Faithful in Little Things: A Prison Story

"A friend gave me a fan."

That's how Willy started his story as we were sharing during the bible study I lead out at the prison.

Having a fan is a big deal. The prison is not air conditioned. And during Texas summers, when the temperatures climb to over 100 degrees for weeks and weeks on end, the prison becomes a stifling sweatbox. Some of the chaplains that teach classes at the prison cancel classes during the summer months because of the heat. It's too much to bear for the two hours of class.

The inmates live with it 24/7. Through the entire summer.

The only relief is a bit air movement provided by a small fan. A fan which costs money. And not everyone has money. Willy didn't. So the gift of a fan, in the middle of summer, was a pretty big deal. A huge, huge relief. A fan can keep you from going crazy during those hot Texas nights with no air conditioning and no windows.

Trouble was the fan was contraband. Prisoners can't give or receive gifts like that. Willy's fan broke the rules.

Still, it was not like he was hurting anyone. The contraband in question wasn't drugs or anything. It was just a fan for goodness' sake.

But one day while studying his bible Willy came across these words, "if you can't be faithful in the little things how can you be trusted with the big things?"

Willy became convicted. The fan broke the rules. It was a little thing, to be sure. But Willy wanted to be faithful, even in the little things. Especially in the little things.

As so, Willy concluded his story, "I threw the fan away."

The room listened in stunned silence. He what? He threw the fan away!? It was barely conceivable, beyond our moral horizons, that someone would be that obedient in the face of the resultant suffering he would have to endure.

"I didn't mind being hot," Willy continued, "I was able to share in the sufferings of Jesus."

Willy looked at me and smiled, gold teeth flashing.

"I was free inside. I was happy."

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11 thoughts on “Faithful in Little Things: A Prison Story”

  1. This is beautiful and heartbreaking and convicting... yet another example of how Jesus is more likely to be with the least of these than with selfish clowns like me, who steal things off the internet and don't think twice.

  2. I felt the same way about myself when I heard Willy's story.

    Let me add this bit of info. The prisoner's don't have pillows. They can buy pillows, but they aren't given pillows. I can't imagine what it's like to sleep in that place on a hot Texas summer night without a fan or a pillow.

  3. "The fan was contraband."

    This fleshed out that moment when Jesus confronted a committee of Pharisees with this notion: It's the Sabbath; your neighbor's ox falls into a big hole; quick- waddaya do?

    Without that ox, that neighbor and his family fall from something akin to being self employed at the upper reaches of poverty, to share cropping and poverty's lower reaches. The Pharisees smelled a trick question in the air and huddled together to debate through their various moral and religious technical manuals for the correct answer.

    I wonder how many "adults" on the contraband committee are faithful church attendees? And how many of that sample attend Texas sized mega churches? (Hmm, I wonder if the move toward "mega" is merely a compensation for a lack of profundity?)

  4. I was neary late for a 7:00 AM breakfast meeting with a distinguished speaker on the program. 6:57 with very few downtown drivers in Abilene. I ran one light at an utterly deserted intersection, not feeling too badly (ox in the ditch sort of thing), but the next two had cars in the vicinity; stopped at those. Barely made it. Willie probably would not be amused, but I bet he would have given me another chance at the empty spots. Then I just might get on board with this great disciple,

  5. That is the sort of thing I have in mind when people ask if I take the Bible literally. Not to take Scripture literally as the only source of history or science, but to take Jesus words about actions literally. But no one wants to hear that discussion, in or out of the church.

  6. are we talking about an electric fan, or a handheld fan? while i can see how a large electric fan might be contraband, i can't see how a handheld one would be.

    also, perhaps buying pillows or collecting old pillows from church members or other groups and taking them to the prison for the inmates might be a useful idea. or perhaps someone with contacts at hotels -- i'd guess they replace pillows after fairly little use, and that would be a useful way to keep it out of the landfill, and also greatly improve some people's lives. win-win.

  7. Dr. Beck, you said that you are writing a new book called 'The Slavery of Death' ? Is this inspired by all of your Stringfellow reading?

  8. Can't wait. I work at a Christian nonprofit in D.C. that featured a lot of Stringfellow back in the 70s and 80s in their magazine.

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