Friday, April 29, 2011

To Walk As Christ Called Me

Where are the places we want to go least,

yet most likely where Christ would go

to help and encourage others?


A brief list of people and places we may see Jesus if He were among us today:

  • jails & prisons

  • leper colonies

  • death-row

  • burn units

  • orphanages

  • slums

  • terminally ill

  • elderly-retirement homes

  • between the firing lines on a battle field

  • among the survivors of environmental catastrophes


Do we need to ask why?

The world may think you are crazy if you were to visit these same locations, but isn’t that precisely what was thought of Jesus?

Is it so bad to be thought of this way?


In the courthouse on the day of my sentencing, I came to face the 40 year-old woman, and her 60 year-old mother, whom I injured in my drunk-driving accident. Both read statements about the suffering they experienced. Thereby I was convicted of two felony assaults, and as a result received two consecutive 25 months prison terms. This all I agreed to beforehand, so when the sentence was read it did not come as a surprise.


Immediately after I turned my back on the judge and went to my knees, asking both of my victims for their forgiveness. I told them both how sorry I was for their injuries, and wished I could have taken them upon myself. A few minutes after, when I was in shackles and waiting to be escorted out, the DA brought the ladies nearby to have an opportunity to see me restrained, and to speak to me once more. The 40 yr-old said she would never get over the scenes in her mind of her mother being carted away to the ambulance, and that she may never be able to accept my apology. The 60 yr-old smiled weakly and said she forgave me. But then, the 80 year-old grandmother came up and said she would be praying for me while I served my time.


So which one do you think I remember best?

Undoubtedly, the 40 yr-old.

But which did I need to hear most?

The 80 year-old grandmother, who went out of her way to identify herself and let me know that she believed God would protect me because He had already pardoned me.


Why?


Because the first one is the lie Satan wants us to remember most, thereby denying us the forgiveness of Christ to ever truly take hold in our hearts. And because the truth is that God was there with me the entire time, walking beside me and speaking to me in many small moments that I learned to recognize because I came to fully trust in Him.


So, one way I hope to see this blog develop is as an encouragement to those who need it most.


And, if God allows it, to end this blog on February 5th 2012, the day my parole is finished, to then become a resource web-page for those who are ex-convicts, felons, or who simply have an arrest record to limit them. Where we can share stories of encouragement. Trade ideas for finding jobs or self-employment. And exchange information about where to go for help in overcoming the barriers to successful re-entry, and a new life.

The Jesus told Peter,

“And when you have turned back,

strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32(b)

What does it mean to you, to “put on the face of Christ”?

If you already do so, the How does it look to others??

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Target To Aim For

What is the purpose of this blog? If there is a mission, then Who does it serve? Which greater good?? Why does it matter? And Where does it start?
 

1. When this blog began, it was to call others(non-offenders) to attention of the need for mercy, compassion, and to serve by connecting on an emotional level with those(ex-offenders and their families) who struggle with the results of crime in their lives.  

The victims directly affected by crime we clearly recognize, but those indirectly affected, we rarely notice. 

2. To show how financially widespread those effects are by contrasting societal costs of housing the largest inmate population in the world, with the huge disparity of ex-convicts and unemployment.

* The plan to was to show how average people can help, and in turn improve our society,

by sharing my own story.


My purpose was to see healing occur in our communities by encouraging aid to those who no one else wants to help. This would reduce repeat offenses, minimize costs, improve families which had previously been broken, and give hope to ex-cons by educating the general public to the challenges we face when assistance isn’t available.

Why?

Because we all matter,

we are all connected,

we depend on one another,

and our actions affect everyone.


In many ways I have seen this blog already begin to show that it connects. Over 2000 people have viewed the encouraging video from February 11 - Here Is Hope. But is there room for more here??

On a practical note:

  • The federal government and fifty states spent a combined total of $69 Billion dollars on just over 2 million prisoners in 2008. That is over $30,000 to incarcerate each.
  • In the same year, both property crimes and violent crimes rates had continued to drop to a new low not seen in the US since the mid-1970s (NY Times & Justice Matters)
  • The nations current jobless rate is approximately 9.4%, but for ex-offenders it is more than 50%.

So, what can we do?
How should this blog move forward?
I invite your ideas.
I have a few of my own, but I want to hear from you.
Where would you like to see this passion I have go next?
Do you have a passion for it?
If so, which part?

Final thought:
Christ was known for doing the unexpected and unconventional.
I believe He would have walked into the prisons to save.
I think Jesus would have held them in His arms as they wept tears of shame and regret.
Can you see Him doing that now? Two thousand years after His death and resurrection?
If so, will You put on the face of Christ now?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Last Believer Enters Heaven Before Christ’s Resurrection

What if heaven had a newspaper, or electronic bulletin board, or even a Twitter headline like the one above?
 
The mixed range of expectations here on earth when Jesus gave up His last breath was surely echoed in heaven by those who could still not understand... that the hour had not yet come for Christ’s kingdom here on earth to be revealed to all, and that His death was a necessary part of the story of salvation. ( For only the Father in heaven knows the due time - Matthew 24:36)

Today is tough for many christian believer's because it is known as Good Friday, or rather the day that Christ was killed and died. Christians believe the day is "good" because the message of Easter is of Christ's victory over sin, death, and the devil. For this I too am grateful, because His death gives me new life.

As I look back, live through it, and move forward, I find that life change has occurred, and that I have a purpose in what has happened. The bad choices and poor decisions are not a part of me any longer, and I do not have to be a slave to thoughts of crime or sin. And this is only as a result of what Christ has done in me. People listen to and believe in me, not because of something special I have done, but because I have opened myself to the loving guidance of Jesus. As a result my wife still wants to be married to me. I get to be a father. Friends support me, wanting their own children to know me. And people come to ask for guidance and encouragement when challenges and struggles face them.

Redemption means to buy somebody's freedom. Jesus bought our freedom with his life on the cross, changing everything then and forever. His sacrifice altered how everyone saw the loving forgiveness of our gracious God. Accepting that gift can make all the difference in how others see you too.

Question: Who is the final, or last believer of Christ to to enter heaven before the resurrection? (as far as I can tell...)

The Crucified Criminal... Saved!


Luke 23:41-43; “We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus didn’t ask him his sin, nor even tell him that his sins were forgiven! In summary, Christ said his belief had saved him! A so will it save you. You may still face punishment for your crimes, or discipline for your sins, but you are saved none the less.

Can you imagine the reception in heaven for that criminal on the cross?!? One moment, the heavens are distraught with the death of Christ, then the next, angels and saints alike are welcoming a brother. The last to come home before Christ himself returns.


“Forgiveness...

is the fragrance the violet sheds...

on the heel that has crushed it.”

-Mark Twain

 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Forgiving Those We Despise

Maybe “they” have harmed us directly, and the memory is too great to ever get over. Or, perhaps “they” have hurt us indirectly by injuring someone close to us, and the suffering we witness is too tormenting an experience to ever let go.
 
For this topic, I must borrow heavily from others today, summarizing as I go: First is Steven Furtick:
 

  • Forgiveness: It would be easier to hold a grudge, but Christ was clear that we have an obligation to forgive… just as we have been forgiven. With this issue there is often much push back from those who say they can’t get over what has been done to them. I remind them that the Bible doesn’t say we must forget, but to forgive. There’s a huge difference. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we should allow an open door for continued abuse. The goal is to free our hearts by letting go of the anger, bitterness, and frustration with the person who wronged us.
  • Forgiveness won’t take the pain away. However it does releases the hold those emotions continue to have on our heart. Holding bitterness too tightly causes a range of negative emotions, and has even been shown to result in physical pain and anxiety through repeated exposure to the remembered stress.
  • Forgiveness gives something that is undeserved. This is the picture of God’s loving grace for us that we have not earned, and regularly miss because it is both too simple and complicated to understand. Yet is so beautiful to behold!
  • The emotional weight of an injury is often heavier than the actual injury and takes longer to heal. When a person forgives another, it feels as though pressure is released from one’s shoulders. Forgiving people have less stress and more joy, regardless of the pain in their life.
  • I know the thought of offering forgiveness makes some cringe. It feels like a risk too big to take. When you forgive, it feels you are inviting further injury. Yet when we refuse to forgive it is usually because holding onto it gives us some sense of power or control, but I wonder if Christ ever feels likewise…

 

Would You help someone you couldn’t forgive?

 

In the movie titled, The Interpreter, we are told the story of a tribe in Africa which believes that the only way to end grief is to save a life.

If someone is murdered, after one-year of mourning is a ritual called

“the Drowning Man Trial”.

After an all-night party, the next morning the killer is taken by boat out in the water and dropped in, arms & legs bound so they cannot swim.

The family of the victim has the choice to let the killer drown, or they can go out and save him.

The tribe believes that if the family lets the killer drown, they will have justice, but the remainder of their lives will be spent in mourning. However if they save him, admitting life isn’t always just, it will end their sorrow.

 

“Vengeance is a lazy form of grief.”

I cannot count the number of times I have felt hurt and wanted to lash out and retaliate for justice or revenge. But when I have done so, the pain doesn’t subside like I want it to. Instead I am left anger, bitter, confused, and still in pain. However, when I have stopped and refused to lash-out physically, or speak in a hurtful manner, l find the healing in my own heart begins. And sometimes, I sense the other person’s regret, and then their healing begins as well. Later, we can bask in the forgiveness that Christ has taught us, and the love He shed through blood on the cross for our sinfulness.


To begin healing, learn to practice forgiveness.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When an Education Hurts a Criminal Seeking Work

Skills, not a degree, will make the difference in future job opportunities for criminals.
 
Going to school can help to acquire the skills needed, and we often feel better about ourselves when we complete the educational requirements for a college degree, but many employers still won’t hire someone with that “high” a level of training.

Case in point, the January 21st post I wrote, titled - Without Hope... What Happens?? (Linked here: http://americancriminal.net/without-hope-what-happens). The woman in the story, Georgia Irwin, had a law degree and an MBA, but no one would hire her. Seem unbelievable? Then read the story. Or even part of it. The point is this: there are companies that could have used her experience and education in business and legal counsel, but were unwilling to hire her.

To be clear, in an interview I completely disclose my crime to the hiring manager, even if they do not ask. So here are a few quick scenarios from my personal life to help illustrate the frustration we-criminals go through:

  • When a perspective employer says I am the best candidate they have interviewed for the position; then HR denies my employment as “against policy to hire a felon”.
  • When an interviewer says he can quit spending his time searching to find the right candidate because I am precisely what he is looking for, and recognizes my hunger for another chance; but again HR denies.
  • When a month after being hired, the HR director decides to change the existing policy which currently prohibits hiring a felon with monetary or sexual crimes, to instead include all felonies, and that my record no longer allows employment there; so I was terminated - regardless of the success my manager witnessed.
  • When a private college acknowledges the experience I have as an adult educator as fitting their need, however politely notifies me they “will not now, nor any time in the future, consider me for a position”.
  • And although a previous employer had no policy that prohibits hiring a felon, yet the HR director is unable to agree because of fear of reprisal from previous candidates who may have been felons, and were thus not considered.


These positions each required a college degree, and one even an advanced degree, for which I have both. So would you suppose that having a degree can hurt, even when a company is “Felon-Friendly”?

  • Construction manager said he would not hire me because my education may become known, and it would put me at odds with the work supervisors because I may come across as “all-knowing”.
  • Retail store Manager: “we don’t need someone coming in here and telling us how to do our job better, and that’s what people will think you are doing.”


To revisit the purpose of this post: job skills in areas of high-demand will be the difference in whether many offenders will ever be considered for work. The areas I currently see most:

  1. Welding: there always seems to be a need for well trained welders with a certification.
  2. Road-Crews: while knowing nothing of the training required, I have read how the State Dept. of Transportation will see a 50% reduction of skilled workers on road-crews by 2014, and with the budget shortfalls the state faces there will be no new hires to replace them. Instead, the state plans to hire “independent” contractors to do the same work, thereby reducing costs.
  3. Creative-Development: any area of art, music, cooking, computer programming, or drafting & design, that requires a non-linear or rather an artistic ability. The work may not make one wealthy over night as most jobs are on a contingent basis(fee for service), but those who understand computer games can recognize the ability to write great code, or put together the miniature models for an architect’s design.


Can we find and advocate for the programs that help criminals get back to work by teaching the skills necessary to live productive lives?

Do we see that in helping “them”, we in turn help ourselves?

I believe in one God, maker of heaven and earth, and in His son - Jesus the Christ. I believe in His love and forgiveness, the ability to see beyond classifying labels, job titles, sins and crimes, to the person within who cries for hope, love, and purpose.

By working together, we can help “them” find forgiveness, and the gift of hope in a future with purpose.

 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Finding Work With a Record - Part 2

Who do you think is more appreciative of finding a job: 1)a person who already has one - but is looking for something different; 2)one who is out of work - yet has strong skills and high hopes there will be work again when the economy improves; or 3)a criminal coming out of prison/jail with little hope of securing employment because few want to take the chance?

With the promise of government tax-breaks offered as a monetary incentive, and the Federal Bonding program as insurance against detrimental activity and risk-exposure, what else would keep you from hiring an “ex-con”?

So what are some commonly acceptable jobs for criminals? 

  • janitor,
  • fast-food cook,
  • gas-station attendant,
  • automotive mechanic,
  • day-labor(construction, painting, lawn care),
  • telephone customer service.


What do they all have in common? Two things:

  1. keep “them” away from money/credit-cards
  2. keep “them” away from customers & potential lawsuit

 

Do you know of many jobs that fit that description?

 

How can it look like when a convict has a skill?

  • short-order cook at small restaurant, with proper training - a chef
  • welding (needs special training)
  • independent road-crews(may need special training)
  • possibly a baker? (see a video below)


What does the future look like for the uneducated, or low skilled criminal?

  • bleak


How can we help?

  • volunteer to tutor inmates & those released for a GED
  • encourage programs for specific skills training, such as those above
  • work with the county to make known the places willing to hire, the “Felon-Friendly”

When we understand the depth of God’s love and forgiveness, it deepens our love for Him. It also means that we no longer look down on other sinners or think that we are better than anyone else.


In the New Testament book of Luke, Chapter 7, the woman understood the depth of her sin and knew she could only count on God’s great mercy. Christ then told a story of two men with huge debts that they couldn’t pay (Luke 7:41-42). Yet the moneylender canceled both of their debts. Jesus asked the Pharisee, “Which of them will love him (the moneylender) more?” (Luke 7:42 NIV). The Pharisee said the one with the greater debt.

 

Why hire a felon? 

  • they often find creative solutions to problems because they think outside of the box!
  • they live with a determination to succeed because they have something to prove!
  • often resourceful, tell them they cannot “do it” and a way will be found
  • to help someone less fortunate, a person in need of a second chance


“Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first of January let every man gird himself once more, with his face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past.” ~Henry Ward Beecher


Next Week: When an Education Hurts A Criminal Find Work


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Finding Work With a Record - Part 1

Is there still an American dream? If so, is it something a criminal must forfeit??
(Defined as: to lose or be deprived of, as property or a right or privilege; as penalty for wrongdoing. 
 
The article used for the March 25th post may help you understand how many of our society are affected by having a criminal-record, and thus cannot find employment due to current hiring methods. So then how much does it cost society when criminals cannot find work to earn a living? Does it create additional victims?(like the families of criminals who must ‘pay’ along side.) And is it fair or ‘just’ to deny anyone a job solely on the basis of their history, without regard to their willingness to change and improve?
 
So let me ask you a different question: Are you proud to be American? Believe In America? And do you recognize that in America we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world? So, although this is a one of the most unpopular topics to ever discuss, and no politician would dare to broach it, can we help criminals find work? 

To take a contrasting approach, have you ever heard the term: “Felon-Friendly”? It means a company will consider hiring a person with a record. That they will contemplate offering someone who is a criminal another chance. This is what our system needs to be more focused on, because after the “treatment” and “rehabilitation” programs are done, if one cannot find a job, where do they turn??

Perhaps this subject is too ugly a ‘blemish’, like a skin sore with a discharge and an odor that no-one wants to discuss or deal with it because it could transfer onto us, or possibly it would force us to look at the uncertainty of our own behaviors that we attempt to cover up and deny.

Maybe we have such a difficult time extending grace because deep down we sometimes struggle accepting it for the toughest stains we continue to carry, those we never fully give to Christ. In other words, they remind us of our own sinful nature.


Without a job, offenders will often revert back to what they already know... more of the same behaviors that sent them to jail in the first place. Do you agree? If it’s true, then what are we likely to get if we expect someone to remain insignificant, or stupid, or poor, or mean, or criminal? If we never show them love, or any other ‘way’, how can we expect anything different? How are they to change??

If we do nothing to help our fellow man,

then who are we?

 

We are the ones who did nothing.

 

However, if we reach out a helping hand,

then what are we?

 

We are the hands & feet of Christ,

part of a larger family of brothers & sisters,

the embodiment of love for one another.

 

Countdown: 44 Weeks

Friday, April 1, 2011

Legacy of Love - A Brief History of Early Christians

According to Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, the early followers of Christ did precisely what Jesus asked of us - reaching beyond ourselves to help those in need.

Employing modern sociological methods, Stark contends that a series of devastating plagues played an instrumental role in the seemingly miraculous growth of the early church. In AD 165, and again in AD 251, terrifying epidemics descended upon the Roman Empire, killing between a quarter to a third of the population. Contemporary accounts describe widespread panic as family members abandoned their loved ones at the first sign of disease, sometimes tossing them into the roads even before they had died. As a result, many plague sufferers were left without food, water, and basic care that could have dramatically increased survival rates.

Those early Christians, however, soon gained a reputation for their boldness in the face of death. Stark cites the bishop Dionysius, for example, who described how Christians “showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.” For these Christians, the epidemic became “a time of unimaginable joy,” a chance for believers to witness to their faith by offering themselves as martyrs.

It was Christian doctrine, Stark explains, that motivated believers’ courageous response to the terrors of the plague. While their non-Christian neighbors abandoned their beliefs and retreated in fear, Christians found their faith a source of comfort as well as a “prescription for action.” They knew they were their “brothers’ keepers,” that it was “more blessed to give than to receive,” and that they ought to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”


I cannot say it any better on my own, so I had to borrow heavily from this author. And isn’t a bit shocking to imagine, working so hard to care for those who seemed all but dead, and to expose oneself to the same life-ending disease, without having known these people at all beforehand?

Can you imagine a situation in which you would give so much of yourself? Maybe for your own family??

We may never consider this a possibility of modern life, unless we conjure up images of someone like Mother Teresa. But who today could give that much of themselves? And perhaps that is what true faith in Christ is all about: without regard to our own life, we give all we have, not because we have so much to offer, but that we have complete faith in Christ for our salvation, and we know what our future holds and where it will be... in Heaven, with the Savior. And that kind of faith is stronger than our fears. Allowing us to move ahead with courage, rather than hiding, or making excuses, or running away for protection.

I want to know more of that power which comes from faith in Him, Jesus the Christ.

Do you?

As Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”


Next week - another short series begins: Finding Work With A Record.