A Prison Visit

Isaiah 61. 1 – The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up  the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. 

I visit a prison. The first time in my life.  I tremble as I stand before the large looming building staring back at me.  Uninvited the building stares at me with a distant authoritative gaze.  I was invited to speak in a prison after someone heard me speak on a Sunday. The prison holding female inmates committing crimes of all sorts.  I stand before the big gates to be let in, and I walk tensely up the path to get a visitors badge.  Once in I feel queasy.  Queasy.  Afraid. Worried. The prison workers telling me that it will be OK. You won’t be alone with the prisoners.

We walk through the corridors. It was like I was being taken down memory lane. My school looked remarkably similar to this prison. Except for the large multiple locked doors that we  go through to reach the door to the chaplaincy. Everything locks behind us, prison guards standing there in case something goes wrong.  My fear still alive, dancing around me. I question whether I am up for this. What right do I have to share my story with those female inmates? What is it that I have that can reach them? What is it that I can share? We pray with the leaders of the chapel before we start the meeting.

Rowdy girls sit down and smack their lips, talk loudly,  some look unkempt.  But beneath this facade of rowdiness there is brokenness, there is fragility, there is pain, there is vulnerability, there is anger, grief, sadness, loneliness, depression, despair.  Women broken by their past. Women torn to shreds by their dysfunction.  Women defined by their past.  My mouth opens, but nothing comes out.  Dear Lord, help me to speak the right words to help these women with their wounded spirits to come to terms with all that they have lost.  The meeting begins. Singing. Tension.  The spoken word of God.

My voice quavers. I speak. I form words with my mouth. My voice comes from nowhere and fills this small chapel.  I ask a question: how many of you have been abused?  Every single hand goes up in that room. About 30 hands go up into the air.  I see the pain etched on each of their faces. Needless pain – if only they had been given the same chances I had in life. I share my story of tragedy, heartache, I share with them how I overcame the loss of my son by not succumbing to anger. More importantly I share of my hope in God, that there can be healing by saying that the Lord is my shepherd and he will see me through the valleys of death, and beside still pastures. I share that they have a choice between life/light or death/darkness.  I said I was faced with that choice years ago.  I knew early on I did not want to return to a negative cycle of endless abuse. Of endless pain.   Of allowing myself to get hurt, which could eventually lead me to a prison if I had not chosen God.  They listen intently.  The pain, the tears clearly visible.  I wonder how many of them have been told if they were loved. Even the prison guards  were moved.

I pray that my words give them hope, I pray that what I say will touch them, that they see that they can change the way they live. I tell them that their dysfunction does not have to define them.  I say that they can turn this dysfunction into something positive. That they can put it into positive outlets. The room is silent as I speak, but I know my words touch many of the women in there.

They are people like you and me. They have gone through suffering, and yet didn’t know how to let go of that pain, they didn’t know how to turn this pain into something positive, resulting them doing something that they probably didn’t want to do. They are people with problems just like you and me. I wonder what is put into place to help these women to come out of this negative cycle, so that they can turn their lives around.

It is a privilege to talk in this prison. It is a privilege to share my hope with these people. To show them that there is healing if we can trust the Lord.  We are all prisoners to our sin.  But we can be prisoners to hope.  We can be free, if we learn to take our struggles to the cross.  So, I pray that I was able to impact at least one person today.  My fear of these people no longer there, but a respect and a sadness for them takes its place as I realise how much suffering they have gone through.  How much tragedy they have been through.  My prayer is that they can turn their life around and that there will be someone who can help them on their journey back to being fully rehabilitated.  Praying that they will be healed from their wounds.

They are people just like you and me.  As I stood in front of the prison I am reminded that I could be one of them. That she could be me. That she is me. The mask of pain evident on each of our faces.  But by the grace of God I am free. Hallelujah.

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