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(Part 2) “My Guiding Hand”: Alabama Prisoners on God and Faith

To X, who has been incarcerated in Holman Prison for around three decades, God “is Someone I can trust, Someone I can call on, Someone that have helped me in life in areas that I never dealt with before, Someone that is real, is not no imaginary person. It’s Someone that works on my behalf, that comfort me. So, that’s what God is to me,” he says. 

“Faith, first, is something that haven’t been done, or haven’t been seen yet. That’s what faith is,” says X. “It’s just like, are you sittin down right now?” he asks. 

“Yes,” answers the writer. 

“Well, you didn’t check to see if that chair’s gonna hold up, did you?” asks X. 

“No. Man, in fact, it’s pretty rickety, not too sure about it,” says the writer. 

(laughs)

“But – see – that’s what faith is,” X explains. “Faith is trusting somethin without seeing it … So, I’m careful that when I have faith in God, He’s doing what He say He will do, just like that chair do what it’s saying it will do. It’s still holdin you up, right?” 

“Yes,” the writer answers. 

Asked the meaning of prayer to him, X says, “Prayer is just you talkin to God. It can be you talkin to Him. It can be asking for help on direction for something. Prayer can be pouring out your heart on a situation, and asking Him for guidance. Prayer can be just havin a conversation with God, just like me and you havin a conversation, with a person, you have a conversation with God with a prayer.” 

X says that in prayer, “It also helps to know and be expecting what I’m prayin for, what I’m prayin God to do … Here’s a prime example: You don’t know this, but I’ve been prayin about my case. I was supposed to have a hearing this year. I come to find out Friday that I’m going to have an extension on my hearing. My hearing have been rescheduled to 2021. So, see what I’m saying? But I just prayed about it.” 

He remembers asking God “something like, ‘Alright, God, I want you to move over this situation.’ I wanted it to happen [this year], but when I learned it’s happening next year, that means God have other plans. And that gives my lawyers and God more time to work on my behalf. So, that’s what faith is,” says X. 

He recalls how he found God and faith. 

“Well, it was a couple of things that happened. I was in this group called Project Hope, and I never really told you this story, but I was in this book [while working with Project Hope], and I was doing good in Project Hope, writing a lot of letters. I was making an impact for Project Hope. But one day, it all changed. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but God was leading me. At the time, I wasn’t saved. So, God was leading me out of Project Hope, because it would’ve been too much to be in Project Hope, and doing what He wanted me to do in here, so I left,” he says.  

“About a month later, I went to … a Christian group that come in the prison, and feed you, and then – you know – they share their faith. So, the first time I went, that’s the first time I ever forgave somebody, ever. But brother, when I forgave him, it feel like 30 years was took off my life, and I had so much peace” after forgiving him. “So, about a month later, I start going to church, gave my life to Christ,” X continues. 

“And then, as I started walking with God, which was a everyday thing, I had faith in God,” he adds.

“But here’s the problem with a lot of people: they gave their life to God, but then they stop being around people that help them grow their faith. You have to be around people that help you be your faith,” X explains. 

“Walking with God,” X elaborates, “You want to be around somebody that is faithful to God, want to be around someone that’s accountable to God, want to be around someone that have experience with God. So, praying with God, I was able to be around brothers that have been walkin with God 15, 20 years before I even started walkin with God. So, they’ve helped me with every step. So, I think, when you try to do this walking by yourself, you’re not gonna be successful at it.” 

The person X forgave in his first ever prayer group in prison, starting him on his journey into faith, “was a brother that I had got in a fight with, couldn’t stand each other in here … He done passed away, died of tuberculosis in here. And when I finally forgave him, that was a turning point in my life,” X recalls.

Asked how much time passed between X forgiving the man and the man’s death, X clarifies that the man “had passed away” before X forgave him. “I was still holdin on to it.” The man died in the late 1990’s, the first decade of X’s sentence in Holman. 

“But when I finally forgave him, that was a turning point in my life,” X repeats, “because that right there, when I forgave him, me and my momma’s relationship changed, because the next phase that God wanted me to do was forgive my momma, because she had abused me. So, I had to forgive her. And then that opened up doors in startin a relationship with my mom, too,” he recalls. 

Asked about the importance of forgiveness generally, X continues, “Aw, man, it’s key. Forgiveness is a part of your spirit. It’s part of your relationships. As much as I’ve had forgiveness once I started talking to Him, I had a complicated start with a lot of people, all the people that lied on me to get me in this case right here. I had an awful start with my mom. I had an awful start with people on the street who I ran with, [who] never did nothing for me. And it hindered a lot of my relationships, because I had to watch everybody,” he says. 

“Matthew, this is something that need to get out [in the articles]: When we are done wrong by someone, we have to forgive them, because, if we don’t, we will hold that, and it will hinder and pause every relationship after that. Period. It will have you do that. I saw it do it many times in here. I saw it do it to me. I would not have the relationship I have to my mental health now if I didn’t forgive,” he says. 

“But it’s a process, for sure. And it’s a long process, and it’s got to be a long time you’re gonna have to keep forgiving. There’s people I’ve had to forgive since I’ve been saved. Yeah, so, it’s a process, because unforgiveness appalls your soul. Unforgiveness appall and ruin your soul bad,” X adds. 

Commenting on the significance and importance of God and faith to imprisoned people, “Well,” X reflects, “there’s a lot of stuff that can take you from your faith in God. Something could happen in your case. Something could happen in your family. Something can happen around here to take your faith in God from you.” 

Therefore, “There’s two keys that you have to do in prison having a relationship with God, and workin with God, two things: Got to surround yourself with the right people. I’m not saying perfect people, because I think that’s overexaggerated. You have to put yourself around accountable people. Surround yourself with accountable brothers [who have] faith,” says X. 

Secondly, “You have to have a personal relationship with God yourself. It can’t be just you going to church, because – see – a lotta folks go to church … You have to have a relationship with God going every day, every day,” he says. 

“You got to have the right attitude, the right Christ attitude. I think, too many times, a lot of believers that’s walkin with God don’t have the right Christ attitude. They attitudes is all jacked up, all messed up – ‘I’m not gonna do this,’ ‘I’m not gonna do that’ – now, that’s the wrong attitude to have. Period,” he explains.

“And I don’t use my guiding hand at all to manipulate and mislead people. I use my guiding hand to help people have a spiritual God. Period. Pinpoint,” he adds. 

Asked to describe what he believes to be the right Christ attitude, X pauses, then reflects. 

“The right Christ attitude is serving, loving, compassion. That them three right there. If you’re servin, lovin, and compassionate towards everybody you come in contact with, that’s a Christ attitude,” he says. 

Asked if God and faith serve a different purpose for the powerful than the oppressed, X answers, “No, the purpose is not different, bruh. Let me say this: People that got power and people that don’t have power that are servin God ought to change the world with their Christ attitude. They are not to pause the world. They ought to change the world, to draw people to Jesus. Pinpoint.”

He adds: “When people have power and they misuse their godly influence, sooner or later, it gonna impact their whole life. It gonna impact their own life, their life with their kids, and their grandkids, and their friendships. I seen it happen too many times.” 

For example, “I seen too many officers come in here sayin they walkin with God, but they doin a lotta stuff that’s out of character, that’s not Christ like, and they have failed. Now, I have seen the officers who come in here, say they walk with God, walk with God, and don’t do the stuff [that other officers] are doing, and they have a great impact in here. Period. We [who walk with God are] supposed to be giving. We supposed to be giving,” he repeats. 

“It’s just like when I work the hall. When I work the hall, a lot of people always tell me, ‘When you work the hall, good things happen. The atmosphere changes.’ I feel the love of God. I love to come out. But then somebody else comes out, and, like, feelin nothin but hate when they come out” to work the hall after X’s shift. “And – see – that’s a different spirit … So, the purpose” of God and faith “ain’t changed” for those with power and those without. 

“It’s just that people are not followin God like they supposed to. They’re caught up in their careers. They’re caught up in money. They’re caught up in all type of stuff that’s out of God. You see? If God want you to be somewhere, He’ll put you there. If God want me to be with a person, He’ll put me with that person. If God want me to be in a place, he’ll put me in that place,” X explains. 

X wakes up around 4 A.M. to pray, writes sermons, reads the Bible four to six hours a day, works the hall, writes letters, and much more, every single day. 

“I don’t have to make it happen,” he says. “I don’t have to lie or deceive nobody to be anything for God. That’s why a lot of politicians that claim they know God do not. They may go to church, but they don’t know Him, because if you know Him, He’s gonna tell you what’s right and wrong. Period.”

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