Archive for the ‘jail’ Category

Would you believe me if I told you that with just over 30 people and just over 30 days we raised just over $5,000 for Christmas in the jail! HOLY COW! The thermometer was filled on July 31st!

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I am so humbled. I set a goal, a necessary goal to reach, but if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure we were going to reach it. I thought, “hey, if we aim for 5, maybe we will get 3 and that will be a great start”. But no, we not only hit 5000, but we passed it! With that and the couple thousand Calvary Church is chipping in, I now have almost all of the money we will need to put on an amazing Christmas celebration in the jail this year. Just like last year we’ll have journals, coloring books, colored pencils, devotional books, candy, Life Recovery Bibles, and of course a hand written note to each and every inmate. There’s also a couple of additions this year, but I’m not going to ruin the surprise because I know word will get back to the jail and it’s more fun to get presents you don’t already know about.

To those who gave financially, THANK YOU. To those who encouraged me, THANK YOU. To those who have supported me over the passed several years in getting to this point, THANK YOU. For those who have prayed, THANK YOU. I couldn’t do what I do without all of you behind me. I’m so grateful.

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According to google, the word opportunity is defined as “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something“. Last week, I had an incredible opportunity to share about the opportunities I’ve received and open up opportunities for others to join in order to create opportunities for still others to have an easier time of transition and ultimately a better life. …I know, I know, that’s all jumbled and confusing and I used the word ‘opportunity‘ too many times, but it’s true! Let me break it down for you…
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Photo Credit: Commissioner Mike Pipe
Last week I had the chance to share about Building Hope (the mentoring program I helped create) at a Mokita Dialogue on prison systems. The Mokita Dialogue was an event put on by the Jana Marie Foundation and hosted by New Leaf Initiative. They have discussions every month about important topics that need to be talked about, but that people don’t really like to talk about. For example, mental health, homelessness, prison system… not easy topics, but necessary.
So at the prison system talk, about 50 people gathered in room to acknowledge issues, and dream of change. The exciting thing is we didn’t just dream and be on our way, we then got to share tangible ideas, inspire those in the room with the capacity to take action, and invite people into what’s already being done. Several people came to chat with me after to learn more about what it looks like to be a mentor. I don’t know if they will sign up, but I hope and pray they will. It doesn’t take much to believe in someone and help them to learn they are valuable just because they are alive. To show that a prison system doesn’t define our humanity. To sip coffee in the sunshine while exchanging work stories. It doesn’t take much to spend an hour a week with someone, but to that someone it just might mean the world.
If you’re a local and interested in becoming a mentor, please reach out to me, or follow this link to apply!

“STOP IT!” she screamed into the silence. “I know what you’re doing and I feel you enough. JUST GO AWAY!”

“SHUT UP!” the other yelled back, “just stop your ranting for one moment and give me a little peace. You’re making me crazy!”

“Why are you mad? Isn’t this what we wanted? Did we never talk about this?”

“Of course it’s what we wanted…we asked for it. I just didn’t know it would feel this way.”

Back and forth they bickered and yelled all. day. long. But silently. You may have noticed them though not so harshly. Maybe the harshness of the first was reflected in my tone when I spoke. Or maybe you saw their frustration of the second in the tears that welled up in my eyes for seemingly no reason while we were talking. Or that quiver in my voice that I pretended wasn’t there. You might have noticed. But you might not have, but those have been the voices of my head and my heart today. On the inside, they are so very loud.

See, every Wednesday for the past 3 years I have been prepping emotionally to wake up the next day and go into jail. Today I didn’t. Tomorrow I am not going to jail. It’s still jail day. But I’m not going in. My dear friend and coworker has become the answer to my prayers that have been piling up for 3 years now. Prayers to be able to share this work with someone. Prayers for it to become sustainable. So many prayers. And now as I watch them being answered and I rejoice, it hurts a little bit. That’s where my head and heart get mad at each other. One wants to see the logic and say “THIS IS WHAT I WANTED! YAY!” the other says, “I sure am going to miss my friends tomorrow”. One says, “I cannot even believe this is growing to more than just me!” the other questions my identity. “What exactly is my intro now if not, ‘I am the chaplain’?”

As I look to Jesus and quiet my soul I am reminded that I don’t have to know what’s next to trust that it is good. Transition, even when it’s good, is hard. Tears are not bad. Trust takes work. I don’t like that, but it’s true. Trust. Trust. Trust that tomorrow will come and go just like today. Trust that the next steps, no matter how scary, are where I’m supposed to go. Tonight I will choose to trust and rest secured and before I drift off to sleep reread my favorite bedtime psalm. Psalm 4:8 “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

I wondered, ‘what in the world are we are thinking‘. And wished I wasn’t part of the we. But if I haven’t made a strong voice against, then I am still in the main stream, am I not? Flowing deeper and deeper down, matching all the other drops around me.

Broken systems need to be fixed. And not just because they take too many tax dollars (though I’ve been guilty of using that to help motivate the masses before). Broken systems don’t need to be fixed once an easy solution is available or just because we are finally personally affected. They don’t need to be fixed because of any political movement.

They need to be fixed because lives, human lives, depend on it. I spend a fair amount of time in jail and I see people both come and go and come again and go again. I see those incarcerated, the corrections officers, volunteers and the visitors. A while back I saw a toddler hiding under the chairs in the main waiting room refusing to leave after visiting his Mama. No child should wish for jail. But that is what we have taught him as a society to do. Once a week, for one hour he gets to visit his Mom. When the car he is in drives past the jail on other outings he will scream for her. He loves her. He sees her face first, and not her crime. He remembers something so many of us have forgotten. She is a person. She is valuable. She is worth loving and she is loved. oscar-courage

I challenge you to remember today that no person is a number. No person is just bad. People do bad things. People make mistakes. People act out in their pain. Some get caught. Some get labeled. Some get forgotten. That needs to change. All people should be loved. “It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all of its tainted glory, and still to love it.”  – Oscar Wilde

img_8514To the people of Calvary Church and Shelby,

My name is Michael and I’m currently housed in the Centre County Correctional Facility. I’ve been incarcerated since March of 2015. I was 18 years old then, now I’m 20 and approaching my release date. I’m currently sentenced to 23 months and 29 days. As I’ve spent time here I started my journey of recovery. My drugs of choice are heroin and bath salts.

Recently I have been introduced to the Bible, the book of God. I’ve been familiar with the 12 steps of NA and I was able to get a recovery Bible. I’m a new believer and I read my Bible and pray every day. My faith is a little rocky but as I continue my journey God seems to send signs of strength to me. I’ve spent 2 Christmas holidays in jail, the first was a hassle and I was not sure how to respond to an act of kindness from people I don’t know. Calvary Church sent Christmas bags and it was the first time I felt like I mattered. I’ve felt that I didn’t matter, that a convicted felon was forgotten even though I’m a person with a family and hopes and dreams.

I’m older now and I’ve grown and matured mentally, emotionally and physically. I’ve taught myself to appreciate the small things and remain grateful for all things. I would like to say I am grateful for Calvary Church. I’m grateful for the gifts they sent all of the inmates. I’m grateful for all the time, money, and effort that was put into making the Christmas bags possible. It means a lot to me that total strangers put together gifts for people who are often shunned and looked down upon by society. It hurts to say that but it’s the truth. I committed my crime as a minor and was charged as an adult. I made a mistake because I needed to support a habit. As a 17 year old kid I wasn’t able to worry about the consequences of my actions. I’m really grateful that God has put me through these tough times so I could grow. If it weren’t for God I would not be writing this letter of thanks and gratefulness. Thank you Calvary Church for all that you do for us inmates. I’ve already met one member (Shelby) and I’d like to meet more. 

Sincerely, Michael

*His name has been changed and spelling corrected, but otherwise this is just a copy of what I received. Since it was addressed to the whole church I thought this was the best way to get it out to the most people. Thanks to everyone who was a part of this…there are way too many people who gave that I cannot reach you all and am so very grateful.

Dear World,

Thank you for being so nice, sweet and good to me. But please, don’t do any more nice things this month. See, I have a list of 103 thank you cards I need to write, so I simply can’t keep up with anyone else being nice, volunteering, donating money, and just generally doing things to make me so thankful.

thankfulActually, you can still be nice and kind, just be so nice that if your thank you note comes very late…or even not at all…you’ll still be gracious to me. =)

In fact, I’m hoping to provide Christmas presents to up to 400 people who wouldn’t be getting them this year because they are incarcerated. If you’d like to join, please do! You can mail me a check made out to “Calvary Church” with “Prison Ministry” in the memo line to me at 201 Harvest Fields Dr, Boalsburg PA 16827 or give online here and put “Prison Ministry” in the line for who you are supporting. Every bit of your tax deductible gift will go towards buying presents for those incarcerated in the Centre County Correctional Facility. Just $40 would cover the cost of Christmas for one inmate.

So I guess I changed my mind. Don’t stop being nice. Just maybe share your niceness to someone else so they can write you a thank you card. =)

I’m so thankful.
Thankful to have so many reasons to give thanks.
Thankful for Jesus’ redeeming love.
Thankful to know that there are so many people on my team.
Thankful to watch people serve the homeless,
provide for the incarcerated,
and host community movie nights.
Thankful for you.

Kids these days are different.
Systems these days are broken.
Some always have been.
But they don’t always have to be.

When I was born I nursed at my mother’s breast.
One of my friends just had a baby, but they are not together because she is in jail.

When I was one I saw both parents in my home every day.
My friend has a one year old who she sees for an hour every other week when her daughter is brought to the jail for a visit.

When I was two I tried to run away (but couldn’t open the door), because my parents wanted me to be safe and wouldn’t let me play on the stairs.
One of my friend’s kids are out of county with her in-laws and she cannot reach them now because she’s in jail, and if nothing changes she cannot be with them when she gets out because she’s not supposed to leave the county on probation.

When I was three I moved to a new house with my family.
One of my friends signed her three year up for an Angel Tree Christmas present to be delivered, because she will be in jail for many more years and her daughter has been adopted into a new home and family.

When I was four life was great, I had dolls and toys and dates with my mom while my sister was at school.
One of my friends was not allowed to talk to her kids for several months until CPS changed their minds and now she can call home from jail and at least talk to them on the phone while she waits for her trial and for the courts to decide if she is guilty or innocent.

When I was five I went to kindergarten and loved my teacher.
One of my friends has a son in kindergarten who hides under the table, swears at his teacher and asks for his mom.

When I was six I had my first real birthday party and all my friends came over.
One of my friends has a six year old in the hospital because he tried to take his own life.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. I am by no means saying that these six women are innocent. Nor do I think they would all make the best mothers (some sure would). But I do think this…our system is broken. We are not helping these kids by throwing their moms in jail and forgetting about them. Maybe, just maybe, there is another way, that we haven’t tried yet.

Like I said before.
Kids these days are different.
Systems these days are broken.
Some always have been.
But they don’t always have to be.
Will you take one step towards changing them?
Will you make a difference?

“So I have one friend?” she asked me nervously.
“Yes,” I answered confidently, “I am your friend.”

This conversation happened in the jail (like most of the ones that make the blog). We were talking about how scary the idea of getting out of jail was. How hard it would be to start over since her husband was divorcing her and she couldn’t go back home after this. Since her addiction had kept her from building any positive relationships in the past. Since she didn’t have custody of her children. Since she wasn’t sure what her relationship with her parents was anymore.

She asked how to make friends. She could do it in a bar, she said, but followed that thought up with the fact that she couldn’t go to a bar because she knew if she took one drink of alcohol all her hard work of staying sober would come crashing down. She knew she still doesn’t have the power to stop after one drink or to say no if offered a drink. She knows if she wants to stay healthy she cannot be around it at all.

“I’m your friend.” I said, and then continued with my list of friend making ideas, “You can go to the park, the library, the same coffee shop every week,” I told her. She said she loved the library but didn’t know how to start talking to people. “You can come with me to church and I can introduce you to people there.” It was here she stopped me to ask about my first statement. “So I have one friend?” It was so meekly asked that I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to say, of course you do and I know so many more who would love to be your friend. I know the people who don’t care what your past holds and how many more times you mess up. I know the people who will love you with Jesus’ love. But I knew that would be too overwhelming, so instead I gave her a simple yes. “Yes, I am your friend.” And I hope and pray that one day she has so many more.

There are days that feel like they were made for collapsing  into someone’s arms and weeping on their shoulder. Yesterday was one of them. Another  14+ hour day of work totalling the work week somewhere around 85 hours meant that my emotions were about at their end before the day even started, but I continued to put them to the test.

In the jail, I met with three different women for an hour each. (I met with seven other women in between those three, just not for quite such long periods of time.) The three women spent much of their hour with me in tears. One walked in and said hello, handed me some books she was returning and sat down. I glanced down to mark which books she’d brought and by the time I glanced back up she was weeping.IMG_5983

“They say addiction takes everything…”
“My life is over.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Everything is gone.”
“My life is over.”
“What can I do?”
“I left everything I knew and now it’s all gone.”
“My life is over.”

Now repeat that for an hour. Adding in a few personal details here and there. And pausing long enough for her eyes to stare into mine through the tears and beg for an answer that will fix it, but not long enough to wait for any answer I could give.

Some days I just hate my job.

I don’t hate that I do it. I hate that it’s needed. I hate that so much pain exists. I hate that there’s no one else who can listen to her. I hate that I’m not actually trained. I hate that people tell me I’m so strong when they find out what I do…because I’m not.

Sure, I kept it together while I listened, but I went home and sobbed.

While it is hard, I love that I get to meet these women. I love that I get paid to be kind. And to share the only hope that keeps me walking into the depths of these stories over and over again. Jesus. I could not face the darkness each day if it wasn’t for His love. God has proven over and over in my life that while He doesn’t promise to make all days good, He promises to be with us in spite of the bad. And He is a redeemer…nothing and no one is too broken for God to redeem. In spite of the hard days, I am so glad I get a front row seat into stories of God’s grace regularly.

After the awkward introduction with a new girl where I couldn’t shake her hand because we aren’t allowed to touch:

“How are you doing?” I tried to ask soothingly.
“I was caged alive for 7 months.” she said despondently as she stared into my eyes.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“That must feel really scary.” I settled on. (At this point I still wasn’t sure if she meant she’d been in jail for 7 months, been in solitary confinement for 7 months, or she had somehow been held captive before jail.) I’m not sure I ever really figured it out, but she went on. She told me how great her life was and then she paused:

“Then he went off and died on me.” she said as the tears started to flow.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“Who was it that died again?” I asked, trying to pretend I just missed his name when really I was incredibly confused by the conversation… She went on to talk about addiction, loss, and through the tears our conversation continued to be very confusing. I can only imagine how confused her heart must be feeling tonight.

After joining the ladies for our PB&J lunch on the block another new girl asked to speak with me. She said she had court yesterday and it was hard to process. Noticing her eyes filling with tears I quickly promised I’d call her out to talk one on one instead of at the table with all the other girls listening in:

“So what happened at court?” I asked.
“If I get more than a year they are going to adopt out my daughter,” she sobbed.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“That must feel really scary.” I settled on again. This has honestly become my go to phrase. Sometimes there’s just no way to fix it. There are no words to say. We still can’t touch, so no hugs to give. Nothing I can do but acknowledge the emotion. And sit in the pain with her.

We talked about adoption. How there was no one in her life she would trust with her sweet daughter because the people closest to her did drugs. How she knew adoption was good, but that this girl was a part of her. She wasn’t for someone else. I can only imagine how scared her heart is feeling tonight.

On to the next and the story goes like this:

“So you heard my big news?” she asked cynically.
“I’m so sorry.” I replied, knowing she was referring to the loss of her mother.
“This is torture.” she said flatly.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

Again, no words were fitting. I had a hard day yesterday when my mom flew to another country but is still only a phone call away. We reminisced on stories of her mom. How she was her best friend. That she would miss the funeral. Though she was struggling throughout the whole conversation she was grateful that her mom was finally out of pain. I can only imagine how much her heart is hurting tonight.

IMG_5657I think it’s these conversations that make me dislike TV so much. I have a hard time sitting back and separating these stories from the stories in the shows even when they are so very different. I hear the phrase “New Girl” and I think of all the new girls I met today and their stories. I hear “Orange is the New Black” and think about what all the different colors of clothing mean in jail. I hear “House of Cards” and think about the odd politics and manipulation that goes on between the girls in there. I just can’t get their sweet faces out of my mind.

But I also see so much good. I get to see the girls who care about each other as well as they can in the middle of these broken situations. I hear about the gratitude lists that are being made each day. The many people who start their mornings reading the Jesus Calling book we were able to give out for Christmas and then choose to face the day with hope. The counselors who squeeze as much work into their time there as possible. The COs who stop many fights before they begin. The excited updates of girls who have gotten out. The constant requests of prayers for loved ones. I know it’s hard to imagine their lives, but if you believe in God, would you lift up a prayer for these girls? I’m sure their hearts could use it tonight.