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From Surviving to Living
(19) Meeting Mr. Bot: A Journey of Unexpected Connections and Spiritual Growth
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Ever found yourself seeking one thing, yet finding another? Have you experienced unexpected connections in your life?

It’s the spring of 2016, and I find myself at a crossroads, encountering someone who would profoundly impact my life. But along with this encounter comes a series of trials that put my faith to the ultimate test.

Join me on a journey learning how to emerge victorious from life’s challenges. We’re diving deep into the transformative power of Truth, showing you how to experience it firsthand, right now!

TRANSCRIPT

Do you struggle with loneliness? Are you overwhelmed, hoping for a partner, a friend?

In the spring of 2016 I would meet a very important person, my precious husband. My faith would also be tested as faced temptation. Join me as we explore what it looks like to be encouraged in faith and overcome trials. Discover God’s greatness and the reward of being bold in our relationship with Him.

We’ll uncover the power of prayer and how you can experience it today! Listen until the end, you don’t want to miss a word! This is Meeting Mr. Bot!

Sitting at my desk one afternoon, I finished another letter to my children. Suddenly, movement was called over the P.A. system. I looked at my clock radio. It was noon, time to pick up my canteen in the Core building.

I did a quick scan of my room, which was clean but not neat. With an unmade bed, papers, pens and envelopes spread across my desk; time had gotten away from me. Movement between buildings lasted 5 minutes and I still needed to put on my shoes and glasses before heading out the door. I had no time to tidy up my room! Feeling rushed, I grabbed keys and badge, dashing out.

Jogging down steps to the day room, I made a beeline for the sign out book. Women were filing out of Tubman, eager to eat lunch or pick up their own canteen. Quickly I signed out, adding my name, OID, current time and destination in the book.

Joining the women I walked quickly, not wanting to be last in line. It was the beginning of June 2016, and the weather was beautiful. Flowers had popped up around the property.

A fast 15 minutes later I was back at Tubman, carrying my bag of canteen. Signing back in, I noticed Sgt. Laabs in the hallway. He oversaw our living unit, and five years earlier, had given me LOPs (Loss of Privileges) often.

Back then I thought he was a stickler for the rules, giving everyone a hard time. Since then, I’d begun to suspect something different. Laabs seemed to be testing new arrivals. His goal? Learning an inmate’s attitude towards authority.

Sgt. Laabs would give every new arrival an LOP. If he could not find a legitimate reason to write someone up, he’d make something up. LOPs were delivered as yellow tickets outlining the offense. Inmates were asked to sign it.

Over the years I’d watched as some women angrily argued their LOP, and other women silently signed without complaint. Women who didn’t argue were unlikely to receive an LOP from him again, even if they deserved one. Women who did argue would become his targets, relentlessly punished for everything. I’d probably been the arguing type when I first entered prison.

Have you ever been punished for something you didn’t do? How did you respond? How did you feel?

I passed Sgt. Laabs in the hall after I returned from canteen. He held room inspection forms and appeared surprised to see me. My heart sank as I remembered my messy room.  I nodded to him and ducked into my room, where I noticed a failed room inspection form on my desk. The form noted an LOP waiting for me at the staff desk.

I headed back out of my room. Laabs remained in the hall. Usually, I am at work right now. I wondered if he had thought I was gone for the afternoon.

“Sgt. Laabs?” I said, holding out the form, “I was only gone for 15 minutes. Why did I fail?” I knew very well why I’d failed. Maybe I hadn’t learned as much as I thought in the past 5 years, now trying to wheedle my way out discipline.

“You left the building with your room messy,” he replied, waiting. He did appear sorry for me.

“Yes,” I answered, “but I didn’t go to work. I have the day off.” I stared at the floor.

Sgt. Laabs sighed as he responded, “You have to make your bed before you leave the building.”

“I see,” I said thoughtfully. I looked up again, and that’s when I made an insincere promise. “I will never do it again,” I vowed.

Two days later, my LOP over, I called my mom. I was learning about God and looked forward to sharing with my parents. I’d also begun sharing the Bible with my children in letters. Recently I’d emailed my parents copies.

“Hi Mom! How are you?” she sounded less than thrilled at my call. Things had been strained between us for many years. Recently I’d told them about my Bible studies, certain God could help me in our relationship. While I grew more confident of God’s power, my parents seemed to reject the idea.

“I was reading in the New Testament today,” I began, “and learned something interesting!” Phone time was expensive, so I considered what to say next. “It builds on what I sent in my emails,” I added.

Quickly my mom snapped, “I haven’t read your emails. Good grief, we’re busy around here! I don’t have time for that.”

Surprised, I stopped short, hurt. My excitement turned to shame, my cheeks reddening.  “I understand,” I responded. “I thought we could talk about it anyway.” Looking back, I realize I was desperate for approval, and lonely as well. I wanted my parents to be proud of me.

“I don’t have time to talk about it,” she retorted. “I have to go now.” Slowly I hung up the phone and returned to my room, deflated.

Ever since I’d mentioned the Bible, my relationship with my parents had worsened. Recently, my mom had demanded angrily, “You think God can use you? You!?”  in response to my desire to teach my children.

Back in my room, I remembered the Reflector, which is the prison’s quarterly newsletter, that I’d left on my desk. Flipping it open I looked for the drawings I’d submitted. The content of the Reflector was created by inmates, from the articles to the artwork and photography.

The last page featured my most recent drawings –my son Thomas and daughter Vivianne. I’d last seen them 3 years earlier, and they were growing fast. I was determined to remain emotionally bonded with them, engaged in their lives.

After a few years in prison, I’d noticed that while they grew up, I still imagined them as little. This scared me. I began choosing photos of each and drawing them in fine detail, life-size portraits that took me hours to complete. I navigated through time, drawing portrait after portrait.

After a while, I noticed something amazing! I began to internalize these changes. Now, when I imagined them, they were no longer the small children I’d left. They had begun to grow up for me.

I turned to the mail left on my desk, three letters. Two were from my parents; I set those aside. The third was from another inmate, a man. I read the return address – Corbyn from MCF-Oak Park Heights.

Women at Shakopee prison often received letters from incarcerated men hoping for a new pen pal. I’d learned the Reflector newsletter was often used as a source for men, as it included pictures of the women submitting content.

I’d received many such hopeful letters. I never wrote them back, sometimes throwing the letters away without reading them at all. I left the letter from Corbyn on my desk, carrying the other letters with me downstairs. Kyla sat in the day room. I headed for her table. I’d known Kyla for 5 years now and needed her help.

“Kyla! Can you help me?” I said as I sat. Dropping the envelopes from my parents on the table I slid them over to her. She read the return address as I continued, “Will you read these? Tell me if it’s okay for me to read them too.”

As God showed me his power, I became motivated to obey Him. This included His commandment to honor parents. My parents, however, at once doubted this would happen. They became more hostile instead of excited about a new loving relationship with me. I was concerned that our fragile relationship would deteriorate further instead of improving, and was determined to not allow anything harmful to undermine my resolve.

Kyla pulled out the first letter and read. I studied her face. She began shaking her head, eyes widening as she flipped over the paper. Setting it down she opened the second letter. A few minutes later, pale, she met my eyes and said, “I wouldn’t read those. No way.” She shook her head again for emphasis.

Stuffing the letters back in their envelopes I sighed, hurt. I thanked her and headed for my room. Once inside, I opened my closet, which included a deep, high shelf. Grabbing a chair, I stepped up and set the letters in the dark recess. I didn’t want anger to tempt me into using them as fuel for an argument.

“I received your letters,” I told them an hour later. I dreaded this call. “I didn’t read them.” My mom gasped in shock, and I rushed to explain. “I don’t want anything hurting our fragile relationship. I’ve saved your letters. If in six months you feel strongly that you want me to read them, I will then. If they aren’t relevant in 6 months, they aren’t important enough to risk hurting our relationship today.”

“If you really want to honor us,” my mom replied, “you’ll listen to us and how we feel you can honor us.” I began to wonder if that’s what the letters discussed.

“No,” I replied. “God will explain all this to me. It’s His commandment, I’ll do it as He wants. You can be honored, without feeling honored. I need to know how God sees it, first,” I finished. Outraged, my mom hung up. She stopped visiting, wouldn’t answer the phone, and ignored my emails.

Disappointed, I returned to my room, remembering the other envelope from some guy named Corbyn. I looked at the clock. Again, I had the day off work. Again, it was canteen day. I had 10 minutes to wait.

Tearing open the envelope I read, “Hi, my name is Corbyn Bot, and I’m looking for a pen pal.” Leaning back in my chair I continued to read. Corbyn had a long sentence – 30 years. How sad. He’d said he was only 23 years old, which made it even worse.

Towards the end of the letter he added, “Oh, and by the way I sent you a present.” Confused, I wondered what he meant. Prison rules were strict. No one could send an inmate a present, especially not another inmate.

‘Well, he’s gone crazy,’ I thought. Just then movement was announced on the P.A. Time for canteen! I looked around my room before leaving and noted my unmade bed. I thought, ‘Sgt. Laabs isn’t here today, it’ll be fine,’ I told myself.  I’ll be back fast. Grabbing Corbyn’s letter I tossed it into a garbage can on the way out.

At canteen, I was in for a shock. A guard handed me a clear plastic bag, filled with my order. Opening the bag, I pulled out my receipt and an item. I hadn’t ordered it.

Startled, I dug into the bag, stirring items around. Shocked, I realized there was at least $100 worth of stuff in my bag that I hadn’t ordered. Quickly I nodded to the guard and walked down the hall. I hoped she hadn’t noticed my surprise.

“What’s going on?” Brandi asked me, as I stood beside her, waiting to leave canteen. I stood frozen, reviewing Corbyn’s letter in my mind. This must be the ‘present’ he’d mentioned!

I whispered, “There’s a bunch of stuff in this bag I didn’t order!” Brandi looked down, considering. “I think some guy filling orders did it on purpose!” I added. I’d heard of this before, however it had never happened to me. Shrugging, Brandi stared off, now bored.

Movement was announced and I raced back to Tubman, hauling my canteen. Quickly I signed in and headed straight for the trash can. Women stopped to stare at me as I began digging in the garbage. “What are you DOING?” Linda asked, concerned.

Ah-hah – There it was! I pulled Corbyn’s letter out and stood. I noticed the stares and blushed. Embarrassed, I grabbed my canteen again and headed for my room. Passing the staff desk I noticed an officer with room inspection forms talking to Sgt. Laabs, who had just come on duty. ‘Oh no!’ I thought, recalling my unmade bed.

Sure enough, another LOP was waiting for me. Setting down my canteen I read the ticket, realizing when I had promised Sgt. Laabs “it would never happen again,” I’d really meant – “I’ll behave when you are working.” These were prison rules, however, and I was trying to avoid discipline, not actually do the right thing. I decided to write Sgt. Laabs an apology.

I grabbed an institution kite, and wrote:

“Sir, I want to apologize. Recently you gave me a failed room inspection for my unmade bed, and I told you it would never happen again. Today it happened again. I realize now I’d not made a commitment to do right, I only meant to avoid discipline.

I want to thank you for holding me to this standard. I realize this attitude could get me into worse trouble when I leave prison, where failure to follow rules while on probation can lead to worse punishment than an LOP. I want to do better. I will do better.”

God was opening my eyes, Rebelliousness being replaced with a teachable spirit.

Spreading my canteen across the bed I reviewed the order, which included sweatpants and shirts I hadn’t requested. I peeked at a label, sized XXL. Surprised, I checked the rest of the clothes, all the same. Men often wrote women they saw in our Reflector. I realized two things as I considered the clothing – Corbyn seemed to think XXL was typical, and he hadn’t seen me in the Reflector, as I was an obvious extra small.  ‘How cute,’ I decided, ‘he doesn’t see all women as Barbie dolls.’

I opened his letter again, reading:

“Dear Holly,

My name is Corbyn, and I’d like to have you as a pen pal. I’m 23 years old, and at age 18 I was given a 30 year prison sentence. I’m Native American…

By the way, I sent you a present. I hope you will write me back.

Corbyn”

## pulling out paper and an envelope I began a letter to him:

“Dear Corbyn,

I got your letter and the canteen. I assume this is your ‘present’ to me. Don’t do that again, ok? You could get in trouble, and I could too.

I love Jesus and the Bible says God gives us everything we need. God has been doing some amazing things in my life, and I need Him.

Here’s where you can get a free Bible and I hope you get it and read it so you can know this for yourself.

I will not write to you again. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I only write to family.

I am adding you to my prayer list.

Take care,

Holly”

I mailed the letter and added Corbyn to my prayer list.

Little did I know, as I included Corbyn in my prayers that night, that I was praying for my future husband. God would connect us again in a few years, my amazing husband, Mr. Corbyn Bot.

Listener, are you facing temptations or trials today? Do you want a friend, a partner, a spouse?

C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

Have you been searching for the truth? Jesus said: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Truth first, then all else. Listener, God has beautiful plans for you, good plans, and He asks you to trust Him. Isaiah 45 says:

18 For thus says the Lord—Who created the heavens, God Himself, Who formed the earth and made it, Who established it and did not create it to be a worthless waste; He formed it to be inhabited—I am the Lord, and there is no one else.

19 I have not spoken in secret, in a corner of the land of darkness; I did not call [you] …, saying, Seek Me for nothing [but I promised them a just reward]. I, the Lord, speak righteousness (the truth); I declare things that are right.

20 Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations!

What does seeking God look like? Have you heard of the Apostle Paul in the Bible? He was a very bold missionary for Jesus. Did you know that before he began this ministry he spent 14 years studying the scriptures and growing in faith? His example is a good one for us to follow. It is also encouraging!

Listener, we can begin to follow his example today by reading God’s Word ourselves. Jesus tells us in John 6:

And they shall all be taught of God [have Him in person for their Teacher]. Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to Me—

Remember as you read the Bible that God desires to teach you personally. Ask God to teach you as you read, to teach you through experience, and to grow in relationship with Him. Comfort is just on the other side of the truth we need for peace in our lives! Let’s ask Him for it today!

Dear Jesus, I pray for the person listening right now, and I pray for me. Please teach us personally. Help us to know You through your Word and through experience. Give us understanding to know Truth. You are the Truth. Amen

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