LOCAL'S CORNER: The Christmas Card Calling

JIM SHINN

He looked up at the top of the prison cell door. It was No. 211, in Building 2 of B-Yard. He was surprised by the tears that trickled down his cheek.

He had been in that cell ten years ago here at Centinela Prison. He wondered what happened to Charlie, his “cellie” for the last year of his incarceration. He said a quick prayer of blessing and protection for Charlie and his family. Did Charlie go home? Is he alive? Was he welcomed back by his family?

Mateo had been in prison twice for drug trafficking. The eight years he was inside didn’t change him that much. The last year of incarceration was different. He had attended the KAIROS Weekend and for four days his world was turned upside, or right side up for that matter. As veteran and a U.S. Marine, he knew the power of men coming together for a purpose.

He returned to prison after parole with a single thought in mind … ”no man left behind.” He also remembered the bible verse from Matthew 25:36, “I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

He came back to the present when the face appeared in the cell window. “Are those the Christmas cards I’ve heard about,” the smiling inmate’s face inquired. “Here you go brother,” Mateo replied. “There are two cards per packet. Here are two for you and two more for you cellie.”

As he was going to the next cell door he quickly flashed back to his getting wounded in Afghanistan, his rehab and addiction to fentanyl and then to heroin. He didn’t grow up a criminal, but his addiction guided him into dark side of drug dealing.

Now he was dealing Christmas cards.

He could not have imagined his life’s transformation. He was married to a good woman now, he had a bunch of step-kids he loved without limits, and a good job at the lithium processing facility. He could not pay back all he had been given.

In the 4-day KAIROS Weekend he participated in a decade ago, he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. The talks about forgiveness, the walls we put up to keep God out and the agape love the men came in to share, changed his heart, mind and spirit. At that time he just wanted to be out of prison, but after parole he could not forget the hands, feet and voice of Christ that guaranteed freedom from eternal prison. He never thought he would be paroled so quickly, much less being blessed beyond measure like his life is today.

At the KAIROS weekend when he was still incarcerated the Christmas cards weren’t even mentioned, but a month later one of the volunteers, “JP,” was outside his cell with the Christmas cards. This was the seventh year he had been given free cards to send to his mother and sister. He had nothing but what his 6-by-10-foot prison cell he shared could hold. The cards were the only thing he could give his family. He always felt shame during the holidays but the cards lightened his cell and family all too briefly.

After getting off parole, Mateo found a church active in the KAIROS ministry and he signed up. When asked why he was interested, he replied, “I’ve been called to bring Christmas cards to those that may not know the true meaning of Christmas.” The smiling face at the KAIROS table replied, “I can guarantee you will receive much more than you give!” Mateo smiled and meditated on the truth that Christ has so much to give, if we just open our heart. Jesus Christ … the gift that keeps on giving!”

The Christmas card program is not a KAIROS ministry. Many of the KAIROS volunteers – with the support of KGBA Radio and others in the community – began the program years ago, and it is all volunteer supported. Thousands of cards are given each year.

If you are called to give Christmas cards, you can drop them off at KGBA at 6th and State in El Centro, or send your name and phone to P.O. Box 276, Imperial, CA 92251, and a volunteer will come to your home to pick up your donated Christmas cards.

Jim Shinn is a part-time instructor for Imperial Valley College, teaching sociology to all yards of both local prisons within Imperial County. He is also a KAIROS volunteer with a Christmas card calling. Jim Shinn can be reached at shinnjc@sbcglobal.net.

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