Paulo Gustavo,  The Judge:  – São Paulo, Brazil

Paulo Gustavo was a respected judge, and a very renowned man in Sao Paulo Brazil. He always wore the same soft black shirt that his wife had given him on Christmas four years ago. He was a kind man, but strong and proud. However, as he sat by the hospital bed with his two young sons in his arms and his wifes small frail hand in his, he did not feel strong or proud, he felt broken. Thunder rolled in the distance and rain poured down the hospital window. The doctor said his wife would not make it through another night, today, the cancer would take her.

She was sleeping now and Paulo thought she looked as beautiful as she did the day they met fifteen years ago. He gently stroked her cheek and pushed her long, black hair off her sweaty forehead. He closed his eyes and let memories fill his mind. When they first bumped into each other at the grocery store, their wedding, the birth of their two sons, and some of his favorite memories, the two of them singing together. Singing the lullaby they used to comfort their little boys each night. “Sleep little one, the crocodile wont get near you. Mommy is here and Daddy can hear you…” Johnnie was 5 now and Lucas was only two.

Tears escaped his eyes as he thought of all he would loose when his wife left this world. How would he breathe? How would he be strong for his sons when his own heart was shattered?  “Don’t leave me my love, please don’t leave me...” Paulo whispered, fighting back tears.  Johnnie woke up and reached to lay next to his mother. Her eyes fluttered open and she whispered softly, “I will never leave you my darling, I will be with the angels watching you,” she said,  “I will watch you my little Johnnie, always take care of Lucas ok? Protect him from the crocodile” she said with a smile as she kissed her son on the forehead. Johnnie smiled and stood next to her bed, not understanding that his mama, was saying goodbye.

She let out a long, heavy sigh and said in whisper that took the last of her strength, “Sing to me my husband, sing me to sleep my darling…one more time”.  Paulo grasped her hand and tried to swallow back the tears. He pressed her cold hand to his cheek and whispered “I love you my angel,” She tried to sing with him but her strength failed. Her eyes closed again and then her hand fell limp in his. She was gone. The four of them had sang together for the last time.

Fábio – Chicago, Illinois

Years ago, when things were ok in Fabio’s life, music would fill his house. His mom played the violin and she had learned a certain song from her music teacher who was from a foreign country which she played all the time. They never sang the words because they could not pronounce them, but she would play the melody and Fabio would tap out a beat with whatever was handy. But that was such a long, long time ago. One day when he was a teen, his father had decided to trust a friend and invest a large sum of money into a business.

His mother had adamantly  warned him not to, saying his “friend” was not trust worthy but his dad did not listen and invested it all. They ended up loosing every penny and never hearing from the “friend” again. 

This was the beginning of constant friction between his parents. Eventually they got back on their feet but his father would never admit that he made a mistake and was wrong. He would talk in circles and blame a million other things. As a Catholic, his mom was a kind and forgiving person, and Fabio knew she would let it go and move on if only his dad would just say he was sorry.  Why was it so hard to say those two words? Just think of all the tragedy, divorce and heartbreak in life that could be prevented if one person could just say those two little words? “I’m sorry”.

His parents would argue all the time about everything and anything. Little arguments would turn into fits of rage and eventually Fabio’s dad started drinking and staying out late after work so he didn’t have to be home.  As the years wore on, things got worse and worse.

One day, as a storm raged outside, his father was raging inside the house  and in his fury, he grabbed his moms violin and hurled it against the wall, shattering it completely. Then his dad walked out into the rain, walked out of their lives and never came back.

Fabio hated his dad with every fiber in his body.  For some reason, part of him blamed his mom and all though he loved her, he just did not want to be around her. Money ran out and they spent some time on the streets and in shelters. Fabio got into a few fights and thats how he got a long scar that ran down the left side of his face. He hated the scar, because every time he looked in the mirror it reminded of things he wanted to forget.

Eventually his mom got a job at an electronics store and a one bedroom flat. Fabio joined the police academy since they paid for schooling, got his own place to stay, a car and a decent life. He began attending an evangelical church since he liked the message they taught about not suffering and being blessed. He became constantly critical of his moms Catholic faith and it was another rift between them. Like his pastor taught him, he would always try to be better and be a good person, but in reality, he was a bitter, angry man and he felt no different on the inside even if he went to his church and tried to act better on the outside. No matter how much he had, he always wanted more and told himself if he worked hard enough he could get whatever he wanted. He despised the poor and never gave them a second glance. I think it was because they reminded him of being poor himself, and that is something he wanted to forget.

One day his mom called and said she had gotten the day off. She asked him to go for a walk with her through the rose gardens in Central Chicago. Fabio answered the phone and when he heard his mothers voice he rolled his eyes as he ran his finger over his scar. He said he was too busy and couldn’t go with her, even though he had nothing to do that day. His mom said it was fine and instead she decided to pick up an extra shift at the electronics store.

She hoped to raise some extra cash and eventually buy a new violin. Maybe she could bring music back, and maybe music would bring her son back.

Later that night, as the winds picked up and a storm rolled in, Fabio’s phone rang again. He was in the middle of watching his favorite reality tv show and mumbled a curse as he got up to answer the phone. “Fabio Geraldo?” said the voice on the other end, “Yeah, what?” Fabio snapped. “You need to come to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital on 2525 S Michigan Ave. Your mother was shot this evening when her store was robbed … its serious.”  The doctor said that if she lived, she would never walk again, never walk through the roses.

Derek – New York, USA

Derek was a handsome man with green eyes and sandy blond hair. He was 33 years old, tall, outgoing, and wore the same blue shirt every day.  In his youth he was an athlete and had gotten accepted into the University of Illinois on a full ride basketball scholarship. It was his dream to make it to the NBA professional league and play for the Chicago Bulls, but a bad knee injury changed all that. Instead he ended up marrying a girl from New York, moving to Brooklyn with her and having a child. He had been happy with his life for a while, but he never imagined that things would turn out the way they did.

Derek sighed as he got off work and headed to the cafeteria. He always sat at the same table, every single day. All the employees there knew it was “his table”, and the cook smiled at him as he came in.  It’s not like it was a nice comfy booth or a window seat, its just that is was his seat and he had been coming and sitting here for over two years now. Everyone grabbed a tray and got in line to get lunch. He got his food and wandered over to “his table” to eat. He tuned out all the chatter and thought about his daughter. Sweet little Mari. She was loosing her vision, and it would not be long before she would be completely blind. That thought broke his heart time and time again. She lived with her mom now but would come visit him next month. Lost in thought he paid no attention to what he was eating and before he knew it a loud sound brought him back to reality.  “Form a line gentlemen, you know the drill. Everybody back to your cells” Shouted the head guard as all the inmates in their blue shirts started to get in line. Thats how it was here at Rikers Island Prison in New York city where Derek was awaiting transfer to serve a serve a ten year sentence at a state facility.

Ana: Saint Joesph’s home for children: Chicago, Illinois:

A few of the children that Anna cared for at the Saint Josephs home were handicapped, one boy was autistic, one girl had down syndrome and another was blind. Anna was always quick to make the children feel welcome and to give them the sense that they had a home and that they belonged.  ‘I am so old, so tired,” Anna thought to herself as she looked at a small statue of Mary that sat on her dresser, “if it were not for the help of the blessed Virgin Mary, I don’t know if I could do this’. ‘And really, even with all my prayers, sometimes I just feel so alone, so sad and so inadequate.”

She closed her eyes and quietly said the rosary as her fingers ran down the purple beads .

The rosary was a gift from her grandmother so many years ago and she never took it off.  The shelter she ran was in shambles and they received no funding to fix it up. Sometimes the electricity would go off and they rarely had hot water.  “Anna, where is the oatmeal”, little Sasha called softly up the stairs. ‘She always does that’ thought Anna with a smile,  ‘whispers loud enough to wake me if I’m asleep, but quiet enough to deny she was trying to wake me.  “I am coming deary”, Anna whispered back,  “hang on”.

She caught her reflection in the mirror and saw all the lines and wrinkles that were forming on her face. There were more gray hairs then she remembered too, how fast time goes. She threw on a pink flower patterned shirt, combed her hair and then scooted to the edge of the bed to get into her wheel chair.

The Book

Ahh yes, then there’s the book, the book which also has a part to play in this story of ours and not a small one at that. The book sat on the highest up shelf in the farthest back corner in the dimmest lit room. It had so much dust on it that you could not even read the title. It had sat in the same place, on the same shelf, in the same room, for a very long time and no one had ever read it.

Paulo Gustavo, The Judge:  – São Paulo, Brazil

It took Paulo a long time to get over the death of his wife, and really, he never did. He was broken inside, but put on a strong face for the sake of his sons. How often we do this, project an image of “ok” for everyone to see, even though our heart is shattered and we are anything but ok.

The lullaby became as much a part of Paulo as his first name. Many nights as the boys grew, Paulo would sit in their room, wearing his favorite soft black shirt and sing to them late into the night until the storm passed and they fell asleep, imagining that his beautiful wife sat in the rocking chair next to him.

Johnnie was always a source of encouragement and joy to his father.  Even after loosing his mother he would try to cheer his dad up. “Something good will happen soon dad, you’ll see”,  Johnnie would always say. It was a phrase that his mother had said often.  He woke up every morning looking for something good to happen in the day.

The years turned and the boys grew to teens. Lucas loved soccer and was very good. He had a chance to get a scholarship to an elite school and was practicing hard for the day he would get to try out.

Johnnie loved music and had a phenomenal talent to play any instrument.  Paulo worked a lot so the two brothers began to spend more time together. Their father had just finished a long case involving a crime between two gangs in Sao Paulo, Red command and First Command and said that now that that was over, he would be able to spend more time with them again.

It was mid June, and Lucas finally got an invitation to tryout and see if he would get accepted into the soccer school.

They all piled into the truck and Paulo turned on the radio as he drove his boys to the soccer park. Johnnie sat in front and leaned back over the seat to ruffle his little brothers hair. “Hey Lucas, something good is going to happen today, you’ll see” he said with a wink. Lucas smoothed his hair back down and smiled. He reached forward and turned the radio up since his favorite song had come on. They put the windows down and let the cool air blow through the truck as the three of them moved to the rhythm.

Paulo dropped off his sons and then had to run to the office real quick and drop off some files. His office was close by, so even with the crazy Sao Paulo traffic, he promised to be back in time.

Johnnie and Lucas ran laps around the field warming up. They talked and joked with each other as the ran. Johnnie coached his brother in a series of drills and stretches going up and down the field. Other boys were arriving and they were glad they had already claimed a goal.  They were practicing free kicks, with Johnnie as the goalie, then they switched.

Johnnie caught the eye of a pretty girl on the sideline watching him and he kicked the ball super hard to impress her. But it was a sloppy kick and the ball sailed way over the goal, over the fence and across the street. Lucas shoved past his brother with a giggle, “Real nice bro, I’m sure shes impressed, you better hope I can find the ball” he joked and ran out of the soccer park and across the street to get the ball.  Johnnie bent down to tie his shoe and smiled at the girl on the sidelines who blushed and waved back.

Thunder cracked in the distance and a storm would soon be here. Johnnie hated storms, even though he was so young when his mother died, he identified storms with bad things happening.  He hopped it would not rain till after the tryouts, mud would not be good and he really wanted this for his little brother. He just knew his brother would make the elite team. Soccer would be his brothers ticket to a better life.

Suddenly, in the silence of the afternoon, a gun shot split the air. It took a second for Johnnie to realize what the sound was and where it came from. Then as if in slow motion, Johnnie spun around and screamed his brothers name. A car sped away and someone was screaming.  Johnnie ran around the fence as fast as his legs could carry him.

Across the street he saw his brothers body laying on the ground, his shoulders shaking and blood seeping around his chest. “No no no….” he screamed as he held his brother and put pressure on the gun shot wound.  Lucas’ eyes were wide with fear, he was shaking and fading fast. “Shhh” Johnnie said, “everything is going to be ok, your gnna be fine, HELP, HELP.. OH GOD… SOMEONE CALL AN AMBULANCE…SOMEONE HELP,” Johnnie screamed. Big rain drops slowly  began to fall. Luke’s eyes kept closing and Johnnie was rocking him in his arms to keep him awake. “HELP US! GET AN AMBULANCE”, he screamed again, but it was obvious that no help would arrive in time.  “I love you my brother, my best friend...” Lucas whispered, as the last of his breath left him. “Go to mama, little brother, tell her I’m sorry I …I didn’t keep you safe…the Crocodile got you...” Johnnie said as tears poured down his cheeks.

Paulo pulled up into the parking lot and reached his camera out of the back seat. He smoothed down his black shirt as he got out. He was so happy he got out of the office, through traffic and made it back to the soccer park in just over an hour. No one was on the field so he assumed he was still early. ‘Odd, the boys should be here warming up,’ he thought, ‘ I dropped them off by this field’. Maybe they are getting lunch somewhere.’ His eyes scanned the surrounding fields and he did not see them.  He looked across the street and saw a crowd gathering as an ambulance pulled up screeching to a halt. His heart skipped. Cop cars arrived as Paulo jogged over to the crowd. What he saw shattered the little that was left of his heart. He knelt beside Johnnie and wept. The skies unleashed rain as if the very heavens were weeping with them.

Why? If there was a God, why would He let such horrible things happen? How could one man survive so much pain, so much suffering. Why him?

The police could never find the shooter, but all the evidence pointed to revenge from a gang leader that Paulo had put in prison.  Nothing ever was or could be the same. Johnnie harbored unspoken blame towards his father for what happen. He also blamed himself because he was the one who kicked the ball. If he had not kicked the ball to impress that damn girl, his brother would be here.  Paulo vowed on his life to find the shooter and bring him to justice. But something inside Johnnie had been broken and could not be repaired. He would not wait for the slow justice of the law, he would take his own. He would find those responsible, and kill them. After the funeral, Johnnie left. Nothing good could or would ever happen to him now. Good had died with his brother.

Ana: Saint Joesph’s home for children: Chicago, Illinois:

Anna went down to the office every Monday for a year and tried to apply for government funding to keep the orphanage open. They always said “no”, just in  a different way each time’ she thought as she fingered her purple rosary. ‘One would never imagine there could be so many ways to say no. ‘Maybe they have a book called “10,000 ways to say no” if not they should write one’. ‘The government is so corrupt and no one cares about anyone.’

Anna began to realize that even if she sold everything, she still would not be able to afford to keep the orphanage open. She worked hard to find some of the children new homes, some to get adopted, but some, like the ones with special needs, no one would take.

She decided that the best option was for her and a few of the other children to take a bus to New York City.  There was another home there and maybe they would take the remaining children. As for herself, she didn’t know where she would end up, probably on the streets for a while, but she would be fine, she always was.  She hummed softly to herself as she packed up some boxes of the few possessions she had. She found an old broken violin that she had once loved. It seemed it was a lifetime ago that she would play for the children. She used to take music lessons from a foreign teacher and they would play together for hours. She just couldn’t bring herself to get rid of the violin.


Fábio- Prison Guard, Rikers Island, New York.

Fabio let his grief over what happen to his mother turn into pent up rage. She lived, but was paralyzed from the waist down. She never held anything against him, nor made him feel guilty for what had happen. She showed him love and support and for some reason, that bothered Fabio even more. The guilt of not taking her walking on her day off, haunted him constantly. If he had gone, everything would be different.

Sometimes he drank to forget it all, but only a little bit, not like his father, he would tell himself. No, he was much better than his father. He was basically a good man and would just keep trying to be better. He never apologized to his mom, or showed remorse, never said those two words, “I’m sorry”. Over time he lost contact with his mom all together. He never helped her with her bills or thought much about her situation. After all, he was the victim here and had his own problems and own life to deal with.  Plus he always gave his pastor ten percent, so he really couldn’t afford more charity. He kept going to his church, one hour on Sunday, and worked to keep the ten commandments all though it was really impossible and he often failed. He tried to cover up his scar with makeup, not realizing it only made it more obvious.

Fabio graduated from the academy and became a prison guard. He started out at Cook County Jail as a low level guard, but worked his way up to high security guard and then got himself transferred to Rikers Island prison in New York City, because it was that prison that held the man that shot his mom.

Yes indeed, Fabio planned it all out. He had to take out his anger on someone, and he blamed that man for everything that was wrong in his life. After some research he found out where the man was serving his time.  He let hatred be his dearest friend and close confident. Hatred and self pity where his right and left hand friends. They would talk to him every night and wake him up in the morning. Like poison in his blood, self pity and hate began to consume him.  He may not be a perfect man, but he was far better than the prisoners he would lock up.


Johnnie, “The Crocodile” – – Chicago, Illinois

The Croc, thats what they called Johnnie now and he liked it. He had earned it and even had a crocodile tattooed on his shoulder. He was barely 20 and was already well known as a top gang leader in Chicago. Back home in Brazil, he had spent years seeking out everyone he thought was involved in his brothers death. After getting revenge,  he fled to America with a fake passport before the law could catch up to him in Brazil.

Even after all that Johnnie had become and all that he was involved in, inside he sometimes just felt like a scared little boy and his one passion and love was still music. Any music and all music. He loved it so much so that he taught in a nearby music school, which also provided great cover for all his operations. Seriously, who would ever suspect a quiet music teacher to be a drug dealer?

The Croc had spent the last 6 months planning to take over the eastern block in a neighborhood in Chicago. There was a building  that was ideal to set up base for trafficking operations. He was planning it to perfection, staked out when and where the cops came by, who was where and he should be able to complete it all in about two hours. He knew when the current gang leaders would be away just long enough to come in and take over.

It was early October and rained most mornings. Today was clear but there were dark clouds in the distance and it would surely rain later in the evening. “All right were good to go” The Croc said into his cell phone, “Move in at exactly 3:15”.  He watched as his men moved about and all the pieces fell into place. Everything was going as planned and at this rate they should beat the storm.

Suddenly, out of no where, shots were fired from a high building and they all dove for cover. In two seconds things went from quiet, to chaos. Croc looked to where he thought the gunfire was coming from and started shooting back and yelling out orders. A womens scream pierced the air.  Johnnie looked and realized that between him and his target, there was an indoor soccer complex. Practice was letting out. A high-school team was running for cover and shouting. “What? No! Where did these kids come from?” Without realizing what he was doing, instead of fleeing, Johnnie ran up to the commotion to see what happened. He looked down to see a tragic sight that he had seen before. A sight that haunted his every dream. A young man about Luke’s age, had been shot and was dying on the ground, clutching his chest as blood soaked through his jersey. So much blood. His brothers blood. The blood he had shed in revenge.

Johnnie froze and  screamed, “Lucas!!” One of his men appeared by his side pulling him back to reality and yelling that they had to get out of there. Johnnie fled.

Three days later the Chicago police knocked down his door. He saw them coming and knew this was the end.

He had been in shock since the shooting and life seemed to happen in slow motion. He knew that it was his bullet that hit the young soccer player. His life was over and he didn’t even care. This nightmare just kept getting worse.

Derek — Prisoner at Rikers Island, New York.

Derek came to the cafeteria again in his nicely pressed blue prison shirt, got his tray and headed to “his” seat. Anger flashed through him as he looked to see another inmate sitting in his seat. Sure, its ridiculous to care where you sit, I mean your in prison after all, but there are only so many things that you have, that are yours, and you have to fight for what you can.

Derek came up behind the inmate in his seat, slammed his tray down on the table and said, “Hey punk, what are you doing here?” The man in his seat looked up and shrugged.  “Oh you want to fight huh,” said Derek getting angrier by the moment.

He grabbed the kids shirt when another inmate quickly jumped in. “Hey hey, calm down Derek, he’s a foreigner, he is, just got transfered here from Chicago. He don’t know its your seat, and he don’t speak English, take it easy man”. Derek was embarrassed for getting so angry. “Sorry” he said, and offered his hand to the man. “His names Johnnie, or João in his language”, said the other inmate, “He is from Brazil, serving a life sentence”.  “Oh, wow, sorry, good to meet you João, you can sit with me if you like”, said Derek.

Back in his cell, Derek smiled to himself when he remembered that Fabio, his worst guard, had a three day weekend off. Most of the guards here were actually pretty fair and treated him ok. Some were actually kind of like friends, but Fabio made his life a living hell. He would go the extra mile to humiliate, and demean him as well as physically abuse him as much as he could get away with it. As if prison was not hell enough, why did he have to be locked up with the guard, who was the son of the women he had accidentally shot?

He felt horrible for what had happen. He wished more than anything he could change the past and take back what he did.  But no matter how many times he thought about the past, his mind ended up in the same place it was now. Lost. Funny thing it is, thinking about the past, like a man lost in a forest wandering in circles. You always end up at the exact same place you start, lost.  And no matter how many times you think through a past experience, you can not change one single thing in the present, and often, before you realize it, the future slips away. He closed his eyes and relived what happen for the hundredth, perhaps thousandth time….

When he found out that his little girl would loose her vision within a few years, he wanted nothing more than to make her dream of being a photographer come true, even if just for a short time. They were just a middle class family with an average income. When Derek’s dream of being a professional athlete did not work, he learned construction and made enough to pay the bills, but that’s about it.

His car had broke down one day so he couldn’t make it to work.

He called his boss to explain but since he had also been sick the day before, his boss fired him. Derek was devastated. He was so close to being able to buy his little girl the camera of her dreams, and now he would not have enough, as well as probably not make the rent. He came home in tears as his wife wrapped him in a warm hug.  “We’ll make it darling, somehow we will” she said.  “Whats wrong daddy”, said Mari as she came into the kitchen, her thick pink glasses falling off her nose and her green eyes magnified behind the glass.  “Nothing little princess” he said, “Lets go to the park”.

Well things did not get better, they got worse.   Derek could not find work and little Mari’s  vision deteriorated quickly. They spent the rest of what they had to get her stronger prescription glasses. Derek’s wife worked at a little restaurant and made just enough to cover the rent.

Derek’s mind ran through the years like watching a movie in slow motion…. He came to the memory where he took the gun he had owned and walked into the store… Idiot! What was he thinking?

He pointed the gun at the lady and demanded she hand him the camera that was under the counter. The women had a look of shear terror on her face that haunted Derek’s dreams. She quickly complied, passing him the camera, and at first it seemed that his plan was going to work, but when he turned to run out of the store, he tripped and somehow his hand pulled the trigger on the gun and he shot the women in the back. He knew he would be caught and knew his time with his family was short.

He wrapped the camera with a big pink ribbon and put it on his daughters bed in the morning. When she had rubbed the sleep from here eyes and saw it, she thew her arms around him. He knew what he did was wrong, but in that moment he didn’t care. His wife had a look of both deep sorrow and anger that hurt him deeply. She knew that they could not have afforded it and in that moment, she knew this was the end of their family.

A few days past and Derek thought that maybe he would not be caught, maybe he would get away with it. But then one day as he was waiting at a bus stop, three cop cars came out of no where and that was it.

So once again, Derek had completed the endless cycle of thinking about the past and not changing a thing. Really, he could deal with being in prison and the whole physical side of things, but the mental part was the hardest. His thoughts always filled him with darkness and grief.


Paulo Gustavo,  The Judge:  – São Paulo, Brazil

Paulo had never stopped searching for his son. He imagined that Johnny had changed his name and moved far away. But he never gave up hope that one day he would again find his boy and hold him in his arms.

Each night he would sit alone in the rocking chair, in his big empty house, wearing his soft black shirt that his wife had given him and would sing the lullaby out loud. He imagined that it would carry across the skies and maybe John would hear it and follow it home. He felt so old, even older then he was.

Suffering and pain do that to a soul, they steal the spark of hope that makes a heart beat, and without hope, we have nothing.

Early one morning Paulo walked into his office humming  softly to himself like he often did.  “Good morning sir”, said his secretary, “and will  you please stop humming that lullaby, it goes through my mind for days”. Paulo smiled at her and winked at the joke they shared between them. He sat down on the leather chair in his office and started going through some papers.

He could over hear a conversation taking place in the next room as two men talked about a developing case that was coming in the United Sates. He was annoyed at how loud they were talking and was getting up to shut the door when the conversation sparked his interest. “Yeah, I hear they finally caught him”, said one, “Finally he will get what he deserves for killing that kid”. “Yeah, they finally linked him to the identity as the Crocodile. Well, one more gang leader behind bars”.

“Crocodile..” the words bounced around in Paulo’s mind. Suddenly, Paulo bolted up and stuck his head in the other room. “What did you say” he asked, his heart beat picking up. “We were just talking about how they caught that kid in Chicago”, “and what was his name” Paulo demanded, more intensely than he intended. “He called himself the Croc”, the man answered. Paulo sat back at his desk and furiously started typing a letter.

Fabio- Prison Guard, Rikers Island, New York.

Fabio had spent the day hanging out with friends, watching baseball and having a good time. He was happy the New York Yankees should make it into the playoffs this year. He had allowed himself a few extra drinks since he was starting a long three day weekend, but not as many as his father would drink, he told himself, no, he was better than that.

It was late and Fabio was going to head home, call it a day and come back tomorrow, maybe they would get out of town for a while. “Hey dude”, said one of his friends, “you shouldn’t drive, you’ve had a few too many, plus its raining pretty hard, I’ll call you a cab”. The rage that Fabio had inside him was always just a step from the surface. Anything at any time could set him off, and in this case, it happen to be a guy implying that he, the upstanding, law abiding, man who was nowhere near the low life his father was, was drunk! Outrageous! Fabio spewed off a string of curses as he rubbed his hand over his scar, got into his car and sped off. ‘At least I try to be good’ he thought, ‘everyone else doesn’t even try. The low life beggars, trying to live off of the hard work of others, the scum in prisons, the idol worshiping Catholics, evil sinners all of them’. He even thought poorly of his mother, ‘She’s just content to be a nothing in the world, lives in some poor area and teaches a bunch of no good kids who’s own parents didn’t want them.’

Suddenly, his head hit the steering wheel and loud screams pierced his thoughts. It felt like he ran over something, he must have hit a bump. He saw a red light, a crowd of people and heard cries and shouting.

His heart was racing dangerously fast and he was sweating and gasping for air. Everyone was shouting at him and two men were running after his car as he sped down the road and away from the scene. He remembered seeing women in the road through the rain pouring over the windshield, what were they, blind! More stupid people being stupid.

His head hurt from the impact and his vision swam from all the alcohol in his system. He drove and drove to get far away from the accident. Finally he pulled over and stopped the car in an abandoned parking lot. The storm was getting worse. He closed his eyes. Everything suddenly came back to him more clearly. The light was green and had just gone red or was red and had just turned green, whatever. There were people in the crosswalk. Idiots! What were they doing?! He knew he hit them at a very high speed. He would go to prison for a long time, he knew the law and he knew hit and run was a serious crime, more so depending on how bad he had injured the pedestrians. Suddenly a thought popped into his head, a thought that gave him a rush of hope. Yesterday his licenses plate had fallen off and he had not gotten to putting it back on! If the car could not be identified,  there is no way they could find him. Plus it was raining so no one could have gotten a very good look at him.

Johnnie, “The Crocodile ” Prisoner at Rikers Island, New York

Johnnie’s trial had been short. There was just too much evidence. He was given a life sentence without parole. When the jury read the verdict, it was if time had stood still. In that one moment his life changed forever. “We the jury find the defendant guilty on all counts …” Guilty. He was, he knew it, he deserved his sentence but to come to terms with his new reality would take a long time. If only  Johnnie had researched longer, he would have realized there was a soccer park there and never shot that boy. That boy…just the thought pierced Johnnie’s heart.

Johnnie reflected on the insanity of the life he had been living. ‘Where does the cycle of violence, hatred, revenge and bloodshed end?  In a prison? In a graveyard? In Brazil and Chicago, he ran drugs, led gangs, and was proud of it. But now, sitting in prison, he saw it as insanity. His gang fought another gang, they retaliated, he killed they killed back, blood for blood, life for life and when did it end? Nothing he did brought his brother back or relieved his pain.

So now he was in the middle of this horrible nightmare called “prison”. Inside he wanted to weep, but outside he had to keep up the strong image of the Croc that every gang feared and respected. The prison was so overcrowded that there was nowhere Johnnie could go to just be alone for a second. The constant noise of prisoners and guards shouting and yelling could drive a man mad. Sometimes Johnnie just wanted to scream, sometimes he did. The portions of food they were given were so small that he was always hungry and the little food he did get tasted terrible.

He would try to exercise in his cell to maintain his physical strength but it was hard when he felt hungry all the time. The sewage often backed up and the smell was so bad that he constantly felt nauseas or had a headache.  No one could imagine prison if they had not experienced it themselves.

Prisons are on the bottom of the list as far as government funding goes and so get little to no resources. Prisoners are viewed as the lowest members of society, criminals merely getting what they deserve. No one considers that in different circumstances they could find themselves in the exact same situation, and that really, all of us are one mistake away from ending up in a prison, or hospital. Such is this ever so fragile life.

All though Johnnie would never admit it to anyone, he still had the faint hope, the prayer that he had as a child, that maybe, just maybe, even now, even here, something good would happen to him. ‘Maybe I’ll get another appeal, maybe a phone call, or a letter, or a visitor, or some kind of good news’ he thought. Maybe some how, some day, he would see his father just one more time. But Johnnie had no family here in the US, he had no visitors, no one would come and no one would call.

Derek — Prisoner at Rikers Island, New York.

Derek shook away memories of the past and returned to the happy thought of seeing his baby girl in just a few hours. In a work shop here in the prison, he had made her a case for her camera out of a pink rose fabric with a purple lace strap. He smoothed out his blue shirt as he wrote her name on the side, “Marita” like he called her when she was little.

Derek Fairfield” said a gruff voice, “You need to come with me”. “What? What do you mean?” Derek asked, “It’s visiting, day, I have to get ready for my girl and I don’t have work detail until 3pm?” “You just need to come with me”, said the guard, pity touching his tone.

Derek followed the guard to the wardens office, dread filling his every step.

What had he done? Were his visiting privileges being revoked for some reason? Had that time he lost his temper with the foreigner who took his seat in the cafeteria come back on him? The director told him to take a seat which he did, holding his breath. “Derek , I’m sorry, I have some really bad news for you. There is no easy way to tell you this, but I am afraid there was a hit and run accident and your wife and daughter have been killed, I’m so sorry … you can have the day to yourself”.

Derek’s grief was overwhelming. He sat in the library so he could be alone and just wept. He couldn’t be angry at who did it, because he did not know who did it. “Why?” he cried inside, “Why me?” He would have been out in a year and could have tried to rebuild the life they had before. Now he barely saw a reason to live. He sat in the library weeping. “Why?!” he shouted and slammed his fist on the table. The books from the top shelf rattled loose and fell down as Derek left the library and returned to his cell.

The Book

For the first time in years, the book moved. It fell to the ground with a thud and dust floated into the air. Somehow the old binding still held up as it lay open on the ground.

Johnnie, “The Crocodile ” Prisoner at Rikers Island, New York

Johnnie was just trying to survive the routine of prison life. His mind wandered aimlessly. Most of the time thinking about the past or thinking about himself or thinking about nothing at all. It was as if he were always sleeping in the middle of a nightmare.

One morning as he lay in his bunk in the cell, he was looking at a poster of a car he had up on the wall. It was a black and elegant Corvette. That was how Johnnie felt, nothing more than a picture of a fast car. All the potential, power and vigor of youth, but trapped behind bars, unable to “drive”, doomed to waste his life. As he stared at the poster, a thought entered his mind and he sat up. Obviously, a car could never drive unless you started the engine. If he did not “turn on” his mind, his free will, and start thinking, then, of course, his mind would wander to dark places and he would not go anywhere. Johnnie had always been his own man. He made his own choices for his own life. So why should that change now? Even if his body was trapped, his mind could go wherever he wanted. He would not allow where he was on the outside to determine who he was inside.

At that moment, Johnnie decided to make a change. If he was going to survive this nightmare, he would have to activate his mind and “wake up.” He went to the library to see if he could find anything to read that could at least help him learn better English. He walked through the library for about twenty minutes, but found nothing that interested him.

He was about to leave when his eyes fell on a book laying on the floor. The book had the same name as his, “St. John.” ‘Wow, someone thinks I’m a saint and named a book after me,’ he laughed to himself. He took the book and sat down to read. As he read, it was as if words were being spoken out loud and specifically to him. Something began to touch his heart and call him, something beyond himself.

He checked the  book out of the library and returned to his cell. Little by little, every day, all alone, Johnnie began to read the gospel called “St. John” and some of the books before it and after.

At first, as he began to read the New Testament, his mind wandered, he began to think of other things and lose focus. Some of the things he read he did not understand right away. But every day he was persistent and kept reading. If you want to learn a new language, it requires work, study and time. Johnnie would work to focus his mind and meditate on the words he read.

He read about a Father and a son. God sent His Son Jesus, down to earth, so that He could know our pain and obstacles. Jesus rescued us from our sin by dying on a cross. Jesus became broken so he could identify with our weakness and heal us. Then He rose from the dead and now offers us unlimited forgiveness and eternal life. All sin, past present and future, has been forgiven.

‘What if this is all true?’ Johnnie thought, ‘What if Jesus is really alive today and offers something else for this life?’ Johnnie pondered and realized that believing this was not a question of blind faith, or emotion, but a logical deduction when he contemplated the historical life of Jesus, and the witness in all creation. This man, Jesus was so cool, so courageous, and yet, He was humble and a servant. He spoke words that gave practical help and had the power to change a life. Johnnie read something that Jesus said in the Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 3, that reached deep within him: “Unless a man is born again he can not see the Kingdom of God.” Johnnie read this part slowly, again and again, each time thinking a little more. He began to speak from his heart to Jesus and asked Him to help him understand. To be ‘born again’ ‘Was this possible,’ thought Johnnie, ‘could I really become someone I am not, someone new? Could I have a new beginning?’

Johnnie had heard many words and phrases about freedom, love, and God. He really hated todays modern “churches” and thought that if there was a God, He would not live in a building or want money. Even here in prison, many church groups came in and out. Some of the prisoners would gather and sing songs, close their eyes and lift their hands. But for Johnnie it all seemed empty. Empty words and emotion did not help solve real problems, real pain and sadness. But now, as Johnnie read the Sacred Scriptures, he realized that God is a Father, looking for a son to love him, not a pastor in nice clothes who wanted him to try to be a good person.

One night, at about 5:00 p.m., just before sunset, sitting alone in his cell, Johnnie decided to believe. He decided to humble himself and give his life to Jesus. He spoke to Jesus with his own words and said, “Jesus, save me from the hell. Jesus forgive my sins. I want to be born again”. He still did not understand everything, but made a commitment and began to learn. Johnnie, “woke up.”

He began to learn that the “good thing” he had always looked for since childhood, the “good thing” that each of us are looking for, has already happened. God gave His Son to the world to save us. This act is so good, it can be the “good thing” for all men, for all times. Think about it, ‘If God just constantly gave things to people all the time, like a butler or Santa Claus, they would always want more and never receive the greatest gift God gave the world, His only Son.’

Johnnie, reflected on his life here in prison. He realized that everyone was looking at him all the time because of his identity as the cool gang leader, the “Croc”. He would influence the attitude of others. Other men copied his negative, arrogant attitude and it became like a poison. Really, what good was it to talk about how bad everything was all the time, and how much they wanted to get out of prison? What would that change? Nothing, it was just depressing. ‘Things that can not be changed, like our past, need to be resolved,’ he thought, ‘Things that can be changed, like our own minds, hearts and attitudes, these are the things we must change.

Johnnie began to realize that he could be a good influence, a leader, a brother and even a friend to his fellow prisoners who were suffering. He could change the attitude and even the atmosphere of the prison. He could be like an eagle, bringing men up, not like a rat dragging them down. He could allow everything that had happened to him to make him a big man with a deep heart. Even if he spent his life in this prison, if he could help change even if one man, then his life would have made a difference.

He used to think, “Well no one cares about me, why should I care about others?” But he began to learn that when he cared about someone else, it helped him to forget his own suffering and gave him a real purpose. The way we love a God who we can’t see, is by loving those we can see. Also, Johnnie thought, “Jesus constantly loved and cared for others, even though no one cared about Him.” Johnnie realized that sometimes when he was in such a dark place, it was thoughts that kept him there. Just thoughts. He read a part of the book called 2 Corinthians 10: 5 that said, “Taking every thought captive…” What happened happened and could not be changed, but it was the thoughts about what happened, that kept him in the dark. He realized that as he studied the Gospel of St. John, new thoughts would come into his mind. He learned that one new, good thought could replace one negative thought. This good thought could turn into two thoughts, two thoughts could turn into many and eventually change your mind, and then your life.

Johnnie began to think of things he could do to help improve the atmosphere in his patio. Simple things like making others laugh, starting positive conversations, listening to others. He could think of games that they could play and start helping others find new thoughts. He had the idea to designate Friday night of each week and make it an evening of activities for all the men in his gallery. He would organize it and they could have a chess tournament one night, maybe do theater, tell stories, play songs, maybe have a talent show other nights. It is really an incredible thing. If you just start to engage your mind, a reaction of creativity and inspiration can follow. Johnnie got a notebook and began writing his ideas down.

The Book

For the first time in years, the book was read and used for the purpose it was intended for. The purpose of changing a life.


Paulo Gustavo,  The Judge:  – São Paulo, Brazil

One day a man came to Judge Paulo’s office trying to find him. He asked his secretary where he had gone and she informed him that he was no longer there. He had put in his letter of resignation and gone to take another job somewhere. When his office heard about the transfer, many assumed he had taken a promotion that had been going around and moved to Brasilia. ‘Its good,’ they all said,  ‘he deserved to be honored after all he has been through.’

Fabio- Prison Guard, Rikers Island, New York.

Fabio was tormented day and night by what had happen. He could hardly get himself together when Monday came around and he had to be back at work. As he walked through the prison gate and showed his ID, it wasn’t the same. A voice in his head told him he should be passing through these gates in handcuffs. He was jumpy all day and not himself. His fellow guards saw it and did not know what was wrong. “I’m gonna make the rounds” he mumbled as he checked in.

Hey Fabio”, called a young guard who was new, “I noticed you are kind of tough on that inmate Derek”,  rage boiled up again in Fabio, “What I do is my business got it” he snapped back as his hand instinctively went to cover his scar. Thats right, thought Fabio, everything was Derek’s fault. But the young guard was not finished, “Actually everything that happens here is all of our business,” he continued, “And I was going to say, take it easy on Derek, at least for a few days. His wife and daughter were killed on Friday. Some monster ran through a traffic light, hit his blind daughter and her mom, and didn’t even stop”. Fabio spit out the coffee he was drinking and could not catch his breath. “Coffee’s too hot” Fabio mumbled as he stormed away.

Derek — Prisoner at Rikers Island, New York.

The director was a kind man. And all though cameras were not allowed in the prison, he still gave Derek the camera that was in his daughter’s hand when she was hit by the car, since it was damaged beyond use. As Derek lay in his bunk, he played with the camera.

His finger fell on the small latch in the back of the camera and it fell open. He was shocked to find that the film was still inside! He had assumed it would have been removed for evidence. His heart beat a little faster at the thought of being able to see the last pictures his daughter took if by some miracle the film was still good. Tomorrow he would ask the director if he could try to develop the film for him. 

Johnnie came into the cell and tossed the book he was reading on the desk. He knew that Derek was really sad and he put his arm on his shoulder. “What have you been reading Johnnie?” Derek asked. Johnnie showed him the book. “Oh, that book, that’s about a guy who was too good for you and me. We’re from a totally different gang.

We’re broken. Damaged product”, Derek said. Johnnie shook his head and said with a smile, “Yeah, I thought that to, but I was wrong. This man specifically said that He did not come for the good guys, but for the bad ones” (Luke.5: 32).

God sent His own Son, Jesus, to, in a sense, “join our gang” Derek, to become one of us. He became a human and had our same blood in His veins. Then Jesus, who helped people, taught people and healed people, ended up going to prison on false accusations and receiving the death penalty! Jesus sat in  prison, waiting for his sentence to be carried out, and after all the love he showed to others, no one came to visit him before his execution. He had no visitors. Then he was tortured to death Derek, and he did it for us. He bled our same blood. He was your age, man, 33. Then is really hard to believe, but while he was dying, the last thing he did was to ask his Father to forgive the men who were killing him! I really can not even imagine that kind of love.”

“That really tragic” Derek said, “Hang on, I’m not done!” Johnnie said, interrupting him, “Derek, this was the beginning! Jesus came back to life! I know it sounds crazy, but it did. A dead man came out of a grave and breathed again. At that moment, He broke the power of death and gave us access to eternal life. Jesus suffered more than any other man. He was broken so He can identify with our pain and heal us (Is.53).

He told a story about a son who left his father and spent all his money on an evil life. Eventually the kid becomes poor and has no food. When he runs out of options, he decides to go back and ask his father to allow him to work as a slave. Then, as  the son is on his way back to his father, the father sees him in the distance and runs out to meet his son. He throws his arms around his son, has a party for him, and treats him like a king. He does not even judge his son, but shows him unconditional love. This is the kind of Father God is, Derek. Imagine that! All our lives we have dreamed of discovering a love like this. Here, read the story, it’s in this book called Luke in chapter 15,” Johnnie said as he handed the book to Derek.

Fabio- Prison Guard, Rikers Island, New York.

Fabio avoided Derek and switched out any shift that would put him around him. He ran his hand over his scar again and again as he tried to decide what to do. He could no longer go on venting all his rage at Derek, because he saw that he had done what he hated Derek for doing. He was the same. He could never bring himself to tell him, or talk to him, because that would mean not only humiliation and loss of his job, but loss of his freedom for he would certainly go to prison for a long time. He decided he would keep his mouth shut, go about his work and in less than a year Derek would be released and it would all be over.

Derek — Prisoner at Rikers Island, New York.

Derek was excited that the director agreed to develop the film for him and the anticipation of seeing the photos helped ease the pain of his loss. For some reason he was not aware of, Fabio had been completely avoiding him and going out of his way to not run into him. Whatever the reason, Derek was grateful and enjoyed being left alone. He did however, have a new understanding for Fabio’s hatred of him. He realized that really, they were exactly the same in a way. They both were filled with the same hatred, the same regret and bitterness and both desired vengeance. They shared the same blood.

One day as he sat in his cell staring at nothing and once again thinking about things he could not change, his eyes fell upon the book that was sitting on Johnnie’s bed. He buttoned his blue shirt and opened up the book. He read a part in Philippines 3:13 that said, “forgetting what lies behind”. And another place that said, “Do not live in the past...(Is.43:18)” How could he forget something so tragic? But then again, how could he live if he kept remembering it.

After lunch the following day, Derek got the photos back from his daughters camera, tucked them inside his shirt and went back to his cell to look at them. Most of them were just black, obviously damaged. He saw some of famous points in New York and smiled, remembering how she always wanted to capture the angle no one saw. Finally he came to one she was in, poising near Time Square trying to look all grown up and professional with her pink glasses on the very tip of her nose. Tears welled up in his eyes. Another picture showed her with a goofy smile on her face pointing to the statue of liberty. Another one was of his beautiful wife smiling, sitting on a bench. Oh how he missed her. More black photos and then there was a photo that made his heart skip a beat.

It was a shot of a car coming head on, no more than 10 feet away. It hit him all at once that this photo was take moments before she was hit. Part of him did not want to look at it, did not want to imagine that moment, and part of him wanted to be there with her at the last second of her life. He began to study the picture and suddenly realized if you looked closely, you could see the driver of the car in the photo! There was a little magnifying page in Johnnie’s book and Derek grabbed it to see the photo better. It was not crystal clear, but clear enough to see. Derek’s mouth slowly fell open as he recognized the driver. There was no mistaking the man with the long scar on his face. It was Fabio.

Justice. He held justice in his hands. He would show this photo to the warden and send Fabio to prison without a doubt.

It was already lock down so he would have to wait till tomorrow, and yet, he was troubled. The words that Johnnie had spoke to him about forgiveness echoed in his head. If this Jesus could forgive the men who murdered Him, then, well, he should at least consider this Man and this work. Johnnie found something in that book, and Derek wanted to find it too.  He read a place where Jesus said, “If we don’t forgive others, we cannot be forgiven”. More than anything, Derek wanted peace. He wanted to be forgiven.

Fabio- Prison Guard, Rikers Island, New York.

Today they were required to do a mandatory shake down of all cells. Fabio was required to do the east wing. All the prisoners lined up in the yard to wait. Fabio went cell to cell and eventually came to Derek’s cell. He saw pictures pinned up of his daughter and was panged with both guilt and anger at the same time. He roughly went through Derek’s things and tore the covers off the bed. When he threw the pillow to the ground, photographs spilled all over the floor. Fabio’s eyes fell to the picture of the oncoming car and instantly recognized himself. There was no denying it, anyone that knew him would clearly recognize him from the photo with his unmistakable scar. He stuffed the photo into his pocket as quick as he could but he knew that if Derek talked, even without the photo, the evidence would come out and he would be caught.

Derek — Prisoner at Rikers Island, New York.

When Derek returned to his cell, he found it trashed and the picture he needed to prove everything, missing. He felt lost and grieved as his mind searched all his options. He knew he could go to the director, make his case and they would probably investigate Fabio and find evidence to convict him. But as he thought that through and imagined Fabio going to prison, it did nothing to ease the pain of knowing he would not see his wife and daughter again. He also knew how much pain he had caused Fabio for the damage he did to his mother.

One day the director called Derek to the office and had him sit down. A little later Fabio walked in as well. Both men were startled to see each other and all though the director was unaware, the tension was heavy in the room. The director informed Derek that progress was being made on the hit and run case and that authorities were looking into everything. “Fabio, I’d like you to keep Derek informed of progress that is made in his case until he gets out of here and can take things into his own hands”, the director said. Fabio’s heart sank and his hands started to shake ever so slightly. “Eventually we will catch him, Derek, I think they found some paint chips or something from the car, so its just a matter of time now”.  A long silence hung in the air.

Derek took a long, deep breath than said, “No”.  All eyes in the room locked on to him. “No, I have decided to let the investigation go and not press charges. I do not want them to look into it any further.  I would rather just put everything behind me. What we do in the present cannot change the past… but it may our future…or ruin another’s future” he said, looking Fabio right in the eyes. “Revenge is a bitter cycle that only leaves destruction in its wake. The past can only ruin us, what is done is done”.

Fabio- Prison Guard, Rikers Island, New York.

When Fabio left the office shortly after Derek left, he was in shock. He could not stop the tears from falling on his face. Without thinking or having any idea what to say, he entered Derek’s cell. They stared at each other for a long time, and then Fabio hugged Derek and they both cried.

From that moment Fabio began to change his ways. ‘What incredible power we have,’ he thought, ‘changing’.  ‘So very simple, instead of being and acting the same way every day, our whole life, one day we can choose to have a different attitude, say or act in a new way. Even in the worst situation, and even if everything was stolen from us, we can still choose our attitude and be the person we decide to be.’

Fabio decided not to continue going to his church, because, honestly, it never gave him anything substantial, he never saw any real change in himself from going to that building. He never found any real answers there. No, if he wanted real answers and help, he had to seek God for himself. He also decided he would rather buy some food for the homeless than give his money to a pastor.

He realized that he was the same as the men in the prison. He was no better. Derek showed him a chapter in the Bible that talked about this thing called “sin.” It was in a book called Romans in chapter 3 and it said that we all have this thing called “sin” in our blood and it is the root of all our problems. ‘If God said we were wicked,’ thought Fabio, ‘then surely He does not expect us to be good!’ The following chapters in Romans explained that we can not be good or obey the law, no matter how hard we try, and if we try, it puts us under a curse. ‘That explains a lot,’ thought Fabio, ‘that’s why I was always so bitter and angry, because I was trying to be good even if it was impossible.’ He continued to read that to be right before God required faith.

Fabio began to realize that the greatest blessing ever given was forgiveness. Jesus had bought forgiveness through His blood and offers it to anyone, no matter what they have done. Fabio learned that things like trying to obey the Ten Commandments, tithing, and entering a building to seek God, were part of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, God made a new law, a new covenant that required faith.

He also read in the book that the world belongs to the devil (1 John 5:19). So that was the answer to the massive question “Why?” That Fabio and so many others ask. “Why? Why did this happen to me? ‘If the world belongs to the devil, then of course bad things are going to happen’.

One day, when Fabio woke up at 5 am to go to work, he realized that today Derek would be released from prison. He had a strange feeling, as if he was losing a friend, someone who understood him and forgave him. He wasted so much time hating Derek when they could have become friends.

He parked his truck and walked to the prison gate. He noticed alongside the prison wall some poor and homeless people begging. There was an older blind man, a woman with three children, and an elderly woman in a wheelchair. It was as if it was the first time Fabio had seen the poor. These people had probably been here a long time, but Fabio had never seen them.

Fabio felt ashamed, all this time he was so consumed with himself and with his own problems that he had been blinded to others who needed help.

He had his lunch in his hand and some coins in his pocket. He went out of his way and gave each of the poor a little, and really looked them in the eyes.

He did not have much to give, but at least he could ask them their names and even encourage them a little. Think about is, how often do the homeless even hear their own names?

He gave the lady in the wheelchair his lunch and the rest of the coins he had. She was so sad and worn out that she could barely lift her head. “Ok,” she said with a faint smile, “That earns you a song, young man.” She picked up an old broken violin that lay next to her and began to play. In the first three notes Fabio fell to his knees and looked into the woman’s eyes. She played the music that his mother had played while growing up! Tears began to fall down his cheeks as he gently lifted her chin so that their eyes met. “Mama”? He asked in a shaky voice. “Is it really you?”

Johnnie, “The Crocodile ” Prisoner at Rikers Island, New York

It had stormed bad the night before and everything was wet and flooded. Storms. They always brought bad things. Johnnie was in his cell, laying on his back dreaming back to the days of his childhood. As he lay there the words to the lullaby his dad would sing him began to go through his head. Every word, with his fathers soft loving voice and deep tone played in his head as if he was really hearing it.  It was so strong that he thought he must be dreaming a very vivid dream. A faint sound of a distant violin accompanied the melody as if making a perfect orchestra.  He even heard the last line of the song which was the one he had always forgotten. “Sleep little one, the crocodile wont get near you. Mommy is here and Daddy can hear you…” Suddenly he bolted up, he was not sleeping, he was fully awake and the song was real! He listened intently as the song echoed through the halls. He could hear it! He could hear his fathers voice singing. There was no mistaking it! And from somewhere there was the sound of a violin playing the same melody ! Johnnie ran to the door of the cell and looked out. There two rows down he saw a man mopping the storm flooded hallways, singing to himself. Johnnie grabbed the bars of his cell and called out at the top of his lungs, “Father”…. !

Derek — Prisoner at Rikers Island, New York.

Today he would be set free. It’s funny, he thought, he spent every moment longing for this day, and now that it was here he realized that what he had found in the book, was not determined by where he was physically. It was not determined by time or space. But he had actually found a “place”, within that place. It was only what he found that made him different, otherwise, here on the outside he would be no different. Being free was great, but without the purpose and understanding that he found in Jesus, even on the outside he would have felt like a prisoner, chained to the routine of an aimless life.

Who we are, is not determined by where we are. He packed his few belongings in a sack, changed out of his blue prison shirt, and left with a guard escorting him out. He had already said goodbye to everyone he cared about, everyone except Fabio that is.

Fabio was late they said, but should be in soon. He kind of wanted to say goodbye to him, but he really didn’t want to wait. He was free. He put the photograph of his wife in his top pocket and held one of his daughter in his hand.

The director shook his hand tightly and respectfully  wished him the best of luck. Then Derek walked out of the huge prison gate, free at last. A large storm was rolling in and dark clouds filled the sky. He turned back to wave to the guard on duty and the stormy wind tore the photograph of his daughter out of his hand and sent it sailing away. He wanted to chase it because it was the only one he had left of his little girl, but it was carried over the wall and he knew he would not find it. He stood at the bus station and could not stop the tears from coming. It is just a picture he thought, time to move on. He saw the bus in the distance and soon he would be far away from here.

Fabio- Prison Guard, Rikers Island, New York.

Fabio hugged his mother a long time and they both cried. Fabio kept repeating how much he regretted the way he treated her, “I’m sorry, Mom, I’m sorry and I’m sorry I never apologized, please forgive me. I’m so sorry”. She touched his hair and whispered softly to him. “Of course I forgive you my dear boy, I’m sorry too, I love you son.” Suddenly, the wind blew a cloud of dirt and garbage in them. Fabio tried to shield his mother, but paper and trash were everywhere. As it passed, Fabio discovered that a photo was stuck in his mother’s wheelchair. It was a picture of Derek’s daughter. He remembered that today Derek was leaving and could already have left.

It hurt to see the photo and his mother saw it in his eyes. “What is that, my love? Who’s in the picture, let me see? “It’s a sad story, Mama,” he replied as he handed the picture to her, “I’ll tell you everything later, but this girl was killed and I should tell her father something before he leaves, forgive me, I’ll be right back”.

He got up quickly and began to jog off when he heard his mother shout behind him: “Fabio, Fabio wait, she is not dead.” “This girl is alive, she stays in a shelter where I moved other children. She comes to see me from time to time. Everyone thought she would die when she was in the hospital after the accident, but she survived.”



There was no second thought when Paulo wrote his letter of resignation. He applied on-line to work as janitor at the Rikers Island jail in New York City. He was hired for the position and flew to the United States. He chose to be a simple public servant, rather than an important judge, so he could be with his son. Sometimes, when we give everything, we find something much greater. And sometimes it is when we choose to become nothing, that we really become something.

Johnnie could not believe that his father had given up everything for him. He felt unworthy and so very grateful. He would spend the rest of his life in prison, but since he discovered this thing called “eternal life,” he now had a perspective far beyond the walls and bars he saw every day.

Really, this life is only a passing shadow compared to spending eternity with the living Father. And no matter what we go through in this life, if we find eternal life, then that’s all that matters.

Johnnie learned that on the other side of the storms of life we ​​can find a Father waiting to help us, a Father who wants us to be a child. Storms can bring bad things, but sometimes they blow away the image we have made for ourselves, so we can see who we really are, what we are made of, and who we can become. In weakness there is beauty. Diamonds are formed in the bottom of the earth, pearls in the depths of the sea, where no one sees. Even in the worst of soils, if a seed breaks, it can turn into a beautiful tree. And even here in prison, a man can become new and find that which is priceless – eternal life. After Fabio gave Derek the photo and the news that his little girl was alive, he returned to his mother. Many things needed to be said, and many did not. He called off work that same day and took his mother walking among the roses. It is better to not say “later” to things we can do right now, because we do not know for sure if we will have a “later”.

One day, when Fabio came home from work, he had a present for his mother. He told her that it was for all the birthdays and Christmas that he had missed. After she opened it, she said nothing, just stared at it for the longest time. Her lips trembled and she slowly raised her hand to cover her mouth. “What’s wrong, Mama?” Fabio asked, “Don’t you like it?” Tears began to trickle down her cheeks as she nodded at him, still not being able to speak. She took the brand-new violin and held it in her hands. “I love it my dear”, “music has come back to us.”

Ana wanted to be close to her son while he continued to work as a prison guard, so she decided to offer music lessons inside the prison. An incredible thing happens when we start caring for others, our own problems become much smaller. Loving others really gives you purpose. When the prison director introduced her to Johnnie, who would be her teaching partner, her face lit up. It was this man who taught her music so many years ago.

The women at the shelter told Derek where to look and he found his daughter on the subway by 34th Street. She was singing so beautifully that a small crowd had stopped to listen. He could not believe she was really here, standing in front of him. His little girl was alive! When she stopped playing, Derek froze for a moment and even though she was completely blind, she knew he was still standing there. He was crying and did not realize it. “Sir, what’s wrong”? she asked. “Marita,” Derek whispered and she ran into his arms.

And the book, well the book, also called the Scriptures, the Bible or the New Testament, remains on a shelf, in a room somewhere, just waiting to be found and read by you. Just waiting to change your life.

The end … and the beginning.

Ruth,  Authors note –

Suffering and pain will never knock on the door and ask permission to enter our lives. Tragedy can happen in a second and leave us trying to pick up the pieces and go on. A difficult past, an accident, prison, death, divorce or something we said or did that had terrible consequences, leave scars on our bodies, hearts or minds. But my friend, no matter what you’ve done or been through; don’t give up, you are not alone. God is not a pastor who wants you to try to be better, but a Father who knows you can’t. He gave His own Son so that He could rescue you, forgive you, embrace you and sing to you the “lullaby” of His love.

We can harbor anger against someone for what they did and yet fail to see that we could have done the exact same thing in another situation. We may think we are so different from each other, but really, we are all the same. We are human and we are all broken. We fail and we make mistakes. We have two arms, two legs, one heart and we bleed the same blood. A blood that is contaminated by something called “sin” (Rom.3:10). It makes us do things we never imagined we could do and do not understand.

Imagine if you had a specific injury and then someone you knew got the same exact injury, You would now be able to tell them specifically how to recover from that injury. Jesus suffered our exact same “injury” of sin.  “…He took up our pain and bore our suffering...”  So now, “… By his wounds we are healed”(Is.53:5). Jesus was us, so He can completely sympathize with us. He bled our same blood on the cross. He fully understands what you, personally, are going through (Heb.4:15). He knows your deepest hurts, your anger, guilt,  fears and regrets so He can completely, unconditionally, forgive you and heal you.

God is not waiting to meet you inside a building on Sunday, but to meet you on the “ground of broken”. A ground where there was a hill and a cross. A ground that was saturated with all of the blood of a man named Jesus. It is now up to us how we respond to this love.

When Jesus walked out of the grave, He broke the cycle of hatred, pain and death. He  proved once and for all that light overcomes darkness, that life is stronger than death and that love is stronger than hatred.

There are many gangs in many cities all over the world. Men against men and it has been so since the beginning of time. 2000 years ago, a young man named Jesus, gave a “New Command”. He said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke.6:27) It is love that breaks the cycle of hatred and the courge to forgive that allows us to heal (1Pet.3:9).

Choose to be humble, and God will hear you. He is close to the broken (Psalm 51:17/1Pet.5:5/1Cor.1:28/Ps.34:18). Power is perfected in weakness. Life is born out of death. Honor follows humility and beauty comes from broken (2Cor.12:9 / John 12:24).

Invest time to study “The Book”, the Gospel of John, all by yourself.  Talk to the living Jesus. Let His beautiful words, replace your dark thoughts. Ask Jesus to be “born again” to forgive your sin and save you from hell (Jn.3:7).

I care about you, my dear friend. Never give up. I wrote this story to try to give you new thoughts and a different way of looking at things. Do not be afraid, you are not alone. Even if you feel far from God, He is not far from you.  In the darkest darkness, God is there (Ps.139).He waits for you to cry out… “Father” .            – Ruth

John 7:37 / 4:24  Matthew 11:28 / 7: 7/ 6:14/ 5:44/ 18:35 / Romans 4 /13: 8/ 12:17  Hebrews  9:14 / 8:10  1 Peter 2:24 / Acts 20:35 / 4:24    Colossians 1:13