The RICO Act, Latin Kings, drug task force, arrests . . . these words have been flying around our town for the past two weeks. Thirty members of the Latin Kings gang in Holland, MI have been arrested and are in jail. Several of them have ties to Christ Memorial Church; they have become Christians and renounced their gang affiliation years ago.
At our worship services last Sunday, Tom Pratt, former president of Prison Fellowship, who now lives in Holland, offered heartfelt and moving prayers for all of those now in jail and their family members.
All of this sent me back in time more than two decades when I was volunteer tutor in the Lapeer County Jail. I spent more than 1,000 hours behind the locked doors and even in locked cells teaching inmates to read and helping them study for their GED tests. All of these men and women have a place in my memory and in my heart, especially Jason, a young man arrested for brutally murdering his landlady (who was also his drug dealer) at the age of 18. I worked with Jason for several months as he was awaiting trial and then being tried. I was the only one who visited him; his parents had disowned him when he was 14 and he lived on the streets. His buddies disappeared when he was arrested.
Jason was bright, creative (a writer and artist), a deep thinker who was deeply sorrowful about taking a life while under the influence of a combination of several drugs. He had no memory of committing the crime and when he “woke up” from his drug-induced sleep, was horrified to see what he had done and ran. He was arrested in a field, freezing cold and in emotional agony.
Jason was sentenced to 35-40 years in prison. He was first sent to the Ionia (MI) prison. I began writing letters and visiting him every two weeks – a round trip of more than 100 miles. After about two years he was transferred back to the Lapeer Prison, and I went to see him at least once a week.
While in prison, Jason passed his GED test, began taking college classes, and helped tutor in the computer lab. I was thrilled with the progress he was making. He allowed me to talk about spiritual things, especially the forgiveness that was available to him, but never said much in response.
One day about 5 years into his sentence, he asked me not to visit or write to him anymore. He said that I reminded him too much of life “outside” and that because he had such a long sentence, he had to get used to thinking of the prison as his home. I was heartbroken; he had become a special friend, and I didn’t want to stop visiting. But he convinced me that in his mind this was best.
Decades have gone by, but I have not forgotten Jason. I have lost his “number” so I can- not contact him (prisoners are known by their numbers not by their names). But I also never forgot that his first opportunity for parole would come in 2013 and every New Year’s Day as the year changed, I would say to myself, “Only __ more years, Jason.”
When it became 2013 almost two months ago, I could hardly believe that more than two decades have passed and that this year, if everything went well, he would have a chance for parole. And last Sunday when we prayed for people in jail and were reminded that it is never too late for any prisoner (whether they are physically in jail or just a prisoner in their own mind), I thought of and prayed for Jason.
I don’t know where Jason is or who he has become, but God does. And God is the only one who needs to know. But I keep hoping that someday I will have the chance to talk again with Jason and hear the rest of his story.