Pelican Bay State Prison: Security Housing Unit

For my first assignment in theology, we were asked to write a ONE page (no more allowed) paper about an event that had changed us in a meaningful way. ONE event? ONE page? My brain racked! For days I struggled with which one and how could I say that in ONE page? Finally, I gave up. Always a good sign! And then quietly, my heart landed not on one of the many events that have carved into my heart leaving me on bare knees nor did it land on one of those times that have left me overflowing with Grace. No, my heart landed on the one that has reminded me most how (I pray) to live. Here is what I shared…

In 2007, I stepped out to check the mail in front of my school, the Tree of Life. There I found a letter addressed to me from an inmate I will call John Smith in the Security Housing Unit of Pelican Bay State Prison. Thinking it must be a mistake, I almost put it back to be returned to sender. Then, cautiously, I decided to open it. I found four handwritten pages that still leave my heart still and silent. My first book, An Ordinary Life Transformed: Lessons for Everyone from the Bhagavad Gita had just come out about six months before and, through a series of what can only be described as divinely orchestrated events, John had gotten a copy. Below are excerpts from his letter…

“I am a 39 year old inmate who, since 1992, has been serving a life without the possibility of parole prison sentence…It may appear strange to you, but I am isolated from all human contact. When I leave my cell it is always under escort while being handcuffed, and I am allowed only ninety minutes a day outside alone in a tiny cage…Rev. Stephanie Rutt I have read your book quite a few times and I am writing to say thank you for being a light in my journey. For if it was not for your book I would not be where I am beginning at now…I have a long way to go…but I feel freer than I’ve ever been in my life, that I can truly remember. I lived in the real world as a prisoner and most of my prison sentence as one also , but I am slowly freeing myself, and beginning to spread my wings…As I close this letter allow me to let you know that I appreciate and thank you for assisting me on this journey. I am sure you never would have thought that you could reach through concrete and steel and touch someone’s life. But better yet I believe this is exactly why you wrote this book and presented it as a gift to the world. So that one day all of us could feel the true meaning of ‘Welcome Home.’”

What John could not have known is that I had often used his very words to describe my book – my gift to God and to the world. “Welcome Home” is a phrase I use often in all my writing. I did write back to him, thanking him for his letter, but never heard from him again.

Every time I read his letter, I remember (again) that it is simply my job to do what I can where I am. To play my part. To contribute my small offering to the great tapestry of life. I am not to concern myself with where my Beloved may lead me. I am not to question or even to imagine what effect my humble offering might bring. No, this is not my charge or responsibility. I am to show up, offer what I am able in faith and love and trust that God will do the rest. How freeing.

Such is the mystery of knowing not.

Such is the mystery of the One Heart where we all move, breathe and have our being and are graced to say to one another, Welcome…

Welcome John…

Welcome Home.




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3 responses to “Pelican Bay State Prison: Security Housing Unit

  1. Paula

    Beautiful, Stephanie, beacon of light and love!

  2. Oh my, i am so deeply touched, tearful, humbled, grateful, this beautiful warm glow in my heart of ‘interconnection’…love has no bounds…never knowing where our seeds will land, always amazes me. Sending Love from my whole heart…to you…and to John Smith 💜Regina

  3. “My brain racked! . . . I gave up. Always a good sign!” Gratitude to both you and John Smith for the reminder

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