img_8514To the people of Calvary Church and Shelby,

My name is Michael and I’m currently housed in the Centre County Correctional Facility. I’ve been incarcerated since March of 2015. I was 18 years old then, now I’m 20 and approaching my release date. I’m currently sentenced to 23 months and 29 days. As I’ve spent time here I started my journey of recovery. My drugs of choice are heroin and bath salts.

Recently I have been introduced to the Bible, the book of God. I’ve been familiar with the 12 steps of NA and I was able to get a recovery Bible. I’m a new believer and I read my Bible and pray every day. My faith is a little rocky but as I continue my journey God seems to send signs of strength to me. I’ve spent 2 Christmas holidays in jail, the first was a hassle and I was not sure how to respond to an act of kindness from people I don’t know. Calvary Church sent Christmas bags and it was the first time I felt like I mattered. I’ve felt that I didn’t matter, that a convicted felon was forgotten even though I’m a person with a family and hopes and dreams.

I’m older now and I’ve grown and matured mentally, emotionally and physically. I’ve taught myself to appreciate the small things and remain grateful for all things. I would like to say I am grateful for Calvary Church. I’m grateful for the gifts they sent all of the inmates. I’m grateful for all the time, money, and effort that was put into making the Christmas bags possible. It means a lot to me that total strangers put together gifts for people who are often shunned and looked down upon by society. It hurts to say that but it’s the truth. I committed my crime as a minor and was charged as an adult. I made a mistake because I needed to support a habit. As a 17 year old kid I wasn’t able to worry about the consequences of my actions. I’m really grateful that God has put me through these tough times so I could grow. If it weren’t for God I would not be writing this letter of thanks and gratefulness. Thank you Calvary Church for all that you do for us inmates. I’ve already met one member (Shelby) and I’d like to meet more. 

Sincerely, Michael

*His name has been changed and spelling corrected, but otherwise this is just a copy of what I received. Since it was addressed to the whole church I thought this was the best way to get it out to the most people. Thanks to everyone who was a part of this…there are way too many people who gave that I cannot reach you all and am so very grateful.


Do you ever have those days where the line from the song in the kids version of Robin Hood seems to be about the only fitting words to share, “oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally golly, what a day”. I had a lot of them this past year.

For 2016 I chose the word ‘true’ to be my word for the year. Part of me wants to say, “that was a mistake,” because of what path the year took and all the lessons I learned from it that I would’ve loved to never experience, but amidst the pain and chaos I learned oh so much. I will share some, because ‘true’ is a newer thing for me, and I’ve had a year, but I’m still working…

  1. I wanted to be honest with how I’m doing. I’m a person who can easily hide my own emotions to care for yours. But some days are hard. And real friends should have the right to know that when they ask. Living in a house with 19 others helps force conversations. Especially when you live with 19 of the most intentional people in town. This year I got to work on telling the truth when I came home from work whether it was a good day or a hard day. I learned, that when you do tell them, people very often care. So interesting.
  2. I wanted to stay true to myself, my faith, and my God. In the world of “you do you” it’s easy to start believing that whatever you want to be true, can be true for you if you just believe it enough. But I know that isn’t really true. That’s convenient. That’s nice. That’s comfortable…but it doesn’t work in the long run. There are some things in the world that just aren’t true. There are some things in the world that are just unavoidably true no matter how false I want them to be. This year I’ve gotten to remember some of those. Pay attention and notice them. And process what I want to do about them. So interesting.
  3. In May 2016 something happened that brought up a whole lot of garbage from my past. It brought up: Insecurity. Fear. Anger. Confusion. Hurt. Trauma. Sadness. Isolation.  And the biggest one was a general distrust and dislike of people. It brought all the lies that I’ve fought against for so long right back to the surface. The lies that people aren’t worth it. The lies that I am too messed up to fix. The lies that everyone is out to get you. The lies that people don’t really care. May was a really hard month. So was June. Followed by July, August and September. Might as well add October too… But in November something happened. I got to say these 5 words that actually made me cry, “I feel like me again”. For over 6 months I didn’t feel like me. I didn’t want to be around my friends. I didn’t want to leave my room. I didn’t want to face the world. I faked the smiles. I forced the conversations. I cried a lot. I dealt with anxiety for the first time. I believed a lot of lies. But in that whole time, I had incredible support. A family in multiple timezones who were always there when I needed to talk. Friends who invited me to join them or just came to me even when I wasn’t fun. A mentor who prayed over me. An online therapist who listened to me. Coworkers who picked up my slack in both my jobs. God used so many people to demonstrate His love for me and to counter the very lie that was trying to push it’s way into my heart that I shouldn’t trust people. God made people, and He made them very good. So interesting.
  4. Focusing on ‘true’ in 2016 taught me (reminded me) that fear doesn’t get to call the shots in my life. Sometimes it answers the quickest though, but throughout the year I tried to identify when fear got the first word, and go back and acknowledge that I was wrong in letting fear answer first and then tell the truth…maybe I still didn’t know what that was, but that fear didn’t get to make the decisions in my life. So interesting.

2016, you were a tough year. But God taught me so much through you. I wish “word of the years” could go away after the year ends, but I know just like ‘delight‘, ‘pursue‘, ‘intentional‘, ‘greater‘, and ‘overcome‘ you, ‘true‘ will be here to stay in my life for me to continue working on. Stay tuned for 2017’s word of the year to get a post soon. It’ll be another year full of learning…that’s for sure.

On Wednesday I cried.
I cried a lot.
My heart felt broken.
I knew there was hope.
I know there still is.
But I had to grieve.
I had to mourn.
Just like one of my favorite movies (Inside Out) shows sometimes we need to feel sad.
I didn’t cry because I was so sad Hillary Clinton didn’t win.
But I did cry because Donald Trump won.
There is so much misunderstanding right now.
I’m still very confused.
I’d love for you to read why I cry.
I hope no one feels attacked by my words.
They are in no particular order.
No matter if you cried or not, I’d love to hear your heart.

I cry because the KKK wants to hold a celebratory parade because of Donald Trump’s victory. He may have denounced them once, but I cry because I don’t see him denounce them daily. I don’t see it publicly. I don’t hear it loudly. He now has a whole lot of power and a whole lot of people watching and I cry because I don’t see him using it to bring equality to the races. I cry because every one of my nieces and nephews will have darker skin than me, and though none have been born yet, they will all be just as valuable as I am.

I cry because I live with and love people who have immigrated to this country both legally and illegally. I know them. I love them. I know why their parents brought them here. I want them to be safe. I want others to be safe too. I do not want them “sent back home” because this is the only home they remember. When you come before kindergarten it isn’t really your choice.

I cry because of shame. I’m afraid I won’t be personally effected. Don’t get confused. I don’t want pain, or to be degraded, or to feel unsafe. I only wish we really were equal. I wish my roommate felt safe walking home in our neighborhood at night, but instead she’s staying with friends in another part of town this week because she has dark skin and feels the people around here are unpredictable right now.

I cry because I am so grateful for my faith and the freedom to worship in my country and I am nervous what could happen. Many Muslims are scared. I am scared for them. And I’m scared for me. I will fight for their freedom to worship. If I will not fight for theirs who will fight for mine? Sure, I’d love it if everyone believed the same things as me, but I most definitely do not want to force people to share my beliefs. Don’t you see…if it’s not a choice it’s not a true belief.

I cry because we have become so divided. Us vs them, left vs right, pro-life vs pro-choice, dems vs reps, him vs her. I don’t always fit into a party or a group. I grew up as a third culture kid. I know what it is to not fit in. I know what it is to have views that people don’t understand because they’ve never heard of them let alone experienced them. I’m willing to be patient while people ask borderline offensive questions if they truly are trying to understand. In my life it’s been “do you speak African?” “Are there tigers in your backyard?” “If you’re from Africa how come your white?”…the list goes on… now there are different questions. Questions that cross party lines. I’m afraid people will be too scared to ask them. I’m afraid people will go on living in the seclusion of their bubble and not try to ask, hear, listen, and learn from the “other side”. Two sides are not enough. So many of us are like third culture kids – caught or bouncing or stuck somewhere in the middle.

I cry because my 2 brothers at black and brown. I’ve had nightmares of one getting shot. I’ve witnessed both of them experience racism. Just one example each is one being referred to in a derogatory way as Mexican (though he is not) the other being questioned for being in a church (when he was 6) because “they do come in sometimes” the lady who was questioning him told my mom. I clearly know that racism has been around long before our president elect, but I am afraid of people thinking now that what was done in secret is ok to do in public. I’m afraid of people feeling confident using the N word, touching women inappropriately, telling a transgender person that he or she is not valuable or worthy, or making fun of someone with a disability. I’m afraid things like the Black Lives Matter movement will be targeted and discredited even more now than they were before.

I cry for my housemates who went to bed Tuesday night wondering what they would do without health insurance. Wondering if there is an insurance group that will cover them if Obamacare gets repealed. Schizophrenia and Crohn’s are not something insurance companies often want to cover.

I cry because I have always been the optimist. I’ve always had hope. I have to believe people can get better. I believe my friends in jail can, I believe my friends without houses can, I believe my friends stuck in addiction can, I believe my friends who have, but don’t understand privilege can… but I didn’t want to believe our president elect could. I just wanted to be angry. I cried because my heart was hard.

I cry because people are misrepresented. As I talked to a white, middle class, evangelical christian man at church today my eyes brimmed with tears again as we discussed what could be next. He, as I, has felt targeted by the media for being the cause, when he didn’t want it either. As we discussed our fear for his gay son and my black brother we were saddened by the fact that media says we chose this simply because some people who share our faith voted for this.

I cried really hard when I read articles making fun of those crying after the election. The tears are real, they are not a show. Please be gracious. Recognize there is a time to mourn. There is a time for fear. We will pick up the broom and keep sweeping the mess after we have mourned, but please, oh please, don’t make fun of the tears. The protests are one of the freedoms of this nation. Give them space. Please don’t think I approve of of violence and vandalism. But a peaceful protest may be someones best way to mourn, to say they are hurting, to share their fears…

I cry as I ask, are we more divided? Or has our division simply been brought to light? My hope and prayer is that we choose to acknowledge the pain. Acknowledge the fear. That Christians would live out what Jesus commands to love like He loves…to the outcast, the hurting, the broken, the most degraded and say that because of Him they are worthy. I hope we will be willing to lay down our comfort for those who need comfort. I hope we will admit our wrongs and apologize for them. I hope that we will be willing to stop trying to hide our nation’s problems and start finding ways to work together to deal with them.

I can’t say that my tears are done.
But I do promise to fight for today.
And tomorrow I will fight for tomorrow.
I will fight for equality.
I will fight for safety.
I will fight for love.
Because love trumps hate.
Because peace is better than war.
Because my God is a God who saves.
I will hold onto hope.
Will you?


Dear World,

Thank you for being so nice, sweet and good to me. But please, don’t do any more nice things this month. See, I have a list of 103 thank you cards I need to write, so I simply can’t keep up with anyone else being nice, volunteering, donating money, and just generally doing things to make me so thankful.

thankfulActually, you can still be nice and kind, just be so nice that if your thank you note comes very late…or even not at all…you’ll still be gracious to me. =)

In fact, I’m hoping to provide Christmas presents to up to 400 people who wouldn’t be getting them this year because they are incarcerated. If you’d like to join, please do! You can mail me a check made out to “Calvary Church” with “Prison Ministry” in the memo line to me at 201 Harvest Fields Dr, Boalsburg PA 16827 or give online here and put “Prison Ministry” in the line for who you are supporting. Every bit of your tax deductible gift will go towards buying presents for those incarcerated in the Centre County Correctional Facility. Just $40 would cover the cost of Christmas for one inmate.

So I guess I changed my mind. Don’t stop being nice. Just maybe share your niceness to someone else so they can write you a thank you card. =)

I’m so thankful.
Thankful to have so many reasons to give thanks.
Thankful for Jesus’ redeeming love.
Thankful to know that there are so many people on my team.
Thankful to watch people serve the homeless,
provide for the incarcerated,
and host community movie nights.
Thankful for you.


Kids these days are different.
Systems these days are broken.
Some always have been.
But they don’t always have to be.

When I was born I nursed at my mother’s breast.
One of my friends just had a baby, but they are not together because she is in jail.

When I was one I saw both parents in my home every day.
My friend has a one year old who she sees for an hour every other week when her daughter is brought to the jail for a visit.

When I was two I tried to run away (but couldn’t open the door), because my parents wanted me to be safe and wouldn’t let me play on the stairs.
One of my friend’s kids are out of county with her in-laws and she cannot reach them now because she’s in jail, and if nothing changes she cannot be with them when she gets out because she’s not supposed to leave the county on probation.

When I was three I moved to a new house with my family.
One of my friends signed her three year up for an Angel Tree Christmas present to be delivered, because she will be in jail for many more years and her daughter has been adopted into a new home and family.

When I was four life was great, I had dolls and toys and dates with my mom while my sister was at school.
One of my friends was not allowed to talk to her kids for several months until CPS changed their minds and now she can call home from jail and at least talk to them on the phone while she waits for her trial and for the courts to decide if she is guilty or innocent.

When I was five I went to kindergarten and loved my teacher.
One of my friends has a son in kindergarten who hides under the table, swears at his teacher and asks for his mom.

When I was six I had my first real birthday party and all my friends came over.
One of my friends has a six year old in the hospital because he tried to take his own life.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. I am by no means saying that these six women are innocent. Nor do I think they would all make the best mothers (some sure would). But I do think this…our system is broken. We are not helping these kids by throwing their moms in jail and forgetting about them. Maybe, just maybe, there is another way, that we haven’t tried yet.

Like I said before.
Kids these days are different.
Systems these days are broken.
Some always have been.
But they don’t always have to be.
Will you take one step towards changing them?
Will you make a difference?


cant-waitHave you ever gotten a note from a friend and it said, “I can’t wait to see you!”? I have. Usually I like them. (I love mail) And sometimes they come in other forms, I got a voicemail the other night that was stating how it had been too long and we needed to get together. While the distance is kind of sad, knowing they are excited to see me makes it overall feel happy.

But today I got a note that said the same, “I can’t wait to see you!” and it made my heart so sad…

Today I got notes from multiple friends who I used to see every week. We went through a lot of emotions together. We cried. We laughed. We planned. We prayed. And I haven’t seen for quite some time. But I saw them again today. You guessed it. Today was a jail day. Sadly they are back on the inside. I loved seeing them. But I wished it was different. I wished I could hug them. I wished we could be creating halloween costumes for their kids. I wished we could go get coffee, go on a hike, see a movie, really anything other than sit in my office and face the question…”can you believe I’m here?”. Ugh. Sigh. Some days it’s hard to see friends. But it’s still worth it.


There’s a lot of things that make me sad.
Some get more time and attention.
Some happen so often it’s hard to keep them all straight.
Some happen once in a lifetime.

Death makes me sad.
Unnecessary death makes me sadder.
Targeted unnecessary death makes me even sadder still.

Names are powerful.
I won’t pretend to know all the names of people shot this year.
Or even all the people shot this week.
To be honest, I probably can’t even list all the names of unarmed people shot by cops this year.
But there are two names that stand out to me tonight.

One is mine.
I share a name with an officer who is being charged with manslaughter.
I share a name with the person who shot Terence Crutcher.
That makes me sad.
It reminds me I am not far removed from this pain.
I cannot pretend this problem is not mine.
I cannot pretend it is out of reach.

Another name is my baby brothers.
He has a beautiful name. And with it are beautiful dreams for his future.
But sometimes my dreams turn into nightmares and his name becomes a hashtag.
Sometimes I’m afraid he won’t get the future he is supposed to.

Sometimes I get angry that I don’t have to be afraid for myself.
What makes my brother and I different?
We have the same upbringing. The same parents. Even similar dreams.
The only difference is our skin color.
I was born white. He was born black.
But we were both born human.

I don’t know how to fix this.
But I do know that silence is not an option.
I don’t know my part is in the healing that must come.
But I will do whatever I can to not contribute to the breaking.

Will you join me?
Will you be the change?
Will you acknowledge your privilege?
Will you celebrate diversity?
Will you value our differences?
Will you ask questions?
Will you try not to be offended?
Will you open your heart?

Three men. Three races. Similar wisdom. Fighting for peace. Silence is not peace.


“So I have one friend?” she asked me nervously.
“Yes,” I answered confidently, “I am your friend.”

This conversation happened in the jail (like most of the ones that make the blog). We were talking about how scary the idea of getting out of jail was. How hard it would be to start over since her husband was divorcing her and she couldn’t go back home after this. Since her addiction had kept her from building any positive relationships in the past. Since she didn’t have custody of her children. Since she wasn’t sure what her relationship with her parents was anymore.

She asked how to make friends. She could do it in a bar, she said, but followed that thought up with the fact that she couldn’t go to a bar because she knew if she took one drink of alcohol all her hard work of staying sober would come crashing down. She knew she still doesn’t have the power to stop after one drink or to say no if offered a drink. She knows if she wants to stay healthy she cannot be around it at all.

“I’m your friend.” I said, and then continued with my list of friend making ideas, “You can go to the park, the library, the same coffee shop every week,” I told her. She said she loved the library but didn’t know how to start talking to people. “You can come with me to church and I can introduce you to people there.” It was here she stopped me to ask about my first statement. “So I have one friend?” It was so meekly asked that I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to say, of course you do and I know so many more who would love to be your friend. I know the people who don’t care what your past holds and how many more times you mess up. I know the people who will love you with Jesus’ love. But I knew that would be too overwhelming, so instead I gave her a simple yes. “Yes, I am your friend.” And I hope and pray that one day she has so many more.


There are days that feel like they were made for collapsing  into someone’s arms and weeping on their shoulder. Yesterday was one of them. Another  14+ hour day of work totalling the work week somewhere around 85 hours meant that my emotions were about at their end before the day even started, but I continued to put them to the test.

In the jail, I met with three different women for an hour each. (I met with seven other women in between those three, just not for quite such long periods of time.) The three women spent much of their hour with me in tears. One walked in and said hello, handed me some books she was returning and sat down. I glanced down to mark which books she’d brought and by the time I glanced back up she was weeping.IMG_5983

“They say addiction takes everything…”
“My life is over.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Everything is gone.”
“My life is over.”
“What can I do?”
“I left everything I knew and now it’s all gone.”
“My life is over.”

Now repeat that for an hour. Adding in a few personal details here and there. And pausing long enough for her eyes to stare into mine through the tears and beg for an answer that will fix it, but not long enough to wait for any answer I could give.

Some days I just hate my job.

I don’t hate that I do it. I hate that it’s needed. I hate that so much pain exists. I hate that there’s no one else who can listen to her. I hate that I’m not actually trained. I hate that people tell me I’m so strong when they find out what I do…because I’m not.

Sure, I kept it together while I listened, but I went home and sobbed.

While it is hard, I love that I get to meet these women. I love that I get paid to be kind. And to share the only hope that keeps me walking into the depths of these stories over and over again. Jesus. I could not face the darkness each day if it wasn’t for His love. God has proven over and over in my life that while He doesn’t promise to make all days good, He promises to be with us in spite of the bad. And He is a redeemer…nothing and no one is too broken for God to redeem. In spite of the hard days, I am so glad I get a front row seat into stories of God’s grace regularly.


Today was beautiful.

There are so many reasons why. I’ll probably blog about lots of them individually, but I’ll give you the quick list now:

  • IMG_5883It started strong when soon after I woke up my phone reminded me to have a good attitude since I knew I’d need a reminder after getting very little sleep.
  • I got to talk to my Mama in Tanzania for a minute.
  • My phone didn’t break even though I dropped it down a flight of stairs and it bounced on every step.
  • We got to feed 50+ artists breakfast and they were so very happy about it.
  • I heard stories from people who live all over the nation.
  • We got to hand out hundreds of free water bottles to strangers on a hot day.
  • Several friends came to visit me and hang out.
  • My kitchen and bathroom are both clean.

I could go on…there are so many reasons today was beautiful! But the one that stood out above the rest was getting a small white flower from a sweet little girl. After we gave her a bottle of water, I complimented this (maybe 4 year old) little girl on a flower she was holding. She paused, looked at the flower, and then slowly raised it up to give it to me. From someone else, this might seem worthless, a frail flower they grabbed from the side of the road somewhere, but from this little girl, it was clear she gave me a treasure. And by doing so, she reminded me to be intentional about being aware of my perspective. Life is full of moments. I don’t always see the treasure in each one, but I want to. I hope your day was beautiful too.