Wow. Last day. Hard to believe. What a journey. And it ended with such a bang. Are you serious, the New York Times?! So blessed to carry the message of love and hope and life and redemption and beauty among the poor and marginalized as far as anyone will take it.
But I never would have imagined when I began this journey 40+ days ago that I would end it with a photo shoot. Putting on the orange uniform, I never thought some of the last experiences would make me feel like a model. Hold that pose. Oh, that’s a good light. Could you walk through that again? HAHA. Seriously, though, my time with the New York Times writer, Jesse Wegman, and freelance photographer, Dylan Hollingsworth, was another experience of this journey that I will cherish for a long while. Two more kindred spirits helped spread this message of love and justice. And both from very different backgrounds and experiences. Yet we found ourselves at the same places, with the same desires for a better world, striving for new life for every single one of us. Thank you Jesse and Dylan for sharing this journey with me.
But I have to admit, as honored as I was to have the New York Times cover this story, there were three other experiences just yesterday that made everything over the last 40+ days more than worth it.
In the local grocery store, photographer following me, I hear a “You just get out of prison?!” as I am reaching for the coffee creamer. I turn to see Roddy standing there laughing. So I begin to explain to him. He cuts me off. “I know what that is. I have been there.” So I tell him why I am actually wearing it. I get to shake his hand. He tells me some of his story. He is now working with the formerly incarcerated. We share our thanks to each other for doing what we are doing. I feel most honored to wear the orange for my new friend, Roddy.
Later that day while playing in the backyard, I got a phone call from Homar. What a blessing to speak to him in person! This man is on fire for his faith. He thanked me for what I am doing. He shared that so many of the guys in prison with him and their families, from all over the place, have heard my story, and they are so grateful for my message. I told him that it is the least I can do. That it has been a blessing for me personally. And most of all, that he is an inspiration to me. Homar and Marie, overcoming bad choices, deciding not to let the consequences continue to steal and kill and destroy. Receiving God’s grace, bathing in God’s love, has been their strength, the power to keep their family together, to wait, to hope. The joy of the Lord is my strength has never been so real to me than after this most blessed phone call. I tell him I love him, and to please tell the other guys in there that I love them and that there are a lot of people out here who love them too.
Finally, my parents are in town for the weekend so we went to a local restaurant for some takeout. As we waited for our food, a couple of the staff mentioned that they had been reading about me. I gave them my usual smile and thanks, and kept sipping my water. And then Juan came up to our table where we waited. He said he heard what I was doing and wanted to shake my hand. He knew what I was wearing. He had been there. He thanked me. I asked how long he had been out. Two years. And he had been blessed with a job at this restaurant since he got out. Things were going pretty well for him, praise God. But I could still see a remnant of that shame that we unnecessarily and without mercy place on people like Juan. We shook hands again, he thanked me, I told him it was a blessing for me, and he concluded, “We’re not all bad people.”
Amen, Juan. Amen. And that’s 40 Days in Orange.