Monday, April 16, 2012

On friends and friendship

I'm humbled.

I just received a message from prison yesterday: Doug is the only friend I've ever had.

I don't know if there is any truth to that statement.

I met Lee more than a decade ago. He was in prison for life on an assault with intent charge. If the truth were known, I think the charge was inaccurate and the sentence was far too severe, but Lee didn't have a very good reputation or a very good past. It was one of those situations, I think, where the system felt that he must have done something to deserve being in prison for the rest of his life.

But the punishment was much more than a prison sentence.

Some years after he was in prison, he was paired up with a mentally challenged inmate. He complained to authorities, because he was afraid, but his repeated pleas were ignored. And then one day his fears became reality...the prisoner bopped him over the head with a big lock. He suffered a closed head injury that was never treated properly. As a result, he now has epileptic seizures, and he must get around in a wheelchair. A high price to pay, indeed, for assault with intent. And it doesn't end there. His life in prison has been a litany of serious mistreatment...being assigned to upper bunks, even tho he suffers seizures, falling from those bunks, kicked and abused during seizures, failure to receive anti-seizure medication as required. The list goes on and on. It hasn't been a fun time for Lee, and the punishment now far exceeds whatever crime the state believes he committed.

Through it all, HFP has tried to help.

We've fought with the system to get treatment and to fight abuse. One time, when the state couldn't repair his wheelchair anymore and refused to give him a new one, we even sent a donated wheelchair to the prison and contrary to state policy, managed to get it to him for his personal use.

We didn't win every time, but we tried. And that was the key. Until Joanne came into his life, he didn't have anyone to go to battle for him.

She's carrying the ball most of the time now.

But we're still there, and over the years Lee and I have remained friends. It's the way friendship is supposed to be. Forever.

I tell the story not to impress anyone with my faithfulness.

First, it's important that you know that HFP needs your help to survive. We're struggling, and we're needed at Lee's side, as well as at the side of many other prisoners.

And second, it's important for you to know that prisoners are people, and they need more than me. It's OK for you to write to a prisoner, to befriend an inmate, and to pray for them all. It's not only OK. It's important.

These are the ones Jesus was talking about.

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