This week I spent two days in jail.
The first day was when I visited my friend Sean (not his real name) in the Stark County Jail. Sean has been arrested for numerous DUIs and most recently violated his parole by once again drinking. In other words . . . he deserves to be in jail. He doesn’t, however, deserve to be forgotten. God loves him and I love him.
The Stark County Jail was much higher security than I imagined. I wasn’t able to sit on a bunk in Sean’s cell and talk with him. I wasn’t able to sit across the table from him. I had to sit at a bank of phones and talk with him via a video monitor (not through a window).
I’m not allowed to take him a book to read—not even a Bible.
We talked for awhile, I prayed with him and then I told him I would be back to see him again.
When I was driving home I was struck by the fact that in some mysterious way I had just visited Jesus and that in an even more mysterious way I had become Jesus to him. (Matthew 25:31-46)
My second day doing time was at the Massillon City Jail. I went with our videography team to film some flash video and sermon trailers for our upcoming teaching series, The Rebel’s Guide.
We were scheduled to be alone in the cell block but unfortunately a SWAT team had made a bust just an hour before we arrived to shoot (poor choice of words). There were high risk prisoners in the house. As a result, the Police Captain took us into a cell and locked the doors behind us. SLAM went the heavy steel doors—just like you hear in the movies. It was an uncomfortable feeling.
The cell we filmed in had four very hard bunk beds, a public toilet (very public), and cold concrete floors. It was actually the perfect location to be reminded that the Apostle Paul spent the last few years of his life in a similar setting.
There was graffiti on the wall above one of the beds. In big bold letters someone had scribbled, “I want out . . . NOW!” Kind of interesting that, in contrast, while he spent time in a Roman jail, Paul chose to write letters about joy and the secret of contentment.
I hope that I never have to do more than visit in a jail. But if for some unforeseeable reason I get locked up like Paul I pray that I’ll be able to write letters of joy rather than scribble demands of release.
Oh, and I hope you’ll come and visit me.
Why is it that we ourselves, and OTHERS, think we have to get it all right in our lives before we can have an impact. When in fact impact is greater when done in the reverse, kind of like having ice cream after mexican food, it just tastes sweeter. We are in good company, Joseph was totally mad at Jacob for the hand crossing on the blessing.
Pastor Greg, I go down to Stark County every other Sunday to minister to the people there. That is a field that is WELL overdue for harvest. Unfortunately, once a person’s been a resident, not a lot of people on the outside (including Christians) want anything to do with them because of their history, which is something those people have to face for the rest of their lives. Believe me…your friend may not say anything, but I know he looked forward to your visit and wished it would have lasted a lot longer. Visitors mean the world to them…that you chose to come and see them and that you don’t care what they did, you’ll still visit and love them. They’re still people with feelings…and many of them, even though they receive the forgiveness of The Lord, they struggle with forgiving themselves.
Jesus is alive and well in those places. I’ve been there and seen it. I see it every time I go…and when I go, I have to remind myself that this is a jail! (that’s a good thing). They come to chapel service and they sing praise and share testimony and there isn’t a dry eye in the house…they are free, even if only in their mind. =D And they bring others from their pods and people be gettin’ saved! =D
Oh, by the way Ray Coblenz and Lorraine Freeman (from Deliverance Church) are the Chaplains down there. If you call one of their offices, they’ll see to it that your friend gets a Bible if he needs one.
When I was 25 years old, I was shot by a boyfriend with whom I was trying to end a relationship. He was going to kill both of us that day, but, by the Grace of God, I was able to remain calm and reach out to him in his desperation, get him to pray with me. Eventually I convinced him to take me for medical help. He was arrested at the hospital.
He pled guilty to felonious assault and kidnapping and was sentenced to 9-25 years in prison. From the moment he was arrested to this very day, my family and I have prayed for him and for his family. It was an awful thing for both of us to go through. In violence, there is not just one clear-cut victim and offender. Both of us, and our families suffered in this.
Because it ended so badly, I was so afraid that someday he would get out and try to hurt me. I knew if he came to know God in all of this, then somehow it would turn out alright. I just kept holding on the the passage from the Bible that says “if God is for you, then who can be against you”.
The victim assistance program had helped me so much with medical costs and counselling, I wanted to give back to them. So I became a victim impact speaker for them. I often spoke in prisons to other violent offenders about how the crime against me had affected my life and the lives of both of our families. I was always so grateful that during these times I was able to witness how God had helped me with the most diffifcult time in my life. I shared with them that I prayed often for my own offender. Sometimes inmates would tell me that I was crazy and that someday he’d be back to get me, but mostly, inmates would tell me that I was right to forgive. They were grateful for me sharing my faith. They would tell me their own stories about how God had used these worst times in their lives to reveal Himself to them.
This work lead me be invited to speak with my offender in a state-sponsored program that was started several years after our ordeal. We both had to go through 7 months of working with state mediators to ensure the successful outcome of our meeting. I also spent much time talking to God about what could happen on that day, and asking him to protect me and guide our words so that true healing could take place.
To make a very long story short, our meeting went extremely well. During the three hours of our conversation, my offender took full responsibility for his actions and apologized, and I was able to reach out to him and extend forgiveness. No one else needed to speak for the whole 3 hours. God led the conversation. We both kept saying things like “I was never a terribly religious person before the shooting, but I think that God…” I have heard so many people involved in our dialogue say that they took something away from that day that was so spiritually personal. It was just such a God-charged experience.
My offender has been out two years now. I have not spoken to him since the dialogue. I was not supposed to, nor did I feel any need to try to keep him in prison any longer when he came up for parole. He ended up spending 14 years in prison for violence done to me, but I have always thought it had very little to do with me. It really was the Best-Worst thing that ever happened, because so much good has come as a result of it all.
As one inmate told me once during a speaking engagement: “God makes the difference in every experience you live. He changes your mind, and what is in your mind. The difference between being in prison and being free in here for me is the distance between my left ear and my right.”
Wow Rita! What an amazing story of God’s love, grace and forgiveness passed on through your life. Thanks so much for being willing to share it. g