Real Talk

By Mike Powers

There's an expression we use in here, prison slang, that means,"What you just said is the absolute truth." The phrase is "real talk". Perhaps you'll remember the other expression I've told you about before, "Believe nothing you here, and only half of what you see." If you put these two prison sayings together, you can see that a lot of us in here are pretty skeptical about anything other people tell us. For a lot of guys who've been locked up awhile, this even applies to the things our loved ones tell us over the phone or in letters. After all, just about every day, you hear about some poor soul who was on the phone with his wife a couple of days ago making warm fuzzies, and he just got his "dear John" letter in the mail tonight. Sad, but true.

This being the case, there are times in here when I've been involved in a class or a small group at church, and all of a sudden, the walls these men have built around themselves for all kinds of reasons will momentarily come down, and the man will open up about the hurts, habits, and hangups that led him into prison. "Real talk, my man. Real talk."

One of our prison volunteers on this unit, Mr. Dan Johnson, comes three times a week to teach different programs in chapel. He leads a Bible study which is in the book of I Peter right now. He sponsors "Men's Fraternity", a video lecture series by Robert Lewis that promotes "authentic manhood". Finally, he's a mentor in our Toastmasters club.

Today marked our graduation from a 16-week course in one of the Men's Fraternity modules, and he brought some donuts along with, "Mmmmmm," free-world coffee. Wheeeee! We enjoyed these treats as he led a discussion about some things we had put on our action plan worksheet, a list of things we learned in the class that we intended to put into action now and in the future to become better men and grow closer to Christ. The discussion turned out to be a great opportunity for a round-table dialogue, and it led to some of the best "real talk" I've heard since coming to prison.

One of these men told us about growing up in a home where his father would beat him and his brothers and mother to the point of unconsciousness as often as once a week. Ashe shared about growing up in this horrific home, it was all too easy to see where the roots of his criminal behavior took hold. He spoke of hating his father to the point of having daydreams about murdering him or watching him die in a car accident or natural disaster. The little boy, covered with bruises from the latest beating, would beg God to kill his father, and then bow under the crushing weight of guilt that these desires wrought. Is it any wonder he ran away from home before he was old enough for high school? Does it surprise anyone reading this that the boy turned to a life of drugs and gang membership? Is it too much to believe that before he was 21, he'd started his first stint in prison? The answer to all of these questions is an obvious, "No.

The story doesn't end there, however. After he got out of prison the first time, this man had determined to kill his father, partly because of the abuse and partly because this monster of a parent testified against his own son at the trial that put him in prison - not reluctantly, but with relish. Instead of murder, though, the man moved far away from his family. Still unable to bring his drug habit under control, he went back to prison in another state, Texas. While incarcerated here, the man was able to discover salvation through Christ from prison volunteers. He worked, over time, to forgive his father for his cruelty and failures. He's tried to communicate this to his family but has met with stony silence. You see, just because this man's heart has changed doesn't mean his family's heart has changed. But Christ is the great heart-changer, and we all prayed that his family would meet the same Savior he had.

Pedro is going to be getting out sometime this month, and when he does, he'll be returning to the community where his parents live. I believe that his chances for success in this situation are only made possible by his relation to God, and if you believe, I ask you to keep him in prayer for the next couple of months as he faces this giant in his life.

Other men in the group today talked of the failures their behavior and addictions had caused with their wives, their children, and their parents. They talked about second and third and tenth chances given to them by loving mothers and desperate wives. They spoke of burned bridges and hopelessly spoken prayers for God to mend broken homes and relationships. Each and every story by itself is enough to break your heart, but taken in sum, and multiplied by all the prisoners in all the prisons in the world, you'll get a very ugly picture of our fallen world indeed.

So, what now? Well, like Momma used to say, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." The only way to change humanity is by changing the human-heart by heart, soul by soul. Do you happen to know someone who is incarcerated? Do you write to them? Do you visit them? Are they able to call you and listen to the voice of someone - anyone- who cares if they live or die today? If so, then you, my dear friend, are eating the elephant! Thank you, and a million times, thank you. I give you my gratitude on behalf of every heart changed, on behalf of every family restored, on behalf of every potential future victim that will NOT be robbed, assaulted or murdered. Thanks for being a little Jesus to the prisoner. Real talk, my man. Real talk.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez