One of my goals in life has been to never see the inside of prison walls. I mean, I watch t.v., and that’s as close I have ever wanted to be, until this weekend.
When Russell and Christine Roseberry with InnerFaith Prison Ministry visited our church a few months ago, my intention was to do as I have always done, smile sweetly, and walk quickly past their information table in our church’s foyer.
What actually happened in my heart is sort of a blur. I heard something about women in prison being hopeless, and then Holy Spirit said to my heart, “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be a Hope Coach?” Sigh.
Now, He knows me. He knows the cautious, introverted parts of me, “What in the whirl?”, as my friend says. Cautiously, I signed the sheet to receive more info on the upcoming weekend revival. My head said don’t do it, my heart said give it a try.
Filling out the paperwork gave me a twitch. You know the kind of paperwork that explains “all” the possibilities (we won’t even mention how I felt after training, mercy). On top of that, the DOC wanted to know my weight. It was almost too much to bear.
What could make this more bearable? Bringing my ministry buddy, Karen.
Karen is the kind of friend that understands my fears and shares them often with me. She makes me laugh and helps me remember, by just spending time with her, why we do ministry together. Teeth chattering scared, we drove to Vicksburg, Mississippi on Friday to meet up with the InnerFaith team. A group of women, led by Christine Roseberry, that volunteer their time to pour into the hearts of female inmates.
I immediately knew that nothing about this trip was going to be in my comfort zone. Karen and I whined, grieved, and then repented. Ashamed. By the time we left Louisiana Transitional Center for Women – Tallulah, I realized that God had a plan for the weekend, and getting us out of our comfort zone was in it.
So many feelings and emotions flooded my heart and soul over those three days. Some of them, the same feelings and emotions that have been felt by every woman that has walked through those doors. The loud thud that the first door makes as it closes behind you. The sound that reminds you it’s locked. Walk to the right signs, and razor wire, and guards.
Rows of handcuffs and shackles in the guard-room seemed imposing, until I remember that most of us are, or have been, shackled in one way or another. There are more ways to be in prison than stepping foot into a correctional facility. I’ve felt those invisible chains. The ones we can pretend aren’t there.
I met some of the most beautiful, troubled, hopeful, scared, happy, confused, addicted, joy filled women. Some reminded me of me, some of my daughter. Some, I instantly knew had a chance to be a different woman on the outside, and some I knew needed more time to sort out the how and why and never agains of their offense.
Our team as a whole prayed for hundreds of women over the weekend. Individually, in groups, at altars, in the “yard”, and in their dorms. Tears poured, fears shared, forgiveness prayed for, restoration sought, love needed, love given, love received…along with lots of hugs.
I looked at pictures of children, grandbabies, and the pages of worn out Bibles. I heard hard stories about their lives, and worked within myself to sort out truth from fiction. I learned to play the card game Trash, and to make a tortilla bowl with a tortilla, plastic drinking cup, and a microwave. How coffee creamer, sugar, and ramen noodles in the microwave makes great candy, and that those girls drink lots of coffee.
Many of the women were raised in church. They know the Bible. They must lean on it heavily now. An uncomfortable reminder that falling into sin is so easy. It’s a war for our souls. How will they stop going through that revolving door that leads them back? This questions hangs heavy over many of their hearts. Some of them have spent most of their lives caught in this vicious cycle. The fear overwhelms their now sober minds. How?
I had no easy answers. Nor did anyone on our team, I’m sure. What I do know is that choice will play a big role. Joshua asked the Israelites to choose who they would serve. Choosing Jesus, choosing to change their environment, choosing to say no to their old habits when everything in the craziness of life says go back to what you know.
If I said it once, I said it dozens of times during the weekend, “You are a new creation now. Your old way of handling life is the old you. That’s not who you are anymore. When Satan whispers in your ear that you can’t change, you have never changed, and you won’t now, you say, ‘I’m a new creation. I have changed. I will change. Jesus is renewing my mind.”
It’s heartbreaking to spend time with them and encouraging at the same time.
The way to freedom for them is the same way we must travel, through the cross of Jesus. The old Bible School song is truth, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”
I often link with…Suzie Eller at #livefree Thursday, Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Holly Barrett at Testimony Tuesday , Crystal Storms at Intentional Tuesday and Susan B. Mead at #DanceWithJesus Friday