete with prisoner addresses, and postage stamps to make it easy) and write something encouraging or scriptural in each and put them in the mail by December 18th. Not wanting to say “no” to a fellow Christian doing a good deed, I agreed. It seemed like a nice thing to do, and would only take about one hour…
About one month later, I received a Christmas card back from one inmate, with a few sentences of thanks, and a longer letter of encouragement and thanks from another inmate, Lex Rodriguez. Both of these responses surprised me–they were warm and friendly, and, well, very human! When I saw Ed Spencer again for Friday morning Men’s Fraternity, I excitedly showed him the unexpected responses, and he laughed, saying, “They really appreciated you reaching out to them, and I will bet you those Christmas cards are taped to their cell walls, as their only holiday decorations. You have made a difference already, be sure to write them a reply!” That night I wrote a nice note to the first inmate, and a much longer letter to Lex, who had put so much of himself into his letter to me. I simply shared a little about my recent life, and that I was a relatively new Christian with much to learn, and that my wife and I would be praying for him. I was sort of hoping that he would reply, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high…
Two weeks later, I got a reply from Lex…He wrote about being so happy to read my letter; and began to share his joyful walk with Christ, and how I was being blessed for taking time to communicate with him. His kindness and playful humor surprised me, and I enjoyed writing back to him. We began sharing our life’s experiences with each other, always with some humor and encouragement. After a few letters back and forth, we were definitely becoming friends, and I surprised my self when I asked Ed if I could go with him to SCI Dallas to visit Lex whenever he was going to visit his friend, David Ludwig. Both inmates were good friends, and both served on the Christian Ministry Board at SCI Dallas. and both have LWOP sentences (life without parole). Neither one is a hardened criminal, but both of them committed a criminal act when they were just teenagers. They have both been transformed by the Holy Spirit, and they live their daily lives helping other inmates, sharing the word of God, and donating much of their time and meager wages to help children’s’ charities. I am humbled by their generosity and kindness to “others less fortunate”, an attitude that surely inspired me, given their circumstances in life.
That was about two years ago, and since that time I have visited Lex every two or three months, and we write to each other a couple of times monthly. On one visit, I was able to bring my wife, who was initially apprehensive. Lex was so disarming and kind that she quickly became relaxed and enjoyed the time we spent together. On the way home (it’s a two hour drive each way) she spoke about Lex’s humanity and sweet disposition, his excellent knowledge of the Bible, and his ability to find humor and happiness in his everyday life. Like me, she was transformed by the light of Christ that shined so brightly from his personality. She reads every letter that he sends to us, and spends time with me praying for him and other inmates who need to have fellowship with other Christians from the outside.
Funny thing, I thought that I was visiting Lex to help him; it turns out that he has helped me and given me much more than I have ever given him. Mentoring? It really is just about being a friend; someone to share life’s ups and downs, someone who knows how to listen, how to care for someone else–a person who, remarkably, is really more like me than I ever would have guessed. If you will take an hour or two a month to befriend an inmate, I believe that you will be blessed as I have been, and experience a richness in every day life…the result of seeing life through the eyes of a believer behind bars.
May God bless you in your journey!