I know that I had promised a few people a quick turn-around on KISS pt 2 (it‘s done), but I’ve just got to get this one out there NOW.
Yesterday, I found God in a most unexpected way, place, and fashion. Yesterday, I had my eyes opened in ways that I had never imagined. Yesterday, I had known truths become living, fulfilling truths. Yesterday, I had my heart softened and then newly set ablaze in amazing ways. Yesterday, I had my faith reaffirmed. Yesterday, I found beauty, love, and hope in a place where there should be none. Yesterday, I felt the very presence of God in a way I hadn‘t known in way too long, if ever. Yesterday, I went to prison.
I typed that last paragraph, I read it, and I am frustrated. I just can’t seem to quite get it right. I can’t exactly convey the words, the feelings, the emotions that I’m aiming for. I’ve written and re-written this entry so many times, on paper, on the computer, in my head, and I just can’t get it right.
I don’t want to do a whole lot of set-up with this one, because I want to get right to the meat of it, I don’t want to lose anyone in the setup. I want to share this with everyone, but to skip the setup would be to somehow take something away from what happened. So, please, please, please bear with me.
I had been asked numerous times to go to this prison, a women’s prison, and I always had a reason/excuse as to why I couldn’t. Thankfully, the person who had been doing the asking remained persistent, and I finally had no choice but to give in. I really had no clue what to expect going in. I knew the rules and that was about it. In the lead up, I’ve had so much else going on that I had barely given it a thought until I awoke yesterday morning.
Getting into prison, it seems to one who has freedom, is only mildly easier than getting out. Security checks, heavy locking doors, badge issue, and then another series of heavy locking doors. It’s a formidable place. And while I know this is going to sound incredibly clichéd and maybe even overly dramatic, but with each door that electronically locked behind you, you truly felt that much further from the “real” world.
What I am not so eloquently getting at is the physical structure and property is psychologically intimidating, even to one who knew he could leave whenever he wanted. And when you get your first exposure to the population, that intimidation grows exponentially. You instantly feel yourself being sized up and measured. You instantly see in their body language the “yard” hierarchy in full effect. You see the silent, possibly sub-conscious communications from one group to another, and one person to another. You quickly realize that everything is suddenly magnified in prison, especially perception and stature. There was a real, palpable tension to it all. Once again, probably sub-consciously to them, but very obvious to an outsider. And this is the environment these women exist in 24-7. Prison I quickly observed wasn’t just about physical confinement, but it is also social, emotional, and mental confinement amongst the inmates.
We were quickly led to a chapel where a group of women awaited. Being up close to these women did little to ease the tension. Instinctively as we headed into the chapel, I was uncomfortable with exposing my back to them. But hey, I was still a curiosity to them at that point, might as well keep me around for a bit.
Once inside the room where we were to meet, we took our seats in a circle of chairs. I was sandwiched in between two inmates, which I must admit was pretty uncomfortable. The one to my left looked to be no more than twenty, the one to my right looked to be closer to my age. Both were pleasant enough, although the fact that the one to my right had an ink pen did nothing to calm me.
In all, there were twelve inmates, two grief counselors, and myself. Looking around the room, it was painfully obvious that they didn’t know what to think of me (yeah, I know, who does?). They were suspicious of me and I think more than a little put off that I had invaded their space. I worried that my presence might be a deterrent to them doing what they needed to do.
I want to stop right here and ask you to ponder something…God loves you. Think about it for a second. We hear it all of the time, we believe it, but really, what does it mean to us? God was about to explode in that room in a way that was new, exciting, and most certainly unexpected.
The counselor that had hounded me for so long to come, opened the meeting by simply telling the women, “God loves you.” At that moment, God sucked the air right out of my chest and just absolutely flooded the room. These hardened women, suddenly melted. “God loves you.” There was nothing more important that could possibly have been said to them. Some winced. Some smiled. Some stared at the floor. All cried. “God loves you.” Three simple words we all too often take for granted and abuse for own selfish reasons, was more valuable to these women than anything else in the world. I have never felt God so powerfully, and He wasn’t done.
She next introduced me to the group. My name had only just been barely uttered when the eyes of the one I had pegged as the “leader” nearly bulged from their sockets, while another lady to somewhere to my right gasped. I couldn’t see her because my eyes were squarely focused on the “leader”.
“What did you say?” The “leader” demanded of the counselor.
“I said this is Corey.”
“I asked God for a sign!” She cried out loud, bouncing in her chair, tears streaming down her face. “I asked God for a sign! I asked God to show him to me! I asked God to show me Corey, to let me know that he was all right! I asked God for a sign! You ain’t my Corey, but you are my sign. My baby’s name is Corey!”
The inmate to my right who was now crying aloud? The “leader’s” roommate with whom she had shared these prayers. God hammered me anew.
I was told going in not to react, not to show emotion if it could be helped. I did pretty well, but my heart was absolutely exploding and my spirit soaring. I looked around the room and I no longer saw inmates or criminals. I didn’t see hardened women. I saw women who were hurting, scared, and very much human. I saw the beautiful daughters of the living God. I saw my sisters in Christ. Any walls, any preconceived notions were instantly shattered by God.
I was then asked to open the session in prayer. I truly did not think it would possible to force words from my throat, but they appeared. I was quickly hammered by God yet again, when each one of my hands was gently taken by the inmates on either side of me. I honestly cannot remember what I prayed or said, but I can tell you, whatever it was, was the most powerful words I’ve ever uttered, mumbled, or whatever I did.
Most of the rest of the time was spent with each inmate sharing her story and her grief. I heard stories of deceased babies. I heard stories of spouses and fathers that had died while they were in incarceration. I heard stories of families that had deserted them and had ceased with all contact. I heard a story from one that had only given birth four days prior and had had to give up her baby the day before. I heard stories of dying family members, for whom they had heard nothing from in far too long, not knowing whether they still lived or not. I heard a story of one who is on a soul shattering search for God, but who cannot find Him because another counselor at another facility had convinced her that she and her deceased baby would not recognize each other in heaven.
You want to know what else I heard in prison? I heard praises. Let me repeat that...I went to prison and I heard PRAISES. Even in the midst of everything that prison is, even in the midst of the above stories, I heard PRAISES. Praises for God. Praises for the way that His word is shaping and redeeming their lives. Praises for each other. Praises for the help they have received in a place that they do in fact hate.
You know what I didn’t hear? Excuses. Blame. Woe is me. Lack of responsibility. It wasn't me.
I went to prison and I felt God in ways that I never imagined. I went to prison and saw the real power of the words “God loves you.” I went to prison and I heard and saw hope. I went to prison and I felt their need and determination to know God better. I went to prison and I heard PRAISES where there is nothing but pain and misery. I went to prison and witnessed genuine Agape love between inmates. I went to prison and saw people actually living the Word. I went to prison and saw music spontaneously break out. I went to prison and was blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I went to prison and I saw God.
***I won’t go into detail of conversations, but I do want to assure anyone who reads this blog that I did have the opportunity to speak in one on one situations with the woman who had been convinced that she and her baby would not recognize each other in heaven, as well as the one who had taken me as her sign. I’ll only leave you with these words, in all their power, glory, and truth…God is good :)
***I just read this post and am imminently disappointed in it. It nowhere comes close to conveying the power of what took place and I am truly sorry for that, but alas it is the best I can do. I’ve got all these thoughts, emotions, and epiphanies in my head just dying to get out and it’s kind of like trying to funnel running, wet concrete through a straw. There’s just too much to it for me to do justice.