Daniel Miersma, a 24 year old member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, was a busy student studying mechanical engineering with many exciting opportunities available for him, when God, in his inscrutable wisdom suddenly and very violently with heart wrenching anguish of soul yanked him from that life, and brought him (and brings us) face to face with the reality of God’s holiness. Daniel wrote this letter from jail to his congregation in Redlands. With encouragement of some from his congregation, he sent it to Beacon Lights for publication. “I want to be an example to others, my church and family want me to be an example to others. Perhaps my letter may be used to encourage others from other churches to turn from their sinful lifestyles. I know that I am not the only person in our churches that drinks too much or has a problem with drinking.”
Dear church family,
I would like to start off by thanking everyone for all their thoughts, cards, and prayers towards me and my family during this difficult time in our lives. I covet and cherish them so much! “As iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friends” (Prov. 27:17). I’ve gotten so many letters from so many different people that I find it impossible to write everyone back. I spend much of my free time studying my Bible or writing letters, but it’s never enough. In fact people are always making fun of me because I sharpen so many pencils everyday in my classes. This letter is my way of getting back to so many of you that I couldn’t. Sorry for the delay!
For those of you who don’t know, on October 10, 2009, I got into a DUI accident in which I fell asleep at the wheel and hit another vehicle. One person was killed, another seriously injured. After being in the hospital all night and much of the next morning, I was sent to jail. There I sat for a few days battered and bruised, both physically and emotionally. I was eventually bailed out, where I then continued going to school. I fought my case for about 8 months before I finally turned myself in on June 23rd. I was sentenced to serve 2/3 of 270 days in jail and 5 years probation. The Lord was definitely with me, as this was a very lenient sentence. My release date is set for December 12, 2010.
Since my incarceration, I’ve been moved a number of times. I first went to West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga. Here I was housed in a cell with about 45 other men, one bathroom, one shower, and very little privacy. Rarely were we allowed to leave the cell and much of the day we were confined to our bunks. Each day we would get a certain amount of time to stretch out in the day room, an open portion of the cell with tables, phones, and a TV. We were served all our meals in the day room. There were no clocks and we could barely see the light of day. It was here that I learned about politics, a form of gang mentality that separated everyone according to their race. This was done by the inmates, not the jail. Each race tried to keep its own race in order and took turns each day in cleaning up the cell.
On July 9, I was moved to Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in San Bernardino. Now I was in a cell (dorm) with double the amount of inmates and with a lot stronger politics. This building held 4 dorms, dorms 1-4, and they all shared the same day room and small outside dirt yard. I hated this place and found it very annoying as it housed many of the younger, immature, problem people that were too unruly to be trusted with work.
Fortunately, I was only there for a couple of days. On July 11, I was moved from the non-working orange dorms to the working blue dorms. I now wore blue instead of orange and the inmates were much more pleasant to be around and deal with. I was sent to work in ODR, the Officers Dining Room, where I bussed tables and helped prepare food for the officers. Every day I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. for breakfast, be at work at 6 a.m., and work till 6 p.m. I had to do this 7 days a week.
I only did this for one week before I was again moved. On July 19, I was sent up to Big Bear jail. This was about as good as it could get around here for jail. It was nicknamed “Camp Snoopy” because it really was a lot like being in a summer camp, only you actually had to work. I had my own cell to sleep in, we could walk about the jail as we pleased, we could walk around outside as we pleased without any fences holding us in, our family and friends could bring us many luxuries we couldn’t have in normal jail, and the deputies and officers trusted us and treated us like normal people, which was very refreshing. Here we did a little of everything, including washing vehicles, painting, splitting wood, going to the dump, changing the occasional wheel or light bulb in one of the patrol units, cleaning cells, and cooking. Being in Big Bear was truly a blessing!
Unfortunately I couldn’t stay In Big Bear. I had court ordered IN-ROADS classes I had to complete before I was released back into the world. I have to take 6 classes: living skills, substance abuse, anger management, computer skills, cognitive skills, and pre-release (how to find a job). The program is set up so that I will take two classes a month for three months. Thus, on August 23rd I was sent back down to Glen Helen.
My first two classes, living skills and substance abuse, didn’t start till August 30, so I spent most of my first week working in laundry. This was the easiest job in the world, and yet other inmates still managed to complain about it. When you witness the attitude and work ethic of many of these inmates, you know exactly why they are in jail and can’t seem to get anywhere in life.
I am here because I sinned. I am guilty of the sin of drunkenness; I am guilty of the sin of murder. Whether I meant to hurt anyone or not, in my own pride and selfishness I did. I thought not of the safety and well-being of others, but only myself. I wanted to get home that night so that I wouldn’t get into any trouble. I didn’t even think of my own safety. For all the times in my life where I would go out and drink too much or take delight in the many other sinful pleasures of this world, that is why I am here. For all the times that I would forget about God and put myself before him, that is why I’m here. God saw that I needed a life change, and so in his loving mercy he decided to chasten me.
Many may see my jail time as my punishment, but it is only a fraction of it. It is a small portion in which the Lord has given me the opportunity to take a break from the world and study his word that I may grow in wisdom, knowledge, faith, understanding, strength, courage, and humility. John 15:1-2 says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” The Lord is pruning me while I am in jail. He cut away many of my earthly distractions in life so that I may focus more on him and bear fruit.
As I said, jail is not my only punishment. As a result of my accident, I was banged up and sent to the hospital where I had to spend the night and much of the next day on a table, with an extra large catheter in me, unable to move, before finally being sent to jail. This is my punishment. My car was destroyed and my license taken from me. This is my punishment. My entire savings and that of my parents disappeared to pay for bail, legal, and other fees. This is my punishment. When I get out I will still have a civil case to face in which I will be ordered to pay restitution to the families of those hurt, on top of everything else we’ve paid for. Only God knows how long I may have to continue paying that back.
This is my punishment. For five years I will be on probation. I will be on pins and needles, unable to make any contact with police, having to report to a probation officer, unable to drink, unable to leave the state, likely unable to drive, along with a whole list of other restrictions. I will also have two felonies on my record. This is my punishment. I had to go from neighbor to neighbor, lawn client to lawn client, classmate to classmate, teacher to teacher, family member to family member, and friend to friend explaining to them what I had done and asking them if they could please write a character reference for me. Imagine having to go to all of these people, especially those who didn’t know anything about my accident yet, and saying, “Hi, I got into a DUI accident and killed someone. Would you please write a character reference for me?” It was embarrassing and utterly humiliating! I remember telling a neighbor and lawn client about my situation and asking him if he would be willing to write a character reference for me. It was an older man. The information was too much for him. He said he wasn’t sure. The disappointment in his face was heart crushing. We had known each other for years, and that information had destroyed my reputation with him so much that he wasn’t sure if he could write a character reference for me. I walked home, sat on my doorstep, and cried. This is my punishment. I wrote that man a special letter, apologizing to him and asking for his forgiveness. He eventually wrote me a character reference. I had to confess my sins to the consistory, have numerous visits from the elders, and have my sins confessed before the whole congregation. One would think such an event would be hard and embarrassing, and it was, but compared to everything else I had gone through up to that point, it felt like nothing. I had to go to court to fight my case only to be followed by two little girls carrying a large portrait of the girl I had killed. This is my punishment. I had to continue going to court month after month in utter terror, wondering if I was going to have to face the families or friends of those I had killed or wounded again. This is my punishment! I remember riding home from school with one of my best friends, Grant, and just staring out the passenger side window, afraid to turn my head forward, because I was crying and ashamed to let him see my tears. This is my punishment. My situation put a strain on my friendships, relationships, and commitments. I felt like many of my friends were scared of me. I felt like many of my family members were embarrassed of me. My life was put on hold. Knowing I was probably going to jail, I couldn’t fully commit to anything or anyone for anything long term or in the future. Companies wouldn’t hire me because I couldn’t promise them full commitment. Many things I may have normally committed to I didn’t, simply because I already had enough on my plate to have to deal with. It was extremely frustrating at times, but this is my punishment. Knowing that there is a girl who no longer walks this earth because of me, that there is a family that will never be able to hold her again or see her grow up because of me; this is my punishment. The fear of the unknown; this is my punishment.
All this was part of God’s holy and perfect plan, not only that I may learn from and turn from my sinful ways but that I may become an example to others living in sin so that they also may turn from their sinful lifestyles. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). We can’t do this when we are not sober. For those of you who think or instruct others that my sin was drinking and driving, then you are like the scribes and the Pharisees, “Blind guides, who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matt. 23:24). Some people may have stopped or become wiser with their drinking because of my accident. Praise God! But for some, “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11). Who of you continue to fall and return to the sin of drunkenness? If you don’t stand for something, then you will fall for anything. What does it say about you and what you stand for? Do you stand for anything? If you buy alcohol for others knowing that more than likely it will be misused, then you are contributing to causing others to sin. If you intentionally provide a place for people to drink and misuse alcohol, then you are contributing to causing others to sin. Matthew 18:6-7 says, “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom offense comes!” “Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord” (Psalm 107:43). Don’t be like the fool who, “…when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: the Lord will not spare him, but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven” (Deut. 29:19, 20). We must live every day of our lives prepared and ready for Christ’s return! Observe the parable of the two servants in Matthew 24:45-51, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh, shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, that he shall make him ruler over his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his position with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What will it take to cause those who continue in their sinful lifestyles to change? Will the swift hand of God have to smite you too like it did me? Will someone else have to die? Perhaps next time someone we know and love! Don’t make God use more drastic means to make us change our ways. My accident was a message from God. Don’t think for a second that it wasn’t. God uses all kinds of events, both major and minor, in our lives and in the lives of others, as a means of talking to us. I love you all and count you as my friends. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Prov. 27:6). Perhaps some of us should question and reevaluate who our real friends are.
“My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov. 3:11, 12). “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:7-11). This is my blessing. What a joy! What a comfort! God loved me so much that he chose me, of all people, to chasten! I find peace in knowing that my sins have been forgiven. I have been washed clean in Christ’s blood. The Lord no longer sees me as a murderer or a drunkard. Only a child of God could find so much peace, comfort, and contentment as I have in my circumstances. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. …I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Psalm 119:71, 75). “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand all” (Prov. 28:5). “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
I had plans in life, and I still do, but it was the Lord’s desire that I come here first. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand” (Psalm 37:23, 24). This is my comfort. Whenever I fall or go astray, the Lord will uphold me and direct me in the right path again. This same comfort is true for all God’s people.
Mr. Hudson, my substance abuse teacher here, asked our entire class of inmates, “Who here thinks that their family is proud of them right now?” I hope that my family, my friends, and my entire church family can be proud of me right now and not ashamed.
I love you all so much and pray for God’s blessings upon you and upon our church.
Your friend and brother in Christ,