Neaners finally got to hold his daughters at his first visit out of solitary confinement last month. Here is the story, as written up by Tierra Nueva staff member Holly Braun, who drove his daughters across Washington State to see him in prison.
Razor Wire and Piggy Back Rides
by Holly Braun
I met Neaners just over a year ago. The tattooed homie who first ordained Chris Hoke as “Pastor of Homies” wrote a letter from prison asking me if I would teach him how to farm. By mail. He has a vision for ministry to other kids caught in gangs when he gets out, a vision that includes a small farm.
My first letter was about onions. The second about the processing of compost, in which the refuse becomes the most fertile soil ever (making "new earth’"). It was a small poetic turn to liken his time in prison to the process of composting his past. From farming, our letters turned to his past, his relationships, his dreams, his future. Since then, I’ve been bringing his 6- and 9-year-old daughters to visit him at various prisons around Washington state.
Our most recent visit was a weekend trip to visit Neaners in Walla Walla. Outside, I’m looking down at two little girls dressed in pink and purple who’ve left their coloring books in the car and are looking up, not at the rolls of razor wire that surround the fences, but at me and Chris, asking if we’ll give them piggy back rides.
Inside, Neaners’ 9-year-old T. walks up to the gruff prison guard at the intake desk and asks, “Why aren’t you smiling? Do you need a hug?” I smile that in this moment, play offers her resilience against the concrete drab and razor wire of the prison.
She and her sister are melting the hardness of Neaners’ heart too, with their charm, play and sometimes-hesitant offerings of trust.
We continue past the guards and metal detectors to our first contact visit. I step back as Neaners gets hugs from his daughters for the first time in 4 years. His 6-yr-old A. touches the tattoos on his neck and face, then asks if he’ll play Candyland with her. I watch tears slip out of his eyes as he tells me what he’s realized this world can do to his daughters and how he wants to build a safe home for them.
Sometimes advocacy is tedious and sometimes chaotic. But always, I am honored to bear witness to the moments of a human heart unfolding.
Be part of the story.
Please let me know if you, your family, or small group are interested in helping support these cross-state missions, where Neaners' daughters can know their new father.