I spent the Saturday night before Christmas in prison, surrounded by thieves, murderers, sexual offenders, drug dealers and white-collar criminals.
There was no mistaking where we were, razor wire-topped fencing was a conspicuous reminder that the way out would be painful. I suppose the way in renders its own kind of pain.
For 16 years, my father-in-law has been involved in prison ministry at this mid-level facility, visiting inmates, leading a Bible study…sharing the warmth of friendship in a cold and lonely place. He’s a friend to men who’ve been there most of their lives, and he’s a friend to boys not much older than his grandsons.
Earning the right to be trusted, he’s been allowed to bring his family into the prison to serve the inmates dinner on several occasions. My husband and I have joined him in the past; this year, my children (15, 13 and 10) came along.
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It is a sobering experience to enter this world. Long after I leave, ghosts cling to me, haunt me, but not in the way you might expect. I have no fear for myself when I go. It is a sacred time when I’m certain I’m on hallowed ground, when the presence of God invades time and space, visible on the faces of men whose bodies are imprisoned but whose hearts have been set free.
Following every prison visit, I’m reminded of the scene in “The Shawshank Redemption“, when Red spoke at his parole hearing:
“There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here,
or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a
young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to
him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things
are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s
left. I got to live with that.”
The movie’s tagline rings true, too:
Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.
Of course, for a believer, hope is rooted in the person of Christ; and it can’t be missed that His last act of grace before His death on the cross was of forgiving a criminal who had earned his death sentence.
In spite of circumstance, regardless of the consequences flowing from a river of bad decisions, these men have found true freedom. They’ve received gifts that will last them not just a lifetime, but forever ~ peace that passes understanding, abounding grace, every spiritual blessing, incomprehensible love; and for those who’ve been in prison, perhaps they understand better than anyone else the value…the beauty…the incalculable riches of redemption and forgiveness.
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What you say is so true. Having had an experience of my own. Meeting an extended member of my hubs family after he was released from prison. To see him now – almost 20 years later, is truly amazing.
Wow. What an amazing experience. I certainly am interested to know what your kids thought. What a great experience for them too.
What an amazing experience, I too am looking forward to reading how your children found it.
That was fascinating and wonderfully written. I’ll be back to see how your children felt about it.
What an awe inspiring experience. On one hand I would feel truly heart broken at the life these men live, but how amazing to be able to be apart of and have a hand in helping to change thier lives.
Looking forward to reading your childrens’ thoughts about their experience.
If you stop by, I’ve given you an award.
Happy New Year, and have a great weekend.
Thank you for sharing this.
As a wife of an inmate, it always blesses me to hear of others taking time to minister.
They are in a place where NO ONE cares about them. They are never touched in a caring way (hand on the back, pat on the shoulder, joking “punch” to the arm) nothing like that.
My husband said that is one of the hardest things.
Having people care enough to love them as Jesus does, means very much to them and to those of us who love them.
I heard a man on Focus on the Family the other day, “The same grace that saved you, saves them. They don’t require any more grace than you do. We are equals in Christ.”
I’m so proud of you. Prison Ministry is one of the most amazing ministries out there. I can’t wait to hear more of your experience!
A great post and what an experience for your whole family.
You FIL must be an amazing person and I’m sure the inmates appreciated the whole family’s involvement in serving dinner. I look forward to hearing what your children thought of the visit.
Did you see my ex-husband? Does he have any hair left?
Robin, this was a wonderful post — this is what I remember best about reading through all of your old posts, when I first started reading (all those ages ago) — that you write about real life rather than hiding it, you’re involved in real life rather than turning away from it, you have a heart for people living in real life rather than rejecting them and an amazing amount of God’s love in your heart — you have touched my heart, as you did with posts about Teresa, Alzheimer’s and MLK Jr. — I’ll be back to hear what your kids thought.
Have a blessed New Year!
wow. i too am looking forward to reading your children’s reactions.
Do you live in chattanooga? I saw the pictures from coolidge park, I live in chattanooga. Be blessed.
I feel another good series brewing. . .
You amaze me. I loved reading this, and can’t wait to hear more.
Your writing blows me away. Like I’ve said before -a gift you truly have.
You can even take something like your kids being picky eaters, and turn it into something that captivates….!!
Can I say, I just love ya??
That was sobering. What a wonderful man, your Father is.
Cheeky, while it’s never touched us directly through a family member (wow! to your husband’s family), the indirect touch through my FIL’s (and MIL’s, too) ministry is still affecting….
Kathryn, Beccy and Janet, just as soon as I’m able to sit down to write it…
Thanks, Alix and Sabrina.
Christine, THANK YOU for my little blog surcie! And you’re right, it really was an HONOR to serve in that place.
Lizzie, YOU were on my mind before, during and after our visit, and even when I wrote this. Knowing pieces of your story…is heartbreaking. The tough thing to digest is your story is one of THOUSANDS :/, and you live it gracefully in the midst of real trial.
Heather, let’s put it this way: I wish we lived nearer to my in-laws so we could play a more active role in what they’re doing. They’re agents of change for many :).
Min, he wasn’t there…something about “good behavior”….
Chris, it’s a big deal, too, that we were even allowed in!
LCO, your comment here is just one of the many blessings I’ve already received in ’08 :). Thank you!
Denise, well, the Tennessee Valley–downtown is almost within spittin’ distance ;).
Tami, lol…better than the “Rat Chronicles” and “I wasn’t really an MTV Hoe”…;)
Kristy, more smiles, and SWOOSH! Did you just hear the air blow up my skirt? Wowza! that feels GOOD! 🙂 Hugs & cyber smooches right back atcha!
OOooo, Susie J, I missed ya. He IS a wonderful man! I’m blessed to have been his first-born daughter-in-love :).
Thank you for posting this. It is both inspirational and touching, and I would love to know how your kids felt about the experience. Good for you for living in the spirit of the season.
Robin, you’re truly an amazing person. I’m so glad I came across your blog.
I can’t wait to read more, Robin. This is a powerfully related experience that reinforces the richness of being alive – in all its forms.
We drove the I-75 both ways, so I suspect I may have been close by at some point. I know it’s in my future to meet up with bloggers in real life: we were just so pressed for time (work, sigh) that we needed to get there and get home on a pretty set schedule. I hope that changes soon…it would be totally cool to meander around the countryside, bumping into folks who’ve made a difference in my online life.
You’ve had me hanging by a thread for the past a few days… can hardly wait for the follow-up to this post. I’m touched by your FIL’s dedication to these men. Truly humbling. Now I understand where Tad gets his depth. :~D
Stopping by to say I’ve been reading you in Bloglines, but no time to pop through and comment. A little bloggy break coming up for me soon. Must re-group after the holidays and our daughter’s engagement.
Love ya, e-Mom @ Chrysalis
I went to the prison back in September and seen where Shawshank Redemption was filmed! That is such a good movie!!!