Week 4

A Rumination On Miracles

by Ryan, CLF member incarcerated in California

The question of miracles has been on my mind much of late. I have been in prison for thirty-three years.

On May 20th, 1986 I arrived at San Quentin State Prison and spent my first night on death row. At one point I came within two weeks of an active execution date. I had my death warrant read to me by an associate warden. A new grim moment in my life.

Fortunately for me, a federal judge issued a stay of execution that remained in force while my appeals were processed through the courts. In 2013 a federal court resentenced me to “life without the possibility of parole,” and not too long thereafter, I left death row. One could readily argue that that qualifies as a miracle.

But that is not the full story. During my time in prison I’ve had four heart attacks, a cardiac stent implant, and I spent seven years in a wheelchair due to a spinal injury. Shortly after leaving death row I was able to get out of the wheelchair. If not a miracle, then, at least, a blessing. Today, I don’t even require the use of a cane anymore. I have a constellation of other medical issues, but somehow, day to day, I manage to soldier on.

But blessings and miracles seem to persist in my life. When I was released from death row the rules in California would not allow me to drop down into a minimum security prison, but then a Proposition 57 went into effect, and today I am waiting for my transfer into a low security facility. Again, a situation that one might argue is a miracle.

Still not quite done, there is a senate bill, SB708, in process and if it passes into law, I will see my freedom restored. Surely, this would qualify as a miracle.

So, you can see that lately I have cause to ruminate on the nature and existence of miracles. I certainly seem to be the recipient of some amazing, even miraculous, gifts over the past few years. It certainly is food for thought.

It does bring to question something fundamental. Assume for a moment that the events I describe are gifts of a miraculous nature that seem to be aimed at my return to freedom. How do I truly honor that? After being in prison for a human generation, the world has changed in amazing ways.

How best do I use my life experience to be of service to the betterment of the human condition? Never mind the mundane issues of housing, employment, food, etc. How do I live a life of meaning? How to use all that I have learned and experienced to make a difference?

Finally, it occurs to me that having had my circumstances change so much that I am now, for the first time in a generation, seriously considering the above questions at all, is truly a miracle.