THE SEVENTH CROSS

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CHARLEY

When Mikey arrived he was destined to become a boy toy to more than just a few of the sex starved inmates. But that didn’t happen. Charley made sure of that. He had heard about the new arrival and was determined to get to him before any of the crazies did. And even though he was a pastor, he was as big as a tank, and more than a few of the inmates had experienced the wrath of Charlie when he “temporarily” set aside his collar. He was feared and yet loved at the same time. Even if you had crossed Charley and he’d had a little backroom chat with you, the next day he’d be there for you if you needed him. Respected? Big time!

Mikey didn’t know it at the time but Charley had just saved his life! And he was about to learn a whole lot more than he ever wanted to about the prison system.

Charley had seen it all inside these walls. Hell, he’d been one of the bad guys, the real bad guys. Not only had he seen it all; he’d done it all, and he’d regretted it ever since. He’d moved on but a lot of these guys hadn’t, and as far as they were concerned, anything goes. They weren’t getting out anyway. So what if they tacked on a couple more life sentences. Big deal! So Mikey had better watch out or he was theirs, plain and simple. Charley may have been big, and he may have been mean, but he was only one guy . . .

And that’s how it went for Mikey. He was a prisoner within a prison. Never, ever go anywhere alone, especially the can, or the showers, or the laundry room, or the . . . and so on.

And that was tough. Most of the guards were quite happy to see a little action from time to time, and this kid, well one day he’d get his! So if Charley thought he had his work cut out for him before, now he’d become a full time babysitter!

And a teacher! And like it or not, Mikey was going to know Jesus, whether he wanted to or not! That turned out to be the easy part. Apparently his grandma was a real Bible thumper from way back and Mikey was taught a whole lot of Bible verses that he could call on whenever he got into a “situation.” Her words.

So when Mikey pulled the trigger that night, he’d already done some praying, but prayer or not, he was determined that his family was going to be free from that monster. And if anyone thought he felt bad about what he’d done, well, they were wrong!

He was smart enough to know that he had forfeited his earthly life, but he was pretty convinced that God still loved him despite what he had done. He knew that didn’t make it right and that there are always consequences for one’s actions, but he figured he’d probably have the rest of his life to make those amends. Never once had it occurred to him that they might execute him. That is, until his court appointed lawyer brought it up. That scared the pants off him and made it rather easy for him to just plead guilty with the promise that it would all go away. As long as he co-operated.

Charley wasn’t about to let Mikey off easy though. Before the first day had passed Charley had assigned him some reading assignments straight out of the Bible. “That’s just to get you started. And, young man, you’re going to finish high school as well.”

“What’s the point? I’m not getting out of here anyway. Why bother!”

“That’s a load of crap! You don’t know that! And besides, what else you got to do that’s so important? Answer me that!”

And that’s when Mikey began to get it. Besides, if he got on Charley’s bad side, he could end up out there, with them. He was a quick learner, this boy!

He’d just graduated from junior high and was about to enter senior high in the fall, except that wasn’t going to happen now. At least not at the school he should have been attending. Instead, and he would thank Charley for it later, he was given permission to take the rest of his high school by correspondent courses; that or nothing. With Charley breathing down his neck that was a no brainer.

But with no distractions such as girls and friends to hang around with, Mikey excelled in his studies, and in fact, finished up the final three years in less than two. And, his marks put him on the honour roll, although that was kept rather quiet, him being in prison and all.

Charley had a three point plan for Mikey and he was going to follow it. No ifs, ands, or buts! And it wasn’t up for discussion! Plus these would all happen simultaneously.

In Charley’s words ” you’re gonna get your high school diploma, you’re gonna learn the Bible inside out, and you’re gonna work out every day until you can stand up for yourself! And that’s final!” And that’s the way it went. Charley was the boss. He knew it and so did Mikey!

Mikey had pretty much levelled out at about the 6 foot mark when he arrived but he needed some filling out, at least that was Charley’s take. “If you’re gonna survive in here, you need some meat on those bones, and I don’t mean fat either!” And with that in mind, they headed to the gym. One thing about prisons, they always have a gym! This place is your friend. It doesn’t talk back and it’ll take anything you can give it. Use it and abuse it if you have to, but you’d better be here every flipping day! You slack off and the wolf pack out there will eat you up. “Got it?”

He got it alright. It took awhile, but over the next few years Mikey’s physique went from that of a snot nosed beanpole to that of an Arnold Schwartzennegar wannabe. As tough as Charley was , he was one proud papa. “Yep! That’s my boy! Now get back to work!”

Charley contacted the Ministerial Association that he belonged to to arrange for Mikey to begin training as a pastor. He and Mikey had talked at length about God. After seeing the impact Charley had on so many of the inmates lives, it was an easy decision for Mikey to make. He knew God would be there with him the whole time. He just didn’t know it would manifest itself this way. And Charley couldn’t have been prouder!

Seminary studies came easily to Mikey. Where Charley had struggled as if against giants, this young man owned them. And what an attitude he had! And this was in prison! Just imagine what Mikey could accomplish given half a chance in the outside world. And that made Charley sad. So much potential . . .

“Oops! Guess I’d better listen to my own advice. We’re here, and there’s a hell of a need right here, and God loves these guys just as much as anyone else, so get to it, buttercups. Yeah, me, and you too, Charlie Brown!” He snickered at his own lame joke. “And besides, Charlie Brown don’t even spell his own name right!” And he snickered again, making sure no one was around to hear him. After all, he had a reputation to uphold, and snickering? Well, that just wouldn’t cut it!

By the time Mikey graduated from Seminary, he had been at the prison for about eight years, and in that time, he had earned darn near as much respect as Charley commanded. He was a gentle soul, and despite the way he had been treated earlier on, he bore no grudge towards others and began to mirror Charley’s work, albeit in his own unique way. Kind of like a one two punch. If Charley’s way wasn’t working well with some individual, or vice versa, the other would take him on, and give it a shot. These two had went from a mentor/protege relationship to a relationship of equals. There was no doubt that each loved and respected the other.

Around Mikey’s tenth year of incarceration it became evident that a changing of the guard was taking place. And finally, Charley forced a sit down with Mikey. “We need to talk.”

Mikey had weaved and bobbed as long as he could but he knew the “talk” was inevitable. “I’m really busy. Can we do it next week? I have a lot on my plate over the next few days.”

“No, we can’t. Go do what you gotta do but tonight it’s us. Mano Mano. Got it?” And of course he did. He respected Charley far too much. But this was a conversation he didn’t want to have.

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