I have swept away your offenses
Like a cloud,
Your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
For I have redeemed you.
–Isaiah 44:22 (Holy Bible, NIV)
20 APRIL 2018 – My day was uniquely one of multiple firsts, crescendoing from minor-to-major miracles. My Betsy No. 4 typewriter shipped from WSRU (my prison) to Dana’s (my bff’s) place in Yelm, Washington, in ONE DAY?! Virtually unheard of! Next, I had my biannual FRMT (Facility Risk Management Team) prehearing and my RLC (Risk Level Concern) was promoted from MOD* to LOW. My counselor said I basically aced 4 out of the 5 Washington One (a newly-implemented algorithm) criterion used to assess offender risk: Attitudes and Behaviors, 0% Education/Vocational, 0% Employment, 3% Social Influences, 10%. My blessings continued to flow.
On my very first try, I executed a mentally-formulated recipe with culinary mastery, worthy of distinguished Top Chef palates–a microwave-cooked piece de resistance that would compel an “Mmmm appraisal” from the likes of Chef Gordon Ramsey. “Your recipe, Jacob. Do tell!” Ramsey would insist. (Sorry Rams, can’t spill those beans anywhere but in Hell’s Kitchen.)
Yet none of my “blessing firsts,” in isolation or collectively, compared to the miracle scheduled to return to 16550 177th Avenue SE, in Monroe, Washington, at 17:50 (5:50 p.m.). By “miracle” I mean to say the God-given singing gift and testimony of contemporary gospel singer Blanca.
For the second time, she graced WSRU’s chapel packed to capacity with Washington state prisoners (myself included). John Thaylor-Sandborn, MCC’s religious event coordinator, explained to us that Blanca, her self-taught mad-drumming hubby (Ben) of eight years, and her trained guitarist (Joey) had literally finished a performance in Arizona, walked off stage, boarded a plane, and landed in Washington around 1 a.m. in the morning. Can anyone say “devoted much?”
Mind you: Blanca is an internationally-recognized recording artist, and she’s literally rushing (w/ her four-year-old son, London, in tow) to share her Lord with Washington state’s “not so finest,” if you will. She’s performed in Amsterdam, Australia, Canada, Dubai, Guatemala, London, Manila, and the Netherlands, as well as in numerous stateside prominent and modest venues. (Go to OfficialBlanca.com and learn more.)
At 17:50, cell doors opened and prisoners made a mad dash beeline to the chapel, hoping to secure a first or second row seat. We sucked in deep breaths as a chapel correctional officer checked each of us off his attendance list. Inside, Blanca and her bandmates were finishing up sound checks. A number of prisoners and I were lucky to be in attendance a second time to hear Blanca. Others had no idea what was in store.
John prefaced the event with band praises, particularly the outstanding humility of Blanca, stressing that her true purpose of the concert was not for entertainment but to use herself to do the Lord’s bidding. She definitely followed through.
In her soft, sincere “Jennifer Lopez-ish” speaking voice (yet far superior singing voice), Blanca provided testimony-based context and meaning to her songs to help us better connect with her lyrics. Her first song, a rendition of another artist’s chart topper, lifted some from their ego-glued seats. But only a Blanca original would do for me. I needed her unleashed by her own experiences and lyrics, in a state which God’s Spirit could flow through her gifts and into the crowd. And flow it did. Not only in spiritful dance, but also in soul-voiced inflections of loss and pain, fear and courage, and love and victory.
The crowd was captivated by her rawness of self, her immersement in the moment, and her heightened state of agape love for all in attendance, staff and prisoner alike. Blanca phoenixed before our very eyes. And we with her–prisoners rose from their seats, arms outstretched, soul-tears flowing, and shifting rhythmically with the Spirit flowing through them.
The Spirit was conducting, jumping from bandmate to bandmate (including Blanca’s newly-acquired and Merlin-esque keyboardist whom she had never even practiced nor played with before?!), causing each to glow with talent. Their songlist included: Different Drum, Remind Me, What if (loved this one!), NBD, Echo (instant classic), Greater is He (absolutely powerful), Real Love (the topping for me), and Who Am I.
After the music, the party continued with band testimony. Benjamin, in his uncanny Ben Afflecky voice, talked of his preacher kid calling. He and Blanca were a hoot. Then they allowed us to superficially peek into their lives with a round of Q and A. One deaf prisoner said (via the interpreter) that he couldn’t hear but “felt the vibrations.” It was also discovered that a “birthday boy” prisoner played the drums, and he took to the stage and Blanca and Company joined in his jam session with dance and encouraging cheer. In that moment, there was no distinction of societal title, free nor prisoner, nothing but a group of people celebrating as one spiritual family. Blanca called us her “brothers.”
We gathered around the foot of the altar and Blanca talked freely, Ben taught a few drumming techniques, and other bandmates were engrossed in conversation with us. The moment was so pure and fulfilling, we could have fellowshipped till dawn. But Blanca was holding a benefit event at Overlake Church in Bellevue, Washington, with Vicki Winans (also coming to WSRU to sing on Sunday! God willing) the following day. And we had to reluctantly return to our cells.
Every few years or so, something happens that breathes new life into me (and other prisoners) and makes my prison journey all the more bearable. Tonight stands apart as one of those rarified moments.
Tonight–I had family. I was human. I was free. I was Spirit Swept. This was my final and best “blessing first” of the day.
May God keep you and bless you, Blanca and Company.
Jacob J. Gamet
Categories: Jacob J. Gamet