As a journalist, and all-around curious being, I’ve come to the point of discounting nothing; anything is possible.
So when an email recently arrived from a Morro Bay resident by the name of Honey French, outlining events in her life that included “a funny toilet bowl miracle, Twilight Zone adventure in communist China,” “lost ring supernaturally recovered” and “adventures at the prison!” my intrigue-o-meter redlined for a chat with her.
First off, her given name is Luella Kay Fong, born in Sacramento to Chinese parents, who, as it turned out, had some interesting peccadilloes between them.
For example, her father would come home from work, she says, change his clothes and generally spruce himself up before leaving their home for the rest of the evening to spend time with his mistress. For her part, Honey’s mother would say to Honey when he drove into the driveway: “Hush, the bastard’s home.”
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Around the time she was 8, her mother would take Honey and her sister and sit in their car, parked in front of “the whore’s house.”
It was a traumatized household of rage and vindictiveness that left a profound sense of self-loathing in Honey. There was no refuge at school, where she was ridiculed as a minority.
That background led to a revelation that, “When you don’t like yourself, you don’t like your name.”
Her mother had called her “Honey” from early on. So, when she was 16, she jettisoned Luella — which she says means “worrier” — and began exclusively using the name Honey. It certainly didn’t hurt that she heard God within her heart, telling her that he had named her Honey.
Her early life was good for at least one thing: it nurtured in her a compassion for others in pain, which probably led her to a job as a secretary in the headquarters of the Department of Corrections in Sacramento. In that role, she read “tragic case histories” and toured San Quentin and Folsom prisons.
Those experiences, in turn, led her to volunteer with “Seven Steps Foundation,” an organization of ex-convicts helping convicts before their release.
The group started going to the Vacaville prison, where cons would “tell as little or as much as they wanted on how they would adapt to the outside. Seven Steps analyzed their commitments.” And then a job opportunity opened up for a correctional officer. At 5 feet, 2 inches and 104 pounds, she applied.
“I wanted to be a correctional counselor but became a correctional officer at the Men’s Colony in 1974,” breaking a gender barrier with two other women that year.
The situation wasn’t altogether well received by guards at the prison, who, she says, were leery as to how the women would respond to incredibly stressful situations.
For the first year-and-a-half she hated the job, afraid for her safety and life when she had to walk the main line. And then, one early morning at 3:50 a.m., while standing sentinel in one of the prison’s gun towers, her life was changed.
“I heard, ‘I love you’ from God. It was like a liquid love.”
As noted in her book, “Officer Honey, Light in the Darkness,” the experience gave her “supernatural knowledge about inmates and staff to show God’s concern and heart of love for those who are hurt and damaged by life’s circumstances.” She may not have had the job title of correctional counselor, but her gun tower encounter “transformed me into a positive, loving person in all situations.”
Although Department of Corrections policy is such that guards don’t become too friendly with those they oversee, she found herself comforting inmates who were “exploding, acting stupid or had received sad letters from home.”
For the next quarter century she remained a guard but also acted as a self-appointed lay minister among the incarcerated and staff, losing all of her fear (“You don’t mess with Officer Honey; she walks with God.”) and bringing her upbeat message of faith to those who had so little.
Now retired, she ministers at retreats and crusades in the Philippines, Peru, Thailand, Mexico, and throughout the States. She leads two prison chapel services each month, in addition to being “Honey From the Rock in Pismo” every third Saturday of the month at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf meeting room, 350 Five Cities Drive in Pismo Beach. She can be contacted at http://www.HoneyFromTheRockMinistry.com.
An incurable optimist, enthused and imbued with her faith, she says as we part: “I’m in the best season of my life.”
Bill Morem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.