Dateline: 31 January 2016 AD
|The Entrance to Auburn State Prison|
Today is the third anniversary of my deliverance from wage slavery. Longtime readers already know my story, but I’ll be recollecting it here, again and again, in one way or another, every January 31st, for as long as I keep cranking out these blog posts.
As far as life stories go, this one is pretty simple. No one will be making any movies about it. But if you were me, you would know it’s actually a remarkable unfolding of events as well as the fulfillment of a long-held hope.
The backstory is pertinent. It begins around the end of 1998 and into 1999. That was when I experienced the most significant personal crisis of my life.
To that point, I had worked a couple decades in the building trades and had done pretty well at it. By “pretty well” I mean that I managed to support my family of five without my wife needing to work outside the home, I had almost no debt, and I had some money saved.
Then it all fell apart.
A business venture I had invested my money and time into did not pan out. I was discouraged. I lost my drive and my focus. Over a period of months, my savings dwindled to nothing. I cashed in my retirement account. I had bills to pay, and a family to support. I became depressed.
When God chooses to humble a man, He knows exactly how to tailor that humbling experience to best make His point. When my savings were all tapped out, and the reality of my situation hit me, I was broken.
I remember the breaking point very well. Fact is, I’ll never forget it. I believe the biblical term for my condition at that time would be a “bruised reed.” When the breaking point came, I wasn’t praying for God to bless me anymore. I was on my face before Him, expressing angst and emotion like I had never known before in my life. What had I done wrong? Why was this happening to me? What should I do? Please help me!
It was then that God impressed upon me something that totally changed my life. The message that permeated my consciousness at that time is that God gives, and God takes… as it pleases Him to do. He’s in charge, not me. He doesn’t exist to serve me, I exist to serve him. He doesn’t need me, I need Him. My life is not my own, it’s His. When the full realization of those fundamental truths came, I repented of ever thinking otherwise—and of ordering my life with an attitude contrary to those truths.
My purpose in life became more focused on not striving for money and material comforts, but to strive instead for a life of greater obedience to Him; to live each day ever-cogent of God’s grace, faithfully dependent on God’s grace, and to pursue a lifestyle and attitude that is more pleasing in His sight. I now understand the deliberate pursuit of this kind of obedience can be summed up in the word, “sanctification.” Properly understood, sanctification is the intentional lifelong pursuit of a Christ-like attitude and character.
I was justified (saved) from the consequences of sin by God’s grace when I came to Christ at 13 years of age. But my Christian walk had not matured like it should. Oh, I thought it had. But God thought otherwise.
There is a familiar Bible verse (Romans 8:28) that took on a new meaning to me at that time in my life. It goes like this…
“…all things work together for good to them that love God…”
The natural understanding of the word “good” in that verse is decidedly self centered. We love to define good by translating it into concepts of personal health, happiness, ease, comfort, and prosperity. But could it be that translation totally misses the point?
Could it be that our definition of good can veer away from God’s definition of good?
Could it be that “good” is more properly defined as God’s sovereign plan and will? And that our purpose is to serve that good, even if it means to suffer various trials and tribulations in this life (even unto death)? Well, I do think so, and this could take us into a much deeper theological discussion, but I need to get back on track with my story. Suffice it to say, I had a different perspective on life and my relationship to God after my bruised reed experience.
It was only a couple days after my humbling when I got a phone call, right out of the blue (as they say). It was a man I had worked for in the past. He knew nothing of my situation. He called to see if I would be interested in working as a teacher’s assistant in the building trades program at the local vocational school.
I immediately saw this as God opening a door for me, and I said I was interested. Then he apologetically informed me that the job only paid $12,000 for the school year. Apparently, the school couldn’t find anyone else to fill the position for so little money. Classes were starting in less than a week. I took the job. (I’ve written about my experience as a government school teacher AT THIS LINK).
A couple weeks before the school year ended, with no job prospects, and not knowing for sure what I would be doing to earn money for the summer months, I got a call from the local maximum security state prison in Auburn, NY. They wanted to interview me for a job as a supervisor in their industry program.
That was another “out of the blue” event. I did’t really desire a job at the prison, and didn’t expect to get one. But, nearly a year before, on the advice and direction of an old friend who worked in the prison, I had filled out a two-page “test” and mailed it to Albany.
I went to the interview and got the job. One week before the school year ended, I started the prison job. My income would be multiple times what it was at the school. In time, I came to realize that getting the job I got was something pretty special. You have to know someone to get that kind of job. The only person I knew was my friend, Jerry. He made it happen. He was an instrument of God’s grace. I was very thankful.
|Click this picture for a much larger arial view of Auburn State Prison|
In my wildest dreams I never imagined that I would ever work in a maximum security state prison. Never. But the job came so easily, and paid so well, and I knew God had orchestrated it. I knew that was where He wanted me. It was the spring of 2000.
I won’t go into the dynamics and culture of working in a prison, except to say it’s a difficult place— it is an ongoing daily clash of bureaucratic foolishness, incompetence, and puffed-up egos (and that isn’t taking into account the convicts).
Only once did I write here about My Non-Agrarian Day Job when I was working at the prison. I wrote that seven years into my “sentence,” and six years before my escape. It’s interesting to look back on that essay from my perspective now.
Even more interesting is to read my blog post from last year titled, My Close Call With A Notorious Mob Hit-Man.
I never felt like prison was a good fit for me. There were a few really low points, which I would classify under the heading of “Failure of Character” on my part. Or, perhaps, “Total Failures in The Pursuit of Sanctification” would be a better description. Or, maybe just “Learning Experiences.” Whatever the case, I’d like to forget them. I certainly won’t be writing about them.
Nevertheless, like I said, I was thankful to be there. In the final analysis, having an enjoyable and fulfilling job is totally beside the point when you have a family to support. Getting the bills paid is what matters more, especially once you've had the experience of not having enough money to pay your bills. I suspect some people reading this can relate to that.
So, I was a wage slave in “the system,” and I was prepared to put in the minimum of 20 years so I could retire with a decent pension. However, my long-held, independent-minded, entrepreneurial inclinations did not leave me when I took that prison job.
It so happens that there is a lot of idle time in prison. I was able to do my job, and still have an abundance of time for myself— time to think, to sketch and resketch drawings of ideas, to write, to read, to pray, and to plan my escape.
At first, I didn’t realize I was planning my escape. I thought I was laying the groundwork for a small, home publishing business that I could establish while “doing time” in prison, then work at when I retired, after 20 years. With that thought in mind I self-published 100 copies of “Anyone Can Build A Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker.” That was March of 2002.
The book was not an instant success. But, slowly and surely, it started to get some notice. By the time I began writing this blog in June of 2005, the book had sold a few thousand copies. It was bringing in some money, all of which I invested back into the fledgling part-time business.
I wrote five more books while I was in prison, and I started selling chicken plucker parts, along with some other down-to-earth products. I learned how to develop my own web sites using the Blogger format (totally free), and how to incorporate PayPal order buttons into the sites. When I did that, the business took off.
Around 2010 I realized that I couldn’t possibly continue operating my Planet Whizbang home business while working full time at the prison job. But the mail order business was not making enough money for me to feel comfortable leaving the security of a government job.
And that’s when the state of New York, faced with budget problems, offered employees like me the option of reducing their work hours by up to 40%, and still keep their job. My pay would be reduced accordingly, but that didn’t matter. I could work 3-1/2 days a week and still keep my job. I filled out the paperwork as soon as I learned about it. I saw this part-time option as a Godsend, literally.
The Whizbang business continued to bring in more money every year. And then one of the guys I worked with told me that I could retire from state “service” at 55 years of age, and collect a pension. He said my pension wouldn’t be very much with only 13 years on the job, but it might be enough to pay for health insurance. I looked into the specifics, and he was right. I started thinking very seriously about “retiring.” And that's what I did.
On January 31, 2013, I walked out of Auburn State Prison for the last time—a free man. It was the happiest day of my life.
Some of my co-workers in prison couldn’t understand why I would leave such an easy job that paid so well. Almost no one leaves before getting at least their 20 years in. I heard stories about a few that did leave, then regretted their decision in later years.
But I knew it was my time to get out, just as I knew it was my time to take the job 13 years earlier. I knew God was in it. I knew He had orchestrated the events.
I also knew that I would never be able to retire and receive a decent pension; I would have to work harder than ever, and for the rest of my able days. But I don’t see than as a bad thing when I’m doing creative, entrepreneurial work with a home business.
Now, here's the point of this lengthy story…
When I worked hard and strived for material success with a self-centered heart, I failed miserably. Other people can do that and meet with great success. But that was not my path. God works in different people’s lives in different ways.
I've learned that there is a big difference between working with a striving, self-centered heart, and working with an attitude of diligence, combined with patience and faithful contentment, trusting God to lead and provide, as it pleases Him, in accordance with His good plans.
Believe it or not, having a successful, home-based mail order business was the desire of my heart going all the way back to when I was 16 years old. By the grace of God, it took me 39 years to get here, and I had a lot to learn along the way. The measure of material prosperity I now have is modest, but sufficient. It didn't come all at once. Everything came gradually. It came with hard work. And it came so surprisingly and satisfyingly after "success" was no longer my central focus.
I’ve rambled on too long, but I want to say this, and I mean it….
This whole dream-come-true home business could easily meet with some disaster. Which is to say, God could take it away from me. And if that happens, I would be disappointed, but I don't believe I would be devastated. I know God would provide in some other way. I’ve seen Him do it in my life before.
I’ll close with the Bible verse that I think most sums up my whole attitude about life and business...
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
That comes from Proverbs Chapter 3. The Book of wisdom. Indeed.