Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A shake down

I sat on my bunk, as I did most days, watching her across the aisle. She was playing a one deck, handheld game she called "jail solitaire". She had been here for 326 days "fighting her case" and she was accustomed to being "bunked up." Everything about jail was familiar to her as she was rounding out almost a year of time. She flipped the cards three by three from front to back, sitting indian style on her lower bunk without a care to the chaos the guards were inflicting.

Down the way, on the first set of bunks I listened to the squeals and cursing of inmates as guards did their shake down. Mattresses were overturned and flung to the floor. Property boxes were dumped out on the steel bunk. Boxes of letters, cards and paperwork; once folded neatly were scattered about to be gathered later once the guard gave permission. They were searching for something. I could hear the chaos, the anger steaming up from the floor and billowing under the cut out walls that separated one aisle from another. As the guards made their way down the aisle and came to the head of the next, women filed out into the main walkway to wait.

Sam* sat quietly, playing her cards without a care. She hummed to herself, flipping card after card with an orchestrated purpose. I watched her, then looked at the women in the walkway, slapping their legs or throwing fists in the air as something was upended or thrown into the trash sack drug along behind a guard.

Shake downs happened about once a week. Sometimes because something was heard. Sometimes because of a snitch. Sometimes I think the guards just needed something to do. No matter, they always brought a tense mood, disgruntled inmates and self righteous guards in the end. This was homemade chaos for the purpose of chaos and generally produced very little. Oh perhaps a label wrapped stick pen made stronger and thus easier to write with because of the added stiffness; maybe a commissary sheet, its heavy paper cut out to be a stencil for card making. Seldom anything of any real significance. Contrived "cases" created for paperwork and busyness and to make a guard look alert and on top of her pod.

Always it instilled a feeling of "us against them". The inmate against guard. The system against the criminal. It reminded us that our lives were theirs and not ours. We had involuntarily given ourselves over to a group of people who unlike us had been caught in their indiscretions and were now paying an earthly price. We were no longer children of God but groups of people divided by attitudes and actions and bars. And it was in this involuntary state of inmate status that I grew to know the Lord and understand voluntary submission and service to Him. The State may have garnered my involuntary submission and because of this they received in return an involuntary cooperation. I did not seek them out and I did not always fall into alignment with their rules and agendas.

But through this involuntary submission I learned a great deal about the value of voluntary submission. I learned about the value of the gift of choice that God has granted each of us. In His plan for our lives He willingly stepped aside so that our relationship to Him could be one of choice. Whatever involvement we would have with Him would be because we chose to voluntarily submit to His ways and His love and in return receive His gift of salvation. Therefore, submission becomes a two way street of choice and redemption.

God forced nothing upon me. His agenda was based on His love for me. His justice perfect. His correction without flaws. His gift all I ever needed. While He might conduct a "shake down" in my life as I submit more fully to Him each day, I do not cringe as He throws things out for His purpose in doing so is not for His entertainment but for my safety and security in my future with Him. There is no chaos or randomness in His ways. There is no arrogance or haughtiness. He needs none. But rather, as I voluntarily place myself in His care, I am privileged to learn from my maker, the wonders of life and the wonders of His love.

He tosses my property box, clears my mattress and leaves for me the comfort of His arms tonight. And that makes for a very balanced relationship indeed.

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