February 04, 2018
By: Gunther Fiek
Posted by: Bob Chatelle
It is my desire that all who read this post, my first of the year, have welcomed 2018 as I have: with hopes that many things will start falling into place. I feel that changes will be coming in areas of my life that I have been longing for and focusing on for the last few years. It’s hard to believe that we are already in February. So far, January has been a busy month as I began new responsibilities that only God opened up for me.
Ever since entering the system, I have been blessed with good jobs — or, ‘details’ as we call an assigned job in here. For the most part, while at the various facilities that I have stayed at, I have worked in the education department, library and warehouse. All are details that many envy to be assigned to. However, since arriving at this facility, I decided that I needed some ‘me time.’ I figured that I would take a few months to focus on myself so I asked if I could be assigned to my housing unit – the dorm- as an orderly. Dorm orderlies usually are responsible for keeping the dorm clean and ready for the daily inspection. Many guys who just don’t want to be assigned to a detail, or for whatever reason the facility’s administration doesn’t want a particular inmate to have too much contact with inmates from other dorms, are also assigned as dorm orderlies.
Being assigned as a dorm orderly enabled me to stay in the dorm and do exactly what I wanted to do. I did help clean up, though, which most didn’t, and made sure that the dorm was inspection ready during the week. I have always paid attention to detail, even the smallest one, to the point of being methodical about how certain things should be done. One down side of being a perfectionist person is that it has flaws — it will either drive others nuts or narrow down the individuals who are willing to work with you … or even help you.
My intended ‘me time’ lasted far more than a few months. And since arriving at this facility I was constantly told by several other men (mostly Hispanic) that the education department was in need of someone who was fluent in English and Spanish to assist with the classes. But I kept passing the opportunity because I needed my ‘me time’ to devote to work in areas of my life that I wanted and needed to improve — something I couldn’t do if I were constantly working. Towards the end of the Christmas season I felt lead that it was time to move out of my ‘me time’ and that it seemed appropriate to start this year anew. So through a friend of mine, who has been working in the education department for many years, I was able to get an interview with the education director the first working day of the new year. I was tested and started working there almost immediately.
I work there Monday through Thursday pretty much all day until about 4pm. We all have a break around noon as we have to report back to our dorms right after lunch for midday count time. Then, if there are no delays with count, back to work around 1:30 pm.
My main responsibility is tutoring students who struggle with Reading and Comprehension. Although I work with all who need to improve their reading score, most of the students that I work with are Hispanic. But with them I do more than just reading and comprehension. Language, too. Actually, all the basics in English, as I have to work with them in pronunciation, writing and in building their vocabulary. Some of the Hispanic guys can actually speak some English, and they can also understand most of what I read to them. The education department at all GDC facilities only offer the opportunity for inmates to obtain their GED – the High School equivalency exam. Other than the inmates earning their GED, there are no other opportunities for advanced diplomas in Georgia.
I have previously mentioned in another post that I’ve been a Kairos member for the last three years or so. Kairos is a Christian ministry offered at most GDC facilities and run by outside team of volunteers in conjunction with the facility’s Chaplain. It is supposed to be ecumenical — a place where inmates, regardless of what church they belong to, can come together to pray, share and fellowship with one another.
Every year a Kairos community leader is selected from among its members — the Chaplain has final approval of the chosen leader. Last year, around mid September, I was approached about becoming the next community leader for 2018. I was honored, of course. But I admit that I did have some reservations about accepting the position primarily because of the commitment and responsibility. I prayed about it.
Since becoming an active member in the community, I did noticed how Kairos, here at Dooly, was not being run completely in accordance with the program manual provided by Kairos Prison Ministry International. Many areas were neglected. It was not ecumenical. Some Christians who belong to certain churches did not feel welcomed. There was no unity among its members. At times, I myself felt uncomfortable even to the point of renouncing it – but I persevered. I tried my best to ignore anything that would make me stumble. One thing that kept me going is something someone told me: if I can shut out or filter out some of the things that are said and done that may go against my Christian beliefs, and if my presence there and what I share might make a difference in at least one individual’s life, then it’s all worth it. I’m glad that I shared my struggles with Deacon Jim, who comes here for our Catholic ministry, and for the advice he gave me. My intentions are indeed to make a difference in one individual’s life (and hopefully more) … and the community.
While I was still trying to decide, through much prayer, whether to accept the leadership position or decline it, the community leader at the time was transferred to another facility. So I was again approached by the Chaplain’s aides. This time they asked me to consider becoming the interim leader for the remainder of the year. They said that it would give me the necessary experience – and to see how things work – should I decide to become the leader for this year. I was also given the full liberty to decide on whatever changes that I thought were necessary to improve Kairos at this facility. To me, it was a sign to my prayers being answered.
I accepted and became the interim community leader, and I immediately began to work on the much needed changes. I spoke to some guys who were active Kairos members while at other facilities as well as some individuals here. They gave me plenty of feedback and suggestions. I had a few meetings with them, and with the Chaplain, throughout my interim period. And I determined that I, in fact, can make a difference in this community.
So I began this new year as the Kairos community leader for the next twelve months. It has certainly been a challenge. But I will share more about it in another post.
That was my January. And despite working in the education department as an aide, I still continue to help clean up the dorm.