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Krieg Barrie/WORLD

The transformer

God breaks through even our petty defiance

Issue: "Shattered dreams," April 5, 2008

There are lots of rules we have to follow here. Some are invented by the system. Some are invented on the spot by guards because they're guards and they can do that sort of thing. A few are invented for legitimate reasons: "Don't climb over that fence," for example.

For the overwhelming majority of inmates, the sole motivator for following these rules is, not surprisingly, fear of consequences. God spoke to me clearly in this matter. If I am to maintain a consistent walk with Him, there is no place in my life for breaking rules. When you live like sardines 24/7, your life is pretty much an open book. I promised God I would follow all the rules-except one banana pudding purchase a month from Perry for three stamps. I like banana pudding.

The transformer is OK, too. You see, my cellie Pablo doesn't like overhead lights so he's always turning them off, and that makes it hard to read. I could always have a reading light installed. For four books of stamps, someone will steal one from the electrical shop and wire it in for me. Instead, I bought a reading light from the commissary. The only problem with this battery-operated light is that it runs on batteries. The more I use the light, the more batteries I have to buy. (Duh!)

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I carefully analyzed the problem and boiled it down to three possibilities: (1) Get rid of Pablo, (2) Buy lots and lots of batteries, and (3) Run the light with a transformer from the outlet conveniently placed beside my bed. Now you might wonder how a person could acquire a transformer with just the right plug and voltage in a prison. No problem really. Just find the right person and bring stamps.

So now I own a transformer. Pablo, on the other hand, has wires sticking out of his outlet in all directions. I used my transformer for an entire year, each morning carefully stuffing it into a Lipton tea bag box with the cellophane re-taped to make it look unopened.

One day I was walking and praying on the track and God made me see that I should get rid of that transformer. It doesn't honor Me, I understood Him saying. I immediately protested: "But Lord, I need it to read. And Lord, I read Christian books with it." Then it hit me: I'll do a frontal assault with the B-word: "Lord, I read my Bible with it. Bible, Lord. B-I-B-L-E." I didn't feel as though I was getting my point across. "Lord, without the transformer, I couldn't grow spiritually. Just what do you expect me to replace it with?"

Have you ever tried arguing with God? Aside from the absurdity of the exercise, man questioning his Maker and all that, there is a profound truth: You can't win. He responded to me with overwhelming simplicity: It takes double A's. Now while this wasn't exactly a burning bush type of revelation, you would think the point had been driven home. Not just yet. I still had an ace in the hole. "I'll pray about it, Lord."

I returned to my room only to find all of Pablo's wires and electronics gone, the casualty of another shakedown. I hurried to my locker. Thankfully, my precious contraband was safe and secure in its cellophane-covered tea bag box.

Later that day, Pablo and I were paged to the lieutenant's office. He chewed on us for 15 minutes, and as he did, every word of my morning conversation with the Lord came back to me. What He had spoken to me. What I had responded. Everything. The lieutenant concluded by saying, "I ought to throw both of you in the hole, and if I ever see a single piece of electronic contraband from your room again, I will."

Pablo and I returned to our room in silence. I realized that God's dealing with me was a repeat, but on a smaller scale, of what landed me in prison in the first place. So the transformer went into the trash, and with it a little piece of defiance. He spoke to me again-no condemnation-just this: My son, this isn't My path for you. Thank you, Lord, for being my transformer.

My nerves are totally shot, and I need something to soothe them. Hey Perry! You making pudding tonight?

-Andy Obrochta is a prisoner in Texas


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