Three days ago, I was a gay atheist. Today, I’m a straight Christian with a girlfriend. What changed?
It began yesterday when I met Roger, the half-Mexican, half-Philippino, gay, Christian Jew who lives in my unit. I was filling out paper work for a dental exam at Health Services when he approached me at random and said he’d seen me hanging around the wrong crowd.
I figured he was referring to my accidental run-in yesterday with Duke. Exasperated, I asked, “If I can’t sit with the Mexicans without offending the whites, and I can’t sit with the whites without being solicited for sex, where the hell am I supposed to sit?”
“With the Christians,” he grinned.
Prison is like a rough Los Angeles high school. There are numerous “cars,” and your affiliation with a specific click determines your social status, influence, respectability, accountability–everything. But if you’re like me and have no interest in machoism and your number one priority is personal safety, then the Christians are your meal ticket. They don’t have much power–for example, Christians have no say-so over what television channels they watch in the units–but they are a large, diverse crowd and perhaps the most loyal of all the cars.
Becoming affiliated with a car isn’t as easy as sighing up for a newsletter. You must live by your affiliation, and that includes sitting at the Christian table in the Dining Hall, saying grace before each meal, bunking with a fellow Christian, associating with Christians, and attending bilingual service every Sunday which I did for the first time this morning.
Sitting there in the makeshift pews listening to Spanish translations of biblical passages was strangely assuring. It was the first time since arriving here that I didn’t fear I’d be shanked in the back at any moment. It was nice.
The service was led by Miguel, an older inmate with a wise, fatherly face and salt and pepper hair. He opened with a prayer in Spanish and went on to discuss how God provides his children with everything they need. Passages were read, translated, and discussed, and at the end of the hour, Miguel invited a Mexican man sitting in the middle row to come and testify to the grace of God.
The man, choked with tears, removed a handkerchief from his back pocket and recounted his story in Spanish while Miguel translated.
Six weeks ago while undergoing a routine checkup at Health Services, the doctors noticed an abnormality and decided to run blood test. By the time he received the results a week later, the cancer had spread throughout his body, and the man was given one month to live.
That night, after contacting his family with the help of the prison chaplain, he received a vision telling him to seek Miguel’s help, which he did. The man visited Miguel’s unit and shared with him his recent diagnosis.
The two men prayed and asked God to spare the man and his family from suffering. A week later, after an MRI and more tests, doctors were astonished to discover that the cancer had miraculously vanished.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house–myself included.
Afterwards, when the hour had expired, everyone shook hands, blessed one another, and filed out of the building and into the prison yard. After such intense peace, I felt like a soldier leaving the safety of a bunker and walking into the middle of a battlefield with a war still waging on.
Roger said he’d make a real Christian out of me before long. I told him he’s got 10 years to prove it.