My friend, mentor, and a hero, Jeanne Bishop, told me, “You have to talk to Marie.” So of course I listened. And I am so glad that I did. What a blessing it was to meet Marie, hear hers and her husband Homar’s story, and leave our lunch together with an admiration and respect that I didn’t expect when I first sat down across the table from her.
Homar was a middle-man. An alcohol or liquor distributor, or perhaps a pharmaceutical sales rep, of sorts. One difference. Homar’s choice of drug distribution is deemed illegal. The others are not. Homar spent a few years in the early 2000s taking and making phone calls between street level dealers and the upper level suppliers of illegal drugs. He would drive from Waco to Austin and San Antonio to receive shipments, meeting in mall parking lots or on the side of I-35, then to return to Waco and hand off the packages to the retailers, I mean dealers. After authorities shut down some of the supply and retail chain, Homar got out of the business. But it was too late.
Homar grew up angry in a crime-infested neighborhood and a one-parent family, turning to drugs at an early age. Looking for happiness as he roamed the streets and sniffed paint, Homar met Marie at age 14. They were married by 15. A son soon followed. So Homar felt he had to quit school in 8th grade so he could work to support his family. His family grew, 3 children, and along with them his love for them blossomed, but so did his drug addiction and his lust and greed. And as addictions do, whether it be legal or illegal drugs, lust or greed, Homar hit rock bottom. And he prayed for help. That’s when the Federal Government showed up with handcuffs.
Homar went through Pretrial Services, attending drug addiction classes, finding himself sober and drug-free for the first time since he was 12 years old. He had been transformed, his family was finding healing, his life was headed in a new direction. Yet, Homar knew that he had broken the laws of the land and would be held responsible. Prison beckoned. 240 months worth of time in a place where he was told he would not make it on his own — either join a gang for protection or get organized to commit more crimes in prison. A harrowing place where in his first week there he saw a man stabbed 55 times. A desolate place where he was paid $18 a month to work 40 hours a week in the kitchen, yet he often didn’t even have a 25 cent soup in his locker. A tempting place where he could continue his old ways of anger, addiction, and greed — he was offered an opportunity to make some money, get a better life by selling drugs in prison.
Yet he refused to return to his old ways and life. He lived with what he had, learning to sacrifice and prefer earning an honest wage and a GED. Resisting temptation and overcoming obstacles, Homar was selected as one of 15 out of 2300 inmates to participate in a Men of Honor institute. After taking a series of intense classes, Homar was prepared to teach other inmates how to be men of honor in places where most people see the worst. He eventually earned enough good behavior points and was moved to a medium security prison. He eventually earned his way to a low security prison.
All the while, his family struggled. They lost their home and their car, moving into the living room of Marie’s parents’ home. Their oldest son began to experience many of the same struggles Homar had faced as a teen – anger, street life, addiction. Marie battled depression with alcohol. When Homar would call home, his younger children would ask him when he was coming home – they needed him, mom needed him, they hadn’t seen big brother in days. But Homar did not give up. His hope and strength was in Jesus Christ now. Restless as a father, but not without hope, he prayed, he worked hard, he didn’t give up. And when he got moved to the low security prison in Fort Worth, he began to see his family more often. The healing intensified. Not without their issues, their bond grew stronger and stronger.
Today, Homar still has over half of his sentence left to serve. Homar is a member of Life Church Waco and leader of Life Church Prison Ministry. Marie has a good job, a new house, and prays fervently for her beloved husband. Their oldest son is married, has a beautiful child, and ministers to the youth at Life Church and in the Waco community. Their middle son studies political science in college. Their daughter is an honor roll student and member of the Junior Police Academy. She wants to become an FBI agent. Homar now lives at a prison camp facility – a facility with no fences, where Homar is trusted to drive around in an ATV working HVAC and to walk down the street with his family when they visit. Homar already has 4 job offers waiting for him when he returns home (quite a remarkable feat considering the struggles to find employment that the millions of formerly incarcerated face in the world outside prison).
“Prison changed all of our lives,” Homar admits. “We learned a lot as a family thru our circumstances. I accept full responsibility for everything I ever did in my life of crime. I regret every minute of it…I have now learned to love myself and by loving myself I can love others as well.”
Marie says about their transformation, “Homar and I have learned so much through this prison journey..we’ve learned how to be content, totally content with just $1 in our bank account.. actually for him, $0 on his books for commissary.. We’ve learned to eat whatever we have in the pantry, well for him his locker.. yes God provides with just beans and sopa, for him maybe ramen noodle soup.. We’ve learned how to just simply enjoy the chirping of the birds, the beautiful colors of different seasons…”
Oh Lord, I pray that my eyes, our eyes, will be opened, that the scales will fall, that we might see with Homar’s and Marie’s eyes…
And as proclaimed by Jeanne Bishop, who represents Homar in his petition for commutation, “The problem with Homar’s over-sentencing for his case is not that it is injustice–it is the waste of a human life. He has done 10 years for a non-violent drug offense…We could keep him in prison for another 10 years–the amount remaining on his sentence–but why??? What lesson can he learn that he has not learned already? He is and has been completely remorseful for his crime; he admitted it and pled guilty. He was out of custody before his sentencing and complied with every condition before his plea. He has consistently, since his arrest for his crime, demonstrated that he is a man devoted to following the rules and improving himself. It is hard to think of a more worthy candidate for mercy.”
So hasn’t “justice” been served? Do you want to live in a world without mercy for men like Homar and their families? Justice is power correcting everything that stands against love. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. Let’s let Homar and Marie lead the way. And may we work and pray that it will be together in our community, not separated by an unjust and unmerciful system hellbent on punishment instead of true redemption. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Thank you God for Homar and Marie, and their beautiful, life-giving, courageous love.