Incarcerated – Part 4

by DanWolgemuth on May 24, 2019

February 7, 2010, immediately after the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl, CBS launched a new series called Undercover Boss. It was an instant smash hit.

The premise… each episode features a high-ranking executive or the owner of a corporation going undercover as an entry-level employee in his or her own company. The executives alter their appearance and assume an alias and fictional back-story. By the end of the episode, true identities are revealed as compelling and meaningful story lines are exposed.

And so, I’ve wondered. Was my journey into the detention center my own version of Undercover Boss? I have the business card that would make this a reasonable assertion. Sounds compelling and engaging and headline worthy. The problem is that it has no connection to the reality of my experience. More significantly, it doesn’t have any correlation to the reflection of Jesus in Matthew 25:36… “I was in prison and you came to me.”

What I’m beginning to understand is that when I engaged with KB (the 13-year-old who called me Papa Leroy), I wasn’t Jesus to him, he was Jesus to me. The “I Am…” invited me into the “I Was…”.

Jesus put Himself in the place of KB. The face of that 13-year-old kid was the face of Jesus. Is it any wonder that it was so endearing? So compelling? So unforgettable? Which then invites the question, who was really undercover?

While I have no felony record, my guilt is undeniable. Sure, my crimes are polite and polished. Pride and self-confidence disguise the sin that I so quickly dismiss. I’m locked inside the prison of denial. I’m captive to comfort which keeps me separated from freedom in Christ. I put my trust in me, not He.

And so, the Undercover Boss storyline gets broken, derailed, reworked. Christ, the King… becomes a man. He enters the world, not as an entry level employee, but as a vulnerable baby. By the end of His life on earth, the revelation of His true identity doesn’t invite applause, but hatred, jealousy, and rage.

Is it any wonder that this experience burns in my soul? Is it any wonder why even the telling of the story is compelling? I had an encounter with Jesus. He was in prison clothes. He ate oatmeal and white bread right across from me. He sat in group therapy beside me. It was His voice that called me Papa Leroy. His eyes that paid absolutely no attention to the title on my business card. It was His hand I fist bumped. He said it plainly…

I was…

Jesus. Incarcerated so I could be free. Jesus.

To be continued…


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Incarcerated – Part 3

by DanWolgemuth on May 17, 2019

Within the first few minutes of arriving at the detention center, I was issued a fresh set of clothing. Light gray sweat pants and matching sweat shirt, a blue t-shirt (which all new residents wear), white boxer shorts, white socks and slip on sandals. Everything I came in with was gone. At that moment, you become what every other resident is. You assume the identity of the clothing you wear. Ironically, this was true, even for those of us who were only experiencing this for a 26-hour block of time. Somehow we fit in with the collection of young men and women. Age, gender, ethnicity, social status all melting into light gray. There were only two kinds of people. Free people and confined people. And even though I was 50 years older than most of the residents, I was one of them. Confined. Incarcerated.

Never was this more clear than at meal times. Six of us sat at a rectangular table. The seats permanently connected to the table. Round seats with no back. One by one we were dismissed to go up to a counter to pick up the food. Drinks were poured by staff members. Milk or water. Salt and pepper were only available to those who could purchase them with “resident coupons” which had been earned for behavioral compliance.

There was one exception to the fashion rule. One resident who wasn’t in light gray. I’ll call him WS.

When I entered BPod in my first moments in detention, my eyes raced to him. He wore a dark green smock. Sleeveless with nothing else on. Nothing. Later I would learn that this was a suicide smock.

At breakfast on Saturday morning, I sat diagonally across the table from WS. Sitting beside me, and directly across from WS was a young boy who, although dressed in light gray, stood out because of his constant rocking back and forth.

Just minutes after each of us made the solo journey to gather a rubber tray of oatmeal and two pieces of white bread, something happened between these two young men. WS squeezed his fist as fire burned in his eyes. I’d never seen anything like it. Raw rage. Daggers of hatred directed at my neighbor. WS muted any overt action, but his eyes were completely unmasked. It was evil in undeniable terms.

Self-inflicted scars littered WS’s arms. Exposing the roadmap of his journey.

I sat in complete disbelief. This was a lifetime away from my local favorite breakfast haunt. There were no three-egg chorizo omelets with a side of fresh whole wheat toast, and the smell of house blend coffee floating in the air. This was barely contained evil sitting three feet from me in a green smock. “Nobody would believe this. Nobody.”

Then, the Holy Spirit, with life-altering clarity, pointed the eyes of my soul to the Gospel of Mark, the 5th chapter. Jesus takes His disciples through a harrowing nautical adventure in order to cross the sea, not to give them sailing lessons, and maybe only partially to teach them about faith and trust, but most certainly because He had an appointment to change the destiny of His very own WS. A self-destructive outcast. Unconfinable. Possessed.

It was a field trip for His followers to show them just how far He would go for one lost soul. And I was completely wrong. Somebody would believe me… and it was Jesus.

So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones. (Mark 5:1-5, NLT)

Jesus. Navigated straight into the chaos of evil. To save a single life. To redeem a tormented soul. To give me a glimpse of what life could be for a young man like WS. To squelch the storm of fear in my soul and stir a heart of compassion. For WS.

During my hours in BPod, I had times of interaction with WS. Lucid and thoughtful moments of interaction. I could see past the shores of despair. Past the brokenness. Through the fog.

He was there. A young man with promise. Someone that Jesus would have gone out of His way to rescue.

A living commentary.

In detention, there is one acceptable act of physical contact with someone like WS. One singular way to say, “You matter to me.”

A fist bump. Knuckles to knuckles. Heart to heart.

I was in prison, and you came to me…

For one lost soul.


To be continued…


Incarcerated – Part 2

May 10, 2019
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I completely underestimated what would happen in 26 hours of incarceration. I invited this. At an important level, I wanted this. I just didn’t know what would happen. Most specifically, KB happened. I was clothed in the same clothes, but I was decades apart, more specifically, I was a lifetime apart. Perhaps that’s why my […]

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Incarcerated – Part 1

May 3, 2019

I sat across from Danny, a bright, young member of our team from Indianapolis. His eyes danced with joy and hope and confidence and a winsomeness that is nearly childlike. But Danny is no child. At least not by conventional definition. His pathway to our team twisted in directions that made an onramp to a […]

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What was she thinking? Seriously.

April 26, 2019

I’m sure we’ve all done it. You know, started a project or engaged in an activity only to realize very quickly that whatever tool or expertise or strength we brought into the situation was grossly overmatched. It makes me think about the 1975 movie, Jaws. A classic line in the movie is when Roy Scheider, […]

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Joe and Nick…

April 22, 2019

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So, he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing […]

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I am LaGuardia Airport

April 12, 2019

$6 Billion. The largest current infrastructure project in the state of New York. LaGuardia Airport. LGA in aviation terms. A seven-year project that completely overhauls highways, terminals, and gates. For any LGA traveler, this is a welcome transformation. The airport boasts some of the worst reviews in the country. Last Friday afternoon I arrived at […]

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“I love you, too.”

April 5, 2019

Several days ago, when Mary stopped by Peakview Assisted Living Center to pick up Eunice, her 93-year-old Mom, she witnessed an interesting exchange between Eunice and the head of maintenance, named Pete. Although the details of the interaction remained a mystery to Mary, what was vivid and clear was Pete’s gratitude for something that Eunice […]

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Reach for the fringe

March 29, 2019
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Desperate. But not hopeless. Penniless. But not broke. For twelve very long years. She knew the law. She lived the shame. For twelve very long years. Unclean. If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time […]

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From Arbel

March 22, 2019
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A simple walk. A familiar setting, and once again, Mary spotted wild life that I would have walked past. This time, a Cooper’s Hawk in a Ponderosa Pine. I paused and she calibrated my line of sight. And yes, there it was. Beautiful. Elegant, really. A puffed chest and a spotted tail. Virtually motionless. Hidden […]

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