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Voices from the inside: Surely I am free

Woman with a sign reading "Give me a chance to hug my brother" at a rally in support of hunger strikers at Corcoran State Prison, California, 2013.
Photo: Tudor Stanley / AFSC

Note: This is one story in a series of stories about spiritual journeys in prison, written by incarcerated people. Read more here and here

My name is Dudley James Rue III and I am an incarcerated man who has been wrongfully convicted of a crime I didn’t commit. At the time present I have served 24 years, 6 months, 17 days and counting. However, the reasons for this writing aren’t to speak about the false charges that led to my incarceration. Yet instead, I come to you today to speak about my “higher power” and how he had continuously helped me in dealing with being incarcerated.

At the time of my arrest, initially I was lost. Knowing deep down within my heart I had done nothing to warrant me being in my current plight, I was upset and angry at the world. Having this mindset caused me to disregard any belief I had of God. Therefore, whenever I would speak with someone both on the inside and out in society (my family and friends) and they would bring up the subject of God, I would all but disrespect them, by either brushing off what they were saying or giving them every reason I could think of pertaining to why their statements were meaningless to me. I wouldn’t say that I no longer believed in God, but I thought he owed me something and my faith was weak. To me not acknowledging him was justified and I felt the need to wallow in my self-pity. Fortunately for me that all changed and my faith in God was restored.

I was in the county jail for about 6 months, when one day a Christian woman who was a pastor and volunteer came in to deliver a sermon. Prior to this I had seen/saw her come in on several occasions, yet I had never once even considered on attending. However on this day something touched me and moved me to want to go up to the classroom where the service was being held and see what was going on.

It took me a minute to muster up the courage to get up and make my way over to the classroom, but I finally did. I opened the door and as soon as I began to walk into the room, I was greeted with a warm welcome of smiles, handclapping and cheers. There were several older Christian brothers who had grown to know me pretty well and I also deemed friends, that shouted “Thank You, Jesus!” and “Hallelujah!” as soon as they noticed it was me, most of them having invited me to the service before and I had always declined. Therefore, seeing me there made them joyful and happy that I had finally come.

I sat down and joined in on singing a few familiar hymns that I knew, before listening attentively to the pastor preach. After the service was over I felt like a weight was lifted off of me and my spirit was renewed. The following day I sat in on a bible study being held in a cell of one of the older brothers I spoke of earlier. And for months to come I continued to attend many other services until the one day when I finally stood up during one of them and got saved.

 Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia. Lucy Duncan / AFSC.

In the years to come I thought I had grown in my new faith. I was attending service regularly, prayed several times a day, went to bible study routinely and stayed away from indulging in the carnal things I used to do prior to me becoming saved, but for some reason I was ungrounded.

After being in the county jail for merely 3 years the time had come for me to get shipped out to state prison. I went to the reception unit at Garden State and two days later I was sent to Trenton State Prison. When I was first told Trenton would be my destination, I was scared to death. Trenton was considered “the big house” or “the last stop,” the place where the most notorious criminals in New Jersey were housed and being 22 years old and approximately 150 lbs. Trenton did not seem like the place that would be the most beneficial to living a healthy and prosperous life.

The same day I arrived at Trenton State I met a middle-aged brother who was also a Christian. We were both on emergency housing therefore we were forced to shower at the same time. While in the shower, this brother asked me to pray with him. Due to where we were (in the big house) and the conditions of our surroundings, I was hesitant to do so at first, but then something inside of me told me to go ahead, therefore I did. From that day until the day we were moved to population, praying in the shower became a regular routine for us. The brother and I became friends and would later share our testimony to others.

Things were going pretty well for me for a while. I was going to church, praising the Lord and leading a righteous life. Until the one day I got moved to the unit my cousin was housed on. I started hanging with him and going to church less and less. In the beginning when he’d offer me “weed” I would turn it down. But then as time continued to progress, the no’s turned into yeses and the small tokes I started off with taking turned into me smoking blunts with him until the day I was eventually also smoking them on my own.

My fall from grace was a quick and lethal one. I had become a backslider and in doing a full U-turn I was back to leading an ungodly life full-fledged. Not only was I smoking weed but in the years to come, I also started selling it. And before I knew it the praying stopped and I was almost at the same place I was in the beginning of my incarceration.

Old Penitentiary, Idaho. Emily Cohane-Mann / AFSC.

Although, I have strayed from the original spiritual path I was, I believe that certain principles are transcending and apply to many religions abroad no matter what you believe in. One of which is that “either you are going to take time out to reflect on life and the direction you are going, or God is going to take you out of it, put you on ‘pause’ and forcibly get you to see things in the way you should.” Basically, whatever plan God has for your life is going to happen and there is nothing you can do about it and I would learn this soon enough.

On July 7, 2010, I was given an emergency transfer from East Jersey State Prison back to Trenton State Prison, where it all started from. But this time when I entered the prison I wasn’t put on emergency housing awaiting to go to general population. I was placed into a Management Control Unit on emergency housing awaiting to be placed on an MCU status. (MCU is a special unit within New Jersey State Prison. It houses the prisoners who are classified as the worst in New Jersey. Most are segregated. All are locked down 24 hours a day, except for 1 ten minute shower per day and a 2 hour yard period every 3 days.) This was as a result of a sexual relationship I was alleged to have had with a staff member at that prison and along with an extensive list of other institutional infractions that were said to have derived from our alleged relationship.

I spent approximately 5 years in MCU before I was finally released. During the time I was over there I lost everything I had. Prior to being placed into MCU I was married and had a wife who came to visit me both Saturday and Sunday every week. She brought my two children up to see me monthly and also their children (my two grandchildren) as well. My father would come up to see me periodically and so would several of my siblings. Overall I had a lot of support from my family, friends, and loved ones and I didn’t want or need for anything (financially or morally).

While in MCU I refused to cooperate or even speak with SID. Because of this they banned everyone on my visiting list, even my grandchildren (who were both less than two years old) in order to punish me. They froze my inmate account and would not allow me access to the fund I had in it, or receive any additional funds, because all my supporters were banned.

They also put my property on 'hold,' therefore I had nothing in my cell other than the change of under-clothing I came with and the bar of soap and roll of toilet paper that was given to me. For months I had nothing to eat, other than the meals they served to the inmates. Which were so bad I often had to hold my nose while eating in order to stomach then. There were several inmates on the unit with me that I knew, but none of them would do a thing to help me. I felt like I was in hell and being tortured for turning my back on God once more.

Old Penitentiary, Idaho. Emily Cohane-Mann / AFSC.

There was this guy who was a runner on the tier that I knew from population. We weren’t at all close back then, but we were friends with some of the same people, therefore we were acquainted. One day he came by my cell and I was sitting at my desk staring at the walls and counting the concrete blocks. He said "what's up?" which I thought to be strange, especially since I had been there for a while and he had never come by for anything other than what his work duties called for him to (trash pick-up, cell sanitation, supplies, etc.). I responded "nothing" and he went on to ask me, "Are you okay? You need anything?"

I thought it was a rhetorical question therefore, he didn't want an answer, especially since he was looking right into my cell, therefore he knew I had nothing. With my stomach growling and giving me pain because of it, I thought to entertain him by saying yes to see what he would say next.

To my surprise he asked me what I needed. I responded by telling him I was hungry and he told me to hold up for a minute, left from my cell and returned with a pack of Ramen Noodles. He even let me borrow a cup and his stinger to cook some hot water so I could eat the soup. All of which I was extremely grateful to receive and still thank him when I see him to this day.

As I sat at my desk and ate the Ramen Noodles tears began to swell in my eyes. No doubt I was appreciative for the meal, especially under the circumstances, but I couldn't help but think of my situation and how drastically it had changed. There was a time not long ago where I didn't eat anything 'off the line' (institutional meals). Now other than the soup that was all I had for months. I went from eating almost as good as when I was home, having dessert and a beverage with every meal, to eating food I wouldn't even feed my dog and drinking tap water to fill the gaps so that my stomach wouldn't be in too much pain as I went to sleep. In that moment, I had started feeling sorry for myself again. But this time just as soon as I did I regained my composure and thought to myself despite my situation I am blessed nevertheless.

I started thinking of all the positive things that were of benefit to me. My life, my health, my strength, my sanity! The discernment I utilized in being able to deal with the constant harassment of the powers that be and not retaliate and do something destructive that would only make my situation worse.

My family and friends who stood by me although they were unable to come see me. I had many blessings to be appreciative for and coming to look at it my current circumstances weren't all that bad after all.

Old Penitentiary, Idaho. Emily Cohane-Mann / AFSC.

In my state of contemplation and coming to the realization that things weren't as bad as I thought them to be. I looked over to the far corner of my desk and my eyes set upon a 'Holy Book'. It had been given to me shortly after my arrival when I had asked one of the guys on the tier with me if he could grab me something to read from the bookshelf out on the tier. And in seeing what it was I put it on my desk and never gave thought to it again. Yet now something was telling me to pick it up and read it, so I blew the small amount of dust that had settled upon it and I did.

I read for a couple of hours before I laid down and went to sleep. And that night was the first night for as long as I could remember that I went to bed with a peace of mind. The following day when I saw the guy who gave me the book, I called out to him and asked him if he could stop by my cell before he locked in.

He did and I asked him questions in regards to the book and his reasons for giving it to me. He gave me some insight on a few things and later assisted in making a transition into following it correctly. From that day forward I prayed every day, having a set schedule for prayer and never missing it. I have also acknowledged God in all that I have done giving him the praise he has always deserved.

I have been out of MCU for merely 2 years now and I am proud to say I have remained diligent in my walk and have not fallen short as of yet. I consider myself to be like the prophet Job who had lost everything and God gave it back to him ten-fold. Although I am no longer married, I am engaged to the most wonderful woman I have ever known. And we are awaiting to married, God willing, any day know. Several of my family members have gotten their visitation privileges restored, most importantly my father, oldest daughter, and grandchildren. I have gained just about everything I once lost, but most of all I have gained perspective. I now see things in the way they counting my blessing in a sense and naming them one by one.

Looking back at it all I see that God has always kept his promise to me by never leaving or forsaking me. Even in the midst of it all he was always there. Protecting me from adversity and giving me the strength day to day to deal with being incarcerated for something I didn't do. I realize that I couldn't have done anything without him.

I realize that I couldn't have done anything without him. And although I am incarcerated I still experience happiness and peace and despite the bars that surround me, surely I am free. And it is all because of him!

Related Content: 

Voices from the inside: Never in a million years

Voices from the inside: By the grace of God

God is in this work: A sister's story of the Pelican Bay Prison hunger strike

About the Author

My name is Dudley J. Rue III and although my body is incarcerated, by the grace of God my mind is free. Writing provides freedom to me!

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