As the winter cold settled in, Andrew began adjusting to the new normal that was prison life, thankful nevertheless for a warm place off the streets. The uncertainty of his sentence gave way to this report in his next letter: “Bad news, I will be locked up for a while. I may not see the outside world in at least a few years. The State is picking up all charges, three assaults on an officer, criminal threatening, resisting detention and also the charges that put me here.”

It would turn out not to be so dire as it appeared, but I was surprised by his cool, calculated response to it all. “I’m praying God will let me out in a few years, it’s not looking good. Please do me a favor. Try locating my parents, Steven and Debbie Ludwig. I think they are living in Orlando, Florida. My brother, Michael, may still be working in Pasco County.”

His efforts to reach his parents and theirs to reach him left both frustrated. Andrew would come to believe that his parents no longer cared for him, but I later learned that they tried repeatedly to write him but the letters were returned or lost. I found this to be true of others from the church who tried to keep in touch.

The small routines of prison life – reading, writing letters, filling out forms and requests and the pencils, paper and envelopes necessary for these – required money, not much. Although he never asked for it, some church friends sent money gifts that allowed him to purchase these essentials and to pursue his goal of getting his GED.

He was always grateful for the slightest help. “Hey, thank you very much for the money. I filled out paperwork from the DMV (he had lost his ID), I bought batteries and a new pencil which is awesome because mine was getting rough to write with.”

Even as the shadow of prison time lengthened, disappointments led Andrew back to his church and to those who loved him. “I really miss everyone. Say Hi to everyone at First Christian Church for me! This is going to be rough. I’ve got to change the way I live. Please preach, ‘No matter what, give the Lord control.’ For the first time in my life I have no control in what will happen to me.”

Healing happens in surprising ways. As much as Andrew may have wished to be free, in touch with family and singing in the church choir, the hurts from his past would only heal with a slow letting go of old behaviors and an equally slow growth of faith. Even he understood this. “The more time I have in, the better. Still could get prison time but I’m praying the State will give me some mercy.”

There is therapy and there is healing. The first makes things better, the second puts the past behind and makes way for a future. Money and letters from friends as well as memories of life on the outside, was therapeutic for Andrew. He knew healing would take longer and kept repeating to himself and others how he would get there.

“If you get a hold of my family, please tell them I’m sorry and am now born again, changed, no longer a drug addict. O, how I do love the Lord! Thanks for everything.”

Those dreams of life after prison would become more real in the months ahead with the unlikely help of an inmate.

(read Andrew’s story on Wednesdays and Fridays here)