I’m sure you know the story. A young, poor couple, the girl pregnant yet a virgin, traveling on their way to register for a census. The days were completed. The time had come for the baby–announced by an angel and prophesied long before–to be born. They couldn’t find housing, so she gave birth in a smelly stable.
There was no room for them in the inn.
Last night, we received a letter that reminded me of this story. Of course, any news is pale in comparison to the miraculous birth 2,000 years ago, heralded by a sky full of angels singing probably the most beautiful music ever heard. But this news is still pretty astounding.
If you’ve read my blog over the years, you’ll remember that I’ve frequented posted about an inmate who I renamed Chester (for his privacy). As a young dumb kid, Chester stole $76 from a fast food restaurant. First strike. Later, he was caught with $20 worth of crack. Second strike. Meanwhile, in reaction to heinous crimes, California passed the Three Strikes, You’re Out! law. After that, Chester swiped $40 from an open cash register drawer. Third, and final, strike.
That did it. Chester was convicted and given a 50 years-to-life sentence.
He was never armed. His non-violent crimes totaled roughly $156. And he’s spent his entire adulthood–24 years so far–in prison.
His wife left him, refused to let him have a relationship with his baby daughter. While behind bars, Chester was raped. Several times the parole boards have deemed him worthy of being released, but each time, the governor in power vetoed it, often at the last minute.
Chester knows he did wrong and knows he needed to pay. He’s been a model prisoner, helped teach young people to turn from a life of crime. He came to faith in Jesus Christ while a lifer, and he’s helped other inmates find Christ and grow in their relationships with him.
Chester is not a statistic to me. My husband met him while doing ministry at San Quentin. Later, he introduced me to Chester and told him I was a writer. Chester asked me, begged me, to write his story. I told him I’m not famous, and I didn’t think it’d do any good, but promised to do what I could. In the process of writing a research paper on The Rhetoric of Three Strikes Reform in California, I stumbled across a group of law students at Stanford who were working for the release of lifers caught in the misinterpretation of the law’s original intent. They agreed to take on Chester’s case. I like to think I helped.
In March, Chester received news that he’d be paroled. Now his days are completed. Finally, he has a release date. Chester will be freed on New Year’s Eve! However, the news isn’t all wonderful. Not yet anyway.
There is no room for him at the Halfway House.
He just found out he’ll be released on December 31, 2018 to San Bernardino County, California–where he knows no one. He will be homeless. That is, unless a good-hearted person steps up.
As a former missionary, I know what it feels like to return “home” to a place that doesn’t feel like home. It’s overwhelming. I was only gone 10 years. Chester has been away for 24. I had friends and family and access to money. He has none of that. People met me at the airport. He will be dropped off by a bus, to an anonymous street. He’s been institutionalized, with no decisions to make for all these years. He needs help.
I realize it’s a terribly busy time of the year, but please, if you live in Southern California or if you have contacts there, please contact me with an idea, any idea, of a resource for Chester.
Chester is trusting in the God who does the impossible, the God who came to earth long ago, sent to “proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” He came as a baby, born in a humble stable. Because there was no room for them at the inn.