{Continued from Reality Check || Thoughts From Our Night in Prison}


When presented opportunity to serve a Christmas dinner to inmates at a mid-level security prison, my immediate thought was “of course”.  When my father-in-law asked for our children to help, my immediate thought was…

…the same.

My husband and I had served meals on other occasions at this facility (my father in law has a 16-year ministry-relationship there) and I felt like the environment would be controlled and safe…enough, anyway. When asked their opinion, the kids were cautiously interested.  They trust our judgment, they trust their grandfather, and I think after hearing about his prison ministry their entire lives, they wanted to see it themselves.

They didn’t ask many questions during the days leading up to the Christmas dinner, but on the drive over, their nervous energy increased as the miles between us and our destination decreased.  Pulling into the parking lot and seeing two-story tall razor wire fences, going through security that makes the airport look like a walk in the park, watching as every food item carried in was inspected (has anyone ever actually tried to sneak a steel file in a cake?) was sobering.  We moved in groups through sections of the prison, having to wait for mechanical doors to be unbolted, stepping through, then hearing the click and clang of locks behind us.

The inmates, clad in identical, nondescript gray prison garb, were milling around three-quarters of a large, sparse-but- utilitarian common room, tables ready and rounded by chairs; in the remaining area, a series of long tables covered in white paper were waiting to be filled with ham, chicken, rice and gravy, green beans, slaw, rolls…and generous slices of homemade apple, pecan and lemon pie.

Everything is regimented in prison; there’s no room for negotiation, you do as you’re told whether you’re incarcerated or visiting the incarcerated.   If memory serves me correctly we had 2 1/2 hours to set up, serve dinner, eat, have a program, clean up and leave.

Here are thoughts from those 2 1/2 hours:

A child’s perspective–

My three were eager to serve, they did NOT want to be relegated to fixture status.  They greedily positioned themselves at the front of the serving line so they could DO something (they explained this to me after the fact).  Afterwards, during the ride back to my in-laws, they were a bundle of energy, their words and impressions mingling surprise with satisfaction.

Rachel remembered specific inmates;  she wants to go back and she felt like she was “doing what Jesus would do”.  Rachel gets frustrated by Christian lip service; what encourages her faith is when she sees action, when her hands and feet are exercised.

Stephen, my youngest, admitted he was scared at first.  He, too, thought everyone was “really nice” and wants to do this again.

Thomas appreciated how almost everyone spoke to him and thanked him, especially the ones who joked around with him.

They saw these men as men, not prisoners; they had no fear.  They didn’t make judgments, but they did wonder what crimes were committed.   And they’re already ready to return.

A changed heart–

We served dinner to about 80 murderers, rapists, drug dealers and thieves, yet all I saw were men who had been redeemed and bought with a price, the life of Christ.  There was no condemnation, these men are living forgiven lives with severe consequences…never have I seen such level ground at the foot of the cross.  Their countenance seemed to radiate what was in their heart:  instead of despair and dejection, I saw joy and deliverance…bodies imprisoned but hearts set free.

Only about 5% of the general population earned the right to attend; my heart grieved the reasons the remaining 1,500+ weren’t able to.

A look–

With the exception of the first two men in line, every inmate looked me in the eye, thanked me, and verbalized their appreciation for the meal. The first two men didn’t make eye contact…I wondered why.

A touch–

For efficiency, rather than inmates filling their own plates, we passed them down the line and each server spooned generous helpings on each plate, passing them down to the next server; inmates didn’t take their plate until they reached the “bread girl”–me.  I noticed that almost every person touched my hand when I gave them their plate.  This touch wasn’t “necessary”, the hand-off could’ve taken place without contact.  It could’ve bothered me, but at some point during dinner, it occurred to me these men rarely have “kind” touches; my blogging friend Lizzie (whose husband is currently in prison) confirmed this in her comment on my first “Reality Check” post. It stirred my mama recall and I ruminated those times when all my babies needed was a loving touch from me to heal their boo-boo du jour.  These men have a lot of “boo-boos”….

Good Manners–

“Please” and “Thank You” were said 10,000 times, heartfelt and sincerely.  Emily Post would’ve been proud.


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