Saturday, March 5, 2011

The POWER of Prayer!

As I mentioned in a prior post, the Hobby Unit, located in Marlin, Texas was an eye opening and scary experience for me during my short five week stay.  Hobby holds the unique distinction of being the worst women's prison in the United States.  On the drive over in the van, I could not figure out how I had come to be assigned to Hobby, a maximum security Unit.  It held the lifers and many of the most on-going violent criminals in the system.  I had never received a case for any violation since incarcerated, had a reputation among the officers for working hard and being respectful.  In fact most prisoners and officers who came to know me could not figure out why I was there...they always said I did not belong.  Most women I met had been drug users at one time or another and many of them said within minutes of meeting me "You've never done drugs, have you?"  The answer for me is "No, Never". 

In orientation the second day at Hobby, conducted by the Head of Security, we were informed the Unit was as bad as all the stories we had ever heard and perhaps worse.  When first arriving at Hobby we are housed in either Building 1 or Building 2, both are considered transitional buildings.  Building 1 is primarily for those in solitary confinement but takes overflow from those coming into the Unit.  Building 2 is for those coming in and those with behavior cases.  I was placed in Building 2.  There exist a lot of violence in those two buildings.  For example, the first week I was there, one woman, sitting on a bench watching TV, was approached from behind, and with razors her face was sliced up.  The Slicer put individual razors between her fingers and just started slashing.  There was no particular argument between the two, she was just present when the Slicer decided to do something to get attention.  The person doing the slicing was mad because her girlfriend was put in solitary confinement and she wanted to be in Building 1 with her.

I worked as an all night janitor, thankfully.  Those on the "hoe squad" went out in rain and worked in the fields with mud up to their knees some days.  The men officers overseeing them, on horses, call out obscenities to them all day and didn't allow them to use the bathroom, therefore they were having to relieve themselves in their clothes and if it was their period, they were left to bleed all over themselves.  My cell mate came home one day after one of these traumatic experiences, crying her eyes out.  Many of us gathered around her and helped the best we could with her mud and blood soaked clothes and shoes. 

We  lived in two-people cells and unlike other Units where the doors were left unlocked, ours' were locked and would only open for a few seconds at scheduled times.  We had to decide whether we wanted to be in the violence ridden day room or locked inside our cells.  Inside my cell was my choice so long as I had a cell mate that I felt safe with, which is what I had for the first two weeks.  At the end of two weeks I was transferred to Building 4, which in theory was considered a much better place to be.  

As I walked toward the cell door lugging my mattress, sheets, blanket and personal items I looked up at the woman standing outside the door.  When our eyes met she rolled her eyes, muttered some obscenities and went inside the cell.  I followed her in and knew I was in trouble.  This women did not like me.  She was 33 years old, had been in the TDCJ system for over 13 years.  She had a 40 year sentence for murdering a man while she was burglarizing his home at the age of 19.  She would be up for consideration of parole at 20 years, but did not expect to make parole.  She was completely institutionalized and angry.  She had a reputation for beating up her cell mates and others, and was in this building because she had not done it in a while.

She quickly informed me everything in the cell was hers.  All electric outlets, all hooks, shelves and tabletop.  She would allow me the bottom bunk and one storage unit below the bunk.  She went crazy when she found any of my hair on the floor (I am talking one strand of hair).  She hated my hair, my smell (I was clean!), my shoes, really everything about me.  She threatened to kill me quite often which I didn't take lightly.  I found myself living in absolute fear.  She made it clear that I better never say anything to an officer about her because she or one of her friends (she said she had them everywhere) would get me.  I wrote home A LOT but of course nobody from the outside could really help me either. 

I FINALLY GOT IT!  I started praying constantly....this must be what God was talking about...we had to get to the very end, where we had no place to turn, but to Him, to really see Him and what He could do for us.  I prayed for safety, I prayed thanking Him for my life and telling Him I wanted to live to go home to my family, I asked Him to move me to another place, I prayed that He might help my cell mate in some way that would make life easier and kinder for her.  And I sat on my bunk bed with my Bible opened and my eyes trained on His Word every moment we were locked in that cell together.  I felt a calm come over me.  She did notice my Bible and my reading of it and tended to back off more and more.  One day she even brought some Christian pamphlets to me, saying she thought I would like them...I thanked her and avidly read them. 

Her aggression became more focused outside the cell, in the day room, where she had screaming fights and physical fights, but was never reprimanded by the officers.  One day she asked me about my life before prison, what I did for a living.  She thought on that a couple days, then asked if I would write a letter for her regarding a property settlement issue (related to an oil & gas deal) she had with her mother's estate.  I did it, she liked it and signed it and sent it off right away.  Then she asked me to explain my case and the habeas process to her and I did.  She asked me if that might apply to her.  I didn't really know but was willing to help her write a couple letters requesting the advice she needed and possible representation.  We did those letters together.  That very night an officer came to our cell door following the 10:00 count and told me to pack up I was being transferred.

I was so excited, my prayers were answered!  I was being shipped to the Lockhart Unit, an air conditioned facility, minimum security, visits in person (rather than through a window, on a phone).  As I was leaving I wished my cell mate the best and she wished me the same.  I have often thought about her and prayed for her, although I will probably never see her again. 

God is so faithful.  He patiently waits for us.   He answers our prayers.  All glory is due Him.  I am just so grateful for His presence in my life.


  1. I am humbled.
    God's grace + your faithfulness = beauty

    "To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified." ~Isaiah 61:3

  2. I remember your letters about her.... Wow.
    God IS good.

    And you are good to write about Him in such a profound way.