Monday, June 29, 2009

Neil Diamond and I Go to Jail

After an early morning drive across most of Virginia, I pulled into a small parking lot shaded by ancient oak trees. Across a two lane street, there stood what appeared to be a church. Massive columns. A steeple. The aged red brick had every indication of being a place of worship. But I knew it was something far different.

I approached slowly. Each step showing the aging bricks were more than meets the eye. If the bars over the door were not a good enough indication, the razorwire left no doubt.

We approached heavy iron gates. Freedom on our side. Something different on the other.

Making my way through security, a series of gates opened letting me into the yard. I was on the inside.


Scattered across the yard were men of all shapes and sizes. Some exercising. Some chatting. Others in their own world. Almost to a man, they smiled and nodded as we walked by. With each passing face, I felt more and more comfortable.

We entered another aging building finding a classroom where we were met by a group of men who are involved in a Prison Fellowship program that focuses on Biblically based character development.

There was something heart warming about offenders of all ages walking into the room with Bibles, pencils, highlighters, and notebooks. As they opened the notebooks to their place for this week, I couldn't help but notice the the copious notes the pages contained.

As the speaker began, I almost feel the men soak up every last word. It didn't take long before I realized they were listening for their lives. They knew that every word was insurance against a lifetime behind bars. They admitted they had tried it before. Did their time. Came home different but the world around them was different.

What was different now was most of the men had found Christ.

For nearly three hours, my fellow interns and I listened and interacted with the men. Each side shared what God was doing in their lives. I'm not sure who got the most out of it.

I was proud to be part of Prison Fellowship. I was proud that everyday I work for a cause that fights for these men. I was proud to serve a God who can really change these lives.

After the class, one of the offenders asked the leader if we could join hands and pray. As prayers made their way around the chain, I realized the building surrounded by barbed wire was a place of worship. No one could take that away from these men.

Time to go. We made our way across the yard passing a separate group of men on a prayer walk. As we passed through the gates into freedom, I was overcome by the reality of the fact that I could leave.

In physical terms, I was free. But I knew that inside those men were too.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Worst Haircut Ever

I should have known that things weren't right. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was the fact that I got lost on my way to Sports Clips and chose to go to Great Clips instead. I felt a twinge of anxiety in my gut.

But I didn't listen. Oh was I wrong.

Things started off well. Immediately after walking in, I was in a chair ready to get my haircut. Everything was going alright. The lady cutting my hair seemed to have a good idea of what she was doing. It felt nice to have my haircut - it was way overdue.

Then, things started to deteriorate - fast.

Not two minutes into my haircut, the lady said "You should know that we offer a wonderful selection of dandruff shampoos." That was all she said. Just left that hanging out there.

After a good ten minutes and obviously undeterred, she decided to strike up conversation. This is seriously what she said:

Her: "You remind me of a friend of mine."
Me: "Really?"
Her: "Yah, he died of pancreatic cancer a few years ago"
Me: (awkward silence)

She then proceeded to talk for like five minutes about how a friend of hers died of pancreatic cancer several years ago and his sister died a month after him... A really horrible story, but what did that have to do with me?....

So I responded: "That is really sad. I'm sorry about that."
Her: "Cutting your hair makes me sad."

Sidebar: What do you say to that? How do you respond? That is a major league party foul!

Needless to say, I didn't say anything for the rest of the haircut. When I finally got home, I checked out my hair in the mirror only to find that I had a distinctive line in my hair due to a poorly executed fade...

This is the stuff blogs are made of.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Meeting the Man

As you may know, I am in Virginia working for an organization called Prison Fellowship. This has been a great job and a great place to work.

I am working with the group called Justice Fellowship. We are the policy reform arm of PF. In my job, I research what is going on in the world of criminal justice reform both in the states and in the federal government. It is a very interesting topic. I am intrigued by working on an issue that I have typically thought of as liberal.

It has been a great learning experience, but things got interesting this week when I met the man that makes it all happen.

See, PF was started by Charles Colson, the well-known Christian author who famously worked in the Nixon White House. Mr. Colson went to prison after pleading guilty to an obstruction of justice charge. As a result of the Watergate investigation, God was able to get Colson's attention and use it to bring him to salvation. As a new Christian, God used the time in prison to show him the need for change in the way the United States handles incarcerations.

I should also mention that my first real interest in political science - and my first serious look at politics as a career - came after reading his autobiography Born Again. He is on my short list of people I have to meet.

Flashforward to last Thursday.

Although Mr. Colson no longer works in the day to day operations of PF, he is still a very strong influence in the organization. Oh, and he was in town.

Let me start by saying that I was very professional in everything I did on Thursday. I even wore a tie. Not for Mr. Colson. Just because...

Anyway, first thing, two of my friends and fellow interns ran to my desk to tell me that they had met Mr. Colson. They recounted every last detail of their conversation. Needless to say. I was jealous.

So, extremely nonchalantly, I meandered over to my supervisor's desk - which just so happens to be right outside the door to Mr. Colson's office. And there he was. Signing books at his desk. I played it cool. Don't worry. I moved on before his assistant caught me snooping.

After lunch, it had been something like 5 hours in the office with Mr. Colson - he didn't know I existed. Epic failure.

Well, things started turning around for me when I went back to my supervisor's desk with a legitimate question. I repeat LEGITIMATE. After she answered my question, she took me in to talk to Mr. Colson.

As we made the 2 foot walk to his office, I realized that I was chewing a piece of gum. How unprofessional! I couldn't let this be the first thing he saw. So, I did what any 24-year old who is about to meet his hero would do in that situation - swallowed it. Unfortunately, my gum decided to hang around somewhere in the neighborhood of my esophagus. Just keep that in mind as you think how awkward it was.

I was nervous at first. My knees were doing that trembling thing that they used to do when I played baseball and knew I couldn't hit a certain pitcher... But I played it cool so that he would not know I was nervous. I probably had a weird look on my face something akin to someone on laughing gas.

We had a nice little chat. He asked where I was from and where I went to school. When I told him I went to the George Bush School at Texas A&M (Whoop!)

"Where you go to school"
"Texas A&M"
"What do you study?"
"Public Administration"
"Is that more theory or application?"
"It is more on the application side."
"So you want to go into politics?"
"Actually, yes."
"Thats good, the government is always getting bigger."

I wasn't sure what to think, but he must have liked what I said because when I ran into him later, he not only remembered my name he said:

"You like politics. So I remembered your name."

Mission Accomplished.

PS. The second encounter was classic. If you are lucky, one day I will share it with the blogosphere.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Weekend Warrior Part 3

Today, I set off on the third installment of my weekend excursion. It was a great day. Here is how it went:

Arlington Cemetery: We started off by catching the Metro down to Arlington National Cemetery. It was one of the most appropriate and touching memorials I have seen. I was overcome by the proximity of the landmark to the rest of DC. It is easy at times to forget how close it all is together.

I couldn't help but imagine Robert E. Lee looking towards the White House his last time at home wondering what the future held for his life.

I was able to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the memorial of the USS Maine, a memorial to those who perished in the Challenger, those who perished in the Columbia, John Kennedy and the eternal flame, where Bobby Kennedy is buried, and many more.

It is an amazing testament to this nation.

Watergate: Next, we took a stop near the campus of George Washington University where we ate a Potbelly's sandwich at the student union and walked the three or four blocks to see Watergate. That has to be the ugliest office building/landmark I have ever seen .

U.S. Capitol: We then made our way down to the U.S. Capitol where we took a good look at it doing a lap around the entire building before heading into the newly completed Visitor's Center. We lucked into a few of the last tickets for a tour of the building.

I was able to see the Rotunda, Statuary Hall, and the Crypt. I was excited to find out that there is now a Ronald Reagan statue in the rotunda. I also enjoyed the subtle irony of the Jeff Davis, John C. Calhoun, and Robert E. Lee statues. It is a beautiful building that is truly the Temple of Liberty.

Other miscellaneous sites:
We made it to the Library of Congress via the underground tunnel that was added along with the new visitor's center. This exchange actually happened:

Random Lady: "How many people use this tunnel (speaking of the mysterious underground tunnel)?"
Security Guard: "Definitely not $60 million worth"

Then, we walked by the Supreme Court building and stopped by the White House to round out all three branches of government.

Mission 3: Success.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reflections on D-Day

One of my favorite memories will always be having been at the World War II Memorial on the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

As the huge crowds made their way across the National Mall, I loved to stop and watch them pause and take in the beauty of the newest memorial.

As I watched, they began to emerge. It was kind of hard to see at first, but they were there.

Hunched and aged, some with walkers, canes or wheelchairs, it was easier to see the veterans.

One man that stuck out to me was an elderly gentleman sitting by himself on a park bench staring at the memorial. I couldn't help but imagine what he had seen and what he saw.

I was touched by their resolve to make sure they came out to honor the memory of those who served them.

More than that, I couldn't help but notice the miracle I was witnessing. These men who as boys left for war grew up to be old men. They saved a continent and came home to make a nation strong.

I hope that they felt a modicum of the thanks they deserved.

Read more of my thoughts here.

DC Weekend Pt. 2

This weekend, Neil and I gathered a few friends to join us for our weekend adventure. We saddled up with fellow interns Brad, Amanda and Katie for a beginners tour of Washington D.C.

Our first stop was the Holocaust Museum where we got tickets for a tour before heading out to the National Mall. We ended up making it to the museum and taking the tour. It was a moving experience for everyone.

Then, we headed out to the Mall again to check out the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and what I think was the John Paul Jones Memorial. We also had some spectacular views of the White House, the Capitol and the Jefferson Memorial.

Despite some early cloud cover, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful days in a week or so. The sun came out which was really a treat!

We then made our way to the Smithsonian's American History Museum where I got to see the Star Spangled Banner - the original from Ft. McHenry. It was really remarkable. So amazing to see such a treasure.

We then made our way to the military history museum. They had George Washington's sword, a piece of the battleship Maine, Sam Houston's rifle, and much much more. I was doing good until I saw William Tecumseh Sherman's hat and other pieces of his uniform. I am not a fan... We then went to the Presidency gallery before heading to the Air & Space Museum.

After realizing that we were about to die from all the walking, we took off for the Washington National's game. We got there early where I had a huge Philly cheese steak. Then, we enjoyed a great ball game in a really nice modern stadium. From our perch, we had a great view of downtown DC and the navy yard.

The best part is that I was the lucky charm for them - the Nats finally won a game!

We finally made it home, and I went to bed for a well deserved rest.

This morning, I went to a Methodist church for the first time. I went along with my host family. It was interesting to be in another denomination. I ended up knowing most of the songs as they were popular praise songs. I was a little stumped when it came to communion but moved to the back of the line so I could watch.

Then tonight, I went to the little league game of my little brother for the summer. It has been a long time since I went to a little league game. Funny how none of that has changed. HA

now, it's bed time.