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From Surviving to Living
From Surviving to Living
(21) Born Bad: Transforming Darkness into Light

Do you have questions about God? Are you interested in learning about Him? In 2017 I faced many challenges and felt the strain. Oddly, despite these difficulties, I was more at peace than I’d ever been. Do you desire peace? Do you need rest? Listen today and learn how you can begin today, through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ!


Do you know what it means to be born again? Are you certain that you have eternal life in God?

During the summer of 2017 I was fighting to keep my son and maintain relationships with my family. God would use these events to open my eyes in a whole new way to the things that are important. Discover with me the truth about sin and personal transformation.

We’ll reveal where to get started in having a personal, saving relationship with Jesus and how you can begin today! Listen until the end, you don’t want to miss a word – this is Born Bad!

“I was kicked out of Anthony,” I overheard.

I turned in my chair to see who was speaking. Vikki, one of the ABE students, was talking with the teacher, Ms. Shaibley. It was a Monday afternoon in August 2016 and the school day was nearly over. I was at my desk reading my mail.

Facing a trial for my parental rights next month, I believed the psych evaluation I’d done in 2012 might help me, however I was having trouble requesting a copy from the psych department. I was frustrated and upset. Time was running out.

“What happened?” I heard our teacher, Ms. Shaibley, ask Vikki. She set down her work to give Vikki her full attention.

As Vikki responded the P.A. system overhead burst to life, drowning out the answer. “Two-thirty movement is open! Movement is open!” I watched Ms. Shaibley console Vikki but couldn’t hear what was said.

Vikki was a small person, shorter even than my 5-foot frame. Quite a bit older than me, Vikki came to prison with a third-grade education. I was shocked when she told me she’d left school permanently at age 9.

She lived, or had lived, in the Anthony unit, also known as the parenting unit. Vikki had no young children herself, rather she was a helper for those in the unit who did. When I arrived at prison in 2011, the Anthony unit was giving incarcerated moms the opportunity to have their children spend the weekend with them in prison. The children slept in the same room as their mother, on trundle beds kept under the mother’s bunk.

Not long after my prison orientation, drugs were found in Anthony and kid overnights were suspended. This discovery left everyone dismayed. It was announced that the suspension would last 90 days, however soon drugs were found again. Eventually overnights were abandoned altogether.

The prison readjusted its parenting program to include all-day Saturday visits for children whose moms lived in Anthony. These fun visits often included special holiday parties and special decorations were made by the Anthony unit to celebrate. All women living in Anthony helped, and Vikki was one of these women.

Catching up to Vikki after class I walked beside her as we exited the Core Building. “I heard you mention moving to a new unit,” I began. “What’s going on?”

Vikki shrugged and sighed as she answered, “They did room inspections and found an extra pillowcase in my linens.” She shook her head ruefully, adding, “I didn’t realize that was so serious .”

Linens, or bed sheets and towels, were distributed weekly on “Linen Exchange Day.” Inmates were required to strip their beds and fold all linens neatly in a stack. Wing by wing each unit would call women to the day room to receive new, clean linens.

Vikki, like many women, had probably kept extra linens so she could wash them in her preferred brand of detergent, disliking the harsh industrial smelling soap used by the DOC. One could receive permission to do this, but most women didn’t ask.

Vikki’s comment drew me up short. I’d begun working to identify sinful behavior in my life. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, so I asked God to show me my sins.

Now I thought of my own linens. While I did not have extra sheets or towels, I was keeping an extra blanket and pillow. I’d gained the extra blanket from a past roommate who had permission for it. She gave it to me when she went home. Unlike the blanket, I had stolen the extra pillow right out from under a guard’s nose.

I recall my theft clearly. I was sitting in the dayroom and noticed a pile of pillows and a bag next to the guard desk. “What’s all of that?” I asked someone near me.

“Missy is moving,” was the reply.

“Why does she have so many pillows?” I asked and was told Missy had M.S. My own pillow was neither plump nor soft. ‘I could use another one, a better one!’ I thought.

Storing up courage I quickly made my move. Walking past the pile I bent and lifted a pillow on the way to my room. I’d kept the pillow and extra blanket ever since.

I was surprised I hadn’t thought about this recently.  I wanted to obey God. At first, I’d determined to follow rules I knew about. After a while I realized that my “rules don’t matter” attitude had blinded me to what many rules were!

So, I’d dug up my policy handbook. Reading the rules, I’d then sought to do better. Linens, however, had not crossed my mind.

Returning to my room that afternoon I folded my extra blanket and grabbed the pillow. I peaked out of my room and down the stairs. Officer Letcher was at the guard desk. I was hoping no one would see me when I left the items at the desk. Now, I briefly considered leaving the items without a word to Letcher but thought better of it.

Tiptoeing down the stairs with my arms full I waited at the desk. “I have these extra items,” I said quietly, “I’ll leave them here.” Letcher appeared surprised and didn’t respond. I quickly turned and hurried back upstairs.

Thinking again of my upcoming trial, I decided to call my oldest son Noel. “Hi Noel, how are you?” I asked as soon as he answered. We talked for a bit and then I asked as I had several times all summer, “Have you called Tim?”

I wanted to encourage family connections, which had become increasingly important to me. I was becoming quickly frustrated, however, with my family’s lack of enthusiasm. I could understand their anger towards me, but I did not understand ignoring my young son Tim. Once again Noel answered me, “No, not yet.”

The strain of the looming trial was increasing my stress. Everything took on an importance it wouldn’t otherwise have. Hanging up the phone I went to my room and stewed. I decided to write Noel an email expressing my concerns about Tim and my frustration with Noel.

Soon I received an email response from Noel. He was angry.  While it was a short email, it was vicious. After that Noel stopped talking to me too.

 Checking my mailbox a few days later I saw another response from psych. After weeks of wrangling with them to receive a copy of my tests, they had relented, but they insisted a therapist be in the room with me while I reviewed my records. The supervising therapist was one I’d had issue with the in the past.

My stomach tightened remembering the previous year when I’d asked for counseling sessions and had been paired with an intern. Our first session was our last. Seated in a small room in the mental health unit, I’d faced her, my new therapist. Between us lay a table and windows facing out toward the guard desk.

“How can I help you today?” she asked.

“I want to be well prepared for my release,” I answered. “I do not know what to expect for reentry, but I want to do well. I have a question for you,” I added. Nodding, she waved to me to continue. “How much experience do you have with inmate reentry and the possible stresses one might experience?”

Her eyes narrowed. Crossing her arms over her chest she leaned back and demanded, “What do you mean by that?”

Confused by her reaction I tried to explain further, “Well, I do not know what to expect when I’m released. I imagine it could be difficult for me, however I don’t know in what ways. I’d like to prepare. I’m asking if that’s something you can help me with.”

Her eyes had grown dark with anger as I spoke. Sucking in a breath she launched, “HOW DARE YOU! How dare you question my education and skills! Who do you think you are?” Spit flew onto the table as she raised her voice higher, “What gives you the right to question my abilities? You should be ashamed of yourself!” She finished with a shrill shriek.

The room echoed with silence as I stared at her in shock. She’d scooted further back in her chair. She began tapping her toe. She challenged me to respond. I began slowly in a near whisper, “I wasn’t doing that at all. I had already assumed that your assignment here today means you are qualified for the work of a therapist. I’d have no reason to think otherwise. I was asking how familiar you are with the incarceration experience and reentry.” Her posture remained tense.

Looking around the small room I felt the walls closing in. I was scared and intimidated by her outburst. I wanted to leave badly but didn’t know how to end this. Tentatively I spoke up, “I am very uncomfortable,” I started. Her toe tapping sped up. “I’d like to return to my room please,” I finished.

Waving a hand at the door she said nothing. After a moment’s pause, I fled from the room. Still wanting the help I’d requested I wrote a kite to the intern’s supervisor. I shared my recent experience. The supervisor’s response was brief, “No. You can resolve your issue with the intern I gave you or have no therapy at all.”

This supervisor was the appointed person to sit with me now while I reviewed my tests. What I didn’t know was that this appointment was about to be an answer to prayer in a very unusual way.

A week later I found myself at Monahan, the mental health unit, sitting in another small room. The door opened and the supervisor entered holding my file. She set it before me and sat against the wall quietly. The room seemed tense with her in it.

I flipped it open, not sure what to expect. Inside was a 15-page report, written years ago by treatment staff. I flipped through it, hoping to quickly find what I was looking for – positive statements about my mental health. After a few minutes of scanning, I realized I may need to review each page instead. The first 9 pages were written reports based on interviews I’d had with staff. I skipped to the bottom of page 10 and found the results of my written assessments.

It began well enough, stating, “Ms Aho did not exaggerate or approach the test in a guarded manner. She did not attempt to portray herself in either a favorable or disfavorable light. Results suggest that she was cooperative, attentive and focused.”

Relaxing a little, I continued to read and was immediately stopped short. I read, “Results suggest that Ms. Aho tends to be self-centered, insensitive, lacks empathy and demands attention and affection.” Slowly I read the rest of the paragraph which included phrases like “irresponsible, unreliable, moody and resentful.”

I set down the report and took a breath, considering. Cautiously I peaked at the next page and found more of the same. Another page turn and more of the same. I had not read this report when it was made 4 years earlier, but if I had I would have been angry and hurt. It was still painful to read even now, however I felt hopeful now instead of crushed.

I could see the truth in these words, and I knew Jesus could transform me. I saw the “before” in my soon to be “after” story. I rejoiced that God was opening my eyes to truth and answering prayer. I reached for my notebook and pen, which I’d brought with me. I began taking notes, page after page, as time ticked away.

After a bit I wondered how much time I had left. There was still a lot to take in. “Um, can I take more notes?” I asked the supervisor, who remained sitting quietly. Xerox copies might take more than a week to receive.

With a look of sympathy she nodded, adding, “I know these can be difficult to read.”

I turned to face her and replied with certainty, “Oh this is all true. Or it was anyway.” Surprise lit up her face as she read my eyes. I nodded at my pen and paper adding, “I’ve been praying for God to show me my own sin. Here’s an entire report about them. I want to start doing better today.” I returned my gaze to the table, lifting the report.

The supervisor thought a moment, her features softening. She stood and held out her hand. “Would you like me to make copies for you? I can do that right now.” She smiled. Now it was my turn to be surprised. I looked up into her face, now open and kind. I nodded eagerly and handed her the pages.

Later in my own room I puzzled over the conclusion of the report, which started, “she will likely resist psychological interpretations of her problems and when the reality of a situation is pointed out, she may be unable to see her role in it and claim the clinician simply doesn’t understand her.” I had not read this report when it was first created in 2012, but I knew if I had, that is exactly what I would have done. I would have been angry and hurt, fiercely defending myself.

It finished with the statement, “Treatment prognosis is poor, as her problems appear characterlogical and not readily amenable to change.”

I’d never seen the word “characterlogical” before and wondered what it meant. Not finding the word in a dictionary I went to the guard desk for help. I found Officer Letcher sitting at his computer and explained the problem. Would he look the word up online? He did and I learned something important.

I learned it meant “relating to character.” In essence it meant – born that way. The report was saying I was born with all these bad things and the person writing the report obviously believed a leopard doesn’t change its spots.

Considering, I lifted my eyes again to the paragraph just above, reading again, “she will likely resist psychological interpretations of her problems.” Well that was not true anymore, was it? I saw truth here on every page, an accurate description of my life and myself. What did that suggest? That I was a new creature. I smiled at the thought and thanked God for my new life.

I didn’t have anything here that would help me at trial, but I’d received an even bigger answer to prayer and evidence of God’s work in my life. Nothing is impossible with God!

Listener, how well do you understand what sin is? Did you know that the Bible provides a definition for us? It says in I John 3:

‘Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; for that is what sin is, lawlessness, the breaking, violating of God’s law by transgression or neglect – being unrestrained and unregulated by His commands and His will.’

Sin is any thoughts or behaviors we have that do not accurately reflect God’s perfect character and nature. What does God say is the purpose of the law? Paul says in Romans 3:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

I mentioned that sin is anything that does not perfectly reflect God’s nature. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the One Person Who never sinned. It says:

He is the sole expression of the glory of God, and He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God’s] nature

Jesus perfectly expresses the nature of God, because He is God. Why does it matter that Jesus is God, and not merely a man? The rest of this verse says:

When He had by offering Himself accomplished our cleansing of sins and riddance of guilt, He sat down at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high,

Perhaps you understand the idea of an innocent person willingly taking the punishment a guilty person deserves. An innocent human being, however, can only do this once for one person. Why? Because the value of one human life is one human life.

How many human lives is God worth? Since He is Creator, the answer is infinite human lives. He is the Author of life. Jesus can only take away the sin of all people if He is worth more than one man, in other words, if He is God, Creator of all things. Hebrews also tells us in chapter 1:

[But] in [b]the last of these days He has spoken to us in [the person of a] Son, Whom He appointed Heir and lawful Owner of all things, also by and through Whom He created the worlds and the reaches of space and the ages of time [He made, produced, built, operated, and arranged them in order].

How should we respond to this information today? Jesus tells us in John 3:

I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see the kingdom of God.

What is the kingdom of God? It says in Mark 1 that the kingdom of God is at hand. The Bible tells us eternal life is not a place or future state. John 17 says

And this is eternal life: [it means] to know (to perceive, recognize, become acquainted with, and understand) You, the only true and real God, and [likewise] to know Him, Jesus [as the] Christ (the Anointed One, the Messiah), Whom You have sent.

The kingdom of God is His sphere of influence, His power and you cannot even see His influence and His power, cannot know or understand Him, unless you are born again, spiritually reborn.

How is one born again? I John 5 tells us:

Everyone who believes (adheres to, trusts, and relies on the fact) that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah) is a born-again child of God; and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him (His offspring).

By this we come to know (recognize and understand) that we love the children of God: when we love God and obey His commands.

If you do not know for certain today that you are a born again child of God, I encourage you to ask God to teach you and lead you to that step today. Jesus said in John 6:

40 For this is My Father’s will and His purpose, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in and cleaves to and trusts in and relies on Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up [from the dead] at the last day….It is written in [the book of] the Prophets, 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—…I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, he who believes in Me [who adheres to, trusts in, relies on, and has faith in Me] now possesses eternal life.

Dear Jesus, I pray for the person listening right now, and I pray for me. Give us deeper understanding of You. Draw us into an intimate relationship with you. Lead all who do not yet know You to saving knowledge of the Truth. Help us to love each other and obey You today. Amen!

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