Are You Being Served? (Part 3): Pen Pal Ministries


Before the global pandemic upended our daily lives, I posted Are You Being Served and Are You Being Served? (Part 2), the first two posts in a series about inmate service companies and organizations. Many of these organizations are small sole proprietorships. Some are small groups comprised of former prisoners or family members of those incarcerated.

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Ryleigh Payne — An Angel Returns Home

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Ask children if God exists and you’ll get unanimous affirmation. Children don’t question this because it’s so obvious to them. Why is this? It’s because children are naturally attuned to God and the Angels. Jesus said, “Suffer little children to come to me,for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to these.” It’s not until we grow older, where the world has had the time to sink its claws into us, that we begin to doubt this.

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Dr. Q

I often think of the many kind and wonderful staff I’ve met over the duration of my incarceration. These are individuals who were willing to help me when I needed help and individuals that helped me when I didn’t realize I needed help. All of them took a chance with me, and I am forever grateful.

I have so many stories to share about these good souls, and I credit staff with having gently steered me toward the path of reform many years ago. Today I want to tell you about a staffer who once worked here as a psychologist. By the time I met him, he had devoted more than 18 years of his life to helping juvenile and adult offenders find the path forward in their lives and overcome the mental obstacles that held them back. I shall call him Dr. Q.

Some years back, I had partnered with an inmate named Chad in launching a new program here called Life Development. The program was about teaching offenders the life skills needed at different stages of one’s life. It addressed issues that many offenders do not understand, and in order to get the program off the ground we needed a staff facilitator. When Chad and I sought out a sponsor, Dr. Q did not hesitate. As Life Development slowly came to fruition, a three staff core of facilitators emerged, each of them willing to devote large amounts of personal time to helping us. I am grateful to each of them for their selfless dedication.

During the early stages of hashing out the core of Life Development, Chad and I individually spent hours talking with Dr. Q. Through this process, I came to discover that Dr. Q had spent a lifetime studying and researching NDE’s, or near-death experiences. One day as we were hashing out Life Development material that concerned late life issues, Dr. Q offered to show me a video of interviews with local Cincinnati residents who had experienced an NDE. It was a video created in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Moody, and one Dr. Q.

The video showcased interviews with near- death survivors recalling what they had experienced. It was emotionally moving, and it unexpectedly brought back a flood of memories from my childhood that I had long suppressed. I speak about some of this in my post Angels Among Us.

In confiding in Dr. Q about my childhood, he provided an atmosphere and sincere outlet for me to explore, understand, and discuss what I remembered and experienced. Through our sessions I discovered that many of my childhood angel moments shared a striking commonality with those who have experienced NDE’s.

When I was 20 years old I had contracted influenza and nearly died. During those late moments I experienced a series of ‘wonderfully peaceful moments,’ for lack of better descriptive words, that would remain a source of confusion for me for years. It was an event I kept from family until decades later, both because of the trauma and the difficulty I had with reconciling my experience. Through Dr. Q’s willingness to explore NDE’s with me I found understanding and peace. This understanding has opened my eyes to the world and our place in it.

Many people across the world today and throughout time and across every culture have experienced similar things through NDE’s. Who can explain what they represent? Most people can’t except for one group: those who have experienced this for themselves. Experiencers come away from these moments spiritually changed and with renewed optimism for life and those around them. I understand this optimism and view because I too feel it and desire to share it with everyone.

Dr. Q is one of the most amazing people I have ever known. He’s a selfless man with an all encompassing love for others. He didn’t have to help me nor was he ever told that he must. He simply did. His impact on me will last until my final days, and because of him I was able to put the final piece of the puzzle together in my life. He is the reason why I can now share with you what I’ve learned and discovered: that life and the future is far more wonderful than we’ve ever imagined.

I am forever grateful.

—Christopher

Angels Among Us

When I started this blog, I knew I wanted to write about what incarceration is like here in the U.S., and I strive to stay true to that at all times. Today I’m going to share with you something very personal. Since my experience while incarcerated has influenced what I am about to tell you, I present it here.

Have you ever wondered, “Why are we here? What is our purpose in life?” How about the age old question, “Is there an afterlife?” I pondered these questions for years before I found the answers, but before I tell you how I came to understanding, I want to tell you a story.

When I was a child I had a friend who was always kind to me. When I was afraid he’d comfort me, and when I was sad he’d lift me up. Sometimes though, when I wasn’t expecting it, he would show me wonderful things. On very rare occasions he showed me evil things, but only because he wanted me to be aware. Most importantly, I knew what he was and I never questioned it. He was what we would call an angel.

It wasn’t until I grew older where I became aware that this wasn’t normal. None of my friends talked of similar experiences, and whenever I mentioned this to my parents they always told me I had a vivid imagination. When I was a child I took these occurrences in stride as I thought it was normal to see, hear, and talk to angels. I thought everyone did.

My encounters ended sometime when I was 12 years old. When the last one occurred I knew it was the final time. There was always an unspoken communication, and the last one was specifically to say goodbye. It was a traumatic moment for me and it was a goodbye that I struggled with for a very long time.

From that moment onward, darkness seemed to come into my life. Slowly I began to question the existence of God. What type of God, I wondered, would show a child a glimpse of heaven and then abandon him? When I looked around I began to see all the things I never saw as a child. I saw hatred and anger in people, and I saw pain and suffering everywhere. By the time I was 18 years old I had become a staunch atheist and was in full rebellion against the world.

When we were children, all of us saw the world differently than how we do now. If you watch and listen to children, you discover that they are willing to love you unconditionally. Why is this? It’s because children are naturally attuned to God and loving others. For them talking to God or angels is nothing out of the ordinary. There are tomes of works that attest to this. Hollywood has even made a number of movies about the experiences of these children.

It took a near-death experience when I was 20 years old, followed by years of introspection, before I came to understanding. We all share a common destiny, and now I understand why the angel’s goodbye was necessary. It was so that I would discover on my own the answers to these questions, because with discovery comes understanding and spiritual growth.

So then, why exactly are we here? We are here to discover our purpose in life. This is the underlying core of our existence. If this is so, then what is our purpose? Our sole purpose in life is to find God, and through discovery we learn that all of us are part of the same great family. Every major religion in the world has at its core one purpose: to help us find God. Think about it. It’s true. It doesn’t matter which faith you follow, because at its core this is what its all about. Is there an afterlife? Definitely, and this is found through personal discovery. Some of us discover this as children through interaction with angels; some discover this after experiencing a near-death experience or through great sickness; still others discover this by talking to those who already have.

How can I be so sure I know the answers to these questions? I know because I’ve experienced everything I just wrote about. Amazingly, my experiences are not unique. Some of you out there already know this because you too have experienced similar things. But for those of you who are unsure, I say to you I speak the truth.

No matter what you believe or where you are from there is a path offered to us all. It has but one destination, and it is solely up to you to discover it. To discover is to see, and to see is to understand. With understanding comes enlightenment, and with enlightenment comes peace and happiness.

—Christopher