The Prisoner's Manual for Living in Confinement
By Billie Marie Zal
I wrote this “manual for the prisoner” because I have become concerned that there is not enough “one on one” ministry to the prisoners. When God called me for this work, He let it be known that 1) I was not to ask for financial help. I was not to think on terms of “getting big” but rather, reaching the individual with His love and grace. 2) I was not to try to “convert” anyone. I was to present His Life and let the men choose for themselves to want to become a member of His Body. 3) I was never to “exploit” a prisoner and tell of his past to get attention for my ministry. 4) I was never to disclose a confidence. 5) I was to get to know each man personally. How can God be real to someone who doesn’t even know them?
I have often been asked questions by those of you who are seeking a change in your life. I thought it would be a good idea and possibly helpful to list these questions, and my answers:
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FROM PRISONERS:
I. Is God punishing me by putting me in prison?
Answer: No. God does not punish us for our sins because if you believe the Bible you will notice that Jesus Christ took the form of a man and was born “without sin.” The Lord God established an offering for sin before Jesus ever came. He created mankind and it was never His desire that we should fall. But Adam fell. And from that day on, every person who is born is born with a rebellious nature. We simply CANNOT do anything but sin until we are born again - this time by God’s revelation of who He is, and who Christ is, and who the Holy Spirit is. And, if we are seeking a God who can keep us from falling, He will implant His Spirit, the Life of His Son Jesus Christ within us, and we will for the first time be ABLE to say NO to our sinful nature. Our nature is not wiped out. By faith we simply believe that WE DO NOT HAVE TO SIN. And we live possessing the power NOT to sin.
II. Then why am I in prison, if God does not punish me?
Answer: You are in prison because of the lifestyle you chose - the deeds you did eventually
led you there. Once a counselor told an inmate, “You are not here because someone else sent you here. You are here because your behavior brought you here.”
The God whom I know personally is grieved that any of you should have to be locked down or kept in confinement. He is a God who created the birds, who fly FREELY in His world. He is the God who gives us a sense of having grieved Him, thus giving us the opportunity to WANT to change. He is the God who created a man with a free will - God will not have puppets. That is why He will not force you to repent, or want to love Him.
He waits, that He may be gracious, and if you have ever called upon His Name, you will one day be saved if you really meant it. God does not hear you when you play games. He knows your heart and no way can you deceive Him. You can deceive your parents, your relatives, your friends. But you can never deceive Him, and the moment you really mean that you do not want to live as you did before, and you want a new life, you will receive it.
III. What if I had a “dysfunctional” family? Isn’t it their fault that I ended up in prison?
Answer: No. My reason for saying this is, that many, many young people grew up in dysfunctional families. And they are not in prison. Cain and Abel, who were Adam and Eve’s sons had a dysfunctional family. Adam had been expelled from the Garden of Eden with his wife and lost forever the chance to live there, and live eternally. The sin of rebellion that satan, God’s chief Angel, brought into the world of created Beings, brought disaster. Cain and Abel grew up with the knowledge of sin, with the knowledge that for sin there must be a blood offering. Abel brought the proper offering to God. Cain didn’t. He ended up killing his brother because he wanted to be well pleasing to God as Abel was. Both were members of a dysfunctional family. So Cain was without excuse, in that Abel obeyed the Lord and he refused to obey the Lord.
There is an old spiritual hymn, “It’s not my father nor my mother but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” I love that song. It’s true. It’s no one’s fault that we become what we are. If we want to blame our parents for what we become, then can they not blame THEIR parents, and when does the blaming end?
Of course you were often badly treated, abused, forsaken, unloved. But that is why God cares about you. He cannot appear in your home to stop the abuse. He does not interfere with the human will. But He DID appear to mankind in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. All that Christ is reflects who God is, and what He is like. He (Christ) took the sin of rebellion into His
own body (and every other sin that is ever committed) and went to the Cross with it. The worst
moment in eternity was when God the Father - because Jesus was consumed with sin - had to turn away His face from His Son and Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Someone said that God was so grieved that He put black crepe paper over the sun and the world became dark. But then Jesus paid the full price for what we are, and He took that sin into the grave and it was LEFT THERE, buried. When He arose (and He did) the sinful rebellious heart was left in the grave and He could say, “I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” He freely gives this gift of new life to each of us IF WE WANT A NEW LIFE. That’s what I love about God. He leaves the choice to me.
IV. What if my parents never taught me right from wrong? Isn’t it their fault that I turned out like I did?
Answer: No. Every human being has a conscience and that is a gift from God. Even animals KNOW right from wrong, to a degree. My little Yorkie dog hides when he has done something he isn’t supposed to do. Then when I say, “Are you sorry?” he comes out of hiding, grinning and barking.
Children know right from wrong in their conscience. They KNOW it is wrong to steal. I have seen tiny kids in a super market pick up a piece of candy and hide it in their pocket. When they know I saw it, they put it back. God would not be God if he left us to society to learn what is right and wrong. Our society today has gone to hell. There is an attitude that “anything goes.” There is no “right from wrong” and children are doing as they please. But they have a conscience and as they choose which way they want to go, they become what they have chosen to be.
I had a mother who taught me right from wrong, but it did not save me. While my outward behavior was in accord with the law, my heart was “deceitful and desperately wicked.” God said it, and I knew it was true. I went the usual route - blaming everyone but myself, but one night I was so sick of myself that I either wanted to die, or be changed. I had TRIED to live “right” but I realized I had no power to live a consistent Christian life. I was a puppet - not to God, He will have no such children in His family - but to satan. I had chosen to become a pawn of the devil and I was desperate and I cried out to God, and He knew I meant it. I was given a brand new life. I still have it, and I have never “back slidden.” We don’t have to back slide. We live each day knowing that our Father God has given us the right to be His children and overcome the everyday sins that so easily beset us. I choose to claim by faith victory over the power of sin, and it works.
I could not blame anyone for what I was. And God, knowing I was finished with my excuses, saved me.
V. How can I live a victorious life in prison? The environment is not one that invites Christian living.
Answer: God did not save you to start trying to get others saved. One of the biggest problems in prison is, that so many men say they are saved and then their attitude and behavior shows otherwise, that those of you who truly are saved become bitter and again, say that it isn’t worth it to be a Christian.
If you have that attitude, Jesus would say to you, “What is that to you? Follow thou ME.” In other words, leave the others alone, get yourself a Bible, and read it, and keep to yourself. Even the press makes fun of “jailhouse religion.” I don’t make fun of it because I have personally seen many conversions (real ones).
Those of you who are not schooled in the Bible need first to get to know what God has to say about sin, about goodness and about judgment. It is a mistake to pounce on someone else to “get them saved.” God does the work by His Spirit and you could be “flogging a dead horse.”
VI. What can I do, right where I am, to insure that I will not fall away from my newly found faith?
Answer: For starters, you can read the Bible. Ask God’s Spirit to teach you; He will, because He wrote it through the hands of men. If you don’t know His Word, you won’t know that it is important to keep the rules. If you use drugs, or make home made beer, that is breaking the rules. And God says, “Obey every ordinance of man.”
VII. Why do I have to obey those in authority when they are not fair?
Answer: Life is never “fair.” How can it be, when sin has taken over the minds of the people? But obedience is the one way to overcome the self life within you, no matter where you are. The Army teaches men this fact. The drill sergeant is not “fair.” He is impossibly cruel and harsh. But he knows that one day the soldier will face a battle, and if he is not disciplined and prepared, he will be no good to himself or his country.
We survive through self discipline, and sometimes even those who are not born of God’s
Spirit have such strong self will that they succeed by self control. I am thankful that I had no such self control and I knew that I needed a Savior.
Rules, contrary to some of your thinking, are not made to be broken and the guard is there to be sure you keep the rules. Whether he keeps them or not, that is not one’s business. God, in the end, will be the Judge and the day is coming, perhaps soon, when we will face Him and know Him as we are known of Him now.
Disobedience to authority is disastrous to the soul and to the body. We discover that there is peace when we keep the rules. And God knows all of us need peace.
The ability to live in prison and be right in your heart with God (who is your Maker) is one of this life’s greatest gifts. You are the one who decides how far you will go, and whether or not you meant it when you “gave your heart to Him who bore all your sins on the Tree at Calvary.” He loves you and He saves you if you want that brand new life. The choice is yours.
- January, 1995
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I thought I would add to what Billie said regarding those of you who claim to be innocent.
Few of us are completely innocent. The behavior of friends, companions, and even family members, that you chose to associate with, may be the reason you are in prison. Also the places where you chose to spend your time at may have led to you being at the scene of a crime and involved somehow.
Bobby Ross, a friend of mine on death row at McAlester (now with the Lord) once asked me, “Why does everyone go back to prison?” I said, “It’s so easy. All some people have to do is visit family on a Sunday afternoon, watch some football and drink a beer, and they are on the road to another crime.
So its always the choices you make, and your lifestyle, that brings you down. This needs to be acknowledged before God, even as you may be able to legally fight the case in court. Your choice to use alcohol or drugs leaves you vulnerable to commit criminal acts.
We hear from many young men who are so hurt and upset because their families do not write or help them in any way. The reason could be that most people believe that the prison takes care of all your needs. I know you all think that if the situation were reversed, and your friend of relative was locked up, that you would be there for them. But I have not found that to be true. People mean well, and know they should help, but something always comes in-between the act and good intention. You know how many people write and tell us that they will help when they get out? They want to help do for someone what we did for them. It doesn’t happen. We rarely hear from any released prisoner. THIS IS LIFE. Unless a person’s life is committed to Christ all the way, LIFE IS ALL ABOUT SELF. THIS IS REALITY.
Last year at Easter time we included a page in the newsletter of prophecies fulfilled concerning Jesus. Prophecies, of course, are in the Old Testament. Some churches teach that the Old Testament is not relevant for today. This is wrong. God is the same yesterday as He is today. And I have never gotten over the wonder of reading something about Jesus in the Old Testament. It’s proof positive of the inspriration and truth of the Bible. For instance, Psalms 22: 16-18 . . . “the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may count all my bones; they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”
I know some of you study the Word. Make it a point this year to find these prophecies. What Christ did for us will become more real to you, and to know God had a plan for our redemption from the very beginning of time is really a wonder to behold.
Prayer Requests for April, 2007
For Willie Davis, Danville, Illinois, that his post-conviction petition will be granted and that he will receive a new trial.
For Willie Scott at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who has prostate cancer.
For Shirley Scales in Little Rock, Arkansas, who suffers from Lupus. (William Holland’s friend).
For Ken Hogan’s sons, Kristopher and Kyle. Kristopher is being transferred to a federal prison in California, and Kyle is facing trouble in Springfield, Missouri.
For Tommy Hayes and everyone at the Estelle Unit at Huntsville, Texas.
For Robert Heffernan, Brickeys, Arkansas, that he’ll be able to walk on his own soon, and for favor with the Governor for clemency.
For Jimmy Huff and his ministry in Loraine, Texas.
For Leon Wright, Hominy, Oklahoma, for his health, and for a transfer to lower security.
For Steve Oakley, Prairie Grove, Arkansas, for his health.
For Randal Smith’s sister who is battling drug addiction. Randal is at Cushing, Oklahoma.
For Willie Harper at Menard, Illinois, and for his friends, Ella Watson & her family, Dorothy Stove, Charlene Morton & family, and for the Coleman family.
For Pastor Melissa Scott in Los Angeles, California, that her television ministry will continue to be expanded.
For Timothy Bufford’s friend in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Melodi Sorge, that she’ll be accepted into a drug court program.
For Duane Fox, McAlester, Oklahoma, that he will be saved.
For Robert Casto’s son, Wyatt, who is in Iraq.
For Leon Wright, Hominy, Oklahoma, for his health, and for a transfer to lower security.
For Robin Harris Cushing, Oklahoma, who goes before the parole board this month.
For Sister Ann and all the Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock.
For Karen Griffin, Clinton, Oklahoma, who has been paroled from prison, but is still battling cancer.
For all of us at Wingspread.
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