I knew they wouldn’t believe me, and I began to get a little anxious. I looked up to the light fixture and calculated the distance. I figured by using the toilet to climb onto the sink, I could reach the light and bang on it.
The light right outside my cell door’s window stayed on last night – all night. Normally the night watch turns off all the lights so we can sleep, but for some reason tonight the light stayed on. I could not sleep because, no matter what position I tried on my bunk, the light shined in my eyes. I broke the world’s record for tossing and turning. I kept asking myself, “Why can’t they turn off the light?” but it stayed on.
Now, because I’ve gotten used to waking up at 4:00 a.m., it’s natural to be fully alert at that time. I don’t have any way of telling time in Ad Seg (the Hole,) so I lie on my bunk waiting for the morning to begin. Between 5:30 and 6:30 every morning the watch officer “forces” all the lights on. Inmates can turn the lights in their cells on or off, but the officers have a master switch that overrides the cell switches. That first light is my sign to get up.
Since the light outside my door had kept me up all night, I was awake when my cell light was forced on. But something was wrong; instead of my light turning on, it flashed, then went out. I continued to lie on my bunk, praying as usual, waiting for the wrong to be righted. As I waited I began to hear toilets flushing in the other cells. This meant everyone else’s light was on, and each inmate had begun his morning ritual. I jumped out of my bunk and turned on my light switch.
Nothing. I flipped it up and down several times. Nothing. My light was out. The flash was real. My cell light just didn’t work. This was not good! No! This was more than just not good; this was horrible. Not having lights in a cell in the Hole is a big security risk. And then I began to dread the inevitable sequence of events that would follow.
The first officer to my cell, who will bring my breakfast tray, will ask me to turn on my lights. I will, of course, tell him that the lights don’t work; he will have me flip the switch a few times to make sure. Then he will automatically assume I did it on purpose. You see, inmates in the Hole somehow get tobacco or marijuana, and they use the small gap between the switch and the plate to catch a spark. They use a paper clip, or something similar, and jam it into that gap. By grounding another clip on the screw, and bringing the two clips together, a large spark will result. By having a toilet paper wick ready, an inmate can use the resulting flame to light whatever he has to smoke.
At times, however, if the system doesn’t work quite right, the fuse is blown and the light goes out. This is what I was afraid the officers would assume had happened in my cell. The procedure to follow in such a case is etched in stone. After determining that my light is really out, I will be transferred to the shower area while my cell is searched for contraband. Then I will be placed in a dirtier cell – one with lights – and be written up and charged what it costs to fix the problem.
The first officer had not yet arrived, so I still had time. I flipped the switch over and over. Nothing. In desperation I even blew in between the switch and the plate. Nothing. I knew I would not be believed, so I looked up to the light fixture to see if I could possibly reach it. Maybe something was loose. If I banged on it, it might turn on. So, having nothing to lose, I used my toilet as a step onto the sink, then I stretched out my fist and hit the light. Nothing.
I knew I was beginning to panic, so I lay down on my bunk and began to pray. I said, “Father, I don’t think they are going to believe me. I need favor in their eyes. I’m really worried, so give me peace in this situation, and may You be glorified in this. I trust and believe that You are making this right, so I’m putting all my anxiety on You.”
I lay there, knowing God was totally in charge. Or did I? As I lay there listening to my forced, steady breathing, I had a nice sense of peace. I was sure I had turned over my worry to my Father. I was so much at peace I didn’t hear the first officer at my door, “Torres, turn on your lights.”
My eyes shot open and as I jumped up I began to explain that the lights didn’t work. “Um…sorry ma’am. My….my…my lights are not working. There was…um…a fla…” She interrupted me before I could finish. “Oh, okay.” She opened up the tray slot and gave me my milk and a sack lunch for later. She closed the slot and moved on to the next cell.
I could not believe it. She didn’t blink at my comment. She didn’t even want to hear my explanation. Somehow I had found favor in her eyes; but I brushed it off as a mistake. “She’s just a nice officer,” I told myself. “The next one will not be so nice.” And not two minutes later an officer came with the breakfast plates. “Turn on your lights, Torres,” he said as he reached for a plate.
“Well..,” I began again, knowing this time it would not go well. This officer was not a nice officer – he’s very tough. “My lights are not working. I tried the switch sever…” He didn’t let me finish either. He opened the slot and handed me my breakfast tray. As he walked off, he yelled back, “I’ll see if I can get them fixed.” I almost dropped my plate. I was having a hard time believing that he not only believed me, but would go out of his way to fix my lights. Still standing at the door, what I heard next made me weep like Peter wept when he denied His Lord. “Your lights aren’t working, either? None of the cell lights are working up here!” The officer was going door to door, looking into every cell.
I knew then that when I asked God for favor and peace, handing my dilemma to Him, I still doubted. Twice He had clearly given me favor from the guards, yet I didn’t recognize His hand. But when I heard that every cell light in the third tier was out, I realized God had this situation under control.
I wept, begging for forgiveness. How could I doubt Him, after all He has done for me? Every moment of each day He had faithfully shown me He was by my side, and I could depend on Him and trust Him. I put my plate at the foot of my bunk and got down on my knees. I had no words, just tears.
About ten minutes later, as I finished my breakfast, the lights turned on. Everything was back to normal.
I share this event with you because I want you to see how weak I am. I stumble. I doubt God’s care for me. I know that sometimes what I share with you makes me look stronger than I am. But I struggle. I’m growing, just as you are.
If you’ve had a day that you’ve doubted the Lord, or a time of worry, you are in a large crowd of believers. God understands, and catches us when we fall. So be of good cheer. Our God is a faithful God.
……….hoping they turn out the outside light tonight……….
Adrian G. Torres