After a two hour ride culminating in Pennsylvania’s coal mining towns of Minersville and Shamokin, we drove into the parking lot of the State Correctional Institute at Coal Township. We have been to a number of state facilities, and this looked to be about the same as the other “modern” prisons built in the last two decades.
It was about 11:30 am when we arrived on a Saturday morning. There were over a dozen people waiting for admittance to the visitation room. So, the staff started to “time out” some early visitors who had been visiting for over two hours, to make room for the new arrivals, like us. We were given a number, and when our turn for registration and security scanning finally came up, we were told that we would have to wait about one hour for the I:00 o’clock shift to occur. Finally, we were admitted to the inmate visitation room, where Mike was waiting for us with a big grin.
Mike and I had begun writing back and forth several times a month for the past 3 or 4 months, and we found that we able to share our thoughts and feelings honestly with each other. Mike is an articulate and intelligent guy in his young 30’s, with a great sense of humor. So, my wife and I were really looking forward to meeting him for the first time on that Saturday.
But this visitation story is the “Story That Almost Didn’t Happen”. Three days before our planned visit, Mike had just read our email saying that we were coming to see him on Saturday, and he was in line at the mess hall for lunch, when a uniformed correctional officer started taunting him, without any provocation—disrespecting him in front of his fellow inmates. Mike told him he wouldn’t be so brave if he was on the inmate’s side of that protective glass, and the guard continued to verbally insult and demean him!
Every instinct told Mike that he had to reach through the opening in the glass and throttle that ignorant idiot. He was ready to do just that, when he got a hold of himself, and thought,” If I give that idiot what he deserves, I will miss the visit of Rick and his wife, Jo, and be thrown in the hole for 90 days, and probably be transferred to a facility in western Pa.” So, instead, he took the abuse and ignored his instinct to react, got his food and sat down.
Then he sent an email to me, detailing what happened, and that the reason he didn’t react the way he normally would, was because he valued our visit and our relationship! I was completely blown away by that email—my wife and I read it out loud three times; I had tears of joy in my eyes! I couldn’t get that story out of my mind. We were humbled by the courage it took for him to accept “being disrespected”, in front of his peers, to honor our visit.
So, because of Mike’s brave response to that unprovoked verbal abuse, we were able to have a great visit with him…we dined on vending machine cuisine, we laughed, we joked, we were, at times, serious, but most of all, we connected! The two and a half hours we visited somehow seemed like twenty minutes.
Mike chose to value our visit over the loud voice in his head which told him that no one could get away with disrespecting him that way. He made a great choice—one which he told us he couldn’t remember ever making before in his life! To me, that speaks volumes about the man he is inside, the man that can and will make the right decision, even when every fiber in his body tells him to react physically to prove that no one can “dis” him that way!
Mike’s actions that day made me proud to call him my friend. He has truly earned my respect. He has also proven to himself that he has the emotional strength to overcome life’s many temptations to “react in anger.” He knows that he can choose a better path that brings positive results for his future.
Mike’s story is a rewarding one, even if it is still in the first few chapters. As his mentor and friend, I am looking forward to sharing life’s experiences with him as we journey together—knowing that I will gain as much as he does through this relationship.
If you would like to experience the joy and spiritual “juice” that comes from being a “pen pal” to a Christian prisoner, please visit www.PrisonMentoring.com to find worthy men who would love to receive a birthday or Christmas card or an encouragement card from you—that’s all it takes to start a journey of spiritual growth. That simple act of Christian fellowship can bring a whole new level of gratitude and blessings into your life—it sure has been a wonderful journey for me!
NOTE: You can write to Mike at the following address: (He would love to hear from you!)
Michael Arce KR9642, SCI Coal Twp., 1 Kelley Drive, Coal Twp. PA 17866 (use a plain white envelope only)