How I Got To Know Father in Danbury Prison Part II
Interview with Bill Sheppard
As told to Laura Reinig
Danbury Federal Prison
I don’t have instant recall about many things I did with Father, but I can give you my feelings. Many things I won’t go into because they were highly personal. Not that it would embarrass him. That is an absolutely amazing thing. After living with him for a year, there isn’t a thing I could tell you about anything Father said or did that would embarrass him or would be contradictory to any of his speeches or to the Principle. If nothing else, that’s a quality I could testify to. No question about it.
He did his time admirably. He never complained, and I mean never. And it wasn’t an act. If I could describe only one thing about him to people in the outside world, I’d tell them, “This guy is for real. He is not what the media keep saying. He isn’t a facade. No way.
Father wasn’t pompous. He wasn’t what you’d think a person of his standing would be like. How can I convey this? I think all too often we who were close to him don’t do the job right — we’re just not conveying what he stands for or what he is really like. You have to realize that he had a family while he was in here too. He had a lot of responsibilities. He went through a lot of suffering while he was in here. If members put him on too high a level they might think it was simple for him: “Oh, it’s easy for Father to go through suffering” But let me tell you, being here was just as difficult for him as it would be for anyone else. It wasn’t any easier.
Once Father and I developed a relationship he knew how to talk to me. He knew how to get my attention, what would make me laugh, and what wouldn’t. He wouldn’t be opposed to saying something really out of character just to make me do a double take. One time Father referred to Moonies as snakes. I said, “Huh? What in the world are you talking about?” He said he was giving me an analogy about how snakes shed their skin, how they change. Father said a lot of things for dramatic effect, probably specifically for me to get my character changed. He speaks differently when he talks to a group, of course, but his meanings were always personally directed at me in some way. That was our give- and-take relationship; he adapted his words to our unique situation.
I saw Father in the TV room one day with a bunch of guys. Father was watching some weird movie. I thought, “Wow, what’s going on here?” It was unlike him. He very rarely did that. Father didn’t become westernized, but he became familiar with Western things and I became familiar with Oriental things. That type of exchange took place. That wasn’t the main emphasis, of course, but that’s what happened.
Not Afraid To Be Bold
There is an aloofness among many religious groups, organizations, and people; they often try to stay removed from the outside world. But Father showed me something different. One of the major things Father taught me was how it’s okay to do very bold things even though they may be drastic and shocking. I remember watching the mass wedding on television. I mean, that was a big shock, a slap in the face. You really wake up when you see something like that. “Look, honey! Watch the TV! There’s a guy from Korea marrying all these people at once!” If someone had told you years ago that that was going to happen, would you have believed it? It was an amazing thing to see.
I remember Father talking to me about effective action. He felt it was very important. To him effective action means you decide to accomplish something and then you act upon your plan. Even if you don’t accomplish what you were trying to do but you gave it your 110 percent, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you try to do something to gain credit in someone else’s eyes, you’re praying to the wind. It means nothing.
Father said that even the Moonies who didn’t make it become better people. Absolutely no question about it. Even if they weren’t strong enough to go the entire way, being in the movement helped them become better.
There are some people who work harder than most and have a great drive and energy to accomplish things, but once you get to their heart you find out that their outlook or motivation isn’t really so good.
Since I’ve known Father I find myself going to people and trying to find out who they are right away, so I can get to their heart instead of waiting.
Father would give out a lot of advice even to people who were being blatantly ridiculous. There was a lot of that type of interaction between Father and the inmates. He made the atmosphere a lot better. It’s different here in Danbury now that he’s gone — much different. All of the people that knew him here have left. Father told me, “You’ll be the last one.” As a matter of fact, he said I’ll be coming back. He said, “You’ll be a tour guide.” I said, “Please! Wrong! No way! I don’t want any part of it!” [Laughter]
Love For All To See
On visiting days what an entourage would follow Father! He had as many visitors as he could. As they left in the afternoon, his youngest daughter would be calling out to him the whole time. Then everybody would get into the car. Sometimes they had a car with a sunroof on it, and Mother would wave to Father out of it. Their love was there for anybody to see. It wasn’t a pretentious type of attitude; it wasn’t a show. You just got a very close, warm feeling — what you’d expect to see in a very close-knit family.
A very real concern for him as a father was his own children. He is a very compassionate man. Some of the things he told me broke my heart. Also Kami has his daughter in Korea now. He doesn’t let on, but I’m sure he misses her a lot. They are very close. She’s only 13 or 14.
Father told me that he was going to make a concentrated effort to be with his wife and family when he got out and give them the private time they didn’t have together while he was here. He talked a lot about the importance of your family, about making up to your family the time that you lose. I made a promise that I would do that with my wife and daughter.
When Carol and I were first married we were always looking for things to get involved in. We were always doing things for other people. We enjoyed ourselves. Something interesting was always happening. Then my daughter was born and we never had much time to do things together after that. When I left for Danbury I made promises to my wife and daughter that have been hard to keep. Father’s expectations for me were that he wanted me to survive, that he wanted my family to survive. You know, I thought he would have said, “Go out and work 24 hours a day!” But he told me that I have an obligation to keep my promise to them.
Beyond that, I don’t know. I’m apprehensive about what the future brings. Right now, my wife’s been working part-time and she’s also been working on my case. What a job she has! She’s living on welfare, but she’s been able to keep our house, which is in mortgage. Still, people would never know how much pain and suffering she’s going through. She doesn’t wear it on her shirt- sleeve. I say that proudly. She’s a fighter and she’s doing very well; I see that by looking at my daughter. My daughter has kept her innocence.
She has a fantastic attitude; and physically she looks like she’s doing very well.
When Father Left
Father left Danbury on July 4 and that was hard for me. I remember that day very well. I was standing outside, but they made us go in. They didn’t want the media to see that there was a number of people here who wanted to wave goodbye to Father. As soon as the cameras turned around they told us to go inside. None of us saw what happened when Father walked out.
Right after Father left was a very difficult time for me. I went through an emotional period, and I kept thinking, “This is not going to happen anymore. We’re not going to have any more of these walks and these talks and the good times and the bad times. We’re not going to have these. This is gone.” But it didn’t last too long.
A very interesting phenomenon happened here concerning the grounds. As I mentioned, I was working on the landscaping just before Father came. I was determined to accomplish the mission of getting this place finished. Little did I know what I was doing it for! Getting everything finished gave me a great sense of accomplishment. While Father was here the grounds were very nice, but then after Father left, everything started to deteriorate and the trees began to die. As a matter of fact, one of the pine trees died almost within a week after he left!
Father always said that everything’s symbolic. Father made many analogies — the idea of leaves falling on the ground, rotting away, and becoming the fertilizer for new life to grow. Well, that’s what has happened here. We did the initial landscaping, but someone else is taking care of it now. It’s a shame. By those things dying, about 50 bushes and trees, another man has had to come in and rejuvenate them and re-do it all.
Father and I spent the greater part of a year together. That’s a long period of time. Being with Father for a year is like being with somebody else for 10 years. I mean, he’s so full of information and discussion! He concentrates his time, his efforts, his relationships with people. Father and I talked about the fact that there were very few people in his lifetime that have spent such a concentrated period of time with him as I did. It gives me a headache! Really! That’s a heavy responsibility and it’s very difficult to live up to. Now I know the importance of Danbury to Father and to the church. So that’s why I take it very seriously.
One thing bothers me. I haven’t spent years fundraising, I haven’t read the Divine Principle over and over and over. I happen to be a little guy from New Jersey who’s sitting in a prison. There are church members who have gone through all kinds of difficulties. What I feel uncomfortable with is, it’s too bad it wasn’t a Moonie here in my place. Or even somebody who was a good writer or a good artist. Not that I would give it up, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a shame. What did I do to deserve to be here? I mean, I didn’t go through a Blessing with my wife. We got married in a conventional way. I knew absolutely nothing about the Unification Church. That’s how far removed I was.
I personally went through a lot in my life, but look at what Moonies go through! I just read about the wedding of the 36 Couples of the second generation, June 1986. There was some severe suffering that those parents and children went through. The parents had to work very hard to bring their children up in the right tradition. How can children live in this society without having a girlfriend or boyfriend? I can’t imagine it. It’s difficult to understand for those of us who have not been prepared throughout our lives to receive the Blessing. That’s a hard thing for people. How did they ever get through it? Talk about fear! Being matched with someone? Oh my gosh! But they’re so faithful, it’s amazing.
“This is right!”
Father has reconfirmed beliefs that I’ve always had, beliefs that I solidified after going through suffering in my life, starting from the belief that there is a God, that you do have responsibility, and that there are changes you must make.
There’s been a dramatic change in me, that I know. Its like, “Wait a minute! This is right! Things that I thought were right have been right all along!” For example, now I know that the things that happened to me do have some sort of a meaning. Also, a person must know what his responsibility is. And I realize that there is a certain amount of value in suffering. I certainly can attest to that factor.
I went through some terrible tragedies in my past that I don’t want to share right now. Then my wife and I prayed and prayed for seven years to have children, and all of a sudden we had a child. Then we suffered with our daughter and went through all of those medical complications, and then I went through a trial. Now I find myself in prison for some reason and I don’t know why I’ve been given such a long sentence. And then I meet this guy! And I say that with respect.
One of the most important things I learned from Father was a seemingly simple concept of indemnity, which is hardly a simple concept. I mean, first I read about it and then we talked about it, and then I thought, “Yeah, okay, indemnity. It sounds good. Isn’t it like life insurance?” But I realized that it’s not just a term; it’s a very important understanding.
Father told me it was significant that I had to wait exactly seven years to have a child. A number of other things happened in my life that Father found meaning in. I said to myself, “Hey, something’s happened. You went through those things for a reason I found that there was a common denominator of suffering that I shared with Father, and that’s one of the reasons I felt I was meant to be here. I know that meeting Father was important to my life.
I have found, after having many relationships with people, that there is a common “something” between two people who have both experienced suffering. I find that I can communicate well with such people, whether they believe in God or not — that is, if they’ve risen above it, if they haven’t become bitter. I don’t walk around saying, “I’m okay, everything’s finer’ I know bitterness very well. I know it on first-name basis. But I’m talking about facing fear or death or whatever and rising above it in some way. I think it may be easier to go through suffering and find your own heart than it is to go through life never having to suffer.
My Connection to Father
This, I believe, is the essence of where my connection to Father lies. Going through the same kind of suffering — that’s what bypassed years of discussion between Father and me. It was as if we had known each other for a long, long time. We started at the point where most people are only after many years.
Knowing I went through that suffering eases somewhat the bothesome effect of my being here instead of another Moonie. In other words, to a certain degree, I feel I did pay some dues. Still, I wish there were others who could have been here. I know many other people wanted to be here with Father if they could have.
One thing has changed in me: Now I look upon these abrupt changes and sufferings in my life as a challenge, whereas before I could wallow in self- pity as well as the next guy.
I’ve fought the judicial system more than anybody on specific issues, and I will do it again; I think they know that. But believe it or not, I don’t have an adversary relationship with them. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been able to forgive everybody. I don’t mean blanketly, because I don’t think you can do that. You have to do it individually; you have to forgive the judge, your co-defendants, whomever. I don’t like being here, but I think I’m making the best of the situation. That has a lot to do with Father’s influence.
Since I’ve been incarcerated I have received hundreds of letters of support from my community. Lots of people have written letters to the warden or to the parole board to try to support me. I don’t want to talk about my own case, but I only mention it just to give you an idea. These are people that I’ve known for as long as 30 years, people that I may have done something for never expecting anything in return. They also suffered things in their lives and we suffered through things together. Now those people have tried to support me and my family in the problems we have now. I tell you, it comes back, it all comes back.
Someone else could explain all this much more eloquently. I could talk about many things specifically, but when it comes to this whole situation I have such a deep feeling I find it hard to put it into words. My wife, myself, and my daughter are as close as any family could be, but it’s difficult for me to explain to my wife about my relationship with Kami and Father and for her to really understand. That’s one of the things I wish I could do better — to put it into words.
So how do I keep my momentum? Well, do I keep it? No. I wish I could say that I did. I fail just as much as anyone else; maybe I stumble more so. Do I have a direction? I guess I do. There are old clichés, like: Your word is your bond. But those are not just clichés — those are very important things. It’s a very high standard Father set, which I believe in, but I didn’t realize that perfection was obtainable before. Now I believe it is. And that’s what Father epitomizes for me.